Without A.J. McCarron around, Jeff Driskel is the likely Cincinnati Bengals’ backup quarterback. What can we project from his little experience?
In his eight seasons at quarterback, the Bengals have never given Andy Dalton a legitimate competitor. Now that A.J. McCarron left for Buffalo, the talent gap between Dalton and the backups has never been greater. Whether or not the Bengals should have taken rookies Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph is a different question. However, the team needs to resolve the logjam behind Dalton at backup quarterback.
Most likely, that replacement will be Jeff Driskel. Driskel, a third-round pick out of Florida and Louisiana Tech, signed with the Bengals after getting a waiver by the 49ers. Even entering his third season on the team, Driskel has yet to see any regular season snaps. Playing third fiddle to Dalton and McCarron has offered very few chances for Driskel to prove his worth in Cincinnati. We can use Driskel’s prior play to project how he would perform if thrust into NFL game action.
At Florida, Driskel was passable, but not impressive. In his two full seasons as a Gator, Driskel averaged a 59% completion rate and only 1,400 yards passing with a 21:15 TD/INT ratio. The SEC is undoubtedly a difficult conference, but these numbers are dismal. Driskel made up for his passing woes with his legs, where he averaged 300 yards and 4 TDs. Holistically, Driskel’s Florida stats are not impressive.
He did improve at Louisiana Tech in his one season there as a grad transfer. In a more explosive offense, Driskel had more freedom with the offense. He had double the pass attempts at LA Tech. With that volume, Driskel put up over 4,000 yards on a 63% completion rate and 27 TDs to only 8 INTs. He also showed his rushing ability again, totaling over 300 yards and 5 TDs. Clearly, when given more freedom in an offense, Driskel showed the ability to both pass and run at a high level, even if it was against lower competition.
Although Driskel has not seen regular season action, he has played during the preseason with the Bengals. Last season, against the Buccaneers, he played most of the game and performed exceedingly well. Driskel completed 14/21 passes for 164 yards and a TD while picking up another 63 yards on the ground. Granted, the Buccaneers were not playing their defensive starters. Regardless, Driskel looked like he was in control the entire game, and seemed confident and skilled enough to step into true game action.
What’s most enticing about Driskel’s potential is his dual-threat ability. He’s shown the ability to scramble at Florida, LA Tech, and during the preseason. What separates Driskel from other running quarterbacks, though, is his raw speed. At the combine, he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash – a time that would be good for a running back. Driskel’s ability to scramble adds a dimension to his game that makes him an excellent backup quarterback. For one, dual-threat quarterbacks are harder to prepare for on short notice, so Driskel could catch defenses off guard. Further, running the ball carries a distinctly lower risk of turning the ball over. If Driskel had to replace Dalton, the Bengals would want him in a game-manager role, so running the ball 8-10 times would be a smart decision.
Because of his experience on the team and his dual-threat ability, Driskel seems like the clear choice to back up Dalton. Overall, Driskel’s stats don’t blow anyone away, especially at Florida. However, he showed improvement in his year at LA Tech and during the preseason. Driskel has enough passing acumen to handle NFL game action, and his dynamic running can keep the defense off balance. In a Bengals offense that should have more read-options, bootlegs, and play-action, Driskel can thrive as the backup quarterback.