September 8, 2023 1:00pm

The Great “What If?”

What if Mahomes snaps a wrist? Or Burrow an ankle?

By Bruce Dobie, Power Poll CEO

Sometimes, life gets simple, and you can draw a straight line between observable fact and predicted outcome. This is one of those moments in the universe.

Point to a great, dominating, franchise NFL quarterback. And you can go ahead and put check marks in the win column. This is how history works. Trust me. I thought about being a professor once. I was in a dimly lit bar….

But what if… How about… Well, what in hell happens when greatness suffers physical injury and the QB goes down and the offensive coordinator’s headset is now doing a flawlessly executed drop-kick towards irrelevance. Well, it’s not a pretty picture. Backup quarterbacks generally post losing records when they take over from the number one. So, inasmuch as the care and feeding of the number two would seem to be paramount, particularly in this sport of well-known physical affliction, we asked NFL Power Pollers what roster has the best backup quarterback in the league.

The winner?

The majority of voters went with Sam Darnold, of the 49’ers.

Power Poll was also interested in the fact that newer quarterbacks in the league generally show their greatest improvement in their second year. They need that rookie year to get acclimated, learn the rhythms, get sacked by those 300-plus pound packages of malevolence. So we asked Power Pollers to predict which rookie quarterbacks who played in 2022 were poised to make the biggest jump in 2023.

By an astoundingly huge margin, 73% selected Kenny Pickett, of Pittsburgh.

Here are the specific questions and complete answers to this month’s Power Poll:

Comments from our participating Power Poll voters ran the spectrum.

With regard to Dornald of the 49’ers, Chris Tomasson, a sports reporter with the Denver Gazette, said he thought “what would really help Sam Darnold, if he is called in action, would be San Francisco’s impressive defense. A top-notch defense is pivotal to helping out a backup quarterback. Just look at Earl Morrall, who went 9-0 as a starter in taking over for injured Bob Griese during Miami’s epic perfect season in 1972.”

Vito Stellino, a writer at the eponymous, said he selected Darnold in part because “of the team he would have around him.” At the same time, he was of the opinion that “the problem for backups now is that it has become such a passing game. Jeff Rutledge and Trent Dilfer wouldn’t have won Super Bowls in today’s game if they were thrust into the starting lineups.”

As to who’s going to make a big jump this year, Bruce Castleberry, sports editor with the Boston Herald, said “Zach Wilson has a higher ceiling than these other guys; we know what they can do. And the answer is: Not much.”

Joe Reedy, with the Associated Press, said he thought “it’s tough to say Purdy will make the biggest jump because of what he accomplished last year. If Pickett can get the Steelers into the playoffs, that would show a big jump.”

Alan Saunders, with Pittsburgh Sports Now, said “Purdy was much better last year, on a better team and in a more quarterback-friendly system. But there’s a reason Kenny Pickett was a first-round pick and Purdy went in the seventh round. I think the gap between them will narrow significantly this year.”

Barry Wilner, retired AP writer, said he “went with Taylor Heinicke as the No. 2 quarterback in the best position to succeed. He has experience, fits nicely in an Arthur Smith offense, and should have a very solid running game in a weak division. Heinicke was no world-beating QB in Washington, but he was solid enough, and could be again in Atlanta.”

Perhaps the most wry comment of all those submitted to Power Poll came from Mike Chappell, sports writer with “Whenever talk turns to backup quarterbacks one of Tom Moore’s great quotes comes to mind. He was asked why Peyton Manning’s backup never got practice reps. Essentially: ‘If 18 gets hurt, we’re ‘effed.’ And we don’t practice ‘effed.’ “

And finally, there was this from Teresa Walker, Tennessee sports editor with the AP: “Arthur Smith has familiarity getting a young quarterback up to speed quickly. He’ll have Desmond Ridder ready for this season in Atlanta.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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