The Replacements

If Michael Vick or Nick Foles are unable to start against the Raiders, then Matt Barkley will have to. Fittingly right in time for Halloween, because when 3rd string QBs start, the results are scary.

3rd stringers are the Van Halen III of QBs.

From 2008-2012, there were 67 games started by a QB who was the third (or in a few cases fourth) QB to start for his team that season, with one exception listed below. That’s a pretty good sample size, and quite frankly I didn’t feel like looking any further, and upon further research as we will see later, I don’t see a reason why the average would dramatically change.

The results are, as I said, scary bad. (Italics indicates rookie). You will want to make sure you aren’t in the process of drinking something when you look these QBs, you might spit take.

Yes, Bruce Gradkowski had a passer rating of 1. That’s not a typo. The average 3rd stringer went 17-30 for 178 yards and 0.8 TDs and 1.4 INTs, for a 62.5 passer rating, 5.94 yards per attempt and 4.33 adjusted yards per attempt. Those are terrible numbers. Worse than Blaine Gabbert terrible. Mike McMahon terrible. Better than Tim Tebow terrible.

A couple of notes. I copy/pasted the stat lines from the game logs, so sacks aren’t listed. Just looking at the names on that list should tell you that many sacks were taken. Also, I did not include rushing totals but no one on here ran the ball well anyway. 30 or so yards rushing was the highest total I saw, many of the QBs never ran the ball at all. Again, just looking at the names on this list should tell you this is not a group of noted runners. I want to look strictly at passing, since that is of course the most important part of playing QB, and Matt Barkley isn’t going to be running much anyway, even if it’s for his life. He won’t make it far.

The exception mentioned above is the 2010 Steelers. Pittsburgh played three QBs in 2010, but I didn’t count them because the only reason three played was due to Ben Roethlisberger being suspended for the first four games of the season. Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon traded injuries as the substitute #1 and #2, once Roethlisberger returned neither played again. Roethlisberger was the third QB to start a game for them that season but at no point was he the third stringer. The 2010 Steelers trio don’t match the criteria. This study is for guys who started the season as the third stringer (or were added to the team after the first two QBs went down) but had to start due to injury or ineffectiveness of not one but two QBs ahead of them.

What if we just look at rookies? Half of these QBs were veterans, so we would expect them to do better than first year players, which Matt Barkley is. Narrowing the field to just rookies, we’ll have to go back further to get a decent sample size, say two seasons’ worth of games.

Interesting. Rookies average 16-29 for 172 yards and 0.7 TD and 1.3 INT with a passer rating of 62.6, Y/A of 5.95 and AY/A of 4.41 almost exactly the same production as the larger list including veterans. 15 new entries (I did not include John Beck’s third start, where he was injured after 2 attempts) were added to 24 from the previous sample, that they are nearly identical indicates to me that the sample sizes are large enough. Intuitively I would have thought rookies would do noticeably worse, but that’s not the case, in fact they’re marginally more efficient.

It seems that 16-30 for 172 yards and 0.7 TDs and 1.4 INTs is a baseline for how bad you can be, which is pretty god damn bad. 3rd stringers who start are largely a mix of 6th and 7th round draft picks and undrafted free agents in their rookie or second years, veterans signed off the street and QBs who never made an NFL roster again. I don’t know what replacement level for a QB looks like exactly, but I’m pretty sure this is it. On the upside, if you’re going have a 3rd string QB, it might as well be a rookie or second year player. You might get really lucky and stumble upon someone who can become a decent backup.

Finally, nearly all of the players started after their team had played 10 games, on average their team’s 13th game. If Barkley starts on Sunday he will be tied for the 5th earliest start by a 3rd stringer in this study. This puts him at a slight disadvantage compared to the field as he will have a few weeks less practice time than his peers. But that might not matter as even though he didn’t start Barkley’s 17-26, 158 yard 0 TD 1 INT performance on Sunday was an average performance for a 3rd stringer who does start.

So good luck out there Matt, you will need it. History is not on your side.


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