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Who is NY Jets’ best backup quarterback option?

NY Jets
Gardner Minshew

The New York Jets must acquire a competent backup quarterback

The gravestone of the New York Jets’ 2023 season has an obvious headline: “died by failing to acquire a backup quarterback.” Offensive line woes notwithstanding, simultaneously calling 2023 a redshirt year for Zach Wilson and leaving him as the No. 2 passer on the depth chart was a colossal mistake.

The Jets know they can’t repeat that error this offseason. Backup quarterback is one of their priorities, although it takes a backseat to offensive tackle and No. 2 receiver. How much money they are willing to spend on the position will likely determine the caliber of the backup they acquire.

Still, with all the names out there, it’s hard to know who would actually be a competent backup. There are several well-known names out there, but who is the best option for the Jets?

Jacoby Brissett

At any NFL position, an ideal backup is a player who might be a starter on a bad team. Jacoby Brissett was just that in 2022: he went 4-7 as a starter but played competently. In fact, by DVOA metrics, he was more than competent; among 35 passers with at least 190 attempts, he ranked seventh in DVOA and 13th in DYAR (measuring Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement player).

While DVOA tends to overrate game managers, Brissett ranked 15th in yards per attempt (7.1), 17th in turnover-worthy play rate (3.1%), 19th in adjusted completion percentage (74.6%), and 12th in pressure-to-sack rate (17.5%). He also ranked second in completion percentage over expected (3.3%), 10th in EPA per dropback (0.03), and 19th in success rate (46%). Those are numbers well within the range of what you’d seek in a backup quarterback.

Brissett’s numbers under pressure were a mixed bag. He completed 46% of his passes (22nd) for 6.5 yards per attempt (9th), a 2:5 TD:INT ratio, and a 5.9% turnover-worthy play rate (25th). Still, those numbers are livable in a backup.

Brissett’s performance out of structure was also mixed. He had a 3.7% CPOE (6th), 6.0 yards per attempt (11th), -0.11 EPA per dropback (10th), and a 39.5% success rate (11th) when on the run. Still, his numbers outside the tackle box were not as good: -5.2% CPOE (23rd), 4.6 yards per attempt (26th), -0.50 EPA per dropback (22nd), and 25% success rate (24th).

Brissett followed up his 2022 performance by sitting on the bench for most of 2023, throwing just 23 passes. Still, the Jets got a look at his continued competence when he led the Commanders to a comeback and near-victory, going 10-for-13 (76.9%) for 7.7 yards per attempt, a touchdown, no turnover-worthy plays, and a 123.9 passer rating. The week before against the Rams, he went 8-for-10 (80%) for 12.4 yards per attempt, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions or turnover-worthy plays, and a 157.9 passer rating.

While both performances came in blowout situations, Brissett showcased his ability to bring a team back from the dead.

Brissett had never played as well as he did in 2022 in the seasons prior. He had 5.7 yards per attempt, a 5:4 TD:INT ratio, and a 3.6% turnover-worthy play rate in 2021 with Miami. In 2019 with Indianapolis, he had 6.6 YPA and an 18:6 TD:INT ratio with a 2.8% turnover-worthy play rate. Going back to 2017, he was at 6.6 YPA, 13:7, and 2.7%. He completed between 59-62% of his passes in all three of those seasons.

There is a possible explanation for this. In Cleveland, Brissett was playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked them as the seventh-best pass-blocking unit and the eighth-best run-blocking unit. Brissett faced pressure on 32.9% of his dropbacks (16th), and he also had Nick Chubb in the backfield. Chubb rushed for 1,525 yards at 5 YPA and 12 touchdowns while ranking second in PFF elusiveness rating (97.2). Therefore, it’s certainly possible that Brissett would revert to his earlier career numbers in a less ideal situation.

Still, Brissett’s most recent performances make him an attractive backup candidate. He could be a low-tier starter in the league. His career 18-30-0 record should not detract from the indications that he can hold the fort if need be.

Gardner Minshew

Having played most of the 2023 season, Gardner Minshew has more recent numbers to examine. He posted 6.7 yards per attempt (24th), a 15:9 TD:INT ratio, a 3.8% turnover-worthy play rate (27th), a 74.2% adjusted completion percentage (21st), and a 17.9% pressure-to-sack ratio (14th). He added -1.6% CPOE (29th), -0.07 EPA per dropback (20th), and 42.1% success rate (24th).

Under pressure, Minshew completed 46.9% of his passes (26th) for 6.6 YPA (8th) and a 4:4 TD:INT ratio. However, his 7.4% turnover-worthy play rate (34th) is an ugly signal for a backup. It’s worth noting that he was at 5.6% and 4.2% in 2019-20, his previous two years as a qualifier, which ranked more reasonably (12th and 20th).

Still, this is something the Jets should take into consideration about Minshew; putting the ball in harm’s way when under pressure is a cardinal sin for quarterbacks.

Minshew also struggled mightily when throwing on the run, completing 47.5% of his passes (27th) for -4.4% CPOE (27th) and -0.52 EPA per dropback (T-31st). Although he averaged 6.9 YPA (8th), it seems that he tended to chuck the ball downfield when on the run, as he had a third-ranked 11.7 air yards per attempt on such throws.

Minshew also played in a favorable environment. PFF ranked the Colts’ offensive line as the seventh-best run-blocking and pass-blocking unit in the NFL in 2023. Minshew was pressured on 34.8% of his dropbacks (15th). He did not need to deal with tremendous adversity.

Even though Minshew has name recognition as a backup, Brissett has more promise in his metrics. Minshew may have more recent credentials as a winner (7-6 with Indianapolis), but he is not as strong a candidate, especially if they cost the same amount.

Tyrod Taylor

Compared to Brissett and Minshew, Tyrod Taylor comes with more of an asterisk due to his age. Entering his age-35 season, he may fall off without warning, even as a backup.

Taylor saw some action in 2023 after Daniel Jones got injured, only to sustain an injury against the Jets himself. He lost his job to Tommy DeVito, only to regain it when DeVito’s play fell off. His surroundings were similarly adverse to the Jets’; the Giants’ offensive line was decimated by injuries and putrid performance, ranking last in PFF pass-blocking grade and 30th in run-blocking. They were the only team to allow more sacks than the Jets with an astonishing 85. The Giants also did not have a true No. 1 receiver, though their overall corps was deeper than the Jets’.

Still, Taylor averaged 7.5 yards per attempt (T-9th), had a 5:3 TD:INT ratio, had just a 1.2% turnover-worthy play rate (1st) despite a third-ranked 9.1 average depth of target, and had a 76.7% adjusted completion percentage (14th). He ranked 18th with -0.04 EPA per dropback, 29th with a 40.6% success rate, and 8th with a 1.9% CPOE.

In particular, Taylor showed a strong deep ball. He completed 11 of 27 attempts (40.7%, 14th) at 15.7 YPA (8th) and a 50% big-time throw rate. He had a 48.1% adjusted completion percentage, which rose to 9th.

Taylor also performed reasonably well under pressure. He had a 65.1% adjusted completion percentage (17th), 2% turnover-worthy play rate (T-3rd), and 6.2 YPA (14th). In part, this was due to his scrambling ability; he scrambled on 21.8% of his pressured dropbacks, the highest rate in the NFL. He ranked 16th with -0.19 EPA per dropback when on the run.

The book is out on Taylor for his career; he’s still much of the same passer he was as a starter with the Bills. He rarely puts the ball in harm’s way but also often takes the risk-averse pass rather than trying to gain the first down (as evidenced by his low success rate). He gets sacked quite often but also can still make plays with his legs, and he is willing to push the ball downfield when it’s there.

One thing to beware of with Taylor is his injury proneness. Besides his fluky punctured lung during an injection in 2020, he went on injured reserve with hamstring and rib injuries in 2021 and 2023. Given his tendency to scramble, this is a concern.

Still, he would be a nice option for the Jets and likely come at a reasonable price.

Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill may have the most name recognition due to several successful seasons in Tennessee. However, his 2023 season showcased that he’s no longer that player. As Michael Nania detailed, 2023 was Tannehill’s worst season as a starter. He posted a 3.8% turnover-worthy play rate (28th) and 78.5 passer rating (32nd). Alarmingly, he had a 4.6% turnover-worthy play rate when not under pressure (35th). He put the ball in harm’s way even when he had time to survey the field.

Entering his age-36 season, Tannehill should not be among the Jets’ top options at the quarterback position. Compare his dramatic fall-off in 2023 to Taylor’s under similarly non-ideal conditions; Taylor is actually a year younger than Tannehill and showed that he has far more left in the tank.

The Jets should not fall for the name recognition here or the connections to Todd Downing, Keith Carter, and Tony Dews. They should pass on Tannehill. Dews may know that, having been in the Titans’ building in 2023.

Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota has bounced around the NFL as the prototypical first-round bust turned long-term backup. He started 13 games for the Falcons in 2022 before being replaced by rookie Desmond Ridder. He spent 2023 as the Eagles’ backup, entering three games in relief of Jalen Hurts and attempting just 23 passes.

Mariota had a 15:9 TD:INT ratio, 7.4 YPA (T-10th), 4% turnover-worthy play rate (25th), and a 67.% adjusted completion percentage (34th) with Atlanta; only Zach Wilson was worse in the latter category. His -1.8% CPOE ranked 24th, while his -0.04 EPA per dropback tied for 21st. His 48.1% success rate was pretty strong, ranking 10th.

Mariota’s numbers were also not uncommon for his career. His career turnover-worthy play rate is 3.8%, and he’s been under 3.5% once in his five qualified seasons. He generally posts a decent YPA — his career mark is 7.5, and he’s been at or above 7.4 in four of those five seasons — but he is a putrid deep passer, going just 13-for-48 (27.1%) with a 2:5 TD:INT ratio on passes of 20+ yards in 2022.

While Mariota is not the worst option the Jets could find, he certainly should not be near the top of their list. His tendency toward turnovers is the biggest red flag on his resume.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston started 10 games for the Saints from 2021-22. In 2022, he posted a 4:5 TD:INT ratio, 5.1% turnover-worthy play rate, and 7.5 yards per attempt in three starts.

In 2021, Winston’s last year as a qualified passer, he had 7.3 YPA (14th), a 14:3 TD:INT ratio, a 3% turnover-worthy play rate (13th), a 72.5% adjusted completion percentage (28th) and a -5.7% CPOE (second-worst, ahead of only Zach Wilson). His 3.09 time to throw was the second-longest out of 36 qualifiers. His 0.12 EPA per dropback ranked 9th, and his 47.1% success rate ranked 18th.

During that season, Winston did not have success throwing the ball deep. He went 6-for-22 (27.3%), although he did post a 4:2 TD:INT ratio.

A high turnover-worthy play rate is typical for Winston. 2021 was his lone season below 3.8%, and he was at or above 4.7% in all four of his seasons with Tampa. That’s something the Jets should be wary of compared to some of the other options available.

Joshua Dobbs

Some Jets fans remember Joshua Dobbs’ name from the 2023 trade deadline without noting what he did afterward. It’s interesting to look back at his numbers to see if they were even good before the trade. Here are Dobbs’ splits from his time with Arizona and Minnesota.

  • Weeks 1-8: 71.2% adjusted completion percentage, 5.9 yards per attempt, 8:5 TD:INT ratio, 4.3% turnover-worthy play rate
  • Weeks 9-14: 73.6% adjusted completion percentage, 5.9 yards per attempt, 5:5 TD:INT ratio, 4.5% turnover-worthy play rate

Not only are those numbers eerily similar, but they are also objectively poor. 5.9 yards per attempt was the third-worst mark in the league, ahead of only Daniel Jones and Bryce Young. His 4.4% turnover-worthy play rate ranked fourth-worst.

Dobbs’ numbers were not all that different from his 2022 marks when he posted a 72.4% adjusted completion percentage, 6.0 YPA, 5.1% turnover-worthy play rate, and 2:2 TD:INT ratio.

Overall, Dobbs should not be an option for the Jets’ backup quarterback position.

Sam Howell

Nania already thoroughly explained the objections to Sam Howell as a trade option. He should not be on the Jets’ radar.

The rest

The Steelers released Mitchell Trubisky, who posted a 4:5 TD:INT ratio, 5.3% turnover-worthy play rate, and 5.9 YPA on 122 dropbacks in 2023. He had the same TD:INT ratio in 2022, albeit with a higher YPA (7.0) and lower turnover-worthy play rate (3.9%). Still, Trubisky is no better than Zach Wilson statistically.

Sam Darnold may have generated hype from the 49ers during the preseason, but the issues he had earlier in his career still stand. Darnold cannot read a defense properly. From 2020-21, he posted back-to-back seasons with more interceptions than touchdowns, and a nice few-game stretch in 2022 (8.2 YPA, 2.9% turnover-worthy play rate, 7:3 TD:INT) doesn’t change that.

Drew Lock, Tyler Huntley, and Mason Rudolph fall into that same category: they’re names with some recognition for (very) brief periods of decent play, but they should not be worth a second glance.

Best options?

From this list, Brissett clearly slots in as the best option. He has a recent track record of legitimate success as a passer. After that, Taylor should be second on the list simply because of how he performed for the Giants in incredibly adverse circumstances. He also keeps turnovers down, which is one of the primary skills the Jets should be seeking in their backup quarterback. Minshew is the third choice, but there’s a gap between Taylor and him.

After that, there are a bunch of options who bring name recognition without the matching production. There are serious questions about Winston, Mariota, Tannehill, and Howell. The rest of the bunch should not even warrant consideration.

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3 months ago

Brissett has never had a winning record as a starter, and is 18-30 as a starter overall. That’s not “ideal” and I don’t understand the love for this guy. He’s been on 5 teams in 8 years because he’s just not that good. You posted it 4-7 last season then made all the excuses. When you said “a good backup could be a starter on another team” you don’t mean a starter because a player got injured. The ONLY way Brissett is a starter for another team if if someone gets hurt. That’s not the quality backup we are talking about, and at the QB position those guys don’t exist.

Tennehill is the best option. Last season was a bad year but he’s had winning seasons as a starter, and played in playoff games. Tenn destroyed their WR room, had injuries and were dysfunctional last season. Nobody wants to say that because of the unjustified love Vrabel gets as HC (6 seasons, and nothing to show for it, including 2 playoff chokes… not saying he’s a bad coach but he gets too much love for a coach barely over .500. Let’s give Saleh 6 seasons), but I think Tennehill is a guy who can fill in for 3 or 4 games and do what THIS Jets’ team needs to win.

His body of work is better than all the guys on your list. Brissett is not the answer. If you want a “backup that could be a starter on another team” read dudizt’s post below, that’s the guy you want. I don’t think Jimmy G is possible so I’m saying Tannehill.

3 months ago

I know he’s not available now but what about Jimmy G?

3 months ago
Reply to  dudizt

I like this move better than any options if they can swing it.