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Rating the backup quarterbacks

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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Posted Aug. 31, 2010 @ 11:09 a.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Updated Aug. 31, 2010 @ 12:22 p.m. ET

While bullpens in baseball have taken on added importance with the September stretch drive about to begin, the same applies to NFL relief staffs, considering all the QB drama currently going on with another NFL regular season just around the corner.

Let's start with the dilemma facing the normally very competitive Steelers, who will be forced to get by without suspended QB Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games, with a possibility his ban could be shortened to four games for good behavior.

In Arizona, it appears the competition for the starting job has tightened considerably, with most league observers speculating that newly acquired Derek Anderson has moved ahead of former first-round draft pick Matt Leinart, who is worthy of a much higher ranking as a backup than as a starter.

In addition, there is the usual array of injury concerns, with Donovan McNabb currently sporting a walking boot in Washington, Oakland's Jason Campbell getting carted off the field with both a stinger and a wrist injury in the third preseason game, and Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman continuing to nurse a thumb injury.

In 2009, no fewer than 76 different quarterbacks threw passes, and the weekly war of attrition that is the NFL is likely to result in a similar number of signalcallers dropping back to pass in 2010.      

In an attempt to determine which NFL teams will be in the best shape to combat emergencies under center, PFW presents our exclusive rankings of the league's 32 backup corps. On some teams, there is more than one backup who could figure into the starting mix — a factor that was taken into account in our rankings.

In the following breakdown, we elaborate on our top-10 bullpens, with quick capsule comments on the remaining 22 backup situations, from best to worst.

We also present statistics on every key backup, including his starts, win-loss record as a starter and career TD-interception ratio.

1. Michael Vick / Eagles (67 starts; W-L record 38-28-1; career TD-interception ratio 72-52)

"Vick may be better than (starter Kevin) Kolb," one pro scout told PFW. Vick is Vick, a supernatural talent who took some time to get acclimated and has had his share of miscues and forced passes in his first year back from the slammer. However, his legs give him a dimension few NFL QBs possess, and his ability to factor in the "Wildcat" role gives him added importance. The Eagles also have expressed their admiration for No. 3 QB Mike Kafka, who is expected to back up Kolb next season if they part with Vick in free agency, with the coaching staff going on record as saying that Kafka, a Northwestern graduate, is as smart a rookie QB as they have coached in a decade.

2. Marc Bulger / Ravens (95 starts; W-L record 41-54; career TD-interception ratio 122-93)

"Bulger remains a quality starter with a good offensive line, which he never had in St. Louis," one NFL talent evaluator said. "All the hits he was taking began to alter his game and approach, and he appeared shell-shocked. When given time, he can still pick apart most defenses." That Bulger is the highest-paid backup, making $4 million, attests to his value.

3. Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels / Vikings (Jackson: 19 starts; W-L record 10-9; career TD-interception ratio 21-18. Rosenfels: 12 starts, W-L record 6-6; career TD-interception ratio 30-29)

"Jackson has come a long way," one daily team observer said, "and though he might not be happy being second fiddle, some of the coaches like him. But it's clear what they think with the way they pursued (Brett) Favre: that Jackson only can take them so far." Rosenfels was signed initially to be a starter before Favre arrived in Minnesota. "He could fare better than some NFL starters if he had the opportunity," one league observer said. "He has had his flashes in the past, coming off the bench, and looked good in the preseason. Who knows if Favre could continue his iron-man streak as a grandpa? The Vikings may need Rosenfels late in the year. I would be surprised if he were traded."

4. Kerry Collins / Titans (170 starts; W-L record 79-91; career TD-interception ratio 192-187)

Collins qualifies as a very capable veteran starter. He still throws a decent deep ball, but his lack of mobility and accuracy are issues when he plays over the long term. "But he could plug in and play and be better than a lot of bottom-rung NFL starters," one league talent evaluator said. "He has proven as much when problems surfaced with Vince Young."

5. Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow / Broncos (Quinn: 12 starts; W-L record 3-9; career TD-interception ratio 10-9. Tebow: first-round rookie)

"Two first-round picks in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots deserve placement near the top of the pack," one evaluator said. "They could have an interesting situation every week on the active roster because of Tebow's unique all-around skills. He is expected to see situational action utilizing his mobility right out of the gate." Quinn has not looked good in the preseason and continues to struggle mightily with accuracy issues that Charlie Weis did a great job of masking during Quinn's final two years in South Bend.

6. Jon Kitna / Cowboys (115 starts; W-L record 46-69; career TD-interception ratio 152-151)

Kitna is a supertough veteran who provides Tony Romo with a quality security blanket. "Although he's 37 and hasn't thrown a pass in a real game since Week Four of 2008, you could do a lot worse," one insider said.

7. Seneca Wallace / Browns (14 starts; W-L record 5-9; career TD-interception ratio 25-14)

In Jake Delhomme, Wallace and third-round rookie Colt McCoy, the Browns have "a cast of three good, not great QBs," one pro talent evaluator said. Wallace, who has excellent mobility and great athleticism, has had a very good training camp. "He could get the Browns through a game but is a low-rung starter and always best as a backup," the evaluator said. "If McCoy could stay healthy and figure out a more complex NFL offense, he has starter potential three years from now."

8. Jimmy Clausen / Panthers (second-round rookie)

What the Panthers have in Clausen is a "starter in training," according to one pro evaluator. Still not fully recovered from toe surgery last January, he has been both good and bad in the preseason. "But just like Matt Moore, with a little time to develop he has a great upside," the evaluator said. Clausen was initially considered a top-10 pick for a reason, but his stock plummeted with questions about his attitude and leadership.

9. Derek Anderson or Matt Leinart (one will be the starter) / Cardinals (Anderson: 34 starts; W-L record 16-18; career TD-interception ratio 46-45. Leinart: 17 starts; W-L record 7-10; career TD-interception ratio 14-20)

"Anderson and Leinart are two marginal starters who make good backups," one NFL personnel expert said. Anderson showed what he is capable of when he earned a Pro Bowl berth for the Browns in 2007. "Leinart needs to stop making excuses and toughen up," one pro scout said. "I don't know if he will ever be mentally tough enough to play for Ken Whisenhunt."

10. Byron Leftwich / Steelers (49 starts; W-L record 24-25; career TD-interception ratio 58-41)

"While he has a long delivery and lacks mobility, Leftwich is a proven commodity with a strong arm who should be more than serviceable in place of Roethlisberger," one insider said. "(No. 3) QB Dennis Dixon is very mobile, has a good arm and has played well enough to earn time with the starters, but he lacks experience, and Leftwich is more steady."

11. Rex Grossman / Redskins (31 starts; W-L record 19-12; career TD-interception ratio 33-36)

Like starter Donovan McNabb, he is a former Super Bowl runner-up. His history with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is a plus.

12. Luke McCown / Jaguars (four starts; W-L record 0-4; career TD-interception ratio 4-7)

There are many daily team observers who believe he could push starter David Garrard the same way Garrard previously pushed Byron Leftwich. McCown has been inconsistent, but he's very athletic and can make all the throws.

13. Tyler Thigpen and Chad Pennington / Dolphins (Thigpen: 11 starts; W-L record 1-10; career TD-interception ratio 19-15. Pennington: 80 starts, W-L record 43-37; career TD-interception ratio 102-64)

Thigpen is ahead of Pennington, who is coming off a major shoulder injury, but it might not stay that way. Pennington brings as much value as a mentor and coach for Chad Henne and Thigpen as he does as a player. His arm is a shell of what it used to be, but he is smart and can function as a dink-and-dunk passer.

14. Matt Flynn / Packers (zero starts; career TD-interception ratio 0-1)

Forget his small body of work at the pro level. Our sources leaguewide think he has shown enough in preseason play for the Packers to deserve an above-average ranking, with extra attention being given to the QB incubator spearheaded by QB connoisseurs Mike McCarthy and QB coach Tom Clements.

15. Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman / Seahawks (Whitehurst: zero starts; career TD-interception ratio 0-0. Losman 33 starts; W-L record 10-23; career TD-interception ratio 33-34)

A dependable backup duo if Matt Hasselbeck stumbles as he did down the stretch last season or cannot stay healthy. The quality of coaching from QB coach Jedd Fisch will play a significant role with Whitehurst.

16. Billy Volek / Chargers (10 starts; W-L record 3-7; career TD-interception ratio 27-15)

He knows the Chargers' offense extremely well and is very intelligent and well-prepared, but his size has always been a drawback and he has not capitalized on opportunities when live bullets have been firing.

17. David Carr / 49ers (75 starts; W-L record 22-53; career TD-interception ratio 59-65)

The former first-round pick has shown steady improvement since joining the Niners. His shell-shocked days with the Texans are behind him, but he still must prove he is tough enough.

18. Shaun Hill / Lions (16 starts; W-L record 10-6; career TD-interception ratio 23-11)

The Lions are very happy with Hill, who has fully accepted his backup role behind Matthew Stafford. Hill performed well as a starter with the Niners despite his oddball throwing motion. His toughness is enviable, but he always will force his coordinators to adjust their game plans to account for all of his physical shortcomings.

19. Ryan Fitzpatrick / Bills (23 starts; W-L record 8-14-1; career TD-interception ratio 21-27)

Had more starts last season than the injury-prone Trent Edwards, the projected 2010 starter. Fitzgerald is smart and serviceable, but he is a bit mechanical and robotic in his play and sometimes is too smart for his own good with a tendency to overthink in games.

20. A. J. Feeley / Rams (15 starts; W-L record 7-8; career TD-interception ratio 27-29)

Feeley is well-versed in a Rams system patterned after the Eagles', but he hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 2007.

21. Chris Redman / Falcons (12 starts; W-L record 4-8; career TD-interception ratio 21-13)

He could get the Falcons through a game or two if need be, as he almost did in an appearance against the Saints in '09, and has taken strides under the tutelage of assistant head coach/QBs Bill Musgrave.

22. Kyle Boller and Bruce Gradkowski / Raiders (Boller: 46 starts; W-L record 20-26; career TD-interception ratio 48-50. Gradkowski: 16 starts; W-L record 5-11; career TD-interception ratio 15-16)

Boller currently has a leg up on Gradkowski, who displayed some nice flashes last season but has been injured this year. Boller has a cannon arm but has never been able to control it and has always had issues with accuracy.

23. Mark Brunell / Jets (151 starts; W-L record 78-73; career TD-interception ratio 182-107)

Brunell's best years are way behind him. He is on the roster to help support the development of Mark Sanchez as much as anything, but if pressed into action, he does have experience.

24. Dan Orlovsky / Texans (seven starts; W-L record 0-7; career TD-interception ratio 8-8)

A big pocket passer who has improved under Gary Kubiak's direction, Orlovsky is still unproven as a decision maker and needs to prove he can handle the speed of the NFL game.

25. Chase Daniel and Patrick Ramsey / Saints (Daniel: zero starts; career TD-interception ratio 0-0. Ramsey: 24 starts; W-L record 10-14; career TD-interception ratio 35-30)

It remains to be seen which one will be the No. 2 behind Brees. Ramsey has not played much since 2004. In any event, it would be a disaster if the Saints lost Brees. The Saints like Daniel a lot. His height (6-0) is an issue, but that hasn't stopped Brees, and Sean Payton has a strong history of developing QB talent.

26. J.T. O'Sullivan / Bengals (eight starts; W-L record 2-6; career TD-interception ratio 9-13)

O'Sullivan struggled with turnovers in his stint as the 49ers' starter in 2008. He didn't play well in limited time last season and has thrown a pick and been sacked four times in the preseason.

27. Brodie Croyle / Chiefs (nine career starts; W-L record 0-9; career TD-interception ratio 8-8)

He is smart and hardworking, but he has been unable to stay healthy, is very fragile and cannot be trusted to stay in the lineup for long stretches if needed.

28. Brian Hoyer / Patriots (zero starts; career TD-interception ratio 0-0)

The Pats think he has some Matt Cassel-like skills, but it's hard to tell based on his limited snaps mopping up. He looked pretty good the first half of the preseason, is smart, hardworking and has Tom Brady-like intangibles.

29. Josh Johnson / Buccaneers (four starts; W-L record 0-4; career TD-interception ratio 4-8)

He started some games in '09 and did not do well. Still needs a few years of development before he is ready. Very raw.

30. Caleb Hanie / Bears (zero starts; career TD-interception ratio 0-1)

Currently suffering from a sprained shoulder but has shown flashes here and there. Newly acquired veteran Todd Collins could push him for the No. 2 job.

31. Curtis Painter / Colts (zero starts; career TD-interception ratio 0-2)

Really struggled late last season when given the opportunity to get on the field. He lacks confidence and leadership ability, but the Colts still say they like him a lot.

32. Rhett Bomar / Giants (zero starts; career TD-interception ratio 0-0)

With Jim Sorgi having been placed on injured reserve Monday, the backup job now belongs to Bomar, who spent most of 2009 on the team's practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster for the final game. The inexperienced Bomar, a fifth-round pick in '09, has been inconsistent during preseason action, increasing the likelihood that the Giants will sign a veteran to back up Eli Manning.


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