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Ranking the NFL's backup quarterbacks

In May, we ranked the NFL's starting quarterbacks from top to bottom. Now it's time to rate the guys behind the guys, the clipboard holders paid to swoop in when disaster strikes.

When we listed the first-stringers, the ugliest of the bunch were categorized as JAGs (just another guy). These backup types? They dream of JAG status.

To be fair, some have bright futures, but for now, the task is clear: Keep the ship afloat in days of crisis.

Heading into training camp, here's my top-to-bottom list of who I'd want at the ready:

Pair of aces


1. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
2. Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys

Cousins won't play backup forever. Robert Griffin III is franchise gold, but I wouldn't be surprised to see another team pursue a trade for Cousins down the line. He capably led the 'Skins to a critical late-season win over the Cleveland Browns as a rookie, and he has shown tremendous leadership as RGIII heals from knee surgery. We've seen enough from Orton to peg him for what he is: A sturdy but unremarkable fill-in. A veteran who probably won't be viewed as a starter again but reliable enough to keep Dallas afloat if Tony Romo meets his doom.

Strong support


3. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars (projecting Blaine Gabbert to start in Week 1)
4. Chase Daniel, Kansas City Chiefs
5. Kevin Kolb, Buffalo Bills (projecting EJ Manuel to start in Week 1)
6. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
7. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins
8. Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts

Henne and Gabbert are neck and neck heading into training camp, but Gabbert should win the job barring a "horrific August." Both are bound to see time, but this is a rough quarterback room. Gregg Rosenthal has a growing man crush on Daniel, calling him "the next Kevin Kolb-like creation from Andy Reid." (That's a compliment, right?) Daniel lacks a cannon, but he displayed accuracy and strong pocket presence last preseason. He'll be groomed behind Alex Smith, and possibly take over if Smith crumbles. As for Kolb, he's streaky, brittle and no longer a guy you tie your franchise to. Foles, yet another Reid pupil, showed growth last season and has a chance to start in Philly if Vick stumbles. I'm more of a Moore fan than some. He's a strong leader and galvanized the Dolphins in 2011. If Tannehill misses time, Miami will survive. Hasselbeck is the only Super Bowl starter on the list. He's smart and battle-tested, but his starting days are over.

Strong support


9. Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings
10. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans
11. Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots
12. Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions
13. Colt McCoy, San Francisco 49ers
14. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
15. Jason Campbell, Cleveland Browns
16. Tyrod Taylor, Baltimore Ravens

Until Jake Locker proves he can last a full season, Fitzpatrick is a good bet to see the field. Tennessee should have no delusions about his skill set. Cassel was a mess last season, but he'll earn starts if Ponder fades. Mallett is a league-wide mystery: Tall as a summer oak and seemingly under gag order in New England. Tom Brady's backup was the subject of trade rumors all spring, and I'm convinced he'll start elsewhere in 2014. McCoy will benefit from better coaching in San Francisco, but he's a jarring dropoff from Colin Kaepernick. Yates played admirably in relief of Matt Schaub two seasons ago, but he remains raw. Campbell flamed out hard in Chicago. He's not the long-term answer in Cleveland, or any city. Taylor would see more snaps in another system, but Joe Flacco's durability has him on lockdown.

The wild card


17. Tim Tebow, New England Patriots

ESPNBoston.com gives Tebow a 25 percent chance of making the team. Don't expect the Patriots to line him up at tight end. If he can't cut it as a third-string passer -- or if Bill Belichick views three arms as a luxury -- Tebow's history. I'm in the minority, but I still think Timmy can play in the right situation.

Game managers


18. Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals
19. Brady Quinn, Seattle Seahawks
20. Bruce Gradkowski, Pittsburgh Steelers
21. David Carr, New York Giants

An uninspiring mix, but Stanton was poised to start for Arizona before Carson Palmer swooped in. Quinn has yet to prove he can guide a team out of dark corners, and Carr, at 33, is entering the swansong of his uneven-at-best career.

Future potential


22. Dominique Davis, Atlanta Falcons
23. Austin Davis, St. Louis Rams
24. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos
25. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders
26. Josh Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals

Dominique Davis made waves last preseason, but he's landlocked behind Matt Ryan, who hasn't missed a start since 2009. Austin Davis was labeled "nothing short of precocious" during last season's training camp. The Rams have shown enough confidence in the second-year pro to keep Kellen Clemens off this list. I thought we'd have more information on Pryor two seasons in, but he's a potential cut if Tyler Wilson steps up. Osweiler owns a strong arm and should benefit from Denver slow-cooking him behind Peyton Manning.

Backup bros.


27. Josh McCown, Chicago Bears
28. Luke McCown, New Orleans Saints

The McCown boys once trotted around in diapers together. Now they're NFL signal-callers. A heartwarming tale on the surface, but the Bears and Saints will edge into dirt-nap territory if either brother sees the field for anthing more than victory-formation duty.

Ugliness


29. Derek Anderson, Carolina Panthers
30. Charlie Whitehurst, San Diego Chargers
31. Graham Harrell, Green Bay Packers

Anderson's 2007 Pro Bowl campaign was mere illusion. He has worked himself out of two starting jobs and looms as one of the league's shakiest reserves. Whitehurst has floated from San Diego to Seattle, and back again. Nice for a Hobbit, not so much for Charlie. Harrell was an epic train wreck last preseason. If he sees the field, it only will mean sadness in Green Bay.

Not enough data


32. Geno Smith, New York Jets (projecting Mark Sanchez to start in Week 1)
33. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
34. Tyler Wilson, Oakland Raiders

All three might go on to productive careers, but we're months away from an actual read on how these passers will fare. Let's chat again in December.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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