Ranking the NFL's 12 best backup quarterbacks

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With Robert Griffin III coming off an ACL injury, Kirk Cousins could start the season for the Redskins. ( Al Tielemans/SI)

With Robert Griffin III coming an ACL injury, Kirk Cousins could start the season for the Redskins. ( Al Tielemans/SI)

Finding a reliable backup quarterback has proven to be a daunting task for a lot of NFL teams. It's not easy to track down a quarterback who will be a team player in spite of sporadic playing time, can get loose in a heartbeat and fits the offensive scheme implemented for the starter.

Some teams are in much better shape that others when it comes to the No. 2 QB. So, which backups provide the most secure safety net?

For our purposes here the 2013 rookie QB class has been separated -- in an earlier Audibles post, in which we delved further into their individual situations. Sans guys like Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley and Tyler Wilson, here are the top 12 backup quarterbacks in football, entering the 2013 season:

12. Colt McCoy, San Francisco 49ers: That notion of fitting the offensive scheme mentioned above? McCoy landed in just such a situation when he signed with the 49ers this offseason. Replacing Alex Smith as Colin Kaepernick's backup, the athletic McCoy could buy San Francisco a little time if Kaepernick's banged up at any point in 2013. There's also still potential here -- McCoy is 25 and in only his fourth NFL season.

Oh, and for the record: No. 13 on the list of best backups was Philadelphia's Nick Foles, just outside the official "rankings" here.

11. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans: Yates proved his mettle when pressed into duty late in the 2011 season, as a rookie. Of course, he fired three interceptions in a playoff loss at Baltimore that year, but his 61-percent completion rate in five starts and a relief appearance was impressive. The Texans could win some ballgames if Yates had to fill in for Matt Schaub, at least in a short stretch.

10. Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots/Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos: Grouping these two together, because they're both tall (Mallett's 6-foot-6, Osweiler 6-7), strong-armed QBs stuck behind legends -- Tom Brady in New England and Peyton Manning in Denver. Some people are really high on Mallett, despite the fact that he's never thrown a regular-season pass. Maybe he should be higher, but any attempt to assess either of these guys is speculative.

9. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars: Talent-wise, Henne should be higher, and he may wind up starting from Week 1 in Jacksonville. It's a little hard to ignore, however, that Henne is a combined 14-23 as a starter and has six more interceptions in his career (48) than touchdowns (42).

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8. Jason Campbell, Cleveland Browns: Campbell's still a steady hand in this league. And you can pretty much throw out his subpar relief appearances of Jay Cutler last season, because he was thrown to the wolves against Houston and San Francisco. Campbell has a career passer rating of 82.5, better than guys like Matt Hasselbeck, Sam Bradford, Alex Smith and Kyle Orton (who's yet to come on this list).

7. Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions: Much to the Lions' delight, Hill has not needed to start in either of the past two seasons. When he last replaced an injured Matthew Stafford, in 2010, he won just three of 10 starts but threw for almost 2,700 yards, completed 62 percent of his passes and had 16 touchdown passes (to 12 interceptions). Briefly forced into action last season, in Week 3 at Tennessee, Hill fired two TD passes, including a game-tying Hail Mary at the buzzer. In Detroit's offense, with his ability to wing the ball around, Hill's more than adequate.

6. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: Cousins is a tough one to judge. He picked apart Cleveland to the tune of 329 yards and a touchdown during a critical Week 15 win last season ... and that's pretty much it. He was a combined 10-for-21 other than that (a late playoff relief appearance included), with an important TD pass against Baltimore. Other than that, the verdict is very much out here, even if the Redskins believe they've got the league's next great backup QB.

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5. Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings: I know, he was awful in Kansas City last season. Which Chief wasn't? Under better circumstances, like in 2010, he guided the Chiefs to a 10-win season. He did the same in 2008 as -- you know this -- a backup, after Tom Brady fell to injury. A lot of time has passed since then, but Cassel has more on-field NFL success than just about anyone on this list.

4. Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts: Yes, Hasselbeck's still in the league. As the 2012 season showed, he no longer can get it done on a regular basis as a starter. He's likely still more than capable of stepping in, in a pinch. Even better for the Colts, his extended NFL experience makes him the perfect No. 2 behind Andrew Luck, who could use someone to help him pick through strategies on the sideline.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans: The days of counting on Fitzpatrick as a starter likely are gone -- he finished 19-31 over four seasons in Buffalo, with a whopping 64 interceptions. On the flip side, he did top 3,000 yards passing each of the past three years. The Titans will not hesitate to get him on the field should Jake Locker stumble. Fitzpatrick's results may not be pretty, but he at least could give the Titans a shot.

2. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins: Maybe I'm giving Moore way too much credit for his 2011 performance, wherein he took over an 0-4 Miami team and mustered a 6-6 finish, while throwing 16 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions. Most of the times Moore has had to come to the rescue, though, the results have been solid. Had he opted to test the free-agent market rather than re-sign as Ryan Tannehill's backup in Miami, he likely could have found somewhere to compete for a starting gig. He may end up with one anyway, depending on how Tannehill plays.

1. Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys: Three teams have tried Orton as a starter, and three teams have reached the same conclusion -- that he's not a starter. That said, there is not a team in the league that would be in a more comfortable situation than Dallas if something happened to its starter. Orton, 30, has a few years left in him and a 35-34 career record proves that he's at least an average QB in this league. That's all you can ask for from a backup.

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