The value of good backup quarterbacks in the NFL has been proven often

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Mock drafts are popping up everywhere, the coffee stops are buzzing with talk about which top NFL free agent best fits which team. Having a true franchise player is vital, and playmakers are needed.

But do you know which spot gets often overlooked until you really need him? The backup quarterback, that’s who.

As teams wade through free agency and the upcoming draft, NFL staffs are looking for the next Kurt Warner, Tom Brady or Trent Dilfer lurking in the late rounds or walking the streets. A sharp eye for talent and a little luck could play a role in uncovering the a hidden gem.

NFL starting QB’s command monumental, multi-year contracts. Many fans can’t name a backup signal caller for a franchise other than their own favorite team, unless you’re an NFL football junkie or fantasy football fanatic.
The Philadelphia Eagles had a backup complete their dream season. Nick Foles illustrated just how important a backup can be, leading the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history and earning the MVP honor in the big game. Foles drove home the necessity to have a QB holding the clipboard who is capable of stepping up in a moment’s notice with little to no dropoff in execution.

Case Keenum was thought to be a backup for life entering last season. An injury opened the door for him to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game. Now the University of Houston alum has a new contract and starting gig in Denver.

It’s a tough role but the guys who are just chomping at the bit for their big chance off the bench are the ones who thrive when their number is called.

Some historic NFL backups were first round draft picks who failed before success while others were late selections or undrafted free agents who proved everyone wrong about their ceilings.

There have been a handful of backups that stepped into the spotlight, some going onto the Por Football Hall of Fame. Oothers were capable part timers who made the most of their day in the sun.

Jim Plunkett, the 1970 Heisman Trophy winner out of Stanford, was selected No. 1 overall in the draft by the Patriots in 1971.

At age 33 as a backup with the Raiders, he took over when starter Dan Pastorini suffered a broken leg. After never finding consistent success previously, Plunkett guided the Black and Silver to an 11-2 mark in 1980 as a brilliant pinch hitter. He passed for 2,299 yards and 18 TD’s. Despite the moderate stats, he played a major role in leading the Raiders to Super Bowl XV where they rolled over the Eagles at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Trent Dilfer, signed by the Ravens prior to the 2000 campaign, was supposed to be a franchise quarterback after the Buccaneers took him sixth overall in 1994. He spelled struggling starter Tony Banks in week eight, taking Baltimore to a Super Bowl XXXV title. The Ravens did possess a dominant defense but Dilfer was necessary to game-manage the offense to wins.

Following the Super Bowl celebration, Dilfer was unceremoniously released but he will always be a Super Bowl champion starting quarterback.

Most associate Randall Cunningham with his star-studded career with the Philadelphia Eagles. But he spent 1996 out of football after failing to lead the Wagles to the promised land. He was added to the Vikings roster in ’97, serving as backup to Brad Johnson. At age 35 in 1998, Cunningham assumed the starter’s role after Johnson suffered an injury and led Minnesota to a 15-1 mark.

Falling short of his goal to reach the Super Bowl in a stunning NFC title game loss to Atlanta, Cunningham was denied what his performacne deserved. He did account for 34 touchdown passes with only 10 interceptions and 3,704 yards in leading what was at the time the best single season offensive performance by one team the NFL had ever season.

Jeff Hostetler started the 1990 season as the third string QB behind Phil Simms and Jeff Rutledge in New York. The then 29 year old former West Virginia star was ready to hang up his cleats. But a foot injury to Simms rejuvenated Hostetler who went onto lead the Giants for the final two games of the regular season and then postseason glory. “Hoss” was instrumental in New York’s patiently-orchestrated victory over the heavily-favored Buffalo Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV.

After leaving the Giants to start for the Raiders, Hostetler enjoyed a couple of good seasons to prove he was more than just a guy who had happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Doug Williams caught fire in the playoffs for head coach Joe Gibbs in Washington in 1987. Starting only two regular season games, the former Grambling star took over for oft-injured and ineffective Jay Schroeder to lead the Redskins all the way to Super Bowl XXII, besting John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Williams tossed four touchdown passes and threw for 340 yards, winning game MVP honors.

Williams has early NFL success with Tampa Bay before ending up in the USFL and then washing out of football entirely. He took full advantage of his second chance.

Little known fact: On the day prior to the Super Bowl game, Doug Williams had a six-hour root canal procedure, but he sure was ready to sink his teeth into Denver’s defense after a slow start. Down 10-0 after one quarter, Washington crushed the Orange Crush defense for 35 points before halftime.

Earl Morrall has made a case for being the NFL’s all time most valuable backup QB. In 1968, he filled in for John Unitas, injured in the final preseason game, by leading the Baltimore Colts to Super Bowl III. He replaced Unitas two years later in 1970 after another another injury, guiding the Colts to a Super Bowl V victory over Dallas. Soon after at age 38 he was a key component of the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins when starter Bob Griese suffered a fractured fibula following a Deacon Jones sack in week five.Morrall drove the team on the path to perfection the rest of the way until Griese returned for the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl.

Called Don Shula’s “leprechan” since he starred for the Hall of Fame coach in those reserve roles in both Baltimore and Miami, Morrall was named a first team All-Pro in both ’68 and ’72. He was league MVP in 1968 and the NFL’s leading passer in ’72. Morrall played until he was 42 years old.

In 2000, the Patriots spent a sixth round pick on a QB from Michigan named Tom Brady as an afterthought. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In his second season, he stepped into the huddle after starter Drew Bledsoe had a nasty collision with Jets linebacker Mo Lewis in week two. The resulting chest injury opened the door for a dynasty. Brady led Bill Belichick’s Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVI and never looked back.

The story has been re-told hundreds of times about Kurt Warner, who went from making $5.50 an hour stocking grocery shelves to winning a Super Bowl and NFL MVP honors. Warner signed with the Packers in 1994 as an undrafted free agent, sharing QB meetings with Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and Ty Detmer. Head coach Mike Holmgren, QB coach Steve Mariucci and assistant Andy Reid all felt that Warner didn;t measure up to the others in camp.

After bouncing around the league, Warner was added as the third string for the Rams behind starter Tony Banks. In 1999, Rams starter Trent Green was injured in the third preseason game following a low sack attempt by Chargers safety Rodney Harrison. The 28 year old Warner, with limited experience, was named starter by head coach Dick Vermeil. That was the birth of The Greatest Show on Turf.

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Rene Nadeau


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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