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Breaking down the Bengals’ backup quarterback contenders

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The Bengals are set to roll with Andy Dalton for an eighth consecutive season as their starting quarterback — but who will be his backup?

Toledo v BYU Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

When the 2017 NFL season ended, the Bengals anticipated A.J. McCarron being their backup quarterback for a fifth season, but an arbitrator ruled in his favor, granting him free agency after four seasons with the Bengals.

McCarron left for the Buffalo Bills for a chance to be a starter, though with their drafting of Josh Allen, McCarron will face another challenge in his endeavor to become a starting quarterback. While this is good for McCarron to challenge for a starting job, his departure left the Bengals with a void on their roster at the backup quarterback spot.

Third-year quarterback Jeff Driskel immediately stepped in as the de facto backup to Andy Dalton. And in free agency, the Bengals added veteran Matt Barkley, who has started six games since being drafted in 2013.

Additionally, the Bengals used a seventh round pick in the 2018 NFL draft on Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside.

Instead of having McCarron locked into that backup role, the Bengals currently have three contenders, who have the next few months to vie for that spot. So, how do these contenders stack up, and who will win that role?

Conventional wisdom says that the Bengals always favor the mediocre veteran over the younger players, regardless of ability. That factor clearly favors Barkley, but the Bengals generally try to keep a hold onto their drafted players, which bodes well for Woodside.

The Bengals have also spent two seasons developing Driskel, so it stands to reason that he will be in the running as well. So let’s take a look at Barkley, Woodside, and Driskel.

As NFL prospects, both Barkley and Woodside had scouting reports that were quite similar to Andy Dalton in several key areas. All three were “shorter than ideal,” with Dalton and Barkley standing 6’2” and Woodside at 6’1”.

Also, all three of these prospects were considered to be quite accurate passers. Additionally the trio were also well regarded for their football IQ, recognition of coverages and ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

Dalton was viewed as having more mobility and a stronger arm than the other two, but the trio were scouted fairly similarly, with Dalton being the better prospect of the three.

Then you have Jeff Driskel, who is the outlier of the group. Driskel has all the measurables and projectability that teams tend to reach for in the draft when it comes to seeking a franchise quarterback. He measured in at 6’4” and 234 lbs at the combine, and was praised for his ideal build & athleticism, plus a quick release, good football, and good arm strength.

Driskel was also a plus runner, able to get yards on the ground as well as through the air. Although his negative traits were what made him a project - he didn’t have much accuracy on anything beyond short tosses, and was addicted to running too early if his initial read wasn’t open or if he felt the slightest pressure.

The Bengals have spent two years with Driskel, so if he is ever going to improve on those negatives and capitalize on the positives, now would be the time to show it. It also doesn’t help that Driskel is recovering from a broken arm he suffered at the end of last season, but recent reports suggest he may be good to go this month.

Comparing the three contenders, Driskel is the boom or bust type of player with the highest ceiling but the lowest floor. At this point, the Bengals likely aren’t going to keep developing him, and the signing of Barkley and drafting of Woodside seem to imply that they are ready for more of a low ceiling, high floor guy who can step in and be a viable backup but not much more. In that regard, the Bengals seem to be looking for their next A.J. McCarron, and Woodside is essentially a younger, cheaper version of Barkley, who are both comparable to the quarterback the Bengals favored as their backup for the past four seasons, in McCarron.

One interesting side note is that Woodside’s college numbers match well with McCarron’s. Both attempted just over 1,000 passes in college with a 65%~67% completion rate. Both averaged 8.8~9.0 yards per attempt, and were high touchdown / low interception guys with a very close passer rating of 162.5~162.9, and both had similar traits as players who were accurate and had a good football IQ as efficient game managers who lacked big arms and ideal size.

When it’s all said and done it seems like Driskel was the high upside guy they brought in to see if they could turn him into something, but have since moved on to more backup-caliber guys. Barkley seems to be the guy they brought in just as an emergency measure to have a guy like that on the roster should the draft not go their way.

It seems that Woodside is the guy that probably has the inside track for that role, barring an awful training camp. If that happens, Woodside may be a prime practice squad candidate with Barkley serving as the mediocre veteran holding a clipboard behind the starter.


Who will be the Bengals #2 QB this season?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Jeff Driskel
    (589 votes)
  • 27%
    Matt Barkley
    (392 votes)
  • 30%
    Logan Woodside
    (434 votes)
1415 votes total Vote Now