Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
Todd Collins stepped in for an injured Jason Campbell and helped the Redskins make the playoffs last year.


As camps around the league open this week, the stars will deservedly get the bulk of the attention.

However, the NFL is a war of attrition and medical issues can quickly mount. Roster depth is a critical factor to most teams' success. Granted if your favorite team has a few superstars and they avoid injury, then depth isn't as big of an issue. Although for most squads, depth is a major component for winning and losing.

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Each year I examine every depth chart right before training camp commences, looking for the teams with the best depth. A year ago, I declared the Washington Redskins as the team with the most quality depth heading into training camp. Injuries to the offensive line immediately challenged their depth and the club responded with a playoff performance.

While the Redskins are in the top five this year, there are other teams with excellent depth that didn't make the cut and, in some cases, had better people at certain positions. I really like the San Diego Chargers roster, but the loss of Michael Turner raises some questions about the backup running back situation as does the loss of nickel corner Drayton Florence.

Evaluating depth on a roster starts at quarterback. Ask yourself, how good is the backup? Can he stay healthy? Can he perform with limited reps in practice? If he has to play for a month, can he go 3-1? When quarterback questions are answered, more than half of the 32 get eliminated. The Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Saint Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Green Bay Packers, if they get Brett Favre back, remain alive.

Jeff Gross / Getty Images
Chester Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards in 2006, but took on a smaller role with the Vikings as Adrian Peterson emerged last year.

From this group, the second question is which teams have a reserve running back capable of rushing for 1,000 yards if called up upon to replace the starting tailback? Now the list gets reduced to the Vikings, Steelers, Buccaneers, Redskins and Jaguars. The Saints, Titans, Texans and Eagles are also possibilities.

Take these nine teams and examine the offensive line. Who has a swing tackle for the left or right side? Which teams also have a backup interior lineman who can handle playing guard or center? The Vikings, Steelers, Buccaneers, Redskins, Jaguars, Texans and Eagles can answer in the affirmative.

Of the seven remaining teams, only the Texans are without a third wide receiver capable of starting for other teams.

The final area on offense in need of evaluation is the second string tight end. Can a team rely upon their No. 2 tight end to not only do his job, but also replace the starter and the offense doesn't miss a beat? The Jaguars are eliminated at this point. However, the Vikings, Eagles, Steelers, Buccaneers and Redskins all have good backup tight ends.

Only five teams remain as we move to the defensive side of the ball. A strong defensive depth chart is highlighted by a third defensive tackle, a designated pass rusher, a nickel corner, a third safety and a punt returner who can get the hidden yardage.

The Vikings signed Ellis Wyms in the spring. The Eagles drafted Trevor Laws and still have Montae Reagor. Chris Hoke gives the Steelers depth. The Bucs and Redskins are good enough on the defensive line.

The third corner is a necessity to make a statement about roster depth in the modern game. Lito Sheppard gives the Eagles a great third option. The Vikings have Marcus McCauley. The Steelers call upon Bryant McFadden. The Bucs drafted Aqib Talib while the Redskins have Fred Smoot, who started 11 games in 2007.

The final piece to having a solid base defense is the third safety on a roster. The Vikings drafted Tyrell Johnson. The Bucs acquired Eugene Wilson. The Redskins added Stuart Schweigert. J.R. Reed and Sean Considine give the Eagles depth. Anthony Smith does the same for the Steelers.

So which team enters 2008 with the best back end of a roster? Which team can survive a few significant injuries? Which team has the best chance to remain standing when the dust settles from a rash of unlucky medical events or off the field issues that plague teams?

Here are the top five teams when it comes to depth:
Rk Team No. 2 QB No. 2 RB No. 3 OT No. 3 WR No. 2 OG/C No. 2 TE No. 3 DT Nickle CB No. 3 safety
1 Vikings Gus Frerotte Chester Taylor Marcus Johnson Bobby Wade Maurice Hicks Jim Kleinsasser Ellis Wyms Marcus McCauley Tyrell Johnson
2 Bucs Brian Griese Earnest Graham Donald Penn Maurice Stovall Dan Buenning Ben Troupe Ryan Sims Aqib Talib Eugene Wilson
3 Steelers Charlie Batch Rashard Mendenhall Willie Colon Limas Sweed Sean Mahan Matt Spaeth Chris Hoke Bryant McFadden Anthony Smith
4 Redskins Todd Collins Ladell Betts Todd Wade Devin Thomas Jason Fabini Fred Davis Kedric Gholston Fred Smoot Stuart Schweigart
5 Eagles A.J. Feeley Correll Buckhalter Winston Justice Hank Baskett Max Jean-Gilles Kris Wilson Trevor Laws Lito Sheppard J.R. Reed

 

Have a football-related question for Pat that you would like answered in a future column? Email him at footballmentor@aol.com. "Movin' the Chains," Pat's SIRIUS NFL Radio show with co-host Tim Ryan, can be heard weekdays from 3-7 p.m. ET.

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