Injuries are a cold reality of each NFL season. They’re bound to happen. But a half-dozen teams have already suffered worst-case scenarios in 2023, with six different starting quarterbacks (or almost 20% of all Day 1 starters) going down with long-term injuries.
The Bengals and Browns are the most recent victims, with Joe Burrow and Deshaun Watson each ruled out for the remainder of the season thanks to injuries they recently aggravated. But which of the six clubs to lose their first-team signal-callers has been — or will be — most affected? Here, we’re ranking the teams in order of most devastated by the loss of their respective QB:
Starter: Kirk Cousins | Replacement: Josh Dobbs
Cousins has his big-picture skeptics, but he was on pace for career numbers despite a stripped-down lineup before suffering a torn Achilles in Week 8. His loss seemed to sap the scrappy Vikings of any remaining playoff hope. And yet Dobbs has been an absolute revelation, coming in hot off the bench after an abrupt trade from the Cardinals to reignite Minnesota’s big-play flame. While he’s a bit safer, and not quite as efficient, as Cousins through the air, he’s been one of the game’s most slippery scramblers this year, showcasing legit poise to keep Minnesota in the wild-card race. Improbably, the ex-Steelers and Browns journeyman is already playing himself into the 2024 QB conversation for the Vikings, who don’t have Cousins under contract beyond this year.
Can you be devasted by a QB injury when the original QB is already devastating in his own way? Make no mistake, the Giants aren’t scaring anyone with DeVito, an undrafted rookie under center in place of both Jones and veteran No. 2 Tyrod Taylor, who’s battling his own injury. While the kid had three scores against the Commanders, well, . Still, Jones wasn’t much better before suffering an ACL tear behind New York’s shoddy O-line, totaling seven turnovers in a 1-5 stretch. The former first-rounder, who briefly flirted with a redemptive arc in 2022, has always been tough amid makeshift supporting casts, but he’s only ever had consistent success as a scrambler; his future as the QB1 is certainly in question.
Like the Giants, the Colts are benefitting a bit from their own general mediocrity. Before Richardson, this year’s No. 4 overall draft pick, went down for the year with a shoulder injury, Indianapolis was flashy but erratic; and since Minshew, the journeyman backup, took over, the team’s been just as erratic, with maybe a bit less flash. While Minshew brings enough spunk to keep the Colts feisty against comparable opponents, the big reason Richardson is a more significant loss is twofold: 1.) Indy now has to wait until 2024 to get a complete evaluation on its prized prospect, and 2.) Richardson brought exponentially more as a runner, scoring four TDs and approaching 140 yards in less than four full games. That dynamism helped make Indy more unpredictable.
Starter: Deshaun Watson | Replacement: Dorian Thompson-Robinson
On one hand, the Browns have been somewhat comparable to the Vikings, coach Kevin Stefanski’s old team, in that they’ve weathered a serious injury to their veteran QB with aggressive, suffocating defense. Watson, after all, struggled to stay on the field for consecutive games even before shoulder surgery necessitated his indefinite absence. And yet Cleveland enters Week 12 at 7-3, just behind the Ravens in the AFC North. But both P.J. Walker and Thompson-Robinson, the rookie, have struggled to hit on even 60% of their throws in relief, which is probably why veteran Joe Flacco just signed on as emergency insurance. Again, Watson wasn’t lighting the world on fire, but his upside as a downfield passer could be missed down the stretch.
Starter: Joe Burrow | Replacement: Jake Browning
We’ve yet to see Browning make his first career start in relief of Burrow, whose Week 11 wrist injury ended an already-hampered season. But even after 2023’s early issues due to a sore calf, Burrow had mostly recaptured his MVP-caliber form, so his exit robs a potential title contender of its ultra-poised captain. Browning, on the other hand, has thrown all of 15 NFL passes since entering as an undrafted free agent in 2019, and will be tasked with digging the Bengals out of a 5-5 hole. Maybe the Washington product has a magic run up his sleeve, especially with weapons like Ja’Marr Chase at his disposal. But Cincinnati didn’t pay for proven insurance behind Burrow, and that will likely be apparent in the coming weeks.
In the end, the Bengals may suffer a steeper drop going from Burrow to Browning, but at least in New York, we can already say that the Jets’ Plan B behind Rodgers was an unquestioned failure. Wilson has occasionally flashed a zippy arm in each of his three seasons since entering as the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, but he’s also consistently failed to string together even moderately productive offensive series as a simultaneously conservative and frenetic fill-in, going 3-6 with 12 turnovers and a 59.2 completion percentage since Rodgers’ anticipated Jets debut was indefinitely put on hold thanks to a Week 1 torn Achilles. Finally benched for journeyman Tim Boyle in Week 11, Wilson’s now been demoted three times in the last two years, and the Jets’ inexplicable commitment to him as the No. 2 may ultimately cost the club a playoff bid for the second straight season.