Backup quarterback has always been a lingering conversation for Detroit Lions fans. Prior to Matthew Stafford—and even during the first half of Stafford’s Lions career—the talk was always about bringing in a serious competitor that could push for the starting job.
That’s now changed. Stafford has cemented himself as a starter, but the backup job now appears more important than ever. Stafford’s starting streak is finally over and he’s now finished the past few seasons dealing with some sort of impactful injury. The Lions don’t need a player who will compete for the starting job, but they certainly need someone that can cover adequately in a pinch.
Last season, the Lions got a look at a couple guys that could fill that role in 2020. David Blough didn’t win a game but showed some flashes. He’s still under contract, so he’ll get a shot next year, but Jeff Driskel—who stepped in prior to Blough—may not.
Let’s take a closer look at Driskel’s 2019 performance and determine if he’s worthy of another contract in Detroit.
Previously in this series: Miles Killebrew (click here), Rashaan Melvin (click here)
Expectations before 2019
There weren’t any. Driskel started the season on the Bengals’ injured reserve list after suffering a hamstring injury during the preseason. However, a few weeks later, the Bengals waived him from the injury list, and the Lions swooped him up almost immediately.
When the Lions first acquired him, it wasn’t quite clear what their plans were for him. Detroit had just spent an entire preseason with backups David Fales and Tom Savage. Both didn’t make it to the 53-man roster, as the Lions quickly brought in Josh Johnson and David Blough. Johnson, a veteran, appeared to be the Lions’ primary choice for the backup job, but once Driskel was acquired, Johnson was ousted.
So here the Lions were, no more than two weeks into the regular season, and they had two backup quarterbacks on the roster that had each spent less than a month with the team.
Driskel had more experience, so he was the presumed primary backup, but with neither player all that familiar with the team surrounding them, the hope was that Matthew Stafford would just stay healthy and not expose this conundrum.
Actual role in 2019
2019 Stats: 3 games (3 starts): 62-of-105 (59.0%) for 685 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs, 75.3 passer rating
PFF Grade: 51.3
Murphy’s Law, am I right?
Driskel not only had to jump into a starting role having spent only two months with the team, but he had to do it with no warning. When the severity of Stafford’s back injury was revealed less than 48 hours before kickoff against the Chicago Bears, Driskel was thrust into the starting lineup with literally no full-speed reps with the first-team offense.
He performed admirably in that game, getting the Lions out to an early 6-0 lead, but that wouldn’t last.
His skillset brought in a rushing component to the quarterback position that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was able to utilize quite nicely. And while Driskel’s overall stats remained quite poor, he had the offense humming along well enough to keep Detroit in all three games he started. His best performance came in his second game, where he completed 15-of-26 passes for 206 yards and two scores (plus one rushing) for a passer rating of 109.3. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
Ironically enough, his season would end as it began: on injured reserve due to a hamstring injury.
What should the Lions do with him?
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
The case for re-signing:
Driskel is an experienced backup that allows the offense to look a little different and still be somewhat effective. He may not have won a game for the Lions last year, but general manager Bob Quinn certainly thought highly of how he played in his three starts.
“I would say that he probably played good enough to win two out of those three,” Quinn said at the end of the year. “We didn’t win those games and that was probably a byproduct of the defense not having a great day or special teams not having a great day. Jeff went in there, and I thought played at a decent level to help us win the game.”
That’s hard to argue against, and with the Lions short on experienced options at backup, Driskel provides a somewhat affordable option that looks to have fit somewhat well under Bevell’s offense. The Lions can continue to have him as backup while they bring along David Blough and Kyle Sloter, who appear to be a more long-term projects as backup.
The case for letting him walk:
If you look at Driskel’s career stats, they are not above replacement level. 2019 exposed this team’s need to spend significant resources on a backup quarterback. We saw the Saints keep their head above water in part due to the play of Teddy Bridgewater. The Pittsburgh Steelers probably were on the verge of playoffs thanks to adequate play from Mason Rudolph—even if he eventually got benched.
Matthew Stafford’s body is not getting any younger and the injuries keep mounting—even if 2019 was the first year he missed any games since 2010.
Also, don’t sleep on Kyle Sloter, who hasn’t made a regular season appearance yet, but has been quite impressive in three straight preseasons.
Personally, I’m completely fine with bringing back Driskel as the backup. The best way to weather the storm of an injured starting quarterback isn’t to spend a fortune on a backup that could spend the entire season on the bench. The best solution is to build a decent team around the quarterback so that a running game or an actual defense can help your backup manage an actual win.
The reason the Lions went 0-8 without Matthew Stafford isn’t because they didn’t have a great backup, it’s because the rest of the team was failing. Get yourself a decent defense, and Jeff Driskel can win a game or two. I truly believe that.
What should the Lions do with Jeff Driskel?
This poll is closed
Let him walk