NFL QB competitions are always a big part of the offseason, and heading into the 2021 campaign, several training camps will feature signal-callers battling for the top spot on the depth chart.
Some perceived quarterback controversies are more interesting than others, and there are several highly touted rookies battling veterans for the No. 1 job.
Here are the five best QB battles to watch as training camps unfold, including our projected winners for these impending duels.
Chicago Bears: Justin Fields vs. Andy Dalton
Playing for a Cincinnati Bengals organization that’s been in shambles since he left wasn’t easy for Andy Dalton. Many point to his amazing Dallas Cowboys supporting cast from 2020, but Dalton had a patchwork offensive line protecting him, which led to some inconsistency.
If the Bears can block up in the trenches and establish the run with David Montgomery, Dalton could shock the world and have a better season than many expect.
Having established all that, please, Bears: Don’t do it. Don’t kid yourselves into thinking Dalton will have an Alex Smith-esque season while he was getting pushed by Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. This situation and that one aren’t remotely alike.
Justin Fields has the accuracy, arm talent, elite speed and leadership to start right away. Chicago got the equivalent of an adrenaline needle to the chest when the team traded up for Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft.
At Ohio State, Fields thrived in the most pressure-packed moments on the big stage. He’ll have growing pains, sure, but his upside transcends anything Dalton can bring to the gridiron at this point in his career.
Winner: Justin Fields
New Orleans Saints: Jameis Winston vs. Taysom Hill
Jameis Winston last started in 2019 and threw 30 interceptions that year. Not very good. Taysom Hill went 3-1 as a starter in place of Drew Brees last season, yet he’s still widely considered a project as a passer despite his 72.7% completion rate on 121 pass attempts.
Saints head coach Sean Payton will make it work with either QB. He seems to have an irrational crush on Hill, but from a pure passing standpoint, Winston is the obvious choice here at least in terms of how high this offense can realistically go in the post-Brees era.
Winston is a former No. 1 overall pick whose throwing ability has never been in question. Hill went undrafted out of BYU precisely because he was so scattershot with his accuracy, to the point where he’s played multiple positions since landing in New Orleans.
Because Hill is such a gifted ball-carrier, perhaps he’ll see significant action at quarterback to throw opposing defenses off. For the most part, however, Winston will take the vast majority of snaps under center in 2021.
Winner: Jameis Winston
Denver Broncos: Drew Lock vs. Teddy Bridgewater
This QB battle may be the tightest on this list, but it’s more like a pillow fight and would obviously change if the Broncos decide to take a swing on an Aaron Rodgers blockbuster trade.
Lock is a much more gifted athlete and thrower than Bridgewater, yet ranked 33rd to Teddy B’s 29th last season in Pro Football Focus’ QB grades. That’s a bad look for both players.
Despite the probable inclination to start Bridgewater by head coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, it should be Lock who gets the nod in the end.
It’s Lock’s second year in Shurmur’s system, and by all accounts, he’s taking things a lot more seriously to be a franchise quarterback. The 24-year-old should make better use of the loaded cast of skill players around him in 2021.
Winner: Drew Lock
San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance vs. Jimmy Garoppolo
There’s no question that Trevor Lawrence will start in Jacksonville and Zach Wilson is going to get the nod for the New York Jets. Those teams don’t have viable alternatives. But the third pick in the draft, Trey Lance, is viewed as a long shot to unseat Jimmy Garoppolo for the San Francisco 49ers’ starting gig.
And that makes sense. Garoppolo last started a full season in 2019 and led the Niners to a Super Bowl appearance. Lance has some rust to knock off after playing only one game this past year, and only has one year of FCS starting experience under his belt.
That said, don’t be surprised if Lance legitimately pushes Garoppolo in camp. His dual-threat skill set, cannon for a right arm and advanced football IQ and maturity give the North Dakota State product as high of a ceiling as any 2021 QB prospect.
Many will argue, and perhaps rightly so, that Lance needs game action to expedite his development. Maybe San Francisco sees it that way too, but more likely, Lance will be a gadget player at first. Garoppolo should start for this season as the 49ers attempt to live up to championship expectations.
Winner: Jimmy Garoppolo
New England Patriots: Mac Jones vs. Cam Newton
But not so fast. Newton proved he still has something left in the tank in 2020. He came down with COVID-19, but still had spurts of spectacular play, despite a horrendous collection of pass-catching talent around him.
Although Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne aren’t exactly world beater receivers, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry give the Patriots’ offense two legitimate weapons at tight end who can create mismatches galore. They simply didn’t have that last year or toward the end of Tom Brady‘s two-decade tenure.
It behooves New England to give Newton a full offseason program’s worth of starter’s reps with this upgraded supporting cast. He knows the system much better now, and throwing Jones into the fire as a rookie seems like an unnecessary risk, especially since he’s such a different style of player than Newton is.
Winner: Cam Newton