2023: The Year of the…Backups?

As the preseason rages on, all 32 NFL teams will be gradually finalizing their respective 53-man rosters for 2023. The preseason has become the proving ground for players sitting lower in the depth charts, showing that they have what it takes to hang tough in the big leagues.

But every so often, we’ve seen second, third, or even fourth-string names rise to the occasion and become the next big thing on the gridiron. 2023 could be the year that more backups will become Pro-Bowl caliber players than we’ve seen in years.

For this list, we will not be counting names who have been announced as starters in 2023. We will be talking about the ones currently sitting as backups right now.

Here are a few current backups that could have a breakthrough in the 2023 NFL season.

NFL Backups Who Could Shine in 2023

Jamaal Williams: New Orleans Saints

Jamaal Williams is coming off a career season with the Detroit Lions in 2022. He broke the franchise record for most rushing touchdowns in a season (17) and posted his first 1,000-yard outing. Of those 17 games he played in last year, he only started in nine of them. Now, he’s moved south to dawn the black and gold in the upcoming campaign.

Needless to say, his arrival is most opportune; Alvin Kamara, a five-time Pro-Bowler, will be dealing with a three-game suspension due to an off-the-field incident in Las Vegas. During the current preseason, the Saints have been sorting out who will take over in the meantime.

Expect to hear from #30 a lot more often this year. If Williams can build upon his work in 2022, the Saints could have at least an impact player, and hopefully, another Pro-Bowl running back to utilize.

Gardner Minshew: Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have recently announced that rookie, Anthony Richardson, will be the starter coming into 2023. However, the fourth overall pick better be ready to hit the ground running. The NFL never fails to weed out the contenders from the pretenders. God forbid the Richardson experiment doesn’t play out this season, Minshew will be more than capable to rise to the occasion.

People seem to forget that Minshew can ball. During his two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he has completed over 60 percent of his passes and threw a combined 37 touchdowns to only 11 combined interceptions. Few people remember this because the Jaguars were turning into a laughing stock as the 2020’s arrived.

Minshew and Colts heads coach, Shane Steichen, do have history with each other. Steichen was the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles while Minshew was on the team last season. If the opportunity presents itself, we could see a potential return of “Minshew Mania.”

Bailey Zappe: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have found themselves at a crossroads at the quarterback position. Do they continue to roll with Mac Jones? Or do they hand the keys to Bailey Zappe? The 2022 season did not help the former’s case. Not only did the Patriots fail to reach the post-season, but also Jones suffered a slight slump in comparison to his rookie outing.

Keeping their options open, coach Bill Belichick and company gave backup signal caller, Bailey Zappe, the wheel for a couple of games. Going 2-0 as a starter, Zappe threw for almost 800 yards while completing almost 71 percent of his passes. His 5-3 touchdown to interception ratio is not the best. But the sample size shows Zappe’s hunger to win.

Do not be surprised if the Patriots give Zappe more playing time in 2023. His eagerness to compete cannot be underlooked.

Deuce Vaughn: Dallas Cowboys

Deuce Vaughn made his presence known to the football world as a Kansas State Wildcat. There, among a plethora of accomplishments, the Unanimous All-American played a pivotal role in upsetting TCU in last year’s Big-12 Conference Championship game.

Then came the 2023 NFL Draft. His five-foot-five frame made him the shortest running back drafted ever since the NFL started tracking the combine. But that did not stop the Dallas Cowboys from picking him up in the 6th round, commissioning Deuce’s father, who works as a scout for the Cowboys, to make that phone call and submit that pick.

Vaughn has his cut out for in Dallas. Tony Pollard and Ronald Jones II will mostly likely be taking most of the carries on offense. But Vaughn’s utility on special teams and in the receiving game could present him as a secret weapon for Dallas down the road. Who knows? If coach Mike McCarthy utilizes Deuce effectively, we could see his name in the “Rookie of the Year” conversation.

Main Image: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

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