It's a fact: The best place to find the next great NFL quarterback is often on your bench. Whether he arrives through a well-planned succession plan, or by pure chance, he's there. The top five quarterbacks in 2011 so far based on overall performance all served time, and for none was there a certainty of stardom.
Aaron Rodgers completed a total of 35 passes in three years as he waited to start; Tom Brady got his shot when Drew Bledsoe got knocked out; Drew Brees waited a year for a start, then had to leave because the San Diego Chargers had somebody better; Matt Schaub was dealt for picks after three full years of waiting behind Michael Vick; and Tony Romo was 26 before he took an NFL snap.
Fans and analysts alike speak now like we all saw the buds of greatness and it was all just a matter of time, but that's baloney. "You don't know until you know," says one NFC scouting director. "You see indicators, but every coach has had a dozen quarterbacks that are Johnny Unitas on Wednesday."
This is why it can be tricky to target a guy with few game reps. The greatness of a backup quarterback is just as much about marketing as it is reality. If your backup is great, he becomes currency. "Look at the Eagles," reminds the evaluator. Andy Reid and Co. have dealt A.J. Feeley, Donovan McNabb and now Kevin Kolb in recent years under the "ready to help someone else now" marketing plan. All started for their new teams. The results haven't been pretty.
So while this offseason quarterback market will center around Peyton Manning, who could be with the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks or a handful of other franchises next year, here's a look at the remaining market of both backups and guys who could easily move. Included is their age and where they might fit. I'm ranking them based on polling of analysts and evaluators centering around who has the highest ceiling. (And keep in mind, Andrew Luck is the only quarterback entering the draft who evaluators deem a lock to be able to start as a rookie.)