PART 19 IN A SERIES:
We hear it every year at this time, the backup quarterback is one of the most important positions on the roster. Whether it is or not is a debate for another time, but it’s under the microscope now more than ever as teams try to justify how many resources, or in some cases how few, they’ve committed to the position….and you hear reports of young QB’s who are just “killing it” in their mini-camps.
The position can either be rendered completely irrelevant: Jim Sorgi never getting his uniform dirty in meaningful situations backing up Peyton Manning from 2004 – 2010. Or franchise altering: The Colts never addressing the position appropriately, team goes 2-14 without Manning in 2011, total housecleaning, first pick, Manning moves on, Andrew Luck now in place.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at every team’s backup situation. These aren’t grades, just an overall look at the total sum of each team’s outlook if their starter were to go down. I’ll consider the immediate situation and the longer-term picture.
I’ll go in order of my NFL Power Rankings 1.0, published May 10th.
Today, the Denver Broncos:
STARTER: Peyton Manning (15th year)
PROJECTED BACKUP: Caleb Hanie (5th year)
After whetting Bears fans appetites by making some plays when taking over for an injured Jay Cutler during the 2010 playoffs, Hanie fell back to earth with a thud in 2011. He was terrible in place of a once-again-injured Cutler down the stretch last year, and the team fell out of the playoff race while losing all 4 games he started. As a backup never expected to play much, he’s acceptable roster filler. (What a ringing endorsement!) As your primary option behind a guy who missed an entire season after multiple serious neck surgeries? Not so much.
This is a HUGE roll of the dice for the Broncos.
Verdict: Pray For Peyton’s Health
PROJECTED 3RD QB: Brock Osweiler (Rookie)
Now we’re talking. It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Osweiler ever since he declared for the draft, as detailed here……
He’s raw, but his ceiling is unlimited. He’s a freak of an athlete for his size (6’7″) and has one of the strongest arms in the league. Forget about his funky, low release. At his height it’s a non-issue, and he gets the ball out quick. He’s touch as nails, often hanging in the pocket until the last possible second, knowing he’s about to get blasted, to make the play. The question with Osweiler, as with all rookies, is whether he can learn to dissect NFL defenses, make correct reads, and deliver the ball with anticipation. He showed an elite ability to fit the ball in tight windows in college, and who better to learn from than Manning? If he’s not rushed, he could develop into a Top 10 QB, if not higher. With Hanie his only competition, however, he may find himself thrown in to the fire too soon if Manning were to have any physical setbacks.
High-risk, High-reward, but this was a great draft pick by the Broncos.
Verdict: Potentially Elite
OTHER CONTENDERS: Adam Weber (2nd year)
Weber impressed many observers last year as a rookie, not just with his performance in practices but also in the way he quietly accepted his role in light of the Tim Tebow Experience. Slow-footed and non-athletic, but he possesses some ability to spin the ball and has a strong arm. Should qualify for the practice squad if he’s not claimed by another team.
The Broncos did well to get Osweiler in the draft, but Manning’s drawn-out interview process made it difficult for them to secure a reliable, veteran backup to insure themselves. They weren’t going to go down the Kyle Orton road again, and Jason Campbell signed with the Bears a week before Manning agreed to a deal, so the pickings were slim. Hanie is simply not capable of maintaining a playoff run if Manning were to get hurt. The Broncos would be wise to acquire a veteran camp cut, or trade for a more proven backup like Seattle’s Tavaris Jackson.
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