Once the regular season gets underway, it might not take long for the first NFL starting quarterback to get benched. In 2020, we saw it happen in the third week of the season with Nick Foles replacing Mitchell Trubisky in the third quarter of Week 1. With so many rookies pushing to play, will a team pull the plug on their Week 1 starter even sooner in 2021?
Here are the favorites for the first NFL quarterback to be benched during the 2021 football season.
Top NFL starting QB candidates to be benched first
Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears
The fans in Chicago already want Justin Fields to be the starting quarterback. However, the Bears’ first opponent is the Los Angeles Rams and their top-ranked defense on Sunday Night Football. In Weeks 2-3, the Bears will battle the Ohio football teams in the Bengals and Browns.
Head coach Matt Nagy may wait until Week 4 to start Fields when the Detroit Lions visit Soldier Field to help protect his rookie QB. Waiting a few weeks also gives Fields more time to learn the playbook and to witness how a veteran such as Dalton operates under center. Not to mention, Nagy probably partially wants to see what Dalton can offer the Bears.
Either way, it’s only a matter of time before Fields is the starting quarterback for ‘Da Bears. Especially if Dalton experiences some early struggles.
Prediction: Justin Fields starts Week 4 against the Detroit Lions
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are rolling with their guy Jimmy Garoppolo instead of the quarterback they traded up to No. 3 in the draft to select. Doing the opposite of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, their rookie quarterback will get some more seasoning on the bench.
Part of why Jimmy G may be starting the year in San Fran is due to the tough early schedule of the 49ers. From Weeks 3-5, they face the gauntlet of taking on the Packers, Seahawks, and Cardinals before their Week 6 Bye.
Garoppolo has been the starting quarterback for Kyle Shanahan in the Bay Area for four seasons. He hasn’t necessarily lost his job due to performance. It’s just that the Niners brought in a player with a much higher ceiling who can ideally stay healthier than Jimmy has. If Trey Lance can come even close to the player Niners GM John Lynch thinks he can be, they may be sitting on a gold mine in San Francisco.
Prediction: Trey Lance starts Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts
Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos
In a somewhat surprising move, the Denver Broncos made Teddy Bridgewater their starting quarterback to open the season. There’s some debate over who has the higher ceiling in Mile High, Teddy B or Drew Lock.
Bridgewater’s career arc was drastically impacted by his knee injury during his days with the Vikings. One could argue there’s still some untapped potential hidden inside the 28-year old former first-round pick.
Whereas Lock, not unlike Teddy Two Gloves, has battled some injuries of his own during his two seasons in Denver. The former 42nd overall pick has just 18 starts under his belt. With the receiving corps the Broncos have, Lock was poised to have a breakout season. That’s partially why the Bridgewater move is a slight surprise.
Thanks to the weaponry of the Broncos, either Bridgewater or Lock could conceivably have a successful season, if given the chance.
Prediction: IF the Broncos make a change, it will be to start Drew Lock in Week 10
The “not what we had in mind” bunch
These quarterbacks are almost considered stopgaps for their teams. If any of them fail, it doesn’t set the franchise back that much. Moreso, just not what they had in mind when acquiring them. However, they all also individually have the potential to have great seasons.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team
Finally getting the keys to an offense again, Ryan Fitzpatrick has a chance to flash his stuff. But it wouldn’t be too much of a shock for another QB to take over at some point in the season.
Washington likes its backups. Taylor Heinicke started for them in their 2020 Wild Card playoff matchup, throwing for over 300 yards on the day. Kyle Allen started 13 games for Ron Rivera in Carolina and is still just 25. Should Fitz start turning the ball over too many times, Rivera could make the switch in an attempt to support their strong defense.
Prediction: Washington Football Team sticks with Ryan Fitzpatrick all season
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
In what was advertised as a starting competition, Jameis Winston beat out Taysom Hill to be the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback. It appears Sean Payton thinks he may have fixed Winston’s turnover issues of the past. Offering a higher upside than Hill, Winston could have a breakout season.
Prediction: Jameis Winston remains the starter for all 17 Saints games
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers paid a modest price to acquire Sam Darnold this offseason, hoping the former No. 3 overall pick could find success in new digs. Replacing Teddy Bridgewater with Darnold could be a bit of a lateral move.
On the other hand, Darnold does have 38 games of experience already at just 24 years old. A major step forward isn’t out of the question. Behind Darnold is P.J. Walker, who some fans may remember from XFL play in 2020.
Prediction: Sam Darnold makes all 17 starts for the Carolina Panthers
Mistakes were made
If any of these next groups of players are benched during the season, it will mean their teams made a huge mistake, and it’s time to find a new quarterback.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Some might say, Jalen Hurts? Why would the Philadelphia Eagles bench him? Well, they did it last season, putting in Nate Sudfeld instead. The Eagles also made the move to pick up the top available backup on the market in Gardner Minshew. Does that hint at some skepticism regarding whether they have their franchise QB already on the roster? Possibly.
The Eagles already had veteran Joe Flacco as their backup, so was the move for Minshew all that necessary? It’s an interesting pickup, but not a bad one. Hurts has barely played. Let’s give the kid a chance.
Prediction: Jalen Hurts becomes the franchise quarterback for the Eagles, starting each game
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Last season, Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores played yo-yo with his quarterbacks. Now with Ryan Fitzpatrick in Washington, the job should fully belong to Tua Tagovailoa. Unless his backup Jacoby Brissett has a say in the matter.
Brissett has two years of starting experience where he kept turnovers to a minimum. Being the fifth overall pick a year ago, Tua should have a long leash. But maybe Flores doesn’t care about any of that and will keep playing musical chairs at QB.
Prediction: Tua Tagovailoa starts every game, showing the Dolphins they don’t need Deshaun Watson
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
The New York Giants have gone all-in on Daniel Jones, supplying him with more weapons than he’s ever had. Yet, many of their skill position players have been dealing with injuries. Their offense could get off to a slow start.
In a true make-or-break season for Danny Dimes, it’s up to him to stand tall in what could be a crumbling pocket. Eight wins in 26 starts doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement, but he’s got all the tools to succeed. Mike Glennon backs up DJ in New York. No matter how ugly it gets, the G-Men should roll with Jones all season long.
Prediction: Daniel Jones holds down the starting gig for the Giants in 2021
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr has been the starting quarterback for the Raiders since 2014, the fifth-longest streak in the NFL. Coming off one of his best seasons yet, Carr is definitely an above-average starter, but he hasn’t proven to be great yet. The only reason Carr is on this list is due to the Raiders having one of the better backup QBs in the league with Marcus Mariota.
Prediction: Derek Carr doesn’t get benched and finishes the season as the Las Vegas Raiders starter
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Love him or hate him, Kirk Cousins is always a controversial figure. Even after losing Irv Smith Jr. for the season, Cousins has plenty of talent to throw to. For Cousins, it’s about learning to have a better pocket presence and getting the ball out quickly.
If Cousins and the Vikings get off to a rough start, there’s always the rookie third-round pick Kellen Mond. But to be fair, Mond didn’t look ready to lead a high-powered offense either. Not yet anyway.
The other wild card for Cousins will be avoiding a 10-day quarantine all season. If Mond gets a chance to show his skills once he’s more prepared, you never know.
Prediction: Kirk Cousins completes the season as the Vikings’ starting QB