It's always important to have a backup plan.
This is a lesson the 2011 Indianapolis Colts learned the hard way. After not missing a game for 13 seasons, starting quarterback Peyton Manning was forced to miss the entire 2011 season because of a neck injury. The Colts had gone years without carrying a suitable backup on their roster and they paid for it -- dearly. They went from a 10-6 playoff team in 2010 to a league-worst 2-14 in 2011.
Week 10 provided another example of why it's important to have a serviceable backup quarterback. The San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers were all forced to rely on their No. 2 signal-caller following injuries to their respective starters. The results were mixed: The Eagles and Bears suffered tough losses, the Steelers eked out a win in overtime and the 49ers fought to a draw.
The Steelers must make do without starter Ben Roethlisberger in this Sunday's rivalry bout against the Baltimore Ravens, according to Fox Sports insider and NFL Network contributor Jay Glazer. At the time of this article's posting, it was unclear how many of the other three teams will be forced to start their backup quarterbacks in Week 11.
When it comes to backup quarterbacks, different teams have different needs. Some prefer to have an experienced veteran who can help in the meeting room as well as on the field. Other teams prefer to fill the spot with a younger, more talented player who could eventually develop into a starter. Most teams used to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, which allowed room for both a veteran backup and a developmental prospect. But nowadays, more teams are electing to carry just two quarterbacks on the roster.
With the playoff picture beginning to crystalize now that we're in the second half of the season, I did some homework on the backup-quarterback situation for every team with a winning record. I created a ranking system, with a little help from some folks in the know ...
The point system
» I reached out to three highly respected personnel executives and asked them to give each of the 14 backup quarterbacks on winning teams a letter grade of A, B or C.
» Each A grade = 3 points
» Each B grade = 2 points
» Each C grade = 1 points
» After totaling the points, I separated the quarterbacks into five different tiers.
Only one player received straight A's. Despite starting just five games in his young career, Houston Texans backup T.J. Yates has the confidence of all three executives I surveyed. At the other end of the spectrum, two current division leaders (Atlanta and Baltimore) can ill afford an injury to their starting quarterback.
Here are the complete results:
Tier 1 (9 points)
Tier 2 (7 points)
Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks
Age: 27 Career Starts: 2
Flynn has only started two games in his career, but he put up huge numbers for the Green Bay Packers in those contests. He doesn't have a big-time arm, but he's smart, accurate and makes good decisions.
Tier 3 (6 points)
Tier 4 (5 points)
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Age: 25 Career Starts: 0
"I'm not as high on him as the media seems to be. He's a gadget guy. They won't be as effective without Alex Smith." -- AFC personnel executive
Byron Leftwich, Pittsburgh Steelers
Age: 32 Career Starts: 49
"He still has a strong arm, but his long delivery and lack of mobility are problems. They will run the ball a lot more with him in the lineup." -- AFC personnel executive
Drew Stanton, Indianapolis Colts
Age: 28 Career Starts: 4
He's a very average passer, but he can run around and make a few plays. I bet he wishes he didn't ask to leave the New York Jets following the Tim Tebow trade. He might have been named the starter by now.
Tier 5 (4 points)
Tyrod Taylor, Baltimore Ravens
Age: 23. Career Starts: 0
"He's a great athlete, but Baltimore would have to completely alter their offense for him. He's not ready to start at this point in time." -- AFC personnel executive
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.