Ranking NFL quarterbacks who could get benched: Six candidates

Zach Wilson has thrown two touchdown passes and four interceptions on 84 attempts, and he's completing just 52.4% of his passes. AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Football is an unforgiving game. It doesn't take much to go from franchise quarterback to backup. There are always superstars who are going to keep their jobs for years regardless of what happens, but think about passers such as Carson Wentz and Matt Schaub, who went from unquestioned starters to pariahs in a matter of months. The time when quarterbacks would get years to prove themselves is long over.

Let's sort through the quarterbacks whose situations are most vulnerable after the first three weeks of the NFL season. I'm not rooting for anyone to get benched, but there are a handful of teams that have to be concerned about what they've seen from their starters. There are others that already were wondering about their options before the season and might be aggressive about making a move, even if their starter is playing reasonably well at the moment.

One quarterback who isn't on the list: Justin Fields. On the merits of the Chicago offense, he could be benched. His 21.0 Total QBR ranks last in the league. The Bears rank 28th in yards per play (4.4), 29th in yards per game (250) and 31st in expected points added on offense (minus-27.8). He has looked lost for long stretches of games and has shown virtually none of the upside Bears fans were so excited to see more often in 2023.

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For a few reasons, I don't think benching Fields makes sense. The Bears' primary backup is Nathan Peterman, so they aren't going to be upgrading to a successful veteran if they make the switch. This is Fields' third season, so they need to evaluate as many of his reps as possible before making a decision about his fifth-year option for next spring. That they seem to have made the wrong choices around him is obvious, but benching him won't solve any of those mistakes.

I'll sort through six passers from most likely to be benched to least likely. The quarterbacks at the end of the list might be candidates for a change sometime in December if their teams are out of the playoff hunt. The one at the top might be about to start his last game with his current team.

Jump to a quarterback:
Sam Howell | Baker Mayfield
Desmond Ridder | Ryan Tannehill
Russell Wilson | Zach Wilson

1. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

Where do we begin? It was unfair to judge Wilson by what we saw against the Bills in Week 1, when he was forced into the lineup because of Aaron Rodgers' torn left Achilles tendon. Facing one of the league's best defenses with no first-team reps on about 30 seconds' notice, he always was going to look bad.

Since then, things haven't gotten much better. Any suggestion that Wilson would have been chastened by his quick fall from grace or picked up much from Rodgers during their summer together in New York hasn't been borne out by what we've seen. Sadly, if anything, he looks worse than he did over the previous two seasons. Wilson's 26.7 Total QBR is comfortably the worst of his career and 10 points below where he eventually landed in 2022. It's actually worse (24.7) if you remove the emergency snaps against Buffalo from the equation. His completion rate (52.4%) and yards per attempt (5.6) are at career lows.

In trying to keep the offense afloat and avoid turnovers with Wilson, it appears offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's plan has been to keep things simple and try to eliminate anything that might be challenging. Wilson is averaging 6.6 air yards per throw, which is down about 1.5 yards from last season. One-third of his passes are at or behind the line of scrimmage -- the second-highest rate in football -- and 7.1% of his passes are deep (20-plus yards downfield), which ranks 27th.

You can understand the logic, but it's neutering any hope the Jets have of scoring on offense. Wilson needs to piece together a handful of first downs for this team to score, and that's just not realistic. He is still being pressured at the league's second-highest rate despite the short passes, and when there's a man on him, disaster strikes. He is 6-of-30 for 54 yards with eight sacks and an interception when pressured this season; his 3.7 QBR in those situations ranks 31st. Every passer is relatively bad under pressure, but the Jets can't count on landing on a single drive in which he goes unpressured for 10 or 12 plays and it leads to a scoring opportunity.