The quarterback is undoubtedly the most important position in football. They’re often the face of the franchise, they touch the ball every offensive snap and typically are the leaders of the offense. But what if they simply did not exist anymore?
We wanted to envision a world in which NFL quarterbacks are no longer needed in the game. Super Bowl champ Patrick Mahomes? Gone. MVP Lamar Jackson? Vanished.
How would teams react if there were suddenly no quarterbacks on their roster, and none available to sign in free agency? Before we get to the results, let’s first explain how the process was done using “Madden NFL 20.”
Eliminating quarterbacks from the NFL
My initial plan was to enter the league as each quarterback in an offline franchise and force them into retirement. But I quickly found out that the actual player doesn’t really retire, despite the news feed saying they did. So my next best plan was to trade all of the quarterbacks to one team and then change their positions. So I did.
I changed the majority of quarterbacks to fullbacks or offensive linemen since that seemed like the weakest position for them to be. So technically the quarterbacks aren’t fully eliminated from the game, but their sudden desire to change positions renders them useless for NFL franchises.
So all of the rostered quarterbacks are now useless, but I had to take care of the free agents now as well. So I did. I signed them all to one team, and changed their positions.
All done, right? Wrong.
If you’ve played Madden at all recently then you probably know the game likes to put kickers and punters in the quarterback depth chart. So getting rid of the quarterbacks would just put kickers and punters in at QB, which isn’t really what I wanted for my experiment. So I changed every kicker and punter to fullbacks as well.
There’s now a surplus of fullbacks on the free agent market, but no quarterbacks, kickers or punters.
An NFL game with no quarterbacks
Now that the league is all set up, I wanted to see how the game would react to not having quarterbacks … and the game did not like it.
I ran into a small problem at first. When you go to play a game, you get an error message saying your team doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for QB, K or P. However if you force advance the week, the game does play. But doing that doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about what happened in the game. So I came up with a plan.
Initially I was using a coaching role in my franchise so I could sign and trade players. But since that’s no longer needed, I retired from being a coach and instead went into a player role. In the player role, you aren’t in charge of free agency, so the game doesn’t give you an error message anymore.
It was finally time to see what Madden would do with no quarterbacks.
Oh … oh no.
If you’re curious what’s happening there, Madden typically shows an intro video for each quarterback when they enter the game. But with no quarterbacks to choose from, it seems as if Madden just chose a random player to feature and had no idea what to do for the background, so it chose purple and green for some reason.
Once we got past that weirdness, we were finally able to see what happens. Turns out the teams will just alternate different offensive players in at quarterback depending on the formation. In my test case I did Bengals vs. Seahawks, and Cincinnati turned to Tyler Boyd, A.J.Green and Giovani Bernard all within just the first drive of the game.
The Seahawks did the same thing when it was their turn on offense. At the end of the game, the Seahawks and Bengals each had four players with passing statistics. Interestingly enough, despite Boyd taking snaps at quarterback in certain formations, he never actually threw a pass the entire game.
Here’s how the Bengals’ passing numbers looked at the end of the first game.
The Bengals limited their passing attack, and actually weren’t terrible considering there were no quarterbacks. Cincinnati instead relied heavily on the ground game with 66 rush attempts between four players. Mixon finished with 31 carries for 176 yards while rookie Rodney Anderson had 28 carries for 98 yards.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were lost without Russell Wilson, turning to Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, D.K. Metcalf and Will Dissly for their quarterback duties. Carson had the most action, finishing 3-of-10 for 37 yards. Penny completed just 1 of 6 passes while throwing an interception.
And while this experiment was initially trying to figure out what happened with no quarterbacks, I also made it a world with no kickers or punters. In this game, Bobby Wagner handled kicking and punting duties for Seattle while Geno Atkins did the same for Cincy. Wagner actually averaged 41.7 yards per punt with his four boots, so not bad. And Atkins went 2-for-2 on his extra points.
However, the lack of kickers and punters wasn’t so great for every team. As I later discovered in a playoff game, teams punted the ball in odd situations. Like 4th-and-2 on the goal line.
You’d think even if the computer coach wasn’t comfortable kicking a field goal with a non-kicker, they’d at least go for it in this situation. But for some reason, a punt from the 2-yard line seemed like the best idea.
A full NFL season with no quarterbacks
Unfortunately for us, Madden only provides full passing box score stats if we sim each game individually. Doing a mass simulation (like the entire season) makes it so we mostly lose that information as Madden doesn’t track passing stats for non-quarterbacks in individual box scores or league-wide stats.
I could technically sim all 256 games individually and then add up the box scores on the season, but that would take entirely too long. Madden does allow us to see a few passing leaders, however, if we go to the character on each team. And if we go to that person’s player page, we can see their passing numbers on the season. We can also see team total passing numbers, which I’ll provide below.
I simmed the entire 2019 season on All-Madden, Simulation game style with 6-minute quarters and injuries turned off. The rosters are also updated with current rookies and 2020 offseason roster moves. The Jaguars roster got a little messed up as I used them as my team to trade all the quarterbacks to. So think of Jacksonville essentially as the top Jaguars players as well as the top free agents currently available.
Dalvin Cook takes home MVP
With no quarterbacks, the running backs ran wild as MVP candidates. Since 2007, only one running back has won MVP (Adrian Peterson) while the rest were quarterbacks. At the bottom, you’ll even see Myles Garrett placed seventh in MVP voting with a stellar season that had him finish with 28 sacks. You’d think having running backs and receivers at quarterback would make getting sacks more difficult, but apparently not. Garrett had one game with six sacks, and four with three or more sacks.
The other NFL award was Coach of the Year, which went to Andy Reid. Despite losing Patrick Mahomes, Reid still led Kansas City to a 13-3 record.
The rest of the player awards were as follows.
- OPOY: Le’Veon Bell
- DPOY: Myles Garrett
- OROY: Josh Jacobs
- DROY: Willie Gay Jr.
- Best RB: Joe Mixon
- Best WR: Julian Edelman
- Best OL: Quenton Nelson
- Best DL: Myles Garrett
- Best LB: T.J. Watt
- Best DB: Tre’Davious White
- OPOY: Dalvin Cook
- DPOY: Khalil Mack
- OROY: Darrell Henderson Jr.
- DROY: Nick Bosa
- Best RB: Dalvin Cook
- Best WR: Golden Tate
- Best OL: Zack Martin
- Best DL: Cameron Jordan
- Best LB: Khalil Mack
- Best DB: Shaquill Griffin
As I mentioned before, Madden doesn’t provide these stats directly, so I had to go through and check each player individually. The Patriots ended up with two of the top five leading passers in Burkhead and Michel. The interesting thing is for the most part the team’s third-string running back appeared to handle the majority of quarterback snaps for each team. The starters and backup running backs also had some passing numbers, but the bulk of the passing went to the third-string guys.
But since teams alternated quarterbacks so often, it’s worth taking a look at team leaders as opposed to individual leaders.
So even in a league with no quarterbacks, teams managed to pass the ball effectively. There were nine teams that finished with 30 passing touchdowns or more with the 49ers leading the way with 35. The Redskins struggled the most with no quarterbacks, being the only team to finish below 3,000 passing yards (2,828).
The Seahawks (3,160), Panthers (3,198), Cardinals (3,299) and Broncos (3,311) round out the bottom five.
Teams definitely relied on their rushing games more with no quarterbacks to lean on. There were 14 players with 250 carries or more, which is more than real life where we had just eight players hit that mark in real life. Despite this, there were actually fewer 1,000-yard rushers (15) in the Madden sim compared to real life’s 2019 results (16).
Teams as a whole finished with fewer rushing yards as just one team crossed the 2,000-yard mark in Madden compared to 10 teams that did it in real life.
There were surprisingly a number of productive receivers despite no real quarterbacks throwing them the ball. They were less productive in Madden than in real-life though. In the game, only six players finished with 1,000 yards while 29 players hit that mark in 2019.
Tajae Sharpe had a pretty amazing season, finishing with 17.0 yards per catch on 850 receiving yards. You’d think with weaker-armed running backs and receivers throwing the ball that his YPC wouldn’t be so great.
Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate led the way in receiving touchdowns with 12, followed by Jarvis Landry, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola who each had 11.
Despite having more elusive runners behind center in this universe, running backs and receivers took a shocking number of sacks. The Steelers as a team finished with 72 sacks, which ties the NFL record for most in a season by a single franchise (Bears, 1984).
There were nine teams with 60+ sacks in this simulation. Zero NFL teams had 60+ sacks in 2019 (Steelers led the real-life teams with 54). As we mentioned before, Myles Garrett led all with an NFL-record 28 sacks. T.J. Watt was second with 20.5 sacks followed by Darius Leonard (19), Aaron Donald (17.5) and Von Miller (17) to round out the top five.
And as you might imagine, interceptions were also high as eight teams finished with 20+ interceptions compared to just two that did it in real life. The Giants led the way with 26 interceptions as a team, which falls ridiculously short of the NFL record of 49 by the 1961 Chargers defense.
For individual players, Tre’Davious White led the league with seven interceptions followed by Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Terrell, Myles Jack, Adoree’ Jackson, and Shaquill Griffin who each had six.
I won’t go deep into the Pro Bowl roster results, I just wanted to point out that Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon made it in the Pro Bowl as quarterbacks despite them still being running backs. Just thought it was interesting how the game put the league’s two leading rushers in their conference in as quarterbacks for the Pro Bowl.
Despite this, when I simmed the actual game they were not on the QB depth chart and did not start the game at QB.
NFL playoffs with no quarterbacks
In an NFL world with no quarterbacks the Chiefs, Steelers, Browns, Colts, Titans and Jets each made the playoffs in the AFC. The NFC is represented in the playoffs by the Vikings, Giants, Rams, Saints, Cowboys and Falcons.
The Chiefs, Steelers, Vikings and Giants all have bye weeks
Titans at Colts
Final: Titans 10, Colts 7
This was a wild one that went into double overtime as the Titans attempted three game-winning kicks in OT, missing the first two because they were kicking with safety Kevin Byard. The Titans had a minimal passing attack as fullback Khari Blasingame led the way finishing 4-of-5 for 44 yards. Corey Davis and Derrick Henry each threw one pass. Henry bulldozed his way throughout the game, finishing with 36 carries for 121 yards and Tennessee’s only touchdown.
For some reason the Colts leaned heavily on Jonathan Taylor at QB as he attempted 39 pass attempts, completing 24. He finished with 226 yards and a touchdown, but had two costly interceptions. Marlon Mack had 28 carries for 168 yards in the loss.
Falcons at Rams
Final: Rams 10, Falcons 7
Almost an exact copy of the Titans win as the Rams and Falcons went into overtime tied at 7. The two teams continued their scoring struggles into double overtime before Aaron Donald finally nailed a game-winning field goal from 39 yards out. The Rams were led by Gerald Everett at QB, who filled in to throw 16-of-24 passes for 214 yards, he even caught a pass for 12 yards. Darrell Henderson Jr. and Cooper Kupp also attempted passes.
The Falcons limited their passing attack as Julio Jones and Ito Smith each went 4-of-4 with Qadree Ollison going 1-of-2 with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst. Atlanta did all it could to make this a Todd Gurley revenge game giving him an insane 43 carries. He finished with 169 yards as Ollison played backup duty, finishing with 18 carries for 73 yards. In total, the Falcons had 74 rushing attempts.
Browns at Jets
Final: Browns 13, Jets 7
Kareem Hunt started things off with an 82-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Nick Chubb then added to that with a 59-yard run in the second quarter. The Jets scored on a La’Mical Perine touchdown pass to Le’Veon Bell, but couldn’t get the second score they needed to stay alive.
Chubb finished with 30 carries for 161 yards, and Hunt finished with 12 carries for 125 yards in the win. Cleveland had pass attempts from David Njoku, Odell Beckham Jr. and Hunt. The Jets meanwhile had five different players finished with pass attempts: Perine, Denzel Mims, Quincy Enunwa, Trevon Wesco and Jamison Crowder. Bell only finished with 17 carries for 55 yards.
Cowboys at Saints
Final: Cowboys 10, Saints 7
Yet another overtime game that finishes in a game-winning field goal, this time a 38-yard boot from DeMarcus Lawrence. Dallas went with a heavy rushing attack, giving Ezekiel Elliott 39 carries for 186 yards. The virtual Cowboys also added free agent Isaiah Crowell, who finished with 23 carries 58 yards. Even Tony Pollard saw action, rushing 10 times for 36 yards. Amari Cooper shined as a passer, finishing 3-of-5 for 29 yards and the lone touchdown of the game to Dalton Schultz.
The Saints missed Drew Brees as Latavius Murray filled in on passing duties, finishing 23-of-41 for 246 yards. He did throw the only touchdown of the game, but also threw three interceptions to Dallas. Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook also threw passes. Alvin Kamara finished with just 16 carries for 65 yards.
Titans at Chiefs
Final: Chiefs 21, Titans 7
The Titans fell down 14-0 at halftime and couldn’t bounce back. Tennessee went with a pass-heavy gameplan, which did not work in its favor. Fullback Khari Blasingame completed 19-of-36 passes for 203 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Derrick Henry struggled, rushing 15 times for 40 yards.
The Chiefs ran wild as Damien Williams had 36 attempts for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran the ball 13 times for 128 yards. He was also the primary passer, completing 6 of 8 passes for 42 yards.
Cowboys at Vikings
Final: Cowboys 14, Vikings 7
The Cowboys used five different passers with Tony Pollard leading the way. Pollard finished 13-of-15 for 141 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Rookie CeeDee Lamb shined with a 16-yard touchdown catch (8-101-1 on the game), and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. Ezekiel Elliott finished with 24 carries for 73 yards.
The Vikings leaned on MVP Dalvin Cook as much possible as he finished with 40 carries for 145 yards. But it just wasn’t enough in this one.
Browns at Steelers
Final: Steelers 17, Browns 7
The Browns gave Nick Chubb 35 carries to try and do something, but he only finished with 128 yards and no touchdowns. Cleveland’s lone touchdown came from Odell Beckham Jr. on a short pass to David Njoku.
The Steelers had three different players attempt passes, but Eric Ebron led the way with a solid game. The tight end finished 18-of-25 for 218 yards and a touchdown. James Conner helped out with 90 yards and a touchdown on the ground as well as 84 receiving yards on six receptions. He even completed a pass for 10 yards. T.J. Watt came up clutch as well with an 18-yard field goal.
Rams at Giants
Final: Rams 14, Giants 7
In a snowy game, the Rams prevailed as Malcolm Brown shined with 118 rushing yards on 31 carries. Gerald Everett scored both touchdowns on passes to fellow tight end Tyler Higbee and Cooper Kupp.
The Giants used five different options at quarterback, including RT Matt Peart, which is the first time I’ve seen an offensive lineman attempt passes. Dion Lewis scored New York’s lone touchdown on an 11-yard pass to Saquon Barkley.
Steelers at Chiefs
Final: Chiefs 14, Steelers 7
Clyde Edwards-Helaire filled in nicely for Patrick Mahomes, finishing 25-of-33 for 224 yards and a touchdown. But this was mostly a battle of the running backs with Damien Williams (102) and James Conner (109) each reaching 100 rushing yards.
Just like in real life, the Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl.
Cowboys at Rams
Final: Rams 21, Cowboys 14
This game was 0-0 headed into halftime, but both teams exploded in the second half with a combined 35 points. The Rams were led by Gerald Everett, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns (one interception). He even caught a pass for 10 yards.
Tony Pollard led the four Cowboys passers, going 15-of-26 for 195 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Both teams struggled on the ground despite the run game being the main reason they got into this position in the first place.
Super Bowl with no quarterbacks
(Regular season games were simmed with 6 minute quarters. Because this game was recorded, and because offenses mostly suck in these no-quarterback games, I shortened it to 3-minute quarters)
Interestingly enough, the two teams who have used the fewest amount of quarterback rotations throughout the playoffs made it to the Super Bowl. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who has slightly boosted throwing stats due to some plays in college, will be doing the bulk of the throwing for the Chiefs while tight end Gerald Everett handles those duties for the Rams.
As expected, this was yet another low-scoring game, but we had some exciting action in the second quarter. Everett found Cooper Kupp in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown pass at the start of the second. Aaron Donald made the extra point.
The Chiefs scored right before the end of the half with a punt return touchdown from Tyreek Hill. But Chris Jones missed the extra point, making the score 7-6 in favor of Los Angeles. In the end, the lack of punters and kickers affected the game just as much as the lack of quarterbacks.
There would be no more scoring the rest of the game, and the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl instead of the Chiefs.
In the process, though, we broke Madden as you can tell by a few glitchy moments in the Super Bowl video. Take this screenshot for example.
A Chiefs player, in the Rams’ offensive huddle with a wildly inaccurate stat about the Chicago Bears. A great way to send off this wild experiment of no quarterbacks, kickers or punters.