Unhealthy Numbers at the QB Position
The key to a successful NFL season has always been a healthy quarterback
When the Los Angeles Rams kept Matthew Stafford healthy for all 21 games last season, he delivered 16 victories and a Lombardi Trophy. But the Rams were not able to keep him healthy this season and, as a result, will not be repeating as Super Bowl champions.
Stafford, the club’s first option at quarterback, went 3-6 before injuries sidelined him for the season. John Wolford, the club’s second option at the position, went 1-2, then Bryce Perkins, the club’s third option, went 0-1. Baker Mayfield, the club’s fourth option, has since stepped in and gone 1-1.
The Rams are the only team in the NFL to start four quarterbacks this season – but they aren’t the only team that has struggled to keep their first option at the position on the field. Twenty teams have started two quarterbacks in 2022 and seven of those have been forced to start three quarterbacks.
It’s no secret – the NFL is a quarterback’s game and teams are only as good as their guy standing in the pocket.
I’ve been tracking quarterbacks since 1995 and when teams have been able to keep their first option at quarterback on the field over these last 28 years – the Troy Aikmans, Brett Favres, Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings — they have won 52.4 percent of their games. When a team has to play a backup quarterback, it wins only 41.6 percent of the time.
That’s why franchise quarterbacks get the $200 million contracts with upwards of $100 million of it guaranteed – they legitimize championship aspirations.
When teams have been forced to go to their second option at quarterback – the Josh McCowns, Colt McCoys and Case Keenums — the winning decreases to 43.9 percent. When a team had to go to its third option – think T.J. Yates, C.J. Beathard and Scott Tolzein — the winning percentage dips to 32.1 percent. And if you had to start a fourth quarterback – think Dan Orlovsky and Chad Hutchinson — you won only 30.2 percent of the time.
There have been 12 teams that have kept their first option at quarterback on the field for every game this season. Six of those teams lead divisions, two currently hold down wild-card spots and three others remain in the playoff hunt as the season steams into the new year.
Buffalo (Josh Allen), Cincinnati (Joe Burrow), Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes), Jacksonville (Trevor Lawrence), Minnesota (Kirk Cousins) and Tampa Bay (Tom Brady) all lead their divisions with healthy quarterbacks. Allen, Burrow and Mahomes figure to be in the MVP discussion.
The Los Angeles Chargers (Justin Herbert) and New York Giants (Daniel Jones) both hold down wild-card spots with 15-game starters at the quarterback position. Detroit (Jared Goff), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers) and Seattle (Geno Smith) all remain in the post-season chase with healthy quarterbacks and 7-8 records.
For the second consecutive season – and only the fifth time in the last 28 years – NFL teams have had to start 60 quarterbacks in 2022. The record is 64 quarterbacks in 2007. There were 62 last year and 61 to this point this season.
San Francisco has done the best job at managing the quarterback position. When first option Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury on the second weekend, Jimmy Garoppolo stepped in and won seven of his 10 starts. When he broke his foot in the 12th game, Brock Purdy stepped in to win all three of his starts and keep the 49ers atop the NFC West with an 11-4 record.
Rookie Kenny Pickett has won five games as Pittsburgh’s second option at the quarterback position this season as have Andy Dalton of the New Orleans Saints and Taylor Heinicke for the Washington Commanders. Cooper Rush stepped in for an injured Dak Prescott early in the season and won four of his five starts to help the 11-4 Cowboys stay afloat in the NFC East.
The best second option in the last 28 years was Brady, who came off the bench for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and went 11-3 as a starter on the way to his first Super Bowl ring. Ben Roethlisberger stepped in as a rookie for an injured Tommy Maddox in 2004 and won all 13 of his regular-season starts, quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC championship game. In 2005, in his first full season as the starter, Roethlisberger won his first Super Bowl ring.