Houston's Ben Tate is one of the league's best back-ups. Where do his Texans rank in offensive depth?
The 2012 NFL campaign is rearing its head, and for now the field is wide open.
Summer is the season of optimism in professional football, and in a league that's becoming increasingly offensive-minded, a handful of teams are on the upswing, ready to light up scoreboards as September rolls in.
But who has the best second-stringers on offense? It's a seemingly inane question for now, but as the year goes on, it becomes a key determinant in who reaches the postseason.
The Chicago Bears were bit hard by the injury bug and subsequently spiraled out of playoff contention. The Houston Texans, meanwhile, were buoyed by running back Ben Tate and quarterback T.J. Yates when starters went down.
Who has the deepest set of backups thus far? Let's explore.
Note: "Backups" are determined through a standard two-receiver, two-back, one-tight end formation and are based on most recently updated depth charts.
Kellen Clemens (pictured) is less than stellar as the second-string QB, and there's not much depth anywhere else on this offense.
Wideout Steve Smith offers some punch in the slot, but the offensive line is barren. Second-rounder Isaiah Pead backs up running back Stephen Jackson. The Rams are likely in for a rough 2012, and should their starters fail, there's little help waiting in the reserves.
Second-string QB Chris Redman boasts a career quarterback rating of 78.6, and backup Jacquizz Rodgers (pictured) averaged less than four yards a carry his rookie year.
Backup tight end Michael Palmer is an average blocker and nothing special on the receiving end. Atlanta lacks depth in the receiving core beyond starters Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Vince Manuwai is one of the better backup blockers in the league, but Atlanta falls short on second-stringers here. If a key component of the Falcons' potent offense succumbs to injury, watch out.
Drew Stanton's career QB rating of 63.1 won't be much help for Andrew Luck and company, and backup Delone Carter's (pictured) career 3.7 yards per carry average don't look any better. The Colts face inevitable growing pains this year, and with a scarce bench, things could get ugly.
Donnie Avery has potential as Indy's third wide receiver, and second-stringer Jeff Linkenbach has seen starter's minutes. Still, the Colts backups don't quite impress.
Matt Leinart was spectacular as a backup in Houston last season, posting a QB rating of 110.1. He and Terrelle Pryor (pictured) are an interesting mix behind starting quarterback Carson Palmer.
There's little support behind running back Darren McFadden, and the reserve receiving corps isn't much in Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy. Tony Bergstrom, the Raiders' first pick in April's draft, can play just about any position on the line.
Still, Oakland's backups are nothing to write home about.
Bruce Gradkowski is a scary thought as the Bengals backup quarterback, and second-string running back Bernard Scott (pictured) averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt last year.
2012 draftees Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu round out the Bengals receivers, and neither have staggering upside. Backup tight end Donald Lee didn't do much in his first season in Cincinnati.
Anthony Collins is a versatile backup tackle, and Dennis Roland is a seasoned second-stringer. The Bengals add great depth to an already sturdy O-line, but don't score well anywhere else.
Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen are both questionable QBs behind Cam Newton. However, the Panthers have one of the deepest backfields in the league with Jonathan Stewart sitting behind DeAngelo Williams.
Carolina's lack of depth at the receiver spot is cause for concern. Third wideout David Gettis (pictured) missed all of 2011.
Plenty of salient linemen, including Geoff Schwartz, Travelle Wharton and Mackenzy Bernadeau, skipped town on the Panthers this offseason, leaving the team with a dearth of able blockers and a worrisome lack of depth.
For now, Tim Tebow is penciled in as Gang Green's second quarterback. All criticisms aside, he's certainly one of the league's better backups.
Joe McKnight doesn't offer much in the backfield behind Shonn Greene, and Jeremy Kerley is expendable as the team's third receiver. Second-rounder Stephen Hill's production as the fourth receiver remains to be seen.
The injury bug is already nipping at the Jets' heels, and New York is struggling with a lack of depth on the offensive line. Aside from Tebow, there's not much to be excited about in the Jets reserves.
If Matt Hasselbeck assumes the starting job under center, Jake Locker (pictured) becomes one of the league's top second-stringers.
Running back Javon Ringer's yards per carry continue to regress, and there's nothing notable beyond Kenny Britt in the receiving rotation.
Guard Kyle DeVan was recently signed to add O-line depth, but aside from Locker, this is a weak second line.
Brady Quinn was brought in to play second fiddle to Matt Cassel, who's coming off an injury-shortened 2011 season. Should Cassel succumb to injury again, don't expect the Chiefs to go far with Quinn at the helm.
Peyton Hillis, on the other hand, could be a gem alongside Jamaal Charles. Tight end Tony Moeaki (pictured) recorded 47 catches last year and would be a top backup if incoming Kevin Boss lands the starting job.
There's not too much depth to work with at wide receiver or along the offensive line. After injuries decimated Kansas City's 2011 effort, the Chiefs are still looking a little skimpy on the second line for 2012.
Charlie Whitehurst isn't the most assuring option as a second-string quarterback, and backup Ronnie Brown is coming off a dismal 2011.
Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown (pictured) are young slot options with upside. Rex Hadnot and Mario Henderson are strong backups on the right side, while Stephen Schilling is still young at left guard.
The line is deep, but there's little of note at the skill positions. The Chargers have to hope that Phillip Rivers and Ryan Mathews can stay healthy.
The Browns have an interesting amalgamation of quarterbacks and should find a serviceable backup in whomever is relegated to second-stringer. Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy would be two of the more proven backups in the NFL.
Montario Hardesty should see carries alongside expected starter Trent Richardson, and Joshua Cribbs (pictured) is a solid third receiver. He produced 41 receptions and four touchdowns last year.
Backup John Greco is a great swing lineman, and guard/tackle Ryan Miller has upside after being drafted in the fifth round of this year's draft. All in all, Cleveland has middling offensive depth.
Joe Webb (pictured) has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in his young career. Should Christian Ponder falter, the Vikings' chances at an improved 2012 campaign are thwarted.
Tight end John Carlson and running back Toby Gerhart are two starting-caliber second-stringers. A shell of Michael Jenkins and rookie Greg Childs are Minnesota's secondary receiving options.
An unproven DeMarcus Love sits behind Matt Kalil at left tackle, but journeyman Joe Berger offers security for worrisome Charlie Johnson, who makes the shift to guard this season.
It could be another long year for Minnesota, and the lack of depth at wideout and quarterback is irksome. But Carlson and Gerhart keep the Vikings from falling too far on this list.
With no depth at quarterback or running back, Green Bay is kept afloat by their resounding depth at wide receiver. James Jones and Donald Driver (pictured) scored a combined 13 touchdowns as the team's third and fourth options, respectively.
The Pack boast a strong starting line but are left with little else at second-string. Following the loss of Chad Clifton and Scott Wells and the incoming of Jeff Saturday, more depth along the O-line would do wonders for the green and gold.
C.J. Spiller (pictured) provides valuable backfield depth, but second-string QB Vince Young is suspect after posting a 60.8 quarterback rating in 2011.
Flex receiver Brad Smith and third-year wideout David Nelson are solid alternates. Third-round pick T.J. Graham should see some playing time as well. The Bills lack a definitive tight end presence beyond starter Scott Chandler.
Buffalo enjoys some offensive line depth with touted prospect Cordy Glenn at left tackle. Backup right tackle Zebrie Sanders recorded 139 career knockdowns at Florida State. While Young is far from a reliable option behind center, the Bills have respectable depth on the offensive side of the ball.
Brock Osweiler acts as the Broncos' second-stringer and Peyton Manning's safety net. He had a vibrant career at Arizona State, and if his skills can translate to the NFL level, he's a great backup quarterback.
Second-string tailback Knowshon Moreno (pictured) averaged nearly five yards a touch in 2011, and Brandon Stokley and Andre Caldwell are average slot receivers. Jacob Tamme is a reliable blocking tight end behind Joel Dreessen.
2012 draftee Philip Blake offers depth at center and has the size to play tackle.
Running back Rashad Jennings is a fantastic complement to Maurice Jones-Drew, after recording almost 500 yards and five scores on limited carries. Quarterback Chad Henne is worlds away from gridiron greatness but, then again, so is starter Blaine Gabbert.
Lee Evans, Mike Thomas (pictured), and tight end Zach Miller are solid reserve receivers. Thomas was a top target for the Jags in 2011.
Backups John Estes and Jason Spitz give the interior line some depth, and Guy Whimper can play either tackle spot.
Though the jury is still out on Kevin Kolb and John Skelton (pictured), Arizona figures to have one of the premier backup signal-callers in the league. 2011 second-rounder Ryan Williams is slated behind the oft-injured Beanie Wells, after missing all of last year with a ruptured patella.
With Michael Floyd currently in place as the team's second receiver, Early Doucet figures to be an enticing slot option. The fourth-year pro enjoyed a breakout 2011 season to the tune of nearly 700 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Throw in backup Andre Roberts, who recorded over 50 receptions last year, and the Cards have a young, deep receiving core.
Jeff King is a pedestrian second tight end, and the Cards drafted two reserve linemen in April. Their depth in the second-string passing game really boosts them here.
The Bucs find themselves with a fine backup QB in Dan Orlovsky but no depth at the receiver position.
LaGarrette Blount (pictured) would have impeccable value as a reserve 'back behind Doug Martin, but the two will likely split carries down the wire. Tampa has one of the best and deepest offensive lines after re-tooling in free agency.
Quarterback Kyle Orton and running back Felix Jones (pictured) are two top backups, but there are slim pickings in the receiving corps past starters Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
Second-stringer John Phillips can block at tight end or fullback, while the second-string linemen comprise of undrafted free agents, late-round 2011 draft picks and Pat McQuistan, who's started just eight games in his seven-year career.
The strength of Orton and Jones here picks up the slack for the rest of the second-string offense. Dallas' line will be in trouble if a starter goes down.
Backup quarterback David Carr has had tremendous success in Giants blue. He posted a 144.1 rating in New York for the 2009 season.
Rookie David Wilson (pictured) will split carries with starter Ahmad Bradshaw. He and third receiver Rueben Randle were the team's top draft picks in April. Second-string tight end Bear Pascoe's production is nothing extraordinary.
James Brewer and Sean Locklear wait in the wings as flexible guards. The defending champs come up fairly deep heading into 2012.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins (pictured) could emerge as a sturdy backup for fellow rookie Robert Griffin III, and halfback Tim Hightower is a nice supplement to starter Roy Helu.
Josh Morgan will look to bounce back in the nation's capital after a shortened year with the 49ers. The signing of James Lee adds depth at tackle, and despite ranking 26th in total scoring last season, Washington has a solid core of offensive backups.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw just five passes in 2011, and barring an injury to Alex Smith, he shouldn't see many snaps this season either.
Brandon Jacobs is a bruising change-of-pace 'back who figures to be sharing carries with starter Frank Gore. Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham is a prized third receiver behind Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree.
San Francisco's biggest problem lies in its lack of depth along the offensive line. Daniel Kilgore (pictured) works as a backup guard and backup center, but there are serious question marks behind starting tackles Anthony Davis and Joe Staley.
T.J. Yates prolonged Houston's inaugural postseason last year and can run the Texans' high-powered offense should his number be called again in 2012.
Backup running back Ben Tate (pictured) started his career with a bang, recording 5.4 yards per carry in his rookie effort. The Texans have their work cut out for them with third-round pick DeVier Posey and 2011 undrafted free agent Lestar Jean in place as the reserve receivers.
Losing second-string tight end Joel Dreessen dampens their ranking, but Tate and Yates propel Houston to a top-10 spot.
Pittsburgh used 25 different offensive line combinations in 2011, good for first in the NFL. They'll continue to seek stability along the interior, but the Steelers do flaunt an awful lot of options on the bench.
Elsewhere, backup quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich are reliable by second-string standards, and reserve receiver Jerricho Cotchery is still a solid playmaker.
Second running back Isaac Redman (pictured) averaged 4.4 yards per carry last season and will have to pick up the slack for injured starter Rashard Mendenhall.
There's not a whole lot to work with on the offensive line, but the Seahawks enjoy valuable depth just about everywhere else.
Tavaris Jackson enters training camp as the starter, leaving Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson as promising second- and third-stringers. Leon Washington (pictured) averaged 4.7 yards a touch while backing up Marshawn Lynch last year.
Doug Baldwin is a fiery slot option, and Zach Miller will make a great second tight end should Kellen Winslow snag the starting spot.
Tyrod Taylor is a budding dual-threat quarterback, and 2012 third-rounder Bernard Pierce provides depth behind Ray Rice in the backfield.
Jacoby Jones is an explosive option at third wideout, while second tight-end Dennis Pitta (pictured) hit the end zone three times in 2011. Baltimore bolstered their line depth with a slew of selections in April's draft and signed flex center Tony Wragge from Saint Louis to back up starter Matt Birk.
The Ravens have a steady core of second-stringers and a bevy of backup blockers who could fill in at multiple positions. They're one of the deeper offenses in football right now.
The odd men out in Miami's quarterback conundrum will make suitable backups. Having Ryan Tannehill as your team's third QB is nothing to complain about.
Daniel Thomas (pictured) and Lamar Miller make for an explosive set of reserves behind incumbent Reggie Bush. Third-round pick Michael Egnew is set to back up Anthony Fasano at tight end.
Chad Ochocinco will be an interesting option at third receiver. The 'Phins may not have the most potent offense in the league, but their system is surely one of the deepest.
Shaun Hill has experience as a starter, and with a career QB rating of 84.7, he's a fine backup. First-round pick Riley Reiff sits behind Jeff Backus for now, but he could blossom into a bona fide stud at tackle.
Tony Scheffler (pictured) had starter-worthy production in 2011, and third wideout Titus Young had a standout rookie season. Both notched six receiving scores.
Kevin Smith and his 4.9 yards per carry from last season give Detroit something to work with in the backfield should Jahvid Best go down at any point. Mikel Leshoure has potential as well.
The Lions are wielding an unquestionably deep offense as they look to make a run through the competitive NFC North.
Pierre Thomas (pictured), Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory subsume of one of the league's most balanced backfields, spearheaded by Darren Sproles.
Meanwhile, behind Drew Brees, Chase Daniel has only thrown eight passes in his NFL career. Still, his fruitful career at Missouri hints at potential.
Receiver Lance Moore was great out of the slot in 2011, tallying eight touchdowns. He sits behind Devery Henderson and Marques Colston on the Saints depth chart.
Eric Olson is a solid rotational lineman, and New Orleans finds themselves with a pretty sturdy carousel of backups heading into 2012.
Newly acquired second-string quarterback Jason Campbell is a huge sigh of relief for Jay Cutler and his murky medical history. Running back Matt Forte's status in Chi-Town remains to be seen, but if he does suit up for the Bears this September, Michael Bush (pictured) becomes one of the league's best backups.
Alshon Jeffery was a steal for Chicago, falling to the second round of April's draft. He and Earl Bennett round out a formidable receiving corps.
The Bears' backup linemen haven't seen many pro snaps, but Chicago's offensive depth is still eye-popping. The lack of able bodies in 2011 seemed to hit home this spring, where a throng of solid second-stringers were imported to the Windy City.
Backup quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer haven't seen much time with Tom Brady under center. But, Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai offer flexibility in the backfield, while tight end Aaron Hernandez (pictured), technically a second-stringer, is a Pro-Bowl-caliber player.
Deion Branch and Jabar Gaffney give a steely veteran presence to the receiving corps, and there's a handful of young prospects backing up the offensive line.
The Pats are one of the NFL's best offenses, top to bottom, and claim the No. 1 spot on this list.