‘May the best man win’: Who will rise to the top in the Chiefs’ backup QB battle?
While many NFL teams will spend the off-season trying to decide on a new starting quarterback, the defending world champion Kansas City Chiefs are in a much more enviable situation as they aim to decide on who will be the backup behind their locked up MVP star signal-caller Patrick Mahomes.
They did address the depth at quarterback by signing former Buccaneers backup QB Blaine Gabbert after the retirement of veteran backup Chad Henne after the Chiefs Super Bowl victory over the Eagles.
— NFL (@NFL) April 18, 2023
The question now remains: Will the 12 year veteran from Ballwin, Mo (Gabbert), third-year player Shane Buechele or second year/practice squad player Chris Oladokun back up the Chiefs reigning MVP?
The Chiefs coaching staff, and players, understand the importance of having a dependable, quality backup quarterback. Chad Henne was Mahomes’ primary backup and briefly filled in for the injured starter went down in the Divisional Round with an ankle injury before returning later in the game.
Injuries happen. QB2 needs to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. During the OTA, minicamp and training camp sessions, Mahomes should be already to go from his ankle injury. But what if that time happen and he was not able to play, who would start?
One of the primary objectives for the coaching staff especially for offensive coordinator Matt Nagy during this off season is identifying Mahomes’ backup.
The 33-year-old Blaine Gabbert has been in the NFL since 2011. He has spent the last three seasons as Tom Brady’s backup quarterback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played football at Parkway West High School in Ballwin, Missouri, before playing college ball at Mizzou. Gabbert began his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who selected him with the 10th overall choice in the 2011 draft.
Blaine Gabbert starts the second half and throws a TD to Gronk! #GoBucs
— NFL (@NFL) December 26, 2020
Unfortunately, numerous injuries limited him to only 13 total games in 2012 and 2013. Gabbert struggled in Jacksonville, completing just 53.3 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions and 155.6 yards per game.
Gabbert fared better later in his career. He completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns (seven interceptions) and 253.9 yards per game over eight starts with the 2015 San Francisco 49ers. He played for the 49ers (2014-16), Arizona Cardinals (2017), Tennessee Titans (2018) and Bucs before reportedly inking a deal with the Chiefs.
In limited action with Tampa over the past three years, Gabbert completed 22 of 35 passes for 239 yards and three scores (no picks). Gabbert did exceptional at backing up the future HOF signal-caller, and now he’ll be second-string to another GOAT in Mahomes. Like Mahomes, Gabbert has a big arm and could make some plays downfield to the speedy Chiefs’ receivers like Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore and then Buccaneers teammate Justin Watson.
While the coaches know what Gabbert can do, they are eager to see more from Buechele and Oladokun, who were both part of the team in 2022.
The battle between Gabbert, Buechele and Oladokun is on center stage, as they will receive the majority of the reps during the off-season before camp starts.
Not to discount Blaine Gabbert, but he’s a known commodity. Other than Mahomes, nobody knows the offense better than Shane Buechele.
That’s how you feel, Shane Buechele? 🎯 pic.twitter.com/pBiqQE4Nlz
— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 28, 2021
Shane Buechele, hasn’t played in a single NFL game since going undrafted in 2021.
Buechele played at the University of Texas for three years before transferring to SMU. He put up much better numbers with the Mustangs, throwing for 7,024 yards, 57 TDs and just 16 INTs across two seasons. He then caught on with Kansas City’s practice squad, where he served as QB3 behind Mahomes and Henne.
What makes Buechele an interesting player and why I would consider him competition for Gabbert going into the 2023 season is because of his experience in the system, shown his good athletic and scrambling ability fits well in Andy Reid’s offense and his connection with fellow SMU product and college teammate, wide receiver Rashee Rice.
QB Shane Buechele pour WR Rashee Rice. TD Mustangs ! Très belle réaction de SMU.
Le chassé-croisé se poursuit. 🔥
Tulane 14, SMU 17 pic.twitter.com/FobpaSJk8a
— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) October 16, 2020
Every quarterback has a go-to guy that is targeted at crunch time. This target has a significant rapport with the signal-caller that often beats any defensive approach, regardless of the matchup. Rice was Buechele’s go to guy at SMU. Rice trained with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Texas prior to the draft along with Buechele.
Rice opened up about his relationship with Buechele during his conversation with reporters in the post-draft Zoom press conference.
“I talked to him the whole time during the draft process; I ran routes with him, as well.” Said Rice, “He called me as soon as my name got called on the TV. I mean, that’s my guy. I know we have a great connection. We just ready to make some plays like we did in college at SMU.”
— SMU FootbaIl (@SMUFB) April 29, 2023
Due to that connection, that could help Buechele’s case in his potential battle for the backup role against Gabbert. Remember, the Chiefs kept the Cardinals from signing Buechele off the practice squad by elevating him to the 53 man roster in 2021.
The Patriots in 2000 were willing to keep Tom Brady as a fourth QB on the 53-man roster which was unheard of at the time because the Patriots saw something special in him and didn’t want another team to get his talents. Tony Romo didn’t even play his first NFL snap under center until 2006 when he signed as a undrafted rookie free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003. I’m not comparing Buechele at all to Brady or Romo or even trying to jinx our star QB with an injury but I am bringing up the example of what NFL teams might see in that player that most of us in the public might never know and the importance of the QB position rather it’s the starter or the backup.
The Chiefs are signing QB Shane Buechele from their practice squad to the 53-man roster, as @caplannfl said.
The reason? The Cardinals attempted to sign Buechele to their active roster, per source. Both Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy are currently dealing with injuries.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 16, 2021
Buechele is a back-up that can win with (provided he is surrounded with good talent) his good mental processing, good decision-making, and good accuracy from good mechanics and touch on short and intermediate throws to create yards after the catch opportunities. He also has that physical and mental toughness showing his willingness to take hits in the pocket and keep playing, very even-keel calm personality pre-snap when making adjustments, and does not get mentally broken by bad plays.
The Chiefs also kept Chris Oladokun on their practice squad last season. The 25-year-old hasn’t suited up in the NFL yet, but he played quarterback at South Florida, Samford and South Dakota State in college. Oladokun was selected by the Steelers in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the 241st overall pick.
At South Dakota State he threw for 3,164 yards, 25 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in 2021. He rushed for 166 yards and had two touchdown receptions. While some may think Oladokun would be a great candidate to stick around on the practice squad, it’s extremely rare for any NFL team to keep a fourth quarterback.
@NFLPABowl | @GoJacksFB QB Chris Oladukon (6012/207/0878/3238/7628 has opened up some eyes amongst the 300+ #NFL scouts in attendance this week. True leader of men, can make all the throws, tremendous mobility, nice touch and has had a very strong week in #Pasadena 🌹 #StockUp 📈 pic.twitter.com/hKTlH0reME
— Ric Serritella (@RicSerritella) January 27, 2022
This leads me to believe that Gabbert is the incumbent backup but I won’t be surprised if Buechele takes that spot away from Gabbert with a strong showing during the preseason this fall. If Buechele doesn’t get the backup role in 2023, that role is his in 2024.
Of course, the Chiefs are counting on Gabbert being the backup quarterback this season. But during the next few months, they have a chance to give a lot of work to the young QBs and find a reliable backup.
They’re going to put the next best quarterback in a position to be No. 2 and the third best guy in position to be No. 3. But it’s a day-in, day-out process. May the best man win. I’m anticipating a very good battle for fans to watch.