Nine months ago, Brock Purdy was “Mr. Irrelevant.” Now, he’s the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and he’s helped his team win five games in a row.
Purdy’s quick rise to NFL glory is the kind of adventure that quarterbacks dream of when they’re riding the bench. But few actually get to travel the path he’s walking, even if they do get a chance to start a game or two.
It’s more common for lesser-known backups to look awkward or downright awful during their NFL debut. That’s one reason why teams often sign or trade for a different quarterback if their starter gets injured, rather than relying on the options they already have.
But NFL dreams die hard, and most backups assume they have what it takes to do what Purdy has done. This weekend, a few more players will get a chance to prove it, since some teams are sitting their starting quarterbacks in the final week of the regular season.
Here’s a look at the little-known QBs who will fill in as starters this weekend:
Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
Sam Howell, like Purdy, was part of the 2022 NFL draft. But unlike Purdy, Howell wasn’t picked in its final moments; the Washington Commanders took him at the start of the fifth round.
Howell spent much of this season as a backup to the backup. He only moved up one spot to first backup after Carson Wentz got injured.
But Commanders coaches and players have said they’re impressed with his performance in practice and excited to see what Howell can on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
“He has a real good touch and I think he has a quiet confidence about him. I’m excited to see how is in a game atmosphere,” said wide receiver Terry McLaurin this week, according to ESPN.
For his part, Howell said he looks forward to the opportunity to prove he deserves his spot on the Commanders roster.
“I want to prove to my teammates that I can do this job and I just want to prove to them that I’m capable of playing in the NFL. More than anything I just want to prove to myself. I know how hard I’ve worked my whole entire life to get this opportunity. I just want to go out there and make the most of it,” he told ESPN.
Before launching his professional career, Howell spent three years as the starter for the University of North Carolina.
“During his time at Chapel Hill, the QB started 37 games, completing 63.8% of his passes for 10,283 yards with 92 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,009 yards on 369 attempts with an additional 17 touchdowns,” NFL.com reported during the draft.
Skylar Thompson, Miami Dolphins
Skylar Thompson is another rookie quarterback serving as a starter this weekend. The Miami Dolphins turned to him after Tua Tagovailoa’s backup, Teddy Bridgewater, dislocated the pinky finger on his throwing hand during the team’s Week 17 matchup against the New England Patriots.
Thompson, who, like Purdy, was taken in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft, has logged one other start for the Dolphins this season and come in as a back-up in four other games.
“Thompson has completed 54% of his passes this season for 382 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. During his extended run this preseason, he led the NFL in passer rating and passing touchdowns,” ESPN reported.
In the Dolphins’ Sunday game against the New York Jets, Thompson has the chance to be a hero. If Miami wins and the Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins will make the playoffs.
Coach Mike McDaniel said this week that he’s confident Thompson can lead the Dolphins to victory, according to ESPN.
“I think he has an athletic component to his game that sneaks up on people because he does most of his work in the pocket. He does have a knack of how to use his athleticism to extend a play, and the dude is fearless,” he said.
Thompson played for Kansas State University in college.
David Blough, Arizona Cardinals
On Sunday, David Blough will start for the Arizona Cardinals for the second time this season, as the team continues to wrestle with the fallout from quarterback Kyler Murray’s midseason knee injury.
Last week, he came very close to leading the Cardinals to a much needed win, but the team fell just short in a 20-19 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Blough went “24-for-40 with 220 yards and a touchdown,” according to NBC Sports.
Although Blough has only been in the league since 2019, when he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns, he’s already spent time with four teams: the Browns, the Detroit Lions, the Minnesota Vikings and the Cardinals.
His only other notable playing opportunity came with the Lions during the 2019-20 NFL season. Blough became the starter at Thanksgiving that season after Matthew Stafford was injured. Over a five-game stretch, Blough completed “54% of his passes for 984 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions,” according to Fansided.
After Sunday’s Cardinals-Falcons game, Blough said he remains optimistic about what the rest of his NFL career could hold.
“I hope as a player I have gotten better every year and learned from different people,” he said, according to The Associated Press.
Nathan Peterman, Chicago Bears
After spending the season watching teammate Justin Fields become a star, Nathan Peterman will start this weekend for the first time in more than four years.
“Peterman has not started a game since 2018, when he started two for Buffalo. He’s completed 52.5% of his career passes for 598 yards with three touchdowns and 13 interceptions,” Yahoo! Sports reported.
Peterman was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft. The next year, he competed with Josh Allen for the starting quarterback position and — as you might have guessed given Allen’s career trajectory — ended up on the bench.
Once he was released by the bills, Peterman signed with the then-Oakland Raiders, where he earned praise from head coach Jon Gruden. He played a supporting role behind Derek Carr for three seasons and then signed with the Chicago Bears in May 2022.
Peterman was part of the practice squad for much of the season, since Trevor Siemian was first-in-line to take over for Fields. His opportunity to start this week comes because Siemian, like Fields, is now injured.