The start of NFL training camps mark the true beginning for a number of the league’s best quarterback battles.
At the end of every summer, NFL teams without a sure-fire starter at quarterback use the practices and preseason games of August to determine what their depth chart at the game’s most important position will look like come Week 1 of the season.
Here are some NFL expert picks about the six best quarterback battles for training camp:
The Browns signed former Robert Griffin III, the former Heisman Trophy winner and Offensive Rookie of the Year, to a two-year deal worth $15 million. The franchise also drafted USC quarterback Cody Kessler and kept veterans Josh McCown and Austin Davis on the roster. RG3 is the most talented player in the quartet, but Kessler has some similarities to Andy Dalton—a quarterback new head coach Hue Jackson groomed in Cincinnati—and McCown and Davis both started games for the Browns last season. The expectation is that Griffin III will win the job, while McCown serves as a trusty backup and Jackson begins developing Kessler. But nothing can be certain in Cleveland at the quarterback position. There’s plenty to be won and lost over the next month.
San Francisco 49ers
Chip Kelly’s first season in San Fran will begin with either Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick starting at quarterback. Gabbert has enjoyed a career revitalization with the 49ers after flaming out as a draft bust in Jacksonville, while Kaepernick was the subject of massive trade speculation this offseason after an injury- and mistake-filled 2015. There is a saucy appeal to the athletic Kaepernick captaining a Chip Kelly offense, especially if he can get back on the right track as a passer. But he’s also coming off three different surgeries, and Gabbert—a classic dropback passer who completed over 63 percent of his attempts last season—might be the better fit, both in the short and long term. Pencil in Gabbert as the slight favorite to start camp.
The defending Super Bowl champions will put their title defense in the hands of one of three quarterbacks: Mark Sanchez, a former fifth overall pick with a career completion percentage of 57.1 and passer rating of 74.3; Trevor Siemian, Denver’s seventh-round pick in 2015 who has played zero regular season snaps; or Paxton Lynch, the Broncos’ future at the position and the 26th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Sanchez is the veteran with 72 career starts, making him most likely to get the nod for Week 1. But Siemian and Lynch could make that decision very difficult, especially given Siemian’s grasp of the offense and Lynch’s obvious physical advantages over Sanchez. A big summer from either young quarterback could send Sanchez—who has 84 career interceptions over seven seasons—back to the bench.
The Eagles remain committed to Sam Bradford as the team’s starter for Week 1. It’s easy to see why, as Philadelphia gave Bradford a new deal with $26 million guaranteed, including $18 million for 2016. That’s big money. But signing Chase Daniel to a deal worth $21 million and trading up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall certainly creates some training camp drama in Philadelphia, even if Bradford is expected to win the job without worry. The real quarterback commotion might come during the regular season, when any significant slip-up from Bradford could result in the door opening for Wentz—the future of the franchise.
Los Angeles Rams
The quarterback battle in the NFL’s newest city will feature Case Keenum, Jared Goff and Nick Foles, although it’s uncertain how long Foles—who cashed in on a $6 million roster bonus in March—will remain part of the group. More than likely, Rams coach Jeff Fisher will decide between Keenum, who played in six games last season, or Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. It’s difficult to see Keenum winning the showdown, even with his obvious experience advantage. If Goff is ready to play, he will play. HBO’s “Hard Knocks” will document the whole thing.
New York Jets
The Jets have the most unconventional of the quarterback battles. Without Ryan Fitzpatrick—who threw 31 touchdowns last season—in the fold, New York will have to find the best quarterback between Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Picking between the three largely untested options is not the greatest situation for a team coming off a 10-win season. That said, everything changes if Fitzpatrick signs on the dotted line and returns. While his volume numbers overshadowed some of his issues as a passer, Fitzpatrick brings stability and the potential for progress on 2015. It seems unlikely that Smith, Petty or Hackenberg—or any combination of the three—could match Fitzpatrick’s 2015 production.