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Keep an Eye on ... Backup Quarterbacks

If any of you are wondering why NFL backup quarterbacks are worth paying attention to as you prepare for the 2005 fantasy football season, let me turn your attention to Billy Volek and Brian Griese. Each started the season as a backup (Griese was actually 3rd on the Bucs' depth chart), but ultimately took the field as their team's starter. More importantly, during Weeks 14 through 16 (the "playoff weeks" in most fantasy leagues), they both were among the best fantasy quarterbacks.

  • Brian Griese, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - When Brian Griese joined the Buccaneers last offseason, it barely registered on the NFL newswires. Griese had just flopped as a Dolphins QB, and was 3rd on the depth chart behind Brad Johnson and Chris Simms. But after a rocky start to the season, Johnson was benched in favor of Simms. However Simms got hurt, forcing HC Jon Gruden to give Griese a shot. Griese proceeded to throw for 2,632 yards and 20 TDs while completing nearly 70% of his passes in 11 games. And in the all-important Weeks 14 through 16, Griese was the 8th ranked fantasy QB.

  • Billy Volek, Tennessee Titans - Billy Volek's late season heroics were the stuff of legend. As a backup to Steve McNair, the reigning league co-MVP last season, Billy Volek's name registered nary a blip on the fantasy radar screen in redraft leagues. Yet, there wasn't a better fantasy passer when it counted most. After McNair succumbed to a sternum injury, Volek caught fire at just the right time. From Weeks 14 through 16, Volek was the top rated fantasy QB in the land, throwing for 1,029 yards (343 per game), 8 TDs and only 3 INTs (and he ran one in for good measure). Volek's performance was the death knell for many top seeds in their championship weeks, as lower seeds rolled the dice on the explosive Volek while top seeds had to scramble as Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning were sitting on the bench awaiting the NFL playoffs.

The list certainly doesn't stop there, as players such as Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Marc Bulger, and Jon Kitna all contributed to fantasy teams' successes in the last few years despite being backups to start the season. Another important point to remember, not only were all these players backup quarterbacks, MOST OF THEM WEREN'T EVEN CONSIDERED AS DRAFT-WORTHY IN 10- AND 12-TEAM LEAGUES. If someone had told you that most of these guys were going to be productive fantasy football players before their inaugural seasons at the helm, you would've laughed at them.

With that idea as a backdrop, I wanted to call your attention to the projected backup QBs entering the 2005 season. With training camps just getting underway, there's a good chance that a few of these QBs will actually win starting jobs potentially, while others may fall another rung on the depth chart or suffer their outright release. A few of these players will be hyped enough that they may even get selected during your draft, but the majority are sure to go unnoticed on draft day. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of them. Today's unknown backup could be tomorrow's fantasy stud.

'Backups' for Now

These QBs are listed as backups on the depth chart at press time, but could be inserted in the starting lineup by the opening kickoff. As such, these guys may even find their way onto fantasy rosters on draft day.

  • Jeff Garcia, Detroit Lions - Entering camp, Joey Harrington is the nominal starter in Detroit but it would be foolish to discount Garcia's chances of seeing the field at some point. Garcia is coming off a disappointing and injury-plagued stint as the Browns starter but reunites with his former head coach in San Francisco, Steve Mariucci. Garcia went to three Pro Bowls playing in Mariucci's system and knows it inside and out. At 35 years old, Garcia's best days are probably behind him, but he remains a mobile QB with the ability to complete a high percentage of his passes within the construct of the West Coast offense. Expectations are high in Detroit and with an emergent Kevin Jones at tailback to go along with a trio of top-10 receivers (Charles Rogers, Roy and Mike Williams); Harrington is going to be on a short leash. Should Garcia win the job, he's more than equipped to be a productive fantasy player in that system.

  • Gus Frerotte, Miami Dolphins - I could have just as easily listed A.J. Feeley's name here as new head coach Nick Saban hasn't decided on a starter yet. But Feeley gets the nod as the incumbent in this analysis. That said, Feeley was absolutely dreadful last year (4 of his INTs were returned for touchdowns) and seems ill-equipped to be a full-time starter. While Gus Frerotte is no world beater, he does have experience in OC Scott Linehan's system from their days in Minnesota and also benefits from being one of Saban's "guys" (i.e., he wasn't inherited). If Frerotte wins the job, there's no reason to expect fantasy greatness, but he would not be without weapons (Chris Chambers, Randy McMichael) and may warrant consideration as your emergency QB.

Proven Commodities

These quarterbacks are firmly entrenched behind the starter, but if given an opportunity due to injury/circumstance, have proven they can be effective fantasy performers.

  • Jon Kitna, Cincinnati Bengals - Jon Kitna is two seasons removed from an 8th place fantasy finish quarterbacking the Bengals. Were it not for the team's commitment to Carson Palmer, Kitna likely would've remained the starter last year. It's difficult to argue with someone who throws for almost 3,600 yards and 26 touchdowns. With Chad Johnson reaching his prime, T.J. Houshmandzadeh emerging and backups like Warrick and Henry; the cupboard is full for Kitna should Palmer succumb to a protracted injury absence. Kitna should be one of the first backups drafted in redraft leagues.

  • Brad Johnson, Minnesota Vikings - Brad Johnson was one of the more sought after veteran QBs in free agency, having run his course as the starter in Tampa Bay. Although it's difficult to argue with Jon Gruden's decision to bench Johnson last year, we mustn't forget that he remains an effective passer when given time. Last season, the Bucs' ineffective line and Johnson's lack of mobility were a dangerous combination. But in Minnesota, Johnson should have one of the better lines in the NFC to work with. Should Culpepper get injured, Johnson would be in an advantageous position to be sure.

  • Billy Volek, Tennessee Titans - As we talked about earlier, Billy Volek proved himself equipped to step into the starting role as a gunslinger. To be fair, much has changed in Tennessee over the offseason including the departures of WR Derrick Mason and OC Mike Heimerdinger. Norm Chow is bringing in a new offense, as well as integrating a trio of rookie receivers into the mix. But one can't ignore Volek's productivity last season in McNair's absence; and given Steve's injury history it's not unreasonable to think Volek will have a chance to step onto the field again this year. Volek, like Kitna, will likely be among the first backups targeted and with good reason.

Unproven, but in a Good System

These players are largely unknown commodities by virtue of never getting a chance to play, however, because they play in successful systems and/or have impressive supporting casts, they could surprise if given the chance.

  • Josh McCown, Arizona Cardinals - I almost listed McCown in the "Proven Commodities" category. As a part-time starter last season he had his moments. In fact, over the course of Weeks 14-16 (the aforementioned fantasy playoff weeks); McCown was actually the 3rd ranked fantasy QB (behind Volek and Culpepper). Over that span, McCown threw for 842 yards while completing 62% of his passes, while adding 7 touchdowns (5 pass, 2 rush). Dennis Green sung McCown's praises last year, comparing him to a young Brett Favre, but then seemingly soured on him after the first few weeks of the season. In spring minicamps, Green declared Kurt Warner the Cardinals starter, but given the Cardinals weapons and Warner's recent history, it's far from a reach to think McCown may be starting in Arizona at some point in 2005.

  • Matt Schaub, Atlanta Falcons - Matt Schaub is a much different quarterback than Michael Vick, and suffice to say, were he required to play the Falcons would have to utilize a different portion of Greg Knapp's playbook. But Knapp has built a solid resume as an offensive coach, and the Falcons have several young playmakers in the WR corps (Michael Jenkins, Roddy White) to go along with proven options at RB (Warrick Dunn) and TE (Alge Crumpler). Schaub has the physical tools and produced at a high level at the University of Virginia playing in a prostyle offense. He played well in the preseason last year, and several published reports hinted that he has a future in the league as a starter.

  • Todd Bouman, New Orleans Saints - It's hard to believe that Todd Bouman will be 33 when the season starts, but such is the case as he embarks on his third season as Aaron Brooks' backup. Bouman spent his first six seasons with Minnesota, largely inactive until becoming Daunte Culpepper's backup for two years. Bouman is a classic drop back passer, who won't beat you with his legs but has a rocket arm. Ironically, he has spent the better portion of his career backing up mobile quarterbacks. With Deuce McAllister, Joe Horn & Donte Stallworth in the huddle, he has weapons to produce should the door open. Whether Bouman's immobile style can translate into sustainable NFL success remains to be seen, but he'll have the tools at his disposal and could surprise.

  • Marques Tuiasosopo, Oakland Raiders - Tuiasosopo is at a crossroads in his career. This is his fifth season with the team, and his third head coach in the process. "Tui" was once considered the QB of the future, but with Kerry Collins at the helm and rookie Andrew Walter in the mix, it's unclear whether "Tui" has a present or future with the team. Given his experience and familiarity with the surroundings and system, it stands to reason he'll be Collins primary backup this year. With Randy Moss and Jerry Porter at his disposal, "Tui" could be a surprise fantasy performer should Collins get hurt. Of course, "Tui" could just as easily end up cut by the end of training camp if we're to believe some published reports. If he holds onto a roster spot as Collins' backup, he's someone to keep in the back of your mind if injury should create an opportunity for him.

  • Chris Simms, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Not long ago it seemed as though Chris Simms' career was on a perfect trajectory. After a high profile collegiate career, Simms was drafted by Jon Gruden as a Bucs' backup, and benefited from not having to step into an active role immediately, while learning his craft from one of the best offensive coaches in the NFL. After serving as one of Tampa's backups, a poor start by Brad Johnson last season led to Simms being named the starter. Unfortunately a bruised shoulder and some fumbling problems opened the door for Brian Griese and he never looked back. Now Simms must reestablish himself as an option in Tampa, with newly acquired Luke McCown breathing down his neck. Simms is only 24 years old (25 in August) and certainly has the credentials to emerge as a starter in Tampa or another team at some juncture. Given Griese's erratic history and the injury realities of the QB position, Simms could be right back in the mix before we know it.

  • Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers - When Philip Rivers was drafted 4th overall last April, he probably figured he would be vying for an NFL starting job by now. Yet, a protracted holdout gave Drew Brees another shot; and he proceeded to play at a Pro Bowl level ultimately being designated the team's franchise player. That leaves Rivers as a highly compensated and well regarded backup in 2005. But Rivers is only an opportunity away from making the world remember why he was regarded as a franchise caliber prospect a year ago. He's got fantastic mechanics, a penchant for making plays when it counts, and was productive and accurate against a high level of competition at NC State. If Rivers sees the field, he's likely to have his ups and downs initially, but he's got the supporting cast (Gates, Tomlinson, McCardell) to produce decent fantasy stats in the aggregate.

Experienced Veterans

These backups are experienced NFL quarterbacks who have been productive in the past but probably have seen their best days, but are nevertheless one injury away from a chance at a renaissance.

  • Kelly Holcomb, Buffalo Bills - Kelly Holcomb enters his 10th NFL season as a backup for the Bills, having spent the last few seasons in Cleveland. He has been a backup for the majority of his career, having attempted more than 100 passes just twice in nine seasons. Over the last three seasons, as the Browns part-time starter, Holcomb compiled decent numbers. 316 completions in 495 attempts (63.8%) for 3,324 yards and 22 TDs in 19 regular season games. To be fair, he did throw 25 interceptions over that span, and his play was erratic on a game by game basis. Nevertheless, Holcomb shouldn't be dismissed because he's now backing up J.P. Losman. While the Bills are committed to developing Losman, they also believe they're a playoff contender this year. It's not unreasonable to think that if Losman REALLY struggles, the team will turn to Holcomb for a few games. He's done too little in his career to be anything more than someone you keep one eye out for on the waiver wire, but if you're desperate and Losman is benched for performance or injury reasons, Holcomb could surprise.

  • Jay Fiedler, New York Jets - Chad Pennington is a very talented young quarterback, but he's had difficulty staying on the field. Last season, the Jets managed without him thanks to the play of Quincy Carter, but for non-football related reasons the team felt compelled to go in another direction this year. Fiedler seems well suited for his new role as Pennington's backup. The 33-year old spent the last five seasons in Miami, where he went from starter to backup, several times. In his one full season as a starter (2001), Fiedler actually finished as the 10th ranked fantasy QB, throwing for 3,290 yards, 20 TDs and running for another 321 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. It's Fiedler's mobility which makes him a reasonable fantasy spot starter; even though he's averaged less than 1 TD pass per game over his career. Fiedler wouldn't be a savior if Pennington was sidelined, but he could be worth the occasional fantasy start if the matchup was overly favorable.

  • Tommy Maddox, Pittsburgh Steelers - We know Tommy Maddox is capable of decent, but not great, production within the construct of the Steelers offense. That said, Maddox is prone to trying to force balls into coverage to make the "big play" which simply doesn't work when you have a team that can and will win by protecting the ball and controlling the clock. Assuming Maddox outlasts Charlie Batch in training camp, he'll return to his familiar role as a Steelers backup.

The Rookies

These rookies have a bright future with their teams, and almost certainly will get a shot to start down the road, but may not be very good fantasy options this year despite the hype.

  • Kyle Orton, Chicago Bears - Orton's draft stock vacillated as he struggled with injury during his senior season at Purdue. But he was a four-year starter and entered his final season as a potential first round draft choice. At 6'4", 233 lbs. Orton looks the part, and his career numbers in a tough conference (Big Ten) suggest he has a future in the NFL. Much like former Boilermaker Drew Brees, Orton will have to adjust to the pro game as he played much of his career in the shotgun. It would be surprising to see Orton play much of a role in Chicago this year, but his long-term future looks promising. It's not presumptuous to think he could contend for the starting job in a year or two, depending on the health and progress of Rex Grossman.

  • Charlie Frye, Cleveland Browns - For a small conference, the MAC has been a hotbed of quarterback talent in recent years. Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger are all recent MAC quarterbacks who now start on Sundays. Many believe it's only a matter of time before Charlie Frye joins that list. Frye, a tall, rangy passer out of Akron, has excellent mechanics, a quick release, and a fearlessness found in all the great NFL quarterbacks. At times he was prone to throwing behind his receivers, but showed marked improvement in that during his final season. Browns GM Phil Savage and HC Romeo Crennel are trying to build a perennial contender, and for that reason I think they'll be more than happy to let Frye develop on the sidelines while Trent Dilfer keeps his spot in the huddle warm for a year or two.

  • Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rodgers' experience on draft weekend had to be exhausting. After being in contention with Alex Smith for the 1st overall selection, Rodgers went into a free fall ultimately being thrown a life preserver by the Packers near the end of the first round. He went from $20 million in guaranteed money plus a sure starting job to the guy who has to replace Brett Favre; maybe. The thing is Favre could end up playing another three seasons and then what? Rodgers is the latest in a line of well regarded QBs produced by Jeff Tedford. He's arguably the most polished passer in the game, with near flawless footwork and fluidity of motion. The only knocks on Rodgers are his size (6'0") and his release (some consider it too high); but one can't argue with his production at Cal. Rodgers may win the QB2 job in Green Bay, but more likely he'll be the team's emergency QB in 2005.

  • Andrew Walter, Oakland Raiders - It's fitting that Andrew Walter was drafted by the Raiders because he's reminiscent of a young Kerry Collins. At 6'6", 233 lbs. with limited mobility, Walter is a pure drop back pocket passer. He has enough arm to make the deep throws, but is very much a streaky passer (when he's on, he looks unstoppable, when he's off, it can get ugly). Walter likely slots as the QB3 in Oakland this season, but he could push Tuiasosopo if he shows a firm grasp of Norv Turner's offense in the early part of training camp.

  • Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins - It's been quite the year for Jason Campbell. He quarterbacked the Auburn Tigers to a national championship and in the process, showed enough progress as a passer to work himself into the first round of the NFL draft. The Redskins didn't simply grab Campbell because he was the "best player available", they specifically made a pre-draft move to acquire a second 1st round selection with the intention of grabbing Campbell. For now, the Redskins appear committed to Patrick Ramsey and have indicated nothing publicly to dispute that viewpoint. But using a 1st round selection on another quarterback is certainly an indication that a) Joe Gibbs thinks highly of Campbell and b) Ramsey must show consistent improvement in order to retain his job beyond 2005. With Mark Brunell also on the Redskins payroll, it's a fair bet that Campbell will hold a clipboard in 2005 regardless of Ramsey's production. But as a long-term (think keeper league) prospect, Campbell is enticing.

Backup Battles

It seems that many teams, more so than normal, enter the preseason with an uncertain backup situation. For some teams, it's a matter of finding the lesser of two evils. For other teams, it's about determining whether to opt for the veteran or the youngster. And lastly for a few teams, it's a matter of playing out the string, realizing that neither of the options is ideal, and bringing in a veteran to plug the dam.

  • Doug Johnson vs. Josh Harris vs. Charlie Frye, Cleveland Browns - We know Trent Dilfer is going to start, but who will back him up? Entering training camp, two former MAC QBs (Frye and Harris) will battle recently acquired Doug Johnson. Johnson, who spent four years in Atlanta and last season in Tennessee, is the favorite to land the job given his experience. Harris, despite being one of the most productive QBs in MAC history, may be the odd man out given the team's financial commitment to Frye as a 3rd round draft choice this season. But nothing is in stone yet.

  • Tony Romo vs. Drew Henson, Dallas Cowboys - Another season, another veteran Parcells' guy to run the show in Dallas. While Drew Bledsoe is entrenched as the starter, it's unclear whether Drew Henson or Tony Romo gets the nod as his backup. Both are equally experienced in the system, but figuring out which QB has the edge is as much about Parcells' whimsy as anything else. Henson has the better pedigree and measurables, but Romo has engendered less criticism from Parcells and seems more of a "gamer," the kind of guy Parcells gravitates toward.

  • Craig Nall vs. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers - With an aging Brett Favre, a defense with lots of question marks, and a head coach in the final year of his contract, the Packers didn't draft Aaron Rodgers with their first round choice without believing he has the chance to be Favre's heir apparent. While his future in the organization seems clear, his role this season is most definitely not. Craig Nall sits at #2 at the start of camp, and Rodgers and he will compete for the job in an open competition. It seems almost silly to overanalyze the Green Bay backup situation, since Brett Favre is the closest thing to indestructible the QB position has ever come across; but whoever does win the job would have huge shoes to fill and shouldn't be considered a fantasy option until we see them in action for a game or two.

  • Travis Brown vs. Jim Sorgi, Indianapolis Colts - When Peyton Manning is your starter, it's easy to overlook the backup position. After all, Manning has been an iron man; never missing a game due to injury in seven seasons. Nevertheless, injuries are a reality of the game and either Jim Sorgi or Travis Brown would be in line to take over a very talented offensive cast. Any QB that has the option of throwing to Harrison, Wayne, Stokley, Clark and James is someone worth a roster spot potentially. The question becomes whether Sorgi, last year's backup, can hold onto the job in place of the athletic but unproven Travis Brown. Brown was a Bills' backup before landing in Indianapolis partway through last season. Whoever wins the #2 job in camp could be a surprise fantasy commodity if the unexpected happens and Manning misses time.

  • Rohan Davey vs. Doug Flutie, New England Patriots - Doug Flutie, 42 years young, signed with New England this offseason presumably to get one last chance at a Super Bowl title. The Flutie signing raised some eyebrows as Rohan Davey was perceived to be a compelling backup option by many outside the Patriots organization. Bill Belicheck has promised to "play the best players at every position" which seems to indicate that Davey will have to earn his QB2 role in a heads up battle with Flutie. On one hand, you have a 20-year veteran who despite being tiny (5'10", 175 lbs.) has found ways to win at many stops. On the other hand, you have the young, strong pocket passer with excellent size (6'2", 245 lbs.) who hasn't seen the field much thanks to Tom Brady's excellence. Whichever QB wins the battle, they would have considerable appeal as a fantasy fill-in should Tom Brady succumb to injury. With the Patriots personnel, discipline and coaching staff, either Davey or Flutie could conceivably put together a few solid games as a spot starter.

  • Tim Hasselbeck vs. Jesse Palmer, New York Giants - Giants fans are hoping beyond hope that Eli Manning stays healthy because neither Tim Hasselbeck nor Jesse Palmer could reasonably be expected to step in and perform at a level commensurate with Manning's expected output. Both Hasselbeck and Palmer are better known for their television connections (Hasselbeck's wife is on The View and was a Survivor castaway, Palmer was one of the Bachelors) than their on field accomplishments. If one were handicapping the situation, Palmer gets a slight edge by virtue of his familiarity with the Giants system and personnel.

  • Koy Detmer vs. Mike McMahon, Philadelphia Eagles - As long as Donovan McNabb is healthy, Koy Detmer is going to be the team's number two on game day because he is PK David Akers' holder; an oft ignored but significant component of many backup QB's duties. But the real question becomes whether Detmer or newly acquired McMahon would get the starting nod in case of a McNabb injury. At this point in Detmer's career, I would be inclined to say McMahon would get first crack. Although I've never been a fan of McMahon (a sub 50% passer in college and the pros), Andy Reid saw something in him which warranted signing him as a free agent this offseason. McMahon is unquestionably athletic, and is partially versed in Reid's offensive system having played for Marty Mornhinweg in Detroit. Even as an Eagles fan, I would be hard pressed to recommend either Detmer or McMahon as fantasy options, this is a situation best left alone if McNabb gets hurt.

  • Jamie Martin vs. Jeff Smoker vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick, St. Louis Rams - Could a 7th round rookie from Harvard really end up the #2 in one of the league's most potent passing attacks? Anything is possible when Mike Martz is calling the shots. Although it would be a mild surprise to see Fitzpatrick end up the #2, he did get snaps as the 2nd team QB in mini camp ahead of veterans Jamie Martin and Jeff Smoker. Although it's unclear whether Martin, Smoker or Fitzpatrick will get the job, whichever does win the backup job has considerable fantasy appeal. Remember, there was a time when Kurt Warner, Trent Green and Marc Bulger were all considered as NFL footnotes, yet all three flourished under Martz in the St. Louis spread passing attack. Any team that has Martz calling the plays, Orlando Pace at tackle, Holt and Bruce at wideout and Faulk and Jackson at tailback is one that can make even a mediocre QB look good.

  • Seneca Wallace vs. David Greene, Seattle Seahawks - This may be one of those instances where the answer is "none of the above." Ultimately, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Seahawks bring aboard a veteran as Matt Hasselbeck's principal backup. But, for now, Seneca Wallace and David Greene are slotted behind him. Wallace, an electric playmaker at Iowa State, is small (5'11", 196 lbs.) and erratic (more INTs than TDs in college) and seems ill-suited for the West Coast offense; yet he has experience in the system and must have shown enough in practice to convince Holmgren he's worthy of consideration. Greene, a rookie from Georgia, is a more prototypical passer but also has the mobility to get out of the pocket. He needs seasoning, and has inconsistent mechanics but projects as a future starter by several draft pundits.

Other Backups

These quarterbacks are the least likely to help your fantasy team this year, because they have either proven to be mediocre, injury prone or would be taking the helm of an unproductive NFL offense if given the starting nod.

  • Anthony Wright, Baltimore Ravens - According to published reports, team officials weren't particularly impressed with Anthony Wright's efforts during minicamp workouts this spring. With only rookies Derek Anderson and Darian Durant on the roster, it seems that Wright will be Kyle Boller's backup unless the team decides to bring in a veteran free agent. Recall that Wright started a handful of games for Baltimore in 2003, completing 52% of his passes and throwing 9 TDs and 8 INTs over seven games.

  • Chris Weinke, Carolina Panthers - Chris Weinke ascends to the #2 spot this season thanks to the retirement of Rodney Peete. Weinke, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State, has served as the Panthers emergency quarterback for the last two seasons but was the team's starting quarterback for much of the 2001 season. Weinke, surprisingly old because of having played professional baseball, seems ideally suited as a backup but may be overmatched if forced to start for a prolonged period of time. He doesn't have the quickest release and the fact he couldn't beat out ageless Rodney Peete the last few seasons speaks volumes, in my view.

  • Chad Hutchinson, Chicago Bears - With reports that Rex Grossman's recovery from knee surgery (he tore his ACL last year) is progressing slowly, the Bears failure to address the backup QB position in the offseason looks ridiculous. But after wooing Brad Johnson to no avail (he chose Minnesota), the team stood pat and Chad Hutchinson reprises his role from a season ago. Hutchinson, the former Golden Boy in Dallas, is a rocket-armed passer with prototypical size (6'5", 237 lbs.). Unfortunately he's statuesque in the pocket and overly mechanical in his progressions. Hutchinson started a handful of games last season, and was pedestrian (150 YPG, 4 TDs in six games); and to think he would fare much better this season would be foolhardy.

  • Danny Kanell, Denver Broncos - Even when Danny Kanell was a starter (almost a decade ago), he wasn't a very productive fantasy option and certainly shouldn't be considered much of one now, despite being in the friendly fantasy confines of Denver. Entering his third season as a Broncos' backup, Kanell has not acquitted himself well in limited action and there's little question the Broncos would be in a tough spot if Jake Plummer went down for an extended period.

  • David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars - I may be in the minority but I'm not entirely sold on Byron Leftwich as a franchise NFL passer. His immobility and lack of fitness make him a major injury risk, in my view. Regardless of whether you agree with my assessment of Leftwich, David Garrard is an intriguing prospect as a backup. Garrard, a Jaguars backup for the last three seasons, signed a three-year contract extension in April to remain in Jacksonville. His career numbers (53.8% completion, 4 TDs & 3 INTs in 10 games) don't accurately reflect his skill level or the team's confidence in his ability to step in and run the team. Unlike Leftwich, Garrard is mobile, averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 3 TDs in limited action. Garrard would be more of a freelancer than Leftwich, but his combination of mobility and arm strength (well suited for Carl Smith's new deep passing attack), could make for a surprisingly well put together week or two as a fantasy spot starter.

  • Todd Collins, Kansas City Chiefs - Collins has ten seasons under his belt, including seven in Kansas City. What's interesting about that is Collins has been the backup to Rich Gannon, Elvis Grbac, Warren Moon and Trent Green, but was never given a shot at the starting job. That should tell you all you need to know. Collins is a conscientious player who fits well with the team, but if Trent Green goes down to injury, even Dick Vermeil and OC Al Saunders probably won't get much out of this guy.

  • Tony Banks, Houston Texans -David Carr, Houston's franchise QB, has taken a pounding in his first three years, which makes Banks' role as his backup that much more important. Although Carr has survived so far, the pounding he's taken has to increase his likelihood of injury or concussion, at least at the margin. Banks hasn't had to play much the last two seasons, but the Texans re-signed him in March because of his familiarity with their system and his contributions as a locker room leader. When Banks was a regular NFL starter, his propensity for fumbles and poor decision-making often doomed his team to offensive mediocrity. Whether he's learned from his past mistakes or not remains a question, and Banks shouldn't be considered a viable fantasy option except in the most dire of circumstances.

  • Tim Rattay, San Francisco 49ers - Many (myself included) assume that Alex Smith, this year's 1st overall draft choice, will be the 49ers starter barring a disappointing camp. Smith was signed on time, and is by reputation one of the more cerebral signal callers to come into the league in some time. But new head coach Mike Nolan hasn't committed formally to Smith yet (it could be posturing but one never knows) and people shouldn't forget about Rattay in the interim. It's tough to judge Rattay on his performance the last few seasons, given the 49ers woeful supporting cast and Rattay's own injury problems. He was one of the all-time leaders in NCAA passing when he entered the league, and seems well suited for the West Coast offense which is being re-instituted by new OC Mike McCarthy this year. I may be in the minority, but I think Rattay is an above average backup QB with upside as a starter if he can get consistent reps and stay on his feet.

  • Mark Brunell, Washington Redskins - When the Redskins signed Brunell last season; many wondered what Joe Gibbs saw that we didn't. Apparently whatever Gibbs saw was an illusion as Brunell was an utter disgrace as the team's starter last year. Given his contractual terms, Brunell will live to see another day as Ramsey's backup; but it wouldn't be surprising to see rookie Jason Campbell, not Brunell, start in place of an injured or ineffective Ramsey late in the season if the Redskins are out of the playoff race.

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