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NFL Backup QB’s That Could Become XFL Starters – Who To Look Out For

Thursday night’s NFL Hall of Fame Game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons returned professional football to our lives again.

As we enjoy this annual renewal, training camps provide us with possibilities of future XFL starters who don’t make the final NFL rosters. The quarterback position being the top concern, several competitions are taking place throughout the league.

This column focuses on six teams working out returning backups, free agents, traded players and draft picks. Some are familiar, while others are making a name for themselves for the first time.

Who will make the team and who will look to the XFL will be determined in just the next few weeks. This is an exciting time to get a look at future XFL starters in real game situations.

Those who don’t survive the last NFL cut can look to the XFL as a viable alternative. Should any fail to make the roster of an XFL club, they will be prime candidates to join the XFL’s “team 9” to stay in football shape in time for opening day February 8, 2020. There will be approximately 650 available players once NFL rosters are set, so there will be ample talent to build all eight franchises.

Our thanks to XFL podcast listener Nicholas for providing us with this column idea and player suggestions!

Los Angeles Chargers

Cardale Jones

Jones made his 2014 college debut at Ohio State when the starter was injured. He capitalized on the opportunity and led his team all the way to a national championship. He won the starting job the following season but wound up getting benched after seven games of inconsistency which ended his college tenure.

Despite playing in only 11 collegiate games, Jones was a 2016 fourth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills. He was inactive in all but the last game of the season when he got some token reps in the fourth quarter (6-11-96). That was the only action he saw for the Bills and was traded to the LA Chargers for a seventh-round pick to be reunited with new head coach Anthony Lynn who was the Bills 2016 offensive coordinator.

Jones was a third-string spectator in 2017; active for one game (didn’t play) and spent the entire 2018 season on the practice squad. Although he’s drawn the ire of some for failing to move up the depth chart, Lynn remained smitten with his potential and signed him to a reserve/futures contract in January 2019.

Strengths:
Has Cam Newton-like size (6′ 5″, 255), durability, strong arm, great scrambler who makes something out of nothing

Weaknesses:
Inconsistent accuracy including short slant routes, trouble throwing on the move, gives away intended throwing direction, limited pocket awareness, too many overthrows, suspect decision making

Easton Stick

A Chargers 2019 fifth-round pick out of North Dakota State, Stick replaced Carson Wentz who went to the NFL. He started all four seasons and racked up impressive numbers with his arm and feet. Coasting to a 49-3 record, he has the most wins of any QB in FCS history. He also owns the school’s career record in several categories.

His skills and intellect caught the eye of GM Tom Telesco and OC Ken Whisenhunt who drafted him with great enthusiasm. Expectations are high in training camp, while others express doubt if he’ll go very far.

Strengths:
Great athleticism, intelligence, patient in the pocket, quick on his feet, versatile ball skills, experienced in a pro-style offense, goes through progressions well, doesn’t give away intended targets, solid leadership ability

Weaknesses:
On the short side (6′ 1″), average arm strength, forces balls into coverage, poor field vision, inconsistent accuracy, holds the ball too long/too many sacks, run/pass option helped hide some deficiencies, poor Shrine Game performance


San Francisco 49ers

Casey “C.J.” Beathard

A 49ers third-round pick out of Iowa from a football and country music family, Beathard sat out his freshman year, played sparingly in his second, then shared starting duties in the third during fan backlash over play-calling and disappointing losses. He finally got the nod in the 2015 season and lead the Hawkeyes to a 12-0 record with 2,570 yards, 14 TD’s and 3 INT’s. His last season produced a decent 8-4 record with 1,929 yards passing with 17 Td’s and 10 INT’s. He was the team MVP and second-team All-Big Ten.

Beathard saw his first NFL action in 2017 when he came off the bench to replace an ineffective Brian Hoyer. He played in seven games with a 54.9 completion percentage. Due to a leg and hip injury in week 11 of the 2018 season, newly acquired Jimmy Garoppolo stepped in and became the starter.

Beathard regained the role in week three when Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ACL injury. He started for the next five contests, only to relinquish the job to Nick Mullens due to a wrist injury in week eight. He finished with 1,252 yards, 8 TD’s and 7 INT’s. Click here and here for additional comments about his potential.

Strengths:
Strongarm, toughness, leadership, mechanics, good screen game, won’t take foolish risks

Weaknesses:
Lack of pocket awareness holds the ball too long, poor long ball accuracy, throws late on sideline routes, tendency to lock onto intended targets, takes too many hits, slow decision making, Rex Grossman-like high turnover risk

Nick Mullens

A product out of Southern Mississippi, Mullens set numerous school records, including blowing away those by Hall Of Famer Brett Favre. Inserted as the starter during an 0-6 season, freshman Mullens finally led the team to victory to end a 24 game losing streak. The team produced an impressive turnaround going 16-9 his final two years. His best season was 2015, racking up 24 TD’s vs. 11 INT’s with a 63.3% completion rate.

Mullens went undrafted and went through a couple of cycles of being signed and waived by the 49ers in 2017-18. While on the practice squad in 2018, he was elevated to starter after injuries to Garoppolo and Bethard. He started the remaining eight games with some fine performances, resulting in 2,277 yards passing with 13 TD’s, 10 INT’s and a 90.8 passer rating. The training camp competition between Beathard and Mullens will be intense. Click here for an extended evaluation of Mullens. Predictions for either QB winning the backup job can be read here and here.

Strengths:
Poised in the pocket, great toughness, good reactions, quickness, good release, nice touch passes, targets narrow lanes

Weaknesses:
Too small (6′ 1″, 187), an average arm, weak mechanics, too long to throw


Cincinnati Bengals

Jeff Driskel

A Florida Gator product became the starter in his second year putting up some fine numbers (1,646-12-5) until a broken leg ended his third year in week three. He returned in 2014 but was benched after nine games. Seeking better pastures, he transferred to Louisiana Tech passing for over 4,000 yards with 27 TD’s and 8 INT’s.

Driskel was a 2016 sixth-round pick of the 49ers. Originally the fourth-string QB, he competed for third after Thad Lewis went down for the season. It wasn’t enough and he was waived at the final roster cutdown. The next day he was claimed off waivers by the Bengals as the third QB and remained on the active roster the entire season but never played. A thumb injury landed him on the IR a few days before the 2017 season began.

His first NFL action wasn’t until October 2018. He became the starter in week 12 when Andy Dalton went out for the season ending thumb injury. With a total of nine games, he started the last five, passing for 764 yards with five TD’s and 2 INT’s. He’s facing an uphill climb to a roster spot. More analysis can be found here.

Strengths:
Nice size and solid athleticism, good arm strength, great scrambler, won’t take foolish risks, sees the field well, quick setup, quick feet, and balance.

Weaknesses:
Poor accuracy on deep throws forces receivers to adjust even when the open, weak pocket presence

Jacob Dolegala

Dolegala is a 2019 undrafted free agent out of Central Connecticut State where he set records for touchdowns and passing yards. He threw for 2,221 yards, 16 TD’s and 6 INT’s his senior year. He finished with 48 TD’s, 29 INT’s and a 126.5 efficiency rating. His size and arm strength impressed Bengals head coach Ryan McCarthy who believes his work ethic will pay off with a roster spot.

“He is a hard worker, dedicated student of the game and with his size and arm strength he will have the chance to make an NFL roster this season.  He is a testament to hard work and we look forward to following his career.  For our program this is a huge step and shows everyone that if you put in the time and effort, people will notice.”

Ryan McCarthy, Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach

He’s made a good impression in training camp so far. Additional comparisons of the QB’s can be read here.

Strengths: Great size (6′ 6″, 240), strong arm, good footwork, confident demeanor, good mechanics on throwing position and motion, durable

Weaknesses:
Average touch on deep throws, a tendency to panic under pressure, disrupts receivers routes, timing needs better consistency, needs wider field vision to find open targets, Rex Grossman-like fumble problems

New York Jets

Davis Webb

Webb played three years at Texas Tech before finishing at Berkely. A tall, big QB (6′ 5″ 230), he was a solid starter for two years at Tech setting several Big 12 records. After eight games, his 2014 season was over due to an ankle injury and also needed surgery on a pre-existing shoulder issue. After losing the job to Pat Mahomes in 2015, Webb transferred to Berkely after Jared Goff left to become the NFL’s first pick in the 2016 draft. He passed for 4,295 yards, 37 TD’s, 12 INT’s with a 135.6 rating, setting several passing records.

A 2017 third-round pick of the New York Giants, he was unable to find a niche after Ben McAdoo was fired and subsequently waived just before the 2018 season began. Staying local, he was a practice squad addition to the New York Jets. He was activated in November 2018 after starter Sam Darnold was injured but remained a backup as a second string to the now-retired Josh McCown. He re-signed with the team on March 28, 2019. Early speculation has Webb ahead of teammate Trevor Siemian heading into training camp 2019.

Strengths:
Great size (6′ 5″, 229), good pocket presence, patient without waiting too long, agile, nice, high, tight delivery, confident under pressure

Weaknesses:
Inconsistent accuracy, poor sideline game, weak scrambler, bad improv with progressions, inconsistent velocity, too many overthrows, slow set-up

Luke Falk

A Washington State walk-on, Falk gained the starting role in the third to last game in 2014 after the starter was injured. He was named the 2015 starter, leading the nation in passing yards per game and second in completion percentage (69.45), including first team in the Pac-12. He started every game through the 2017 season, finishing with 14,481 yard passing, 119 TD’s, 39 INT’s with a 142.8 QB rating.

Falk was a sixth-round Tennessee Titans pick in the 2018 draft. He started every exhibition game, starting the last one but did not make the final cut. He was claimed the next day by the Miami Dolphins, but he went on IR after a wrist injury, then cut May 1, 2019. A day later, he was picked up by the New York Jets. Detailed analysis can be found here.

Strengths:
Accurate timing on deep throws, quick release, good ball placement, quick pocket setup, good height (6′ 4″), good at off-balance throws

Weaknesses:
Bad with zone defenses, too reliant on short passes for passing yardage, too many sacks, trouble seeing the whole field, takes too many chances, sideline and medium distance throws off-target, inconsistent arm strength, poor mobility

Trevor Siemian

A low-level prospect out of Northwestern (27 TD’s, 24 INT’s, 58.9 completion rate), the Broncos used a 2015 seventh-round pick to give him a chance. Other than a kneel down, he never saw action his rookie season. After Peyton Manning’s retirement and Brock Osweiler moving on to Houston, Siemian got the starting nod for the 2016 season. He put up impressive numbers and was named a pro bowl alternate.

Siemian lost the starting job in week 9 of the 2017 season after racking up too many interceptions. New coach Vance Joseph promoted the returning Osweiler under center. In a prime time game in week 15, he left the game with a shoulder injury and went on IR.

He was traded to the Vikings the following spring but remained a spectator the entire 2018 season after the acquisition of Kirk Cousins. Siemian signed a one year deal with the Jets on March 20, 2019, after consulting Peyton Manning who convinced him to choose New York over Minnesota due to Manning’s reverence for Jets coach Adam Gase.

Extended details of Siemian’s career are explored here. His XFL potential has been discussed on our site. More on the Jet QB competition is explored here.

Strengths:
Quick timing, quick release, nice short and medium passing game, good accuracy, allows receivers to maximize opportunities, accurate on the run, good decision making outside the pocket

Weaknesses:
Poor long ball, inconsistent reading defenses, holds the ball too long, weak pocket presence, forces too many throws


Seattle Seahawks

Paxton Lynch

Big, strong and athletic, Lynch left Memphis early after an impressive 2015, throwing for 3,776 yards, 28 TD’s and only 4 INT’s with a 157.5 rating. His size and skills elevated him to a 2016 first-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos who traded up to select him.

He relieved an injured Trevor Siemian twice with average numbers. He finally started in late November 2017 but suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him until the last game of the season. After a total of five games, a demotion to third-string and the acquisition of Kevin Hogan, Lynch was cut at the final roster deadline September 2, 2018. Dissatisfaction with his performance was palpable. The Seahawks signed him as a free agent on January 17, 2019.

XFL commissioner Oliver Luck addressed Lynch’s potential to join the new spring league.

Strengths:
Huge size ( 6′ 7″, 244) and very athletic, Lynch is a great scrambler and avoids sacks. Quick-release, respectable arm, good decision making, not easily fooled by defenses, good leadership

Weaknesses:
Weak sideline throws, slow with progressions, inconsistent accuracy with catch and runs, too shy with play-action passes, mechanics need attention to improve throwing stature

Geno Smith

Starting three years at West Virginia, Smith put up some great numbers, especially his junior year after new coach Dana Holgorsen tailored the offense to his strengths for the 2011 season. He earned many honors, including Big East Offensive Player of the Week four times and 2012 MVP of the Orange Bowl. He finished with 11,662 yards, 98 TD’s, 21 INT’s with a 153.5 rating. The athletic director at West Virginia during this time was none other than current XFL commissioner Oliver Luck.

Expected to be a first-rounder, Smith fell to the second round in the 2013 draft to the New York Jets. He became the starter on opening day due to March Sanchez’s shoulder injury. In the last exhibition game, Smith put on a dismal and embarrassing performance in relief of Sanchez. After a five-game drought without any TD passes and chronic interceptions, he was benched in favor of Matt Simms twice but still managed to play in all 16 games.

His first season ended with 3,046 yards, 12 TD’s and 21 INT’s. His 2014 season was also rocky, not only with behavior issues but getting benched twice for Mike Vick after some terrible outings. He wound up with 13 TD’s and 13 INT’s in 14 games.

Smith only appeared in one 2015 game in a season badly marred by sustaining a broken jaw from a fight with a teammate.

His struggles continued in 2016, playing in parts of only two games, the first in a blowout and poor QB play from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the other suffering a torn ACL which landed in on the IR at mid-season.

Leaving the Jets but remaining in town, the Giants picked up Smith for the 2017 season. He only played in two games, including a notable one that broke Eli Manning’s consecutive starts streak while also becoming the first black QB for New York and the last NFL team to play one under center. He continued his Rex Grossman-like ways with two fumbles.

The Chargers became Smith’s third team as a backup appearing in relief five times completing 1 pass in 4 attempts.

He moved on to Seattle on May 15, 2019, to back up Russell Wilson. While Wilson is temporarily away on bereavement, Smith, and Lynch are getting all the reps in camp in a closely matched contest. Smith is off to a good start in camp so far, hoping to find some stability. Read here and here for analysis of the fight for the second QB spot.

Commissioner Luck said the XFL is taking notice of this competition.

“One of these guys is going to get cut. There’s a bunch of those going on. We might not get all of those guys, the quote-unquote loser of those, but a Geno or Paxton is not going to end up on a practice squad. There are a bunch of 3-4-5-year guys that are in that boat. They’ve been on rosters, practice squad, been yo-yo’d two years. They need to play, and that’s my argument to them, that it’s very doable here.”

Oliver Luck, XFL Commissioner

Strengths:
Good progressions finding targets beyond the intended receiver, patient enough to allow plays to develop, good speed to turn nothing into something, improved body strength, durable, quick release

Weaknesses:
Needs to improve mechanics, average pocket awareness, locks to one side of the field, little experience directly under center, tendency to miss open receivers in the flats


Washington Redskins

Colt McCoy

A four-year starter for the Texas Longhorns, McCoy set a litany of records as a passer and runner, putting up huge numbers that many considered Heisman potential (finishing third).

Auditioning for NFL scouts on campus, his performance was somewhat muted and average, leading to falling down to a third round pick by Cleveland in the 2010 draft. He started eight games his rookie year with six TD’s and 9 INT’s. He started opening day 2011, putting up 2,733 yards passing, 14 TD’s, 11 INT’s and 212 yards rushing for a rating of 74.6. His 2012 season was spent on the bench, appearing in only three games after Brandon Weeden’s concussion, going 9 for 17 with a TD and no interceptions.

In the spring of 2013, McCoy was traded to the 49ers where he backed up Colin Kaepernick, appearing in only four games completing one pass. His short time in San Francisco ended when the team traded a sixth round pick for Blaine Gabbert. The team allowed him to become a free agent.

The Redskins signed McCoy April 3, 2014, and backed up Kirk Cousins. He appeared in five games, starting four when Cousins and Robert Griffin were benched but went on IR from a neck injury. He re-signed for the 2015 season, backing up Cousins with only seven completions in eleven attempts and one TD. He remained with the team, signing a three-year extension in the spring of 2016, but never played. He appeared in one 2017 game with no pass or run attempts. He finally got back on the field when Alex Smith suffered a severely broken leg, only to suffer a broken leg himself in his third game with 3 TD’s, 3 INT’s, 34-54 passing.

Strengths:
Mobile, dual-threat to get quick yards, accurate while mobile, fast delivery, good under pressure, good no-huddle management, great intangibles, and game smarts

Weaknesses:
To shotgun oriented, needs improved pocket awareness, weak backside vision, average size, average arm strength on deep throws, limited mobility

Case Keenum

The Houston Cougars QB was given an extra year of eligibility and set numerous NCAA records, finishing with 155 TD’s against 46 INT’s. He played for five years (2007-11); only the 2010 season was limited due to a torn ACL.

A true journeyman, the 2012 undrafted Keenum has worn five different NFL uniforms (seven if you count signing with the Texans and Rams twice each). He spent his first season on Houston’s practice squad, started in eight games in 2013, losing all of them with very average numbers (1,760 yards, 9 TD’s, 6 INT’s, 54.2 rating).

Houston waived him near the end of training camp 2014 and was picked up by the Rams. They waived him in October but brought him back to the practice squad two days later.

Late in the 2014 season, Houston reclaimed Keenum off the Rams practice squad after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a broken leg. He won his first NFL contest in December.

The Rams traded for Keenum in March 2015 where he played in six games (starting five) for 828 yards, 4 TD’s and 1 INT. After the team relocated back to Los Angeles, he was named the 2016 starter. After throwing four interceptions in a November game vs the Giants in London, he was benched in favor the 2016 draft’s first overall pick, Jared Goff. He finished the season with nine starts in ten appearances with 2,201 yard passing, 9 TD’s and 11 INT’s.

Keenum moved on to the Vikings for the 2017 season and saw action after Sam Bradford went down with an injury. He took advantage by leading his team to eight straight wins, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Month. He started 14 games (15 overall) with 3,547 yards, 22 TD’s, 7 INT’s and 98.3 rating. Success continued in the playoffs with a stunning catch and run for a TD with 10 seconds left in the NFC’s second week of the postseason.

Having their sights on Kirk Cousins, the Vikings allowed all three quarterbacks to leave. Keenum signed with Denver as a 2018 free agent, whose new coach Vance Joseph was the Texan’s defensive backs coach during Keenum’s first time with the team. He started every game, finishing with 3,890 yards, 18 TD’s, 15 INT’s with a 84.5 rating.

After trading for Joe Flacco, Keenum was traded to the Redskins on March 7, 2019.

Strengths:
Reads defenses well, works the whole field, good accuracy, quick on adjustments, good mechanics, good scrambler, good under pressure, good red zone success

Weaknesses:
Average arm, weak footwork, small size (6′ 1″, 215), needs work as a pocket passer

Which QB’s to you think will emerge at the opening day starter? Share your comments below.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. William

    August 7, 2019 at 8:57 pm

    So this league will be mostly players who have gotten 3 or 4 cracks at the NFL but cannot seem to stick in the league but will completely ignore overlooked players who came last year and this year.

  2. Johnny Lucas

    August 9, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    William,

    If you refer to the top of the article, the XFL will have about 650 players who did not make the NFL’s 53 man roster or the practice squad. All free agents will be evaluated; none will be ignored. The journeymen have more experience, so they will likely be given greater consideration over a rookie or second year washout that saw little to no action on the field. The article also references some who were spectators on the sideline.

    Don’t worry, everyone who wants to play in the XFL will be given a chance. That’s what the league is for.

  3. Kenneth Reynolds

    August 18, 2019 at 5:47 am

    I know some people might not like the fact that he kneels during the us another but he’s a good player is owner/managers are will to have him play for them then he might want to I’m telling about QB Colin Kaepernick

  4. Kenneth Reynolds

    August 18, 2019 at 5:48 am

    Colin Kaepernick

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