|Moore is the best backup quarterback in the league. (US Presswire)|
Backup quarterbacks always have to be ready to play, because they're always 30 seconds away from having to flip off their ballcap, find their helmet and enter the game in the middle of a drive. You know this, of course. The trick for each NFL team, though, is to find a backup quarterback who can play as well -- or nearly as well -- as the starter if an emergency arises. This is not easy to find. You know this, too.
But we've seen twice this year as the Cardinals backup quarterback -- once it was Kevin Kolb and once it was John Skelton -- has entered the game in the fourth quarter and made just enough plays to help lead Arizona to the victory. We saw it last week when Matt Moore had to enter the game for an injured Ryan Tannehill, and by the end, the Dolphins had easily dispatched the Jets. And we're waiting any minute for Eagles coach Andy Reid to call for Michael Vick's understudy.
When I started this week's Top Ten with a Twist, I honestly didn't know if I would find 10 quarterbacks I would consider worthy -- or half-worthy, even (for the record, I've excluded Skelton and Tennessee's Matt Hasselbeck because, for now, they are their teams' starters). But if any of these quarterbacks had to enter a game at a moment's notice, the offense wouldn't necessarily fall apart and his team still would have a decent chance of winning the game. Which is exactly what coaches want to see out of their No. 2.
10. Bruce Gradkowski, Bengals: When Gradkowski was a starter in Tampa Bay during his rookie season in 2006, he wasn't great, recording a 3-8 record as a starter with a quarterback rating of 65.9 and tossing nine touchdowns against nine interceptions. Perhaps it's not surprising that he hasn't been a full-time starter since then, but when he had to make a combined eight starts in Oakland in 2009-10, he was slightly better, going 3-6 with a quarterback rating of 80.6 in 2009 and 66.3 in 2010 (with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). Yes, I realize Gradkowski is a stretch for this list and sure, you don't want him starting instead of Andy Dalton, but there are worse backups out there. Gradkowski could win you a game if need be.
9. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: If the surprisingly-resurgent Alex Smith had to leave the game, we really have no idea how Kaepernick would respond, because he's not been in that position. But there had to be a reason San Francisco drafted him in the second round in 2011. And while Kaepernick hasn't been used much this season -- he's utilized mostly as a change-of-pace wildcat quarterback in which the Jets could learn a lesson or two -- but there's no doubting his athleticism and ability to make plays. Kaepernick is a dual threat to pass and run, and if the 49ers had to use him, he would make life a little harder on opposing defensive coordinators.
8. Tarvaris Jackson, Bills: Obviously, the decision-makers in Seattle, where Jackson started 14 games last season, weren't impressed with him, especially considering they signed Green Bay backup Matt Flynn (who, by the way, isn't even on this list) and then drafted another quarterback (Russell Wilson) in the third round. But Jackson would be one of the more solid backups in the league if Ryan Fitzpatrick had to leave the game. Jackson had a career year last season, so he's not far removed from his best playing days. The only problem: It appears that Jackson is actually stuck behind Tyler Thigpen for the No. 2 job.
7. Tim Tebow, Jets: I promise I'm not trolling here. For all of Tebow's deficiencies and his inaccuracies, I'm not sure there's a quarterback outside of New York who was more clutch at the end of ballgames last year. The Jets are barely using him -- it's almost as if Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano didn't want Tebow in the first place, which might actually be true -- but if New York needed him, it wouldn't be altogether shocking to see Tebow come in and win a ballgame or two for his team. Mark Sanchez is the better quarterback, but Tebow is the better winner.
6. Nick Foles, Eagles: We know even less about Foles than we do about Kaepernick. While Foles performed well in the preseason -- when he spent some of his time against second- and third-string defenses playing out of vanilla schemes -- the third-round draft pick hasn't taken a snap in the regular season. But he did complete 63.5 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 110.1 quarterback rating in the exhibition schedue. What does that tell us? Nothing. We still don't know if he can win a regular-season game. But he's one of the most popular Eagles players at this point, because of his solid preseason and because the team is going nowhere with Vick.
5. Byron Leftwich/Charlie Batch, Steelers: These two are the quintessential, “Oh, he's still in the league?” guys, but they've proven in the past that they can get the job done if Ben Roethlisberger can't go. True, you don't want either of them starting (Leftwich is 32 years old and has lost his last six starts going back to 2006, and Batch is five years older), but Batch also won the only game he started last season, going 15 of 22 for 208 yards and an interception. The year before, he split his two starts. Both are capable, and whomever is the third-stringer (and it's been Batch) would be the best No. 3 in the league behind Tarvaris Jackson.
4. Kyle Orton, Cowboys: Yeah, you might not want the guy who lost his job to Tebow in Denver last season to be your starter, but with the way life is going for Tony Romo and the Cowboys lately, would turning to Orton be the worst thing? It won't happen, but if coach Jason Garrett gets desperate enough about the season (and, frankly, his job), maybe he'd turn to Orton for a spark. After all, he won two of three as Kansas City's starter at the end of 2011.
3. Jason Campbell, Bears: If it wasn't for suffering a season-ending broken collarbone injury last season, it's not inconceivable that Campbell still would be the starter in Oakland. But he did get injured, and then the coach who's no longer in charge traded for Carson Palmer, who just happened to be available. And that was it for Campbell in Oakland. At this point, there's little question Jay Cutler is the better choice to start in Chicago (remember, Cutler is 6-1 this year and poised to compete for the NFC North title), but if Campbell had to come in, you could do worse than a guy who's won 11 of his last 18 games as a starter with 19 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
2. T.J. Yates, Texans: After losing Matt Schaub midway through the season in 2011, it didn't seem probable (or, maybe, possible) that Houston could continue on toward a playoff run with backup Matt Leinart as the starter. Then, when Leinart got hurt and the Texans had to throw in rookie T.J. Yates, it seemed as if Houston's season was sunk. But Yates played better than just about anybody could have expected and kept the Texans in line for the AFC South title. It helped tremendously that Peyton Manning was injured, but nevertheless, Yates was impressive.
1. Matt Moore, Dolphins: If life were fair, Moore would be the starter in Miami right now. Especially after performing admirably for a terrible Dolphins squad in 2011. But life is not fair, and Miami drafted Ryan Tannehill in the first round. Then, when Moore could have beaten out David Garrard for the No. 1 job, Garrard injured his knee, and the Dolphins brass decided it might as well go with Tannehill. Last week, Moore proved his worth as the top backup in the NFL by entering the game after Tannehill suffered a leg injury and leadnig Miami to an easy win against the Jets on the road. If he has to face the Colts this week in place of Tannehill, there's a pretty good chance Moore could pull off another victory on the road.
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