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NFL: Ranking the backup quarterbacks

09/13/2012 01:57 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 EST
"You don't think backup quarterbacks are important?!"

That's every yelly TV football pundit setting up a strawman argument that we the collective viewers apparently proferred.

But seriously, they are important. Jim Plunkett, Doug Williams and Trent Dilfer are just some of the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who started their championship seasons on the bench.

Yes, the elite quarterbacks in recent years have been remarkably durable, but you still need to have depth.

Houston had to resort to using T.J. Yates last season after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were felled. Could the Texans have made a deeper run?

Pittsburgh famously hit the jackpot with the player behind Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch on the depth chart, Ben Roethlisberger.

Here's a look at the highly unofficial NFL backup rankings. Their record as an NFL starter, courtesy of football reference, is in parentheses.

Matt Hasselbeck (78-69), Tennessee

Came up off the bench in Week 1 without warmup and promptly completed several passes in a row. With the surplus of young starting quarterbacks, and the unpredictability of the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kevin Kolb, Hasselbeck is about the 20th best starting QB, let alone backup.

Shaun Hill (13-13), Detroit

Well if you took the thread to the very nth degree, a scenario could have seen Hill as the starting QB of the 49ers still. Crafty veteran takes care of the ball, with 39 career touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

Jason Campbell (31-39), Chicago

Good news for Campbell. He's improved his station by going from the Raiders to the Bears. Bad news? He's on to about the 20th offensive coordinator of his seven-year career. For what it's worth, Oakland was 11-7 when he started over the last two seasons, 5-9 when he didn't. The Bears must have paid great attention to that, given the Caleb Hanie disaster of last year.

Kyle Orton (32-29), Dallas

Good pickup by the Cowboys given that when Tony Romo gets injured, he gets hurt good. Cause for concern? Went 6-15 as a starter over the previous two seasons.

Matt Moore (13-12), Miami

Yes, it was mostly the defence, but once Moore was installed under centre in 2011, the Dolphins went a respectable 6-6, with the wins all coming in the last nine games. Yet the Dolphins have elected to go with the seemingly ill-equipped rookie Ryan Tannehill.

Chad Henne (13-18), Jacksonville

To quote Mike Yanagita in Fargo talking about the good outfit for engineers, Honeywell, for backup quarterback, "you could do a lot worse." He's kind of a field goal quarterback when it gets to the red zone, but the Jaguars are kind of a field goal team anyways.

Tim Tebow (8-6), New York Jets

No. 1 with a bullet in terms of notoriety and buzz factor. Yeah, he's wildly unpredictable but he offers more upside for the big play and "mobilizing the base" as they say in politics, than the journeymen ranked below.

Byron Leftwich (24-25) or Charlie Batch (24-29), Pittsburgh

The records aren't glowing, but were mostly compiled with lesser teams. Both guys have been with the Steelers for years, although it should be noted that it's a new offensive coordinator this season (Todd Haley). The franchise is so disciplined, it's tempting to rate them higher, but these are individual rankings

T.J. Yates (3-2) or John Beck (0-7), Houston

Yates can't possibly face anything more stress inducing than last year, when he was a near unknown thrust into a playoff team's most important position. Don't think Mike Shanahan pines for the John Beck era anymore.

Joe Webb (1-1), Minnesota

He's sure looked exciting in the limited minutes he's played for the Vikings.

Drew Stanton (2-2), Indianapolis

The guy most likely to pull a Matt Flynn or Rob Johnson (cash in on the basis of a couple of backup starts). He's 28, had a strong collegiate career and has been more the victim of bad situations than being completely written off as a no-hoper.

Chris Redman (4-8), Atlanta

The guy most likely to pull a Todd Collins (i.e. perform admirably despite years spent collecting splinters)? Has attempted just 34 passes last two years and was out of football between 2004-06. One of the five QBs drafted ahead of Tom Brady.

Tarvaris Jackson (17-17), Buffalo

You have to be fairly satisfied with a .500 career record from a backup, but the Bills acquired him so late in the preseason to learn Chan Gailey's system that it might negate the experience he's accumulated.

Charlie Whitehurst (1-3), San Diego

Tweet during Week 1 from Brian McIntyre of Football Outsiders during Chargers-Raiders: "Charlie Whitehurst's headphones aren't tuned into the game. He's listening to Foghat."

Rex Grossman (25-22), Washington

You know you're getting 1.5 turnovers for every scoring drive that Sexy Rexy engineers.

Brady Quinn (3-9), Kansas City

Hasn't thrown a pass of meaning since 2009, but obviously Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel is unconcerned about that. The pair first worked together in Cleveland.

Dan Orlovsky (2-10), Tampa Bay

This will follow him wherever he ends up, but it's worth noting he led the Colts to their only two wins last season.

Colt McCoy (6-15), Cleveland

Threw for more touchdowns than interceptions in 2011, although he was badly concussed. Not exactly looking like the lesser of two options after the hilariously awful Week 1 debut of Brandon Weeden.

Matt Leinart (8-10), Oakland

Hard to feel sorry for a SoCal guy who partied in his early pro days, but the guy could have had a crack at the playoffs last year. Was 10 of 13 attempts for the Texans in his first start before suffering season-ending injury. Looked bad for Raiders in preseason, though.

Bruce Gradkowski (6-14), Cincinnati

Has completed just 53 per cent of his pro attempts and has injured many parts of his body.

Derek Anderson (18-25) and Jimmy Clausen (1-9), Carolina

It could be a pocketful of kryptonite for the Panthers if either of these guys starts. Neither attempted a pass in 2011, with Cam Newton going the distance.

David Carr (23-56), New York Giants

Former top pick hasn't started a game since 2007, hasn't thrown a regular season pass since 2010.

Completely green

The following players have attempted fewer than 10 regular season passes and haven't won or loss a game. They largely come from teams with Super Bowl aspirations. Tempting fate?

- Ryan Lindley, Arizona

- Tyrod Taylor, Baltimore

- Brock Osweiler, Denver

- Graham Harrell, Green Bay

- Ryan Mallett, New England

- Chase Daniel , New Orleans

- Nick Foles, Philadelphia

- Colin Kaepernick , San Francisco

- Kirk Cousins, Washington

Comments:

2. Given that the Ravens have two aging defensive stars with a narrow Super Bowl window, seems crazy they wouldn't get veteran insurance behind (admittedly durable) Joe Flacco.

3. Crazy that the Broncos are OK with a raw rookie behind a guy who had four neck fusion procedures done.

5. Patriots released veteran Brian Hoyer in preseason.

4. Harrell: From the Saskatchewan Roughriders to backing up Aaron Rodgers.

7. We could be getting to know Mr. Foles well very soon given Michael Vick's injury history and iffy play.

8. Kaepernick: Six-foot-five pivot rushed for a 78-yard touchdown in preseason.

9. Not totally clear who'll be primary backup to Robert Griffin III. Cousins shone in preseason, albeit against other team's reserves.

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