The backup quarterback position is more important than ever before.
Last season alone, guys like Ryan Lindley, Connor Shaw and Clipboard Jesus took teams into battle as a whopping 54 quarterbacks started games, per NFL Research.
The same occurred in 2013, when nine teams used at least two starters over the first seven weeks of play. Of those squads, only the Eagles made the playoffs. Not surprisingly, five of those clubs changed coaches after the season.
Injuries, crappy play and mounting desperation will force teams to turn to No. 2 -- and even No. 3 -- in 2015. With this in mind, it's time to rank The Guys Behind The Guys.
As for the criteria, I listed 32 presumed backups in the order I would pick them to start a game today. Playing experience and recent game tape were primary factors, but team situation also played a part.
Let's get down to the list:
It's possible that Sanchez starts the season, but the Eagles are paying Bradford $12.985 million this year to Sanchez's $2.5 million. If Bradford isn't fully healthy by Week 1, Sanchez gives Chip Kelly a player familiar with the system and one who led the Jets to consecutive AFC title games. His inspired play tailed off down the stretch in 2014, but I'm also basing this off fit: Philly's run-heavy, "QB-proof" attack is an outstanding landing spot for our top-ranked backup.
I was surprised nobody swung a trade for Glennon this offseason. NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell called him "far more advanced" than Robert Griffin III, saying "they shouldn't even be in the same discussion." Glennon played behind one of the NFL's worst lines last year and it showed, but his 18 career starts include moments of genuine promise.
If Geno Smith crumbles, the Amish Rifle gives Jets play-caller Chan Gailey an unspectacular but battle-tested veteran to run his offense. With 89 career starts, Fitzy has worked himself out of a starting gig -- with good reason -- but he's an asset for a Gang Green outfit not entirely sold on Geno.
Too high? Not in my book. I'd much rather have an athletic young backup with upside than some 39-year-old game manager. Garoppolo was intriguing last preseason and played well in relief of Brady in a Monday night collapse against the Chiefs. I'm convinced he'll perform well again if Brady's four-game suspension sticks. New England does an outstanding job of preparing young players and Garoppolo showed good decision-making last season. He isn't afraid to throw the ball downfield and we're talking about a coach, in Bill Belichick, who milked an 11-win season out of Matt Cassel.
Rounding out the top 10
5. Zach Mettenberger, Titans
6. Kirk Cousins, Redskins
7. Derek Anderson, Panthers
8. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks
9. Drew Stanton, Cardinals
10. Ryan Mallett, Texans
Near fistfights have unfolded in the NFL newsroom over Mettenberger. I'd take him in a second over some of the warmed-over aging flotsam on this list. He needs work -- some of his tape is apocalyptic -- but there's plenty to work with. ... For the sake of this exercise, I'm taking Cousins over Colt McCoy for Washington's No. 2 gig, but both could start games this season if RGIII crumbles. The shine is off Cousins after five of his nine picks last season came in the fourth quarter. Still, both Kyle Shanahan and Jay Gruden have raved about him.
Anderson flamed out as a starter for the Browns, but offers prototypical size and a big arm. The Panthers don't make playoffs last season without him stepping in, going 2-0 as a starter and tossing five touchdowns and no picks over 97 attempts. There's hope yet for this gunslinging fool! ... Jackson has the faith of Seahawks coaches and gives the team a veteran who knows Darrell Bevell's system. ... Stanton has issues, but he wasn't afraid to take shots downfield. ... I'm labeling Mallett the backup here, but his competition with Brian Hoyer still feels wide open. When the two squared off in Week 11, it resembled a pair of girl-next-door types in a catfight. Hoyer gets the experience edge. Mallett wins the arm-strength battle. Neither feels like the answer.
11. Chase Daniel, Chiefs
12. Matt Moore, Dolphins
13. Shaun Hill, Vikings
14. Matt Hasselbeck, Colts
15. Christian Ponder, Raiders
16. Kellen Clemens, Chargers
Daniel fizzled out as one of our past "Making the Leap" candidates, but he plays with confidence. On tape, he looks like a future starter for stretches, but also threw too many off-target darts in 2014. ... Moore has been a ghost of late, playing just 38 snaps over the past two seasons behind Ryan Tannehill. His past starting experience is a plus. ... I had Hill higher on this list until I watched his Rams film from last season: It was a quilt of madness mixing strong drives with devastating turnovers. At 35, mentoring Teddy Bridgewater feels appropriate.
You might want Hasselbeck higher on this list because of his successful career, but this is 2015. Turning 40 in September, he isn't a better option than other middling passers almost half his age. ... The idea of Ponder running Oakland's offense is far from inspiring, but he's an upgrade over a broken-down Matt Schaub. First, though, he needs to beat out Matt McGloin for the No. 2 role behind Derek Carr.
Bag of cats
Henne's days as a starter are over barring disaster in Jacksonville. ... Offseason reports out of Buffalo slammed all three Bills passers -- Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel -- and we wouldn't be surprised to see the entire trio start games this season. ... Weeden was run out of town in Cleveland, but has earned praise from Cowboys coaches as Tony Romo's backup. His arm is strong, but who knows where the ball will go? It doesn't help that Weeden turns 32 in October.
20. Austin Davis, Rams
21. Scott Tolzien, Packers
22. Bruce Gradkowski, Steelers
23. Brock Osweiler, Broncos
24. Matt Schaub, Ravens
25. T.J. Yates, Falcons
26. AJ McCarron, Bengals
27. Luke McCown, Saints
28. Ryan Nassib, Giants
29. Dan Orlovsky, Lions
30. Jimmy Clausen, Bears
Davis was a hot-and-cold act over eight starts in St. Louis, but he arguably ran the offense as well as Sam Bradford. ... Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tolzien -- the clear No. 2 behind Aaron Rodgers -- has grown immensely since his shaky tape in 2013. ... Osweiler has won over Broncos coaches, but 30 garbage-time attempts in three seasons don't tell us much. ... I was tempted to drop Schaub to the bottom of the list after his confidence -- and arm -- appeared shot last season in Oakland. The Ravens are in boiling hot water if he plays meaningful snaps, but Marc Trestman has coached up aging vets before.
Yates won a playoff game over the comatose Bengals in 2011. He's shown very little since. ... McCarron has a chance to see time this season -- and alter his ranking here -- if Andy Dalton stumbles. ... Both McCown brothers are backup material, but only one team sees it that way. ... Giants coach Tom Coughlin called Nassib an eventual NFL starter after he easily won the No. 2 job in 2014. Still, with Eli Manning not missing a game since 2004, Nassib remains a figure hidden deep in the background. ... Kellen Moore has a shot to beat out Orlovsky after taking a rash of second-team reps this offseason. It's a battle worth watching.
Sic transit gloria
Manziel was a disappointment on and off the field as a rookie. He deserves credit for handling his issues and showing better preparation heading into Year 2. The bigger concern was seeing defensive linemen chase him down with ease. While Russell Wilson and Drew Brees play big, Manziel looked small and out of place on the field. That said, I'm not ready to give up on Johnny after seven quarters. ... I don't have a problem with Gabbert taking the final spot because we know what he is after 27 NFL starts: A low-ceiling backup who needs to prove us wrong on the field.
*The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses the eight most intriguing training camp battles heading into the season. *