Looking at the top of the fantasy scoring leaders among quarterbacks, it's not surprising to see Donovan McNabb and the Mannings on top. But after that, things get a little crazy. Among the next 10 highest fantasy QBs, you don't see names like Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Carson Palmer, Jake Delhomme, Daunte Culpepper or Kurt Warner. In their place, you see an odd mix of signal-callers – breakout star Rex Grossman, the shoulder-repaired Chad Pennington and Drew Brees, the electric (and volatile) Michael Vick, and the old man Brett Favre among them.
If you don't have Peyton or Eli or Donovan – I'll throw Marc Bulger, Palmer and Brady (now that Doug Gabriel has started to emerge) in here as well – I would suggest that you don't have a QB that is a must-start each week. With roughly half of most leagues without a slam-dunk QB option, the need for a quality backup is paramount. By now, Grossman, Pennington and Brees, to name a few, have been gobbled up in fantasy leagues. So, let's take a look at the available arms – I rank the top 11 QBs available in at least 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues, based on percentage-owned numbers from this past weekend:
1. Jon Kitna, Det (88 percent available)
It took Kitna a couple weeks to find the end zone through the air, but in the past two games, he's brought the heralded Mike Martz offense to life – 542 passing yards and 4 TDs combined in Week 3 and Week 4. Kitna now sits in the top 10 among quarterbacks in most fantasy league formats, and he's been the fourth-most added QB in the past couple days in Yahoo! leagues. Of the 11 QBs listed here, Kitna is the only one that I would trust to be a QB1 on my fantasy roster – and I certainly like him more than Ben Roethlisberger (80 percent owned), Daunte Culpepper (91 percent owned), Jake Plummer (64 percent owned) and even Byron Leftwich (80 percent owned), guys much less available than Kitna. He's third in the league in pass attempts, he's completing 65 percent of his passes, he has developed a trusty companion to compliment Roy Williams at wideout (Mike Furrey), and Kevin Jones has started to click in the running game, which will help keep defenses honest.
2. Mark Brunell, Was (56 percent available)
Despite lighting up Jacksonville in Week 4, I don't see Brunell as more than just a matchup play. Most weeks, Washington is going to lean heavily to the run – the Redskins rank 25th in the league in pass attempts. But, the thing Brunell has going for him is a remaining schedule that features seven teams that currently sit among the 10 worst in fantasy points allowed to QBs (@ NYG Week 5; vs. Ten. Week 6; @ Phi. Week 10; @ TB Week 11; vs. Phi. Week 13; @ NO Week 14; vs. NYG Week 17). Whether fantasy owners are aware of that or not, he's been the most added QB in Yahoo! leagues in the past couple days. I'd prefer Kitna, because there will be more days like Week 1 and Week 2 where people will wonder where the Redskins passing game went. But with seven soft dates remaining on Brunell's schedule, he's very usable for QB-needy fantasy owners.
3. Charlie Frye, Cle (93 percent available)
If Frye didn't have such a tough road to hoe the rest of the way, he'd be ranked above Brunell here. He faces just two defenses currently ranked among the 10 worst in fantasy points allowed to QBs, and those games come in Week 16 and Week 17. Before then, he runs across the likes of Carolina, Denver, San Diego, Atlanta, Pittsburgh (twice), Baltimore, and the newly staunch Kansas City Chiefs. That said, Frye showed he can step up against steeper competition with 298 passing yards, a TD toss and a TD run in a Week 3 loss to Baltimore. Frye currently sits among the top five scoring fantasy QBs and has accounted for 8 TDs (5 pass, 3 run). His ability to run the ball, and the trees he has to work with in the red zone (Braylon Edwards, Joe Jurevicius, Kellen Winslow) give me the confidence to roll with him as a viable backup – I'm doing just that in a couple of leagues.
4. Matt Leinart, Ari (82 percent available)
Leinart doesn't have a particularly easy schedule ahead of him, and his offensive line is epically awful. Yet, for some reason, I have a real good feeling that Leinart is going to keep the positive buzz meter moving forward. I'm well aware of the poor track record of rookie NFL QBs, but what rookie QB has ever fallen into a starting role that offers the helping hands on the level of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Edgerrin James? Leinart's high football IQ, the ability to see the field, the calmness under pressure, among other things, often has him compared to Tom Brady. It's interesting to note that, while Brady threw just three passes his rookie year, he was able to step in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 of his sophomore campaign and lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl win, throwing for 18 TD passes and averaging 212 passing yards in his final 12 regular season games. Like Brady, Leinart is ahead of his years. He's going to have some big days, and he's a guy I'd love to have in my on-deck circle.
5. David Carr, Hou (51 percent available)
Carr currently sits among the top 10 quarterbacks in fantasy, but he's had to be very efficient to attain that status. Carr leads the NFL in QB Rating and Completion Percentage, which has allowed him to maximize the impact of his 111 pass attempts (22nd-most in the league). It's probably unrealistic to think Carr can maintain such a high rate of efficiency, and Houston's defense is so lousy, you can expect that the offense is going to continue to take fewer snaps from scrimmage than most teams. If you roll with him as a backup, these dates look best (on paper) for spot-start duty: @ Ten. Week 8; @ NYG Week 9; vs. Ten. Week 14.
6. Brad Johnson, Min (84 percent available)
Although his numbers have been modest through four games, Johnson is at least throwing the ball with regularity, and you have to like the fact that he gets Green Bay twice, Detroit twice and San Francisco in the next 12 weeks. Personally, I've been impressed with Johnson's deep ball, and his many attempts to hook up downfield with Troy Williamson. He's shown an arm that I didn't think he still had. The team wants to exploit the talents of Williamson, so I don't think they'll stop looking deep. Given some of those softies on the schedule, Johnson should have some impactful days in his future.
7. Alex Smith, SF (80 percent available)
In Week 4, the wheels came off what had begun as a breakout season for Smith. Last year's No. 1 overall pick averaged 271 passing yards, 1.0 passing TDs and 0 INTs in his first three games. But he suffered an '05 flashback at Kansas City last Sunday, completing 13-of-25 passes for 92 yards and 2 INTs (0 TDs). Because the Niners are going to be playing from behind often, he's going to have some opportunities to put up healthy garbage time numbers – he's attempted at least 40 passes in two of his four games. And because he's one of the better runners among the quarterback class – a skill he has yet to really turn to in '06 – I consider him a slightly better backup option than a steadier, but lower upside quarterback like Steve McNair (below).
8. Steve McNair, Bal (44 percent available)
McNair doesn't have a particularly attractive schedule the rest of the way, and the Ravens offense is pretty conservative, but the one thing you can say about McNair is that he's steady. He has thrown a TD pass in each of his four games – and all five of his TD tosses have gone to his TEs Todd Heap (3) and Daniel Wilcox (2). As a plug-n-play option, you can expect 200-220 yards and a TD, numbers that will neither win you nor lose you a fantasy contest.
9. Vince Young, Ten, QB (86 percent available)
Tennessee wanted to run the ball near-40 times per game this season. But the Titans defense has been so lousy, the team has had to play catch-up on a weekly basis, and they currently sit sixth in the league in pass attempts (35.8 per game). Young attempted 29 passes in his debut start in Week 4, compiling 155 yards, a TD pass and 2 INTs against a tough Dallas defense. But we did not see him stretch those dynamic legs out, as he rushed five times for just three yards. Maybe because the memory of his performance against USC in the national title game last January is still so vivid, but I'm carrying him as a third quarterback in a couple leagues, as I'm curious to see what the true impact of his rushing skills will be.
10. J.P. Losman, Buf (99 percent available)
I haven't bought in on Losman in any of my eight leagues. He's put up some pretty respectable numbers through four games (797 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD), but I just can't get excited about an offense that averages 17 points per game, particularly one that throws just 28 passes per game (6th-fewest in the NFL). Watching this guy throw the ball has never, ever filled me with confidence. He's made a big step in his evolution from last year, but not enough to get me to hop on his bandwagon.
11. Philip Rivers, SD (71 percent available)
Seven quarterbacks on this list are more available in Yahoo! leagues, and I'd rather have any one of them. It's nothing personal against Rivers, I'm just leery of a schedule that shows only one team remaining that currently ranks among the 10 worst in fantasy points allowed to QBs. That's not going to inspire conservative head coach Marty Schottenheimer to open up an offense that currently ranks second-to-last in pass attempts (23.3). Like Ben Roethlisberger, Rivers is simply going to be asked to take care of the ball – handoffs and safe passes to LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. Wide receivers have been a complete non-factor in this offense, with Keenan McCardell leading the unit with a mere 7 pass targets.