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Backup U: The Prolific and Unshakable Oregon State Backup NFL QB

Holding the clipboard with Matt Moore, Derek Anderson, and Sean Mannion.

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Do you have dreams of one day becoming the NFL’s next great backup quarterback? Do you want to throw an interception because Cam Newton didn’t wear a tie that day? Do you want to find yourself embroiled in a “who-should-start-on-this-very-bad-team” controversy? Do you want, dare I say it, to be an unlikely hero during your team’s darkest hour? Then maybe you should be Oregon State’s next quarterback.

In what seems to be a weekly occurrence now, Matt Moore has become the second former Beaver to escape the depth chart and make headlines in the NFL. Derek Anderson did so earlier this year. And a third backup quarterback, Sean Mannion, is expected to play at some point this coming Saturday in the hopeless LA Ram’s meaningless game against the equally-hopeless San Francisco 49ers.

63 quarterbacks have attempted a pass this year in the NFL. On Saturday, with the likelihood of Sean Mannion becoming a card-carrying member in the LA quarterback Triad of Sadness, that number will rise to 64. Derek Anderson, Matt Moore, and Sean Mannion will make up 5% of the NFL’s quarterbacks who have attempted throws by the end of the weekend. And each of them represents a very different point in the life-cycle of the NFL backup quarterback.

Of the three former Beavers playing (or mostly just watching others play) quarterback in the NFL, Derek Anderson is the most battle-tested of the bunch. Now in his 12th season, the native Oregonian has spent his dozen years as the backup for four different NFL teams. After being drafted and buried in the Raven’s depth chart, Anderson found himself at the lowest point of his career in the lowest place he could go. The place no quarterback wants to be. The place where quarterbacks go to die. The proverbial darkness that comes for quarterbacks in their nightmares. Cleveland.

Anderson’s time with the Browns was marked by both incredible highs and very low lows. Ironically, in his 12 year career, some of his best seasons were in Cleveland. He even made the Pro Bowl in 2008 after leading the Browns to a 10-6 record, throwing for 29 touchdowns. But all good things must come to an end. Injuries and competition from other quarterbacks made his last two seasons in Cleveland much different than his first two.

After four seasons with the Browns, Anderson made it out of Cleveland the only way anyone gets to leave Cleveland: a season-ending MCL injury. The tour-de-bad NFL teams continued, as he made his way to America’s great South West to play for the Arizona Cardinals. Derek Anderson will not go down in history as one of the great gunslingers in Cardinals’ history. His most notable moment in Arizona came when he was caught laughing on camera during a game at how bad his team was. After the game, when a reporter questioned his laughter, Anderson gave a heated press conference that will likely go down as the defining moment of his career. Also, Derek Anderson held Oregon State’s career touchdown record for a decade, having thrown 79 of them in his 4 years. Mostly I just didn’t want to end this paragraph with another sad thing about Derek Anderson.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After being released by the Cardinals, the aging Anderson signed with the Panthers and has quietly been Cam Newton’s backup ever since. The last years of a backup quarterback’s career are supposed to be that way. Derek was supposed to hold the clipboard, take a snap or two, maybe franchise a couple Subways in Charlotte, and retire in peace. But that’s not what happened.

Due to Cam Newton’s injuries and War on Ties, he’s played in four games already this season. None of his games have been particularly good games. Most recently, Derek threw an interception on the first play of the Panther’s 40-7 defeat at the hands of Seattle. It was the only pass he attempted in the game. He also only attempted this pass because Cam Newton violated the team’s dress-code and was benched for one play. The same play that was Derek Anderson’s only play of the game. This paragraph, unfortunately, is going to end with a sad thing about Derek Anderson.

Matt “Gimme More” Moore is everything a football fan wants out of a quarterback. He scores well on the Quarterback Handsomeness Index, he’s a slightly above average player at the elite level, and he’s incredibly animated and passionate. Matt Moore, at least for a couple more days, is an American hero.

Though Moore only played his last two years in college at Oregon State, his final year leading the Beavers to a Sun Bowl victory in 2006 cemented him forever as a Beaver great. But the high of his senior season quickly faded, as Moore’s NFL career started the same as all great backup quarterback career’s start: as a backup.

Matt Moore was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2007. After his short stint with the team landed him on waivers, the Panthers picked him up. Through his years with the Panthers, Moore showed flashes of greatness but was hampered by injury. In fact, his play in the 2009 season (8 touchdown passes and only 1 interception after becoming the starter) landed him the full-time starting gig in 2010. But 2010 was not yet the year Matt Moore would complete his evolution into a perennial starter. No, 2010 would be a year that Moore sat out multiple games with injuries until a blow to his shoulder mercifully placed him on IR.

In 2011, Moore swam his way to Miami to become the Dolphin’s newest backup QB. And by the end of the season, he was named Miami’s 2011 Offensive MVP. At the time, things were finally looking up for Matt Moore. But if Derek Anderson and Matt Moore’s stories have taught us anything so far, it’s that fate is a cruel, heartless gypsy. And she hates backup quarterbacks.

The very next year, the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill, the number three prospect in the 2012 NFL draft behind Andrew Luck and RGIII. Tannehill beat out Moore for the starting job in his rookie season and went on to start 77 straight games. Prior to last week, it was the 6th longest active streak among quarterbacks in the NFL. Matt Moore spent the last four years laying dormant, brooding (I hope), and patiently waiting for something bad to happen to Ryan Tannehill (also no evidence of this I just like to think that backup quarterbacks are as petty as I am). And then it finally happened.

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

A week ago, Matt Moore came into a close game against the Arizona Cardinals after Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury. Tied up 23-23 with 89 seconds remaining, he threw two key completions that set up a game-winning field goal. He hadn’t thrown a pass in a game that mattered since 2012. Then last weekend, in his first start since 2011, Moore threw for 4 touchdowns and 236 yards in a 34-13 blowout on the road of the Jets to keep the Dolphins’ playoff hopes alive. Due to the severity of Tannehill’s injury, he’s likely to miss the remainder of the season. Which leaves Matt Moore in the driver’s seat of a playoff bound team. A former Oregon State Beaver is likely going to start a playoff game. As Gary Andersen would say, “How ‘bout that?”

That leaves us with Sean Mannion, the newest addition to the Oregon State backup family, who has still yet to play in a game. Cries of #FreeMannion have sprung up nationwide (okay mostly from this blog), calling for Sean to play in what has been an abysmal year for the LA Ram’s other quarterbacks. The good news? After firing head coach Jeff Fisher, losing 10 of their 14 games, and benching their starting quarterback only to find out that Jared Goff is also not good, the Rams have nothing to lose.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Interim head coach John Fassel was quoted earlier this week during an official team press conference, in what can only be a quote about a backup quarterback, as saying:

Hell yeah! Get Sean in there! Just in case Jared Goff sneezes and has to come out for a play, or maybe Jared just needs a second to collect his thoughts, or if we accidentally leave Jared at the hotel when we take the bus to the stadium. I don’t know about you, but if I was Sean Mannion I would be at least 5% more excited about the possibility of playing after my interim head coach said I need practice just in case the starter can’t find his helmet.

In any case, the Pride of Corvallis and record holder of just about every Oregon State passing record there is (not to mention the Pac-12 all time passing yards leader), is now in his second NFL season having thrown only 7 passes in a regular season game. He spent the 2016 season as third on the Ram’s depth chart, which is in a lot of ways the same thing as being the third best Fantastic Four movie.

We can only hope for a Sean sighting this weekend. Though it may be fleeting and menial, it will simultaneously be refreshing and well-deserved.


There is no glory in being a backup quarterback in the NFL. You are mostly there for when something bad happens to the guy that is supposed to be playing. You spend most of your time taking second-team and scout team reps and helping the starter see things he might of missed during live action while he’s on the sidelines.

But there are moments of exhilaration among the lows. There are backups who become more than just anonymous faces on sidelines. There are the Tony Romos and Tom Bradys, who emerge from the shadows to become elite quarterbacks. For Derek Anderson? Probably too late. For Matt Moore? It could be happening right now. For Sean Mannion? Who knows. It might just start on Saturday.