There’s no position more important in the NFL than quarterback, which is why it’s so vital for teams to pick the right player to lead their offense.
For most teams, there’ll be no quarterback competition during training camp. But for a handful, their offseasons will be defined by the battle to earn the right to be under center in Week 1.
We predict which QBs on the five teams with the most competitive battles will claim their respective starting jobs:
QBs: Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, Brock Osweiler, Kevin Hogan
The Browns’ depth chart isn’t exactly inspiring, especially after Osweiler highlighted again and again last season for the Houston Texans that he isn’t a starting-caliber player. Luckily, Cleveland shouldn’t have to resort to playing Osweiler, barring an injury, as Kessler and Kizer look set to be the two main competitors for the job (sorry, Hogan).
Kessler failed to win any of his eight starts in 2016, but for a rookie playing with the league’s worst roster, he actually performed relatively well. The 24-year-old was strong against pressure, recording the highest adjusted completion percentage for a rookie since 2006, according to Pro Football Focus, and finished the campaign with a 92.3 passer rating.
His lack of arm strength, however, opens the door for the rookie Kizer, who possesses the type of cannon which allows him to make all the throws. Kizer is unrefined and needs significant work on his technique and skills reading defenses before he’s ready to start. But in Hue Jackson, he has the perfect coach to get him prepared.
Kessler showed enough in 2016 to earn a shot at playing with a more talented team around him. Kizer is the future, and he’s all but certain to be under center at some point this season, but beating out Kessler at this stage of his career is too big a task.
QBs: Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson
The Texans have consistently emphasized that Savage is currently viewed as the team’s starter, and their logic is clear and understandable.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense is notoriously difficult to grasp and even harder to master, which is likely why Houston is shielding the rookie Watson from the pressure to win the job. The former Clemson standout compared the playbook to learning Spanish.
While the Texans have made it clear that Savage will likely be the starter, they have also said Watson will be given the chance to compete. And why not? Savage has yet to throw a regular-season touchdown despite 92 career attempts and lacks any discernible strength to his game.
Watson, meanwhile, isn’t quite the polished product some made him out to be during the draft process, but he’s arguably the most pro-ready rookie quarterback. In his time with Clemson, Watson never wilted under the enormous pressure to succeed.
His calm and cool persona should resonate with a group of veterans looking to win now, and if he can reel in his turnovers, he should easily elevate the offense from its poor performance in 2016.
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch
Like the Texans, the Broncos could either become a Super Bowl contender or continue to waste one of the league’s most talented rosters depending on where they go at quarterback.
Siemian was the team’s starter for 2016, with then-rookie Lynch starting two games due to injury. Despite the Broncos’ defense remaining one of most dominant in the NFL coming off a Super Bowl victory, Denver wasn’t even able to make it back to the playoffs.
The blame for the failure was placed on the lackluster offense, and by extension, Siemian. However, while he didn’t exactly set the world alight, Siemian played well enough to allow the defense to win games.
In 2015, under Peyton Manning and Osweiler, the Broncos averaged 22.2 points and 355.5 total yards per game. In 2016, the Broncos put up 20.8 points and 323.1 yards per game. A decline, sure, but a small enough one to hope that another offseason for Siemian can lead to the offense making a leap.
In Lynch, the Broncos have an outstanding physical specimen who proved in 2016 that he isn’t close to being ready to take advantage of leading this talented team. He was troubled too much by pressure in his two starts, looking indecisive and struggling to create downfield plays – highlighted by his poor six yards per attempt average.
Denver wants to rely on its defense and running game, the latter of which looks set to bounce back after a subpar 2016. Siemian is far from a dynamic option under center, but unless Lynch takes an enormous jump in his development, he’s by far the smarter option for the Broncos’ current makeup.
QBs: Mike Glennon, Mitchell Trubisky
After receiving a three-year, $45-milllion contract in the offseason, Glennon likely didn’t expect to find himself having to fight off a first-round rookie. Yes, the Bears have backed the veteran as their starter following the trade up to snag Trubisky at No. 2 overall, but don’t be fooled: this is still going to be a competition regardless.
Glennon has barely played since the 2014 season, throwing just 11 regular-season passes. When he started for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2013-14, he was wholly unremarkable. His stats were OK – 29 touchdowns to 15 interceptions, with 4,100 passing yards in 18 games – but the problem with the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none veteran quarterback is that they can easily be eclipsed by a raw but exciting rookie.
Trubisky is inexperienced and inconsistent, but he has the talent to push Glennon hard. Just look at Russell Wilson taking the Seahawks’ starting job from Matt Flynn in 2012 or the Dolphins going with Ryan Tannehill over Matt Moore during the same year.
In quarterback battles like the Bears’, a close competition or a virtual tie almost always favors the rookie.
San Francisco 49ers
QBs: Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard
Of all the quarterback battles set to take place this offseason, this one seems like the most clear cut. New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is bringing his league-leading offense from the Atlanta Falcons to San Francisco and seems set on handing the veteran Hoyer the reins.
Hoyer has shown flashes of strong play during his eight-year career, but he’s nothing more than a stop-gap option due to his alarming game-to-game inconsistency and penchant for ill-timed turnovers. He seemed to correct these issues somewhat while starting five games for the Bears in 2016, throwing six touchdowns and zero picks along with a 67 percent completion percentage, but these types of small samples of excellence have led teams to buy into unremarkable veterans before.
The 49ers need a steady hand in an offense set to undergo a radical overhaul in terms of scheme and personnel, and while Hoyer hopes to continue his 2016 form, Shanahan could coax him into a career year.
The fact that San Francisco brought in Barkley – who Hoyer was starting ahead of in Chicago – and developmental third-rounder Beathard as the main competition cements Hoyer’s position as the starter. Barring Beathard blowing the 49ers away in camp and looking like the next Dak Prescott, San Francisco will take the safe option in 2017.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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