Quarterback is the most important position in sports. It comes with all the glory and the biggest paychecks, but also the most criticism and pressure. The QB carousel is all the talk of the offseason, but it only picks up steam during the season when injuries, performance and all sorts of drama dominate the headlines.
This is especially true right now as we are ushering in a new era of quarterbacks and the position is more volatile than ever.
Check out 10 observations on the QB position right now and you'll see what I mean.
1. Injuries, injuries … and more injuries
Week 8 was a backup QB bonanza and injuries took center stage, headlined by Kirk Cousins going down for the season with an Achilles tear. Thirteen backup QBs threw passes in Week 8 and 11 teams exited the week with injury concerns at QB1. It figures to be a prominent storyline again in Week 9. The highlights:
- Daniel Jones is expected to return after missing the last three games with a neck injury.
- Justin Fields is still out (thumb) clearing the way for Tyson Bagent's third start.
- Matthew Stafford (thumb) is looking iffy for Sunday's game.
|Current Starting QB Injuries
Aaron Rodgers (Achilles)
Deshaun Watson (shoulder)
Ryan Tannehill (ankle)
Anthony Richardson (shoulder)
Kirk Cousins (Achilles)
Justin Fields (thumb)
Matthew Stafford (thumb)
Kyler Murray (ACL)
By far the most perplexing situation was Deshaun Watson's in Cleveland. Watson missed all but one quarter of the past four games with a lingering shoulder injury but will return Sunday against the Cardinals.
It hasn't really mattered who is playing QB for the Browns this year, they rank dead last in the league in completion rate (56%), TD-Int ratio (5-11) and passer rating (61.1) this season. And somehow, they still have a 4-3 record. They have the lowest passer rating (61.1) by a team with a winning record through Week 8 in 20 years (2003 Eagles).
2. Rookie QB mania
All these injuries and an overall changing of the guard at QB mean plenty of youth and inexperience at the position, especially in Week 9.
As our Shanna McCarriston detailed this week, Clayton Tune will start for the Cardinals if Kyler Murray isn't ready to return from a torn ACL. That would mean seven rookie QBs starting in Week 9, which would be tied for the second-most in a single week since 1970, and the most this early in a season.
Don't forget Jaren Hall is also getting his first career start in place of Kirk Cousins this weekend. That would make nine different rookie starting QBs this season, which would already tie an NFL-record. Unreal.
3. Changing of the QB guard
Safe to say, a season of change at this position has reached peak craziness in Week 9. This is what happens when stalwarts like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan are no longer in the league, and Aaron Rodgers is hurt.
We are looking at the youngest average group of starting QBs through Week 8 since the 1970 merger (27). It's no wonder the league is averaging its fewest yards per completion at this point in the year since at least 1940.
4. QB carousel
There's a reason the best backup QBs in the NFL -- like Jacoby Brissett -- make $8 million per year. About one-third of the league has already needed them, and the rest will eventually. You might want to familiarize yourself with Cody Benjamin's backup QB rankings.
There's been 42 different starting QBs this year and we are probably on our way to around 60 again. There was an NFL-record 68 last year.
Once Taylor Heinicke, Jaren Hall and either Clayton Tune or Kyler Murray make their first starts of the year in Week 9, we'll have 11 different teams with multiple starting QBs already who've combined to make 22 different starting QB changes, led by the Raiders (five) and Browns (four).
Due to injuries and poor play the Raiders have already gone from Jimmy Garoppolo to Aidan O'Connell, back to Jimmy G, to Brian Hoyer, to Jimmy G (again) and again … the rookie, O'Connell. The No. 1 job for the next Raiders head coach and GM: figure out a long-term answer at QB.
|Starting QB Sequence This Season
Jimmy Garoppolo > Aidan O'Connell > Jimmy Garoppolo > Brian Hoyer > Jimmy Garoppolo > Aidan O'Connell
Deshaun Watson > Dorian Thompson-Robinson > P.J. Walker > Deshaun Watson > P.J. Walker > Deshaun Watson
Anthony Richardson > Gardner Minshew > Anthony Richardson > Gardner Minshew
Daniel Jones > Tyrod Taylor > Daniel Jones
Desmond Ridder > Taylor Heinicke
Justin Fields > Tyson Bagent
Aaron Rodgers > Zach Wilson
Ryan Tannehill > Will Levis
Kirk Cousins > Jaren Hall
Josh Dobbs > Clayton Tune (or Kyler Murray)
5. Sorry Lamar, Desmond Ridder is for real
The surprise QB change of the week is the Falcons deciding to start Taylor Heinicke over Desmond Ridder, despite Ridder clearing concussion protocol after being removed from Sunday's game.
Ridder leads the NFL in turnovers, but it's surprising to see him not get a longer leash after how this offseason played out. It only took minutes after Lamar Jackson was given the non-exclusive franchise tag this offseason for reports to roll in that the Falcons would not be pursuing Jackson. Falcons owner Arthur Blank explained one of the reasons why was Ridder.
Needless to say, people kept the receipts on social media.
This could be just temporary and maybe Ridder is back under center next week, but for now it's another head scratcher for a Falcons team that already hasn't gotten the most out of its best playmakers Bijan Robinson and Drake London this year.
6. Where's the Love?
One of the worst places for an NFL team to be is in QB purgatory. The Holy Grail in football is a franchise QB. But, even if you have bad QB play, at least the decision is obvious to move on (cough, Raiders).
Well, for the rest of the league, they are in the middle, constantly assessing their QB play and debating whether to start over or pay a pretty penny; there's not much in-between. Giants fans know how tough this can be with Daniel Jones. The poster child for this right now is Jordan Love. He entered the year as the biggest mystery in the NFL after the former first-round pick backed up Aaron Rodgers for three years. Things haven't gotten much clearer,
Packers GM Brian Gutekunst gave an honest evaluation of Love's "up-and-down" start, which includes accuracy problems leading to the worst completion rate in the NFL. Green Bay has also gotten off to bad starts, getting outscored 73-9 in the first half of its last five games. And in case you missed it, our Chris Trapasso broke down Love's early-season struggles last week.
7. Purdy panic?
It's not time to panic in Green Bay with 10 games left, and there's no reason to sound the alarms in San Francisco either, even coming off a third straight loss with more turnovers from Brock Purdy.
I wrote this week about how Purdy's career numbers in the clutch are concerning (3 TD, 7 INT in career when tied or trailing in the second half), but he shouldn't take all the blame for a 49ers losing streak that includes:
- Injuries to Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams
- Purdy's concussion prior to throwing two fourth-quarter INT in a loss to the Vikings
- Jake Moody's missed 41-yard field goal that would have beaten the Browns
- A poor defensive play call for an all-out blitz on Jordan Addison's 60-yard TD to end the first half of the Vikings/49ers game
- Back-to-back defensive letdowns against the Vikings and Bengals
Purdy is off the hook for now due to all that and the fact that he is still putting some really good throws on tape. Let's see what he does out of the 49ers bye with a healthier supporting cast and road trips to three division leaders on tap (Jaguars, Seahawks, Eagles). He has an opportunity to flip the script and prove he can put the team on his back in the playoffs.
8. Evolution of the QB sneak
Bryan and I tag-teamed the evolution of the QB sneak from the T-formation to the "Tush Push" as we explored Philadelphia's phenomenal success with the play this year and how long it will last.
The NFL is known as a copycat league and the play has possibly reached the pinnacle of its success. There's a reason some say the NFL stands for "Not For Long."
Between the possibility of an offseason rule change, injuries or defenses eventually adapting to the play, it'll be interesting to see if the push play can continue to build steam after this season.
9. Best QB matchup of the week: Josh Allen vs. Joe Burrow
There are actually some great QB matchups this week, despite it looking like the QB apocalypse out there. The best in my book comes on "Sunday Night Football" between Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, arguably the second- and third-best quarterbacks in the league behind Patrick Mahomes.
I'll add one more reason. Buffalo's defense is banged up and Cincinnati DC Lou Anarumo can dial up another gameplan to slow down Allen, who was pressured on 45% of his dropbacks in the 27-10 playoff loss last postseason, despite being blitzed only 15% of the time.
10. Backup QB Bowl: Taylor Heinicke vs. Jaren Hall
Raise your hand if you had Vikings/Falcons Week 9 featuring a QB matchup of Taylor Heinicke vs. Jaren Hall. Most of us probably didn't know until recently that either even played for those teams, or were real people.
Our Cody Benjamin introduced us to Hall earlier this week, who backed up Zach Wilson at BYU, while also playing baseball there. You probably also didn't know this game has some revenge appeal.
Heinicke was initially signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion in 2015. Heinicke never played a snap for Minnesota (how dare they!) before eventually bouncing around the NFL (most prominently landing in Washington) before coming to Atlanta.
Well scripted, NFL.