NFL players are relatively anonymous, except for quarterbacks, who are often pretty famous. That makes it all the more absurd that four or five players straight out of the Madden name generator — Nick Mullens, Jeff Driskel, Cody Kessler, Colt McCoy, and possibly Chase Daniel — will all start at quarterback this week. A combination of injuries and benchings have created the biggest “wait, who?” week of the season, and the timing couldn’t be better (or worse) for each of them.
With the Jaguars benching Blake Bortles this week, there is now a glaring void for the title of worst NFL starter. Odds are one of the above players will claim that throne this week. To help fans calibrate which of the anonymous signal-callers is flirting with the most disaster this week, we’ve ranked each of them on a Bortles scale, in which 1 Bortles means a very low chance of playing as poorly as Bortles and 5 means a very high chance of playing as poorly as Bortles. It’s like how DEFCON 1 is the highest and DEFCON 5 is the lowest, but the exact opposite. We’ve also thrown in some biographical information and tidbits in case you, you know, aren’t too familiar with Jeff Driskel.
Colt McCoy, Washington Redskins
Résumé: This one is cheating, because McCoy is not exactly anonymous. He was one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever and a four-year starter at Texas, but the Browns sucked him into their quarterback black hole. McCoy went 6–15 in his first two seasons before being relegated to backupdom. He threw 17, one, 128, 11, zero, and zero passes in the six seasons from 2012 to 2017 before taking over for an injured Alex Smith this year.
Random Fact: He does not sound like he is over that 2008 game against Texas Tech.
Matchup: Washington is taking on the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles on Monday Night Football. The Eagles haven’t been the 2017 version of themselves, but their season is on the line. There is room for disaster here, but McCoy’s been in too many big matchups in his formative years to crumble, and he’s by far the most experienced QB of this group.
Bortles Score: 1 Bortles
Nick Mullens, San Francisco 49ers
Résumé: Mullens destroyed Jon Gruden’s Raiders and briefly supplanted Joe Montana as the best quarterback in 49ers history five weeks after coming off the practice squad, going from anonymous to famous faster than anybody since Ken Bone. Mullens, the 2012 Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year in high school, broke just about every passing record at Southern Miss, which matters only because they were set by Brett Favre.
Random Fact: On Thursday Night Football, the broadcasters repeatedly mentioned that they were confident there was only one person in the entire building wearing a Nick Mullens jersey. At the end of the fourth quarter, the cameras found her.
It turned out that she was a family friend, which really punctured the mystery of the whole thing.
Matchup: Mullens’s first three starts were at home against the 1–6 Raiders, home against the 1–7 Giants, and at the 3–7 Buccaneers. Now he heads into Seattle, still one of the loudest stadiums in sports, to play the division rival Seahawks. Anyone else would be a strong candidate to wet his pants, but Mullens showed too much #grit against the Raiders for us to think he is going to wilt (and if he does, his backup, C.J. Beathard, may not fare much better).
Bortles Score: 2 Bortleses
Chase Daniel, [Checks Notes] Chicago Bears
Résumé: Daniel was the definition of the Big Man on Campus. He was the Texas Division 5A Champion, the Texas Division 5A Player of the Year, and the EA Sports National Player of the Year in high school. In college, he went 30–11 in two years as the starter at Missouri and earned a Sports Illustrated cover.
Daniel has also been the BMOC in the NFL: Backup Man Operating Clipboard. He went undrafted, has bounced around four teams as a backup, and is so anonymous that even his own teammates didn’t recognize him at training camp.
Yes, he is in disguise, but somebody had to pitch Chase Daniel on that video, and the conversation probably went like this:
Bears PR Person: Chase, we want to disguise you and have you ask your teammates for autographs.
Chase Daniel: I love it. What disguise do I wear? Maybe four hours of makeup like Kyrie Irving playing Uncle Drew?
Bears PR Person: [Pauses.] I think a hat and sunglasses will do.
Random Fact: Daniel has attempted 115 passes in his NFL career and has made $28.3 million. That comes out to more than $246,000 per pass attempt.
Matchup: The Bears are visiting the Giants. Chicago’s defense has a serious chance at outscoring New York’s offense, so if Daniel starts in place of Mitchell Trubisky, he likely won’t have to do a lot. If he does have to carry the Bears offense on his back, he looks enough like Ben Roethlisberger’s washed-up older brother that we can safely assume he has plenty of backbreaking interceptions up his sleeve.
Bortles Score: 3 Bortleses
Jeff Driskel, Cincinnati Bengals
Résumé: The patron saint of failed University of Florida quarterback prospects, Driskel was the 2010 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year and the top quarterback recruit of the 2011 class. After a disappointing tenure, he transferred to Louisiana Tech. Driskell was drafted 863rd by the Boston Red Sox in 2013 despite not having played baseball in two years. That was only 656 spots later than the 49ers took him in the NFL draft. In 2016, he lost the 49ers’ third-string quarterback battle to Christian Ponder.
Random Fact: The person in the above photo is Christian Ponder, not Jeff Driskel. This is Driskel:
Matchup: Driskel looked solid in relief of Andy Dalton, who was placed on IR this week with a thumb injury he suffered Sunday. Unfortunately for the Driskel family (not to be confused with the O’Driscolls), the Bengals are facing the Broncos, and Cincinnati’s pasta-strainer defense might give up an early lead and allow Von Miller to wreak havoc.
Bortles Score: 4 Bortleses
Cody Kessler, Jacksonville Jaguars
Résumé: “I understand where everybody’s coming from, but you’ve got to trust me on this one,” Hue Jackson said after the Browns surprised many around the league and took Kessler in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft. Kessler was the 2010 California Gatorade Player of the Year (they just give those out like candy, don’t they?) and started three seasons at USC, but was not regarded as a great NFL prospect.
Still, Jackson believed, and Kessler started eight games for the 2016 Browns (and went 0–8, obviously). It got worse from there. He was benched for Josh McCown midseason, fell behind DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan on the depth chart the following year, and was traded to the Jaguars this past offseason for a conditional future seventh-round pick, which is the NFL trade equivalent of asking if anybody wants the rest of your sandwich while you are holding it over the trash can.
Random Fact: Someone managed to scrape together a nearly six-minute video of Cody Kessler highlights.
This video is 349 seconds long, and Kessler has only 248 career pass attempts.
Matchup: Kessler is earning his first start in two years, and he already replaced Bortles midgame earlier this season. Jacksonville is playing the Colts, but the biggest adversary will come from within: Kessler needs to fight the struggles that come with playing for both the Browns and the Jaguars to begin his career. Hopefully he has learned some valuable lessons from playing behind Bortles the past two seasons.
Bortles Score: 5 Bortleses