It's that dangerous time of the summer for NFL starting quarterbacks. With the regular season less than 10 days away, keeping or getting your No. 1 QB healthy becomes every team's most vital objective. All else pales by comparison.
So far, no team has experienced a potential season-changing injury at quarterback, but with Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson (knee), Cleveland's Derek Anderson (concussion), New England's Tom Brady (foot), Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck (back), Indy's Peyton Manning (knee) and Buffalo's Trent Edwards (quad) showing up on injury reports in recent weeks, the state of each team's backup quarterback situation again becomes grist for debate and evaluation.
With that in mind, here's our up-to-the-minute ranking of all 32 teams' No. 2's. It's a list that requires some projection, because in a few cases situations remain fluid, with backup or starting competitions extending into the final week of the preseason. The bottom line standard for a quality No. 2 remains quite simple. Can you win with him on the field?
Here's my list. As always, your results may differ:
(Share your reaction to these rankings here.)
1. Washington: Todd Collins -- The unspoken truth in D.C. is that the veteran would run Jim Zorn's offense better today than starter Jason Campbell, who I still think might struggle in his transition to the West Coast style attack. It was Collins, not Campbell, who orchestrated the Redskins' four-game late season winning streak and wild-card playoff berth last year.
2. Tampa Bay: Brian Griese -- Put Griese in another offense and he'd take a tumble down the list. But he's a perfect intellectual match for Jon Gruden's complicated attack, and except for Jeff Garcia's edge in mobility, the Bucs don't miss a beat with the experienced Griese in the game.
3. Houston: Sage Rosenfels -- He may not be a guy who can play at a high level for more than four or five games in a row, but let's not forget that Rosenfels went 4-1 as a starter for the Texans last year, with a four-touchdown relief performance in a loss to Tennessee. Houston starter Matt Schaub, by comparison, was 4-7.
4. San Diego: Billy Volek -- When a team can insert its backup into a road playoff game and have him mount a fourth-quarter comeback for the win -- in the Colts' raucous RCA Dome no less -- that's all you could ever ask of a No. 2. How much is that worth?
5. Tennessee: Kerry Collins -- With starter Vince Young struggling in his transition to Mike Heimerdinger's offense this preseason, Collins is the most efficient quarterback on the Titans roster at the moment. Backups with Super Bowl starts on their resumes aren't a dime a dozen.
6. Seattle: Seneca Wallace -- This is probably higher than most would have Wallace, but I'm fairly sold on the ex-Iowa State star, who threw for three touchdowns a couple weeks back against Minnesota. I know this much: After his preseason showing this year, Charlie Frye isn't beating out Wallace for the Seahawks No. 2 job.
7. St. Louis: Trent Green -- Green's days atop a depth chart are over after his previous two injury-filled seasons in Kansas City and Miami. But he's an experienced hand who, in his second stint with the Rams, provides the St. Louis with a capable replacement in the likely event of Marc Bulger not making it through all 16 games.
8. Cleveland: Brady Quinn -- Quinn didn't get much done the other night in a loss to Detroit, but he's got talent and just needs the playing time to show it. Browns sources tell me he has done everything in his power to prepare well and play well when called upon. For a guy drafted to be the Browns' savior but stuck behind Derek Anderson, that's laudable.
9. Buffalo: J.P. Losman -- The ex-Bills starter isn't thrilled with his task of serving as Trent Edwards' understudy this year, but with the free agency market awaiting next offseason, he has to make the best of it and hope he can resurrect his starting career elsewhere in 2009. Losman did some of his better work last year coming off the bench in relief of Edwards.
10. Chicago: Rex Grossman -- Now that he's officially the Bears backup, Grossman at least jumps to the top third in the league in terms of No. 2's. He's the second quarterback on the list with a Super Bowl start to his credit, and he's a guy who seems to perform better when the expectations are lowered.
11. Dallas: Brad Johnson -- Johnson is the only quarterback on the list who won a Super Bowl as a starter. The Cowboys offense wouldn't be as potent vertically if he were to take over for Tony Romo, but few passers have been more accurate or adept at knowing where to go with the football.
12. Arizona: Matt Leinart -- This isn't the flow chart that the Cardinals had in mind for Leinart's career, but with Kurt Warner clearly out-playing the 2006 first-round pick this preseason, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt knows what he must do to keep the faith within his locker room. Leinart's inconsistency and inaccuracy are beyond troubling for the Cardinals.
13. Atlanta: Chris Redman -- For a QB who was long gone and forgotten after a three-year NFL hiatus, Redman played pretty darn well for the Falcons in 2007. His re-emergence might have been the only good thing to happen to Atlanta in the Year of Vick. Redman threw 10 touchdown passes and had a 90.4 passer rating in seven games, four of them starts.
14. Miami: Chad Henne -- The Dolphins have the double-Chad attack this season, with Chad Pennington starting and the rookie Henne in reserve. Though he might have to sit and wait his turn all year behind the veteran Pennington, Henne will be the guy in Miami before long.
15. Carolina: Matt Moore -- The Panthers believe they're fine with only the second-year Moore behind Jake Delhomme, and I second that emotion. Moore showed flashes of play-making in his limited action last season, and that made ex-Panthers David Carr and Vinny Testaverde both unnecessary.
16. Minnesota: Gus Frerotte -- Frerotte has been a backup for nine of the past 10 seasons, but he still keeps finding somebody's clipboard to hold. He's in his second go-round with Minnesota, and has worn seven different uniforms. I've always thought of him as the type of quarterback who looks worse the more he plays, but for short stretches, you can still win some games with him.
17. Pittsburgh: Byron Leftwich -- The Steelers' situation is fluid, but with Charlie Batch sidelined by a broken collarbone and rookie Dennis Dixon perhaps too green to serve as Ben Roethlisberger's backup, the newly signed Leftwich would likely get the first shot off the bench. His game has regressed, but he's still young enough for his career to have a successful second act.
18. New Orleans: Mark Brunell -- The former Jaguars and Redskins starter looked done to me two years ago, but he's had a strong training camp with the Saints and they're happy to have his veteran presence behind Drew Brees, instead of their usual array of younger, less proven quarterbacks.
19. Baltimore: Kyle Boller -- Barring some unforeseen event, I'm still giving the Ravens' starting job to Troy Smith, with rookie Joe Flacco likely to begin the season in the No. 3 emergency role. That leaves backup duty for Boller, who owns 41 career starts in his first five seasons. He has never lived up to his first-round billing, but he makes for a solid, middle-of-the pack No. 2.
20. Denver: Patrick Ramsey -- Once thought of as the franchise quarterback in Washington, Ramsey has comfortably settled into his backup niche in Denver. He seems to know Mike Shanahan's offense well enough to have the full confidence of the Broncos head coach, and is serviceable when his playing time comes in small doses.
21. Jacksonville: Cleo Lemon -- The Jaguars had one of the best backups in the league when David Garrard was behind Byron Leftwich. But with Leftwich gone and Garrard now Jacksonville's starter, Lemon has relocated up Florida's east coast from Miami to give the Jags an athletic, albeit lightly experienced, No. 2.
22. New York Jets: Brett Ratliff -- The "other'' Brett on the Jets' roster has clearly out-performed Kellen Clemens this preseason, throwing for 451 yards in his three preseason games while getting lots of snaps with the second-team offense. But there's still some question whether New York head coach Eric Mangini will relegate Clemens, a 2006 second-round pick, to the No. 3 role? It could be that Clemens would get the first call if the Jets just need a game or two of relief in place of Brett Favre. Anything longer and New York would turn to Ratliff.
23. Indianapolis: Jim Sorgi -- Playing behind the indestructible Peyton Manning has rendered Sorgi the Maytag repair man of the NFL (a dated pop culture reference potentially lost on younger generations), but he got a larger than usual dose of preseason work thanks to No. 18's knee surgery. That could benefit the Colts in the long run should Sorgi ever be needed to win a regular-season game.
24. Philadelphia: Kevin Kolb -- The Eagles list Kolb at backup and the veteran A.J. Feeley at No. 3, so we'll take their word for it that the second-year veteran would be in the game if anything happened to starter Donovan McNabb. We don't have much of a body of work to judge Kolb on, but he looks more comfortable running Philly's offense this year than he did as a rookie.
25. New York Giants: David Carr -- We're not so sure Carr is going to be successful in his preseason battle with Anthony Wright for the No. 2 job behind Eli Manning, but Wright's recent back strain resulted in him not playing in New York's third preseason game and that might be enough to decide the outcome. More likely the competition will come down to how both of them play in the Giants' final preseason game.
26. Oakland: Andrew Walter -- Every time the Raiders have given Walter a chance to inject himself into the starting situation in recent years, he has gone out and proven himself backup worthy. With the No. 1 job now belonging to JaMarcus Russell, it's Walter and then veteran Marques Tuiasosopo at No. 3.
27. San Francisco: Alex Smith -- With journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan having beaten out Smith and Shaun Hill, it's an easy assumption to make that Smith's tenure with the 49ers has effectively ended and by 2009 he'll be wearing a different uniform. But let's first see if fate delivers any playing time to the former No. 1 overall pick this season, and if he can overcome what has to be a humbling turn of events in San Francisco.
28. Cincinnati: Ryan Fitzpatrick -- If anything happens to Carson Palmer, they'd toss the keys to Fitzpatrick, the lightly experienced former Ram who hasn't done much of anything since throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns at Houston in his debut as a 2005 rookie.
29. Kansas City: Tyler Thigpen -- The Chiefs have Thigpen in the No. 2 spot behind Brodie Croyle, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be veteran Damon Huard off the bench first if Kansas City had a short-term need at No. 1 QB. Thigpen behind Croyle gives Kansas City one of the least experienced 1-2 tandems in the NFL, but there's a chance the Chiefs could still make a move for another veteran option (Daunte Culpepper anyone?) before their opener at New England.
30. New England: Matt Gutierrez -- Our sense is that Matt Cassel has played his way off the roster with his dreadful preseason, and that Gutierrez would be the Patriots backup if the season opened today. But don't discount the possibility that a late-August trade or signing could bring a Damon Huard (or someone of his type) into the fold, giving New England a little more of a comfort zone should Brady's sore foot continue to be an issue.
31. Detroit: Dan Orlovsky -- The Lions expect 2007 second-round pick Drew Stanton to eventually replace Orlovsky in the No. 2 role behind Jon Kitna (and then hopefully replace Kitna), but the ex-Michigan State star will miss about a month with a sprained right thumb. That leaves the backup job to Orlovsky, a fourth-year veteran who hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since his rookie year of 2005.
32. Green Bay: Brian Brohm -- You know the story here. No quarterback on the Packers roster has ever started a game in the NFL. Not fourth-year man Aaron Rodgers, and not rookies Brohm and Matt Flynn. Some personnel men believe Brohm could develop into a quality starter, but for now the Packers have the thinnest QB depth chart in the league.