By Chris Morgan
In Sunday's loss to Tennessee, Lions fans saw a disappointing, far too common sight: Matthew Stafford leaving a game with an injury. While Stafford managed to stay healthy all last season, in his prior season he suffered repeated injuries. Fortunately for the Lions, they had Shaun Hill sitting on the bench as the backup.
Hill came in and went 10-for-13 for 172 yards and two touches. Granted, one of those touchdowns was an absurd Hail Mary, but nevertheless those numbers are quite good. Having a good backup quarterback is a nice thing to be able to fall back on, even if teams never want to do it. A team like the Packers, now that Matt Flynn is in Seattle, cannot sustain an injury to Aaron Rodgers. In Hill, the Lions have one of the better backup signal callers in the NFL. However, is it possible that Hill is the best backup in the league?
Hill is a rarity among backups. He's a player who actually was a starter once before, giving him rare experience. Many backups are young players who have never seen playing time in the NFL, or guys who have just hung around the league drawing a paycheck holding a clipboard. He's also only 32, so he's not a guy like Charlie Batch, whose best days are far behind them, but who provides veteran leadership.
You could make the argument that Hill is better than a few of the starters in the league. Admittedly, a few teams, such as Cleveland and Miami, are starting rookies because they have invested in them and hope they are their future. Another of the league's better backup quarterbacks, Matt Moore, is better than Ryan Tannehill, but only one of them was just taken with a top 10 pick to be the quarterback of the future. Still, there are backups that wouldn't start for most, if any, teams. Of course, there are a lot of guys who we haven't seen play since college, so they are, at best, unknown commodities. Some still think Matt Flynn could be a good quarterback in this league.
There are a handful of players of a similar caliber to Hill, and, no, Tim Tebow is not among them. Aside from the aforementioned Flynn, the rest of the names are guys who, like Hill, have gotten the chance to start as well, and who likely could start for some teams. These are guys like Matt Hasselbeck, Chad Henne, Matt Moore, and Kyle Orton. Those are, in terms of known commodities, the best of the backups and, frankly, a lot of the unknown commodities are guys that likely have no chance of ever being good. Some have good things to say about players such as Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles. Few have similar things to say about the Tyrod Taylor's of the world.
Hill has attempted 954 passes in his career. He's got a 62.0 completion percentage, and he's thrown 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. In 2010, he played in 11 games with the Lions, the last time he saw significant playing time, and completed 61.8 percent of his passes, throwing 16 touchdowns and 12 picks. He also rushed 22 times for 123 yards. Not good numbers, but solid. For a backup quarterback, that more than suffices.
Hasselbeck is a player who is at the tail end of his career, and his skills are starting to diminish. Henne is decent, but is probably the least impressive of the quarterbacks listed. That leaves Hill battling Moore, Orton, and Flynn. While Flynn hasn't seen a ton of playing time, all three of those guys can at least reasonably be put ahead of Hill. So, maybe Hill isn't the best backup quarterback in the league. Maybe he's only fourth. Regardless, he's the kind of player who let's fans know that, if Stafford goes down, all hope is not lost.
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Chris has been a diehard Detroit Lions fan through the good (Barry Sanders) and the bad (Matt Millen) and that love has led him to take jobs writing about sports, including as a fantasy sports "expert." His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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