The 2023 NFL season has certainly been a weird one. From Aaron Rodgers going down on the New York Jets' first drive of the season to C.J. Stroud's breakout rookie campaign which may land the Houston Texans in the postseason, the past few months have been full of surprises.
One of the main takeaways through the first 14 weeks is the amount of quarterback injuries. Over half of the NFL has had to play their backup quarterbacks this year for one reason or another. Here in Week 14, it's possible nine backup quarterbacks could start -- and that's not including players like Will Levis, Zach Wilson or Aidan O'Connell. If those nine backup quarterbacks do start, it will be the most in a non regular-season finale since Week 14 of 2013 -- exactly 10 years -- per Action Network's "The Favorites" podcast. (Editor's note: With Derek Carr now expected to start for the Saints -- and Trevor Lawrence suiting up for the Jaguars -- we will not see nine this week).
Just this Thursday night, we saw our. By week's end, that number could be up to 55. So, who are these people? Let's take a look at the backups who could be starters in Week 14, starting with two who played on Thursday night.
With Kenny Pickett out due to an ankle injury, in stepped the quarterback who once started over him in 2022, Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was viewed by some as the top quarterback in his 2017 draft class, over players such as Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. The Chicago Bears selected the North Carolina product with the No. 2 overall pick, but after his rookie contract expired, he was allowed to walk in free agency. Trubisky then signed with the Buffalo Bills to serve as Josh Allen's backup quarterback. After one year in Buffalo, he was scooped up by the Steelers, and given another chance to be "the guy." However, Trubisky won just one of his first four starts with Pittsburgh in 2022, and was then benched.
Trubisky started in the Steelers' "Thursday Night Football" loss to the New England Patriots. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 190 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and heard chants of "Mason Rudolph" after a horrid start. While Trubisky did rebound and helped Pittsburgh score 15 unanswered points, it wasn't enough.
Bailey Zappe, New England Patriots
Speaking of "Thursday Night Football," Trubisky started against another backup-turned-starter in Bailey Zappe, who was an absolute monster during his short time at Western Kentucky. Back in 2021, he threw for an NCAA single-season record 5,967 yards and 62 passing touchdowns.
Bill Belichick surprisingly selected Zappe in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and Zappe returned the favor by surprising the NFL world when he took Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to overtime in his first NFL action back in Week 4 of 2022. While the Patriots ultimately lost that game, "Zappe Mania" zipped from house to house in New England faster than Santa Claus in the early hours of Christmas morning -- a movement that only picked up steam when Zappe won his first official NFL start in convincing fashion, 29-0, against the Detroit Lions, followed by another double-digit victory over the Cleveland Browns. Mac Jones eventually returned to the starting lineup after recovering from the injury that opened the door for Brian Hoyer and then Zappe, but the "Zapster" was given another chance this season to show his potential when Jones was sent to the bench by Bill Belichick.
Zappe didn't impress in the 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week, but he did in the win over the Steelers on Thursday night, with 240 passing yards, three first-half touchdowns and an interception.
According to multiple reports, Derek Carr has cleared concussion protocol and will be starting Sunday for the Saints. That means we probably won't see Jameis Winston, who is undoubtedly one of the most colorful characters in the NFL. From his intriguing breakdown regarding the symmetry of the human body, to the eloquent recounting of his trainer's advice that sparked a five-touchdown performance against the Packers in 2021, Winston is the ultimate sound bite. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been with the Saints going on five seasons now, and he's been solid when in the starting lineup, but has really struggled with injuries over the past couple years.
Carr has struggled with injuries as well, but he has also just struggled in general. Last week against the Lions, fans were cheering when Taysom Hill took the field, and booing when Carr returned to the game. Carr left that matchup in the fourth quarter after taking a nasty hit, in which he suffered a concussion along with rib and back injuries. It looked like Winston might be set to return to the starting lineup this week against the Carolina Panthers, but as it turns out, that isn't expected to happen.
Minshew is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league, and Colts first-year head coach Shane Steichen was wise to bring him with him from Philly. When Anthony Richardson was lost for the season in Week 5, in came Minshew, who currently has the Colts in the playoff picture.
A sixth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Washington State in 2019, Minshew was thrown to the wolves in his first NFL game after Nick Foles went down with a fractured clavicle in the first quarter. The rook wasn't rattled, however, and threw for 275 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 40-26 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Minshew went 6-6 as the starter for Jacksonville in his rookie season, and 1-7 in his second year.
In 2023, Minshew is averaging 190.3 passing yards per game, and has thrown 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions while going 5-3 as the starter. He can run hot and cold, and struggled with turnovers earlier this season, but Minshew is on a hot streak right now, and threw for 312 yards and two passing touchdowns in the Week 13 overtime victory over the rival Tennessee Titans.
When Joe Burrow went down with his season-ending wrist injury, it looked like the Bengals were cooked. Browning then stepped into the starting lineup, and following what transpired in Week 13, the NFL world is now paying close attention to him.
Browning was a high school football legend in Folsom, California. He attended the University of Washington, and led the Huskies to the College Football Playoff in 2016 while being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. Browning ended up going undrafted in 2019, and got his first NFL shot with the Minnesota Vikings. He never played a game for the franchise.
Following Burrow's injury, Browning received his first career start two weeks ago against the Steelers. It wasn't too special, as he threw for 227 yards and one touchdown plus an interception in a 16-10 loss, but he became a national headline this week on "Monday Night Football," when he threw for 354 yards and scored two total touchdowns en route to an overtime win over the Jaguars. The Bengals were double-digit underdogs in that matchup.
Browning has recorded the highest completion percentage (81%) in a quarterback's first two starts since 1950. What is he capable of moving forward?
C.J. Beathard, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence suffered a nasty-looking ankle injury on "Monday Night Football" vs. the Bengals, but he's trying to play this week against Cleveland. (Editor's note: On Sunday morning CBS Sports Lead NFL Insider Jonathan Jones reported Lawrence is starting). Doug Pederson said it will likely be a game-time decision for Lawrence. If he can't go, it will be C.J. Beathard under center. Beathard is in Year 3 with the Jaguars but he has not yet started a game for the franchise. In relief of Lawrence Monday night, he completed 9 of 10 passes for 63 yards.
Originally a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 out of Iowa, the 30-year-old Beathard is 2-10 as a starter, with his last official start coming in 2020.
Someone from the Browns
The Browns lost Deshaun Watson for the year due to a shoulder injury, and man, that trade and fully-guaranteed $230 million move certainly hasn't worked out just yet. Rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who the Browns grabbed in the fifth round out of UCLA earlier this year, was so good in the preseason that the Browns traded away their No. 2 quarterback, who we will discuss soon, to make DTR Watson's backup.
When Watson couldn't suit up for the first time this year back in Week 4, it was Thompson-Robinson that started against the Baltimore Ravens. However, the rookie struggled in his first professional action, throwing three interceptions in a 28-3 loss. The veteran P.J. Walker then surpassed Thompson-Robinson on the depth chart before head coach Kevin Stefanski eventually went back to DTR, but when the rookie suffered a concussion in the Week 12 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Browns went to former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco for their Week 13 game against the Los Angeles Rams.
The 38-year-old Flacco completed 23 of 44 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the 36-19 loss last week, and was demoted back to the practice squad -- something that can happen on a per game basis for veterans. The Browns haven't decided on a starting quarterback for Sunday vs. the Jaguars, but it looks like it will either be DTR or Flacco.
Joshua Dobbs, Minnesota Vikings
Dobbs is probably one of the stories of the 2023 NFL season. After ending last year as the Titans' starter, he was signed by the Browns, a team he had previously spent time with. Then, after the emergence of Thompson-Robinson, Dobbs was traded to the Arizona Cardinals, and kept them competitive before being dealt yet again to the Vikings at the trade deadline.
Dobbs was seen as the eventual replacement for Kirk Cousins after Minnesota's long-time starter was lost for the season due to injury, but he wasn't going to start over rookie Jaren Hall in Week 9 after spending just a couple days with the team. However, after Hall suffered a concussion in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons, Dobbs was forced to enter the game despite not knowing the playbook. It didn't matter, as the journeyman on the road!
Dobbs won his first official start against the Saints in Week 10, but has struggled a bit as of late. In the back-to-back losses to the Broncos and Bears, Dobbs turned the ball over six times. Head coach Kevin O'Connell left the door open at the bye week for a QB change, but Dobbs will get another chance this week against the Las Vegas Raiders.
"Tommy Cutlets" is one of the most popular men in New York right now. Undrafted out of Illinois this year, DeVito was picked up by the Giants as a practice squad quarterback. However, injuries to Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor forced DeVito into the starting lineup. His first couple games were rough, but DeVito exploded for 246 passing yards and three touchdowns in an upset victory over the Washington Commanders in Week 11. DeVito built on his success in Week 12 with a 10-7 win over the Patriots, in which he threw for 191 yards and one touchdown.
So, as the starter, DeVito is 2-1, and has thrown six passing touchdowns. He's also been sacked 20 times, making him the third quarterback since 1970 with six passing touchdowns and 20 sacks taken in a three-start span (Jake Plummer in 1997 and Tony Eason in 1984), and the second quarterback since 1970 to win back-to-back starts despite getting sacked 15+ times. Taylor is now back, but Brian Daboll will roll with DeVito. Next up for the Giants are the Packers.