The NFL's QB Competition Heats Up: Which Players Will Be Left Warming the Bench?
There are still a few teams in the National Football League that have yet to name a starter for their quarterback position.
For some, the choice is painfully obvious. For others, it’s going to take an open competition during the preseason.
It’s time to start taking notes and building a depth chart. Naming a starter allows the team to develop their offense to complement the quarterback’s strengths.
Below are my picks for the No. 1 spot.
New York Jets
Kellen Clemens is coming up on a contract year, and if there is one thing we know about the NFL, it’s that players miraculously step up before it’s time to negotiate.
Clemens has started eight games for the Jets, winning three. His wins were close, and two of them came in overtime.
Yes, Clemens has some experience, but his numbers have not been impressive. As a starter in the NFL, he has thrown for only five touchdowns and has struggled with accuracy, tossing 11 interceptions.
Mark Sanchez is in one of the biggest pressure situations of any rookie this year. He’s under the watchful eye of the New York media, and expectations run high for a kid coming from one of the only pro-style offenses in college, the University of Southern California.
One of Sanchez’s biggest weaknesses is his lack of experience. He only started 16 games at USC. However, he has an ambitious personality, unwavering leadership qualities, and has already won over the coaching staff.
In fact, his inexperience might even work in his favor. A new coach, a new philosophy, and a young impressionable quarterback might be exactly what this team needs.
Pick: Mark Sanchez
There is no reason for Sanchez to observe from the sidelines. Clemens has yet to prove himself, and there is very little Sanchez can learn from watching him.
The Jets are going to run the ball like crazy this season. They have some good receiving running backs, which will allow Sanchez to make some cheap completions, boosting his confidence.
The Jets should have a good defense, as well as a good change-of-pace running game, which is a rookie quarterback’s best friend.
Daunte Culpepper has been reunited with offensive coach Scott Linehan from his Viking glory days. He’s back in shape and has lost 30 pounds since last season.
As an experienced veteran, Culpepper could bring leadership to a team that needs a significant boost in confidence.
However, Culpepper is injury prone, and there is no telling how many years he has left in his knee. He’s also clueless when it comes to reading a defense, and he hasn’t shown us that he’ll ever return to being the big talent he once was.
It might be the perfect time for a rookie to step in. Joining a Detroit Lions team that went 0-16 last season means quarterback Matthew Stafford can only take them up.
Stafford played his entire college career without a standout receiver and made it look easy. There is no telling what he can do with a superstar wide receiver like Calvin Johnson. Add running back Kevin Smith to the combination, and this can be the start of something big.
There is definitely a risk to throwing Stafford out on the field too early. The Lions offensive line has struggled to protect the quarterback.
Stafford’s confidence could be shattered early, making it difficult to pick up the pieces. Is it worth a $40 million risk?
Pick: Matthew Stafford
Stafford, Johnson, and Smith can grow together on the field. In 1990, the Dallas Cowboys brought together players Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.
They went from one win in 1989 to seven wins in 1990 and won three Super Bowl Championship rings in the next four years.
I’m not saying that Detroit is going to turn it around completely overnight, but these guys can lay the foundation.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Byron Leftwich has experience as a starter, and his ability to lead a huddle would be a huge advantage for this young team. He has an impressive arm and played well as a young quarterback in Jacksonville.
Since entering the league in 2003, he’s thrown for 9,624 yards with 54 touchdowns and 38 interceptions.
Leftwich lacks mobility in the pocket and is slow on the release. In addition, injuries and an unexpected release from Jacksonville before the start of the 2007 season left his confidence crushed.
Now, moving forward, he has impressed coaches in organized team activities (OTA), giving quarterback Luke McCown some hefty competition.
McCown is more determined than ever to prove his talent and has made it clear that it will be difficult to take the starter position away from him. Unlike Leftwich, McCown is mobile and can add a nice element to this offense.
However, he has an unimpressive record as a starter, winning only one of seven games. Statistically he played adequately, but in football it comes down to winning games.
Pick: Byron Leftwich
Leftwich is respected by his teammates and well-liked in the huddle. He might get injured, but he is never afraid to play while hurt. It was a lack of reps and little knowledge of the playbook that left him struggling in Atlanta in 2007.
Now with a full OTA and training camp, he is the best option to get some wins.
Stepping in last season against Detroit, Tarvaris Jackson finished the season strong with a record of 3-1 and an excellent passer rating of 116.6.
He has a strong arm and can bring a nice element to the game with his ability to gain yards on the ground. Physically, Jackson is capable.
Mentally, he struggles. He doesn’t work well under pressure and makes some bad game decisions, often trying to squeeze the ball into double coverage. He also seems to lack the motivation to work hard and step up his game.
Sage Rosenfels does a much better job of avoiding sacks, going down about half the amount Jackson does. This is important when you’re working with an offensive line that ranked 26th in the league with 43 sacks allowed last season alone.
Rosenfels has a few games with great numbers, but he is lacking consistency. He is careless with the ball and has tossed for 30 touchdowns and 29 interceptions in his career.
Pick: Tarvaris Jackson (unless, of course, No. 4 decides to come out of retirement)
What the Vikings need most is someone who is going to give the defense and running game a chance to win. Minnesota basically has two backup-caliber quarterbacks competing for the starting position, so it comes down to the player that is less likely to ruin the team’s chances of playing deep into January.
Rosenfels averages 7.4 yards per completion, and Jackson averages 6.6. Running back Adrian Peterson averages 5.2 yards per carry, so it’s clear this team will be running.
Rosenfels is too careless and can easily lose games for this team. Last season he threw 10 interceptions in just six games.
Jackson has shown improvement every year, and if he works hard, he can keep the momentum from the end of last season going.
San Francisco 49ers
Shaun Hill is 7-3 as a starter. He has great instincts and jumped in late last season to win four out of the last five games.
Remember last season when Hill had his helmet ripped off, yet continued to run an extra 10 yards just to dive for the first down marker? That took guts, and it’s exactly the type of play that demands respect from teammates.
Hill lacks arm strength and struggles with some of the more challenging routes. However, he’s a natural leader and can get the team to rally around him.
Alex Smith is healthy, confident, and has a positive outlook on the upcoming season. He will have much better offensive weapons to work with in players Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones, Josh Morgan, and rookie Michael Crabtree.
In addition, Smith should have better pass protection with guys like Joe Staley and Adam Snyder on the line.
Smith has been off the field since midseason 2007, so it will be difficult for him to immediately adjust to the position. He has good legs and can run, but he also has small hands, so it’s easy for him to fumble the ball when being rushed.
He’s still recovering from shoulder surgery on his right side, so it’s important to see how he progresses throughout camp.
Pick: Shaun Hill
Hill’s fight at the end of the season won me over. He showed improvement with every game, and there is no telling what he can do next year.
I understand that Alex Smith was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, but that’s not a good enough reason to give him the starting job.
Brady Quinn is relentless in the weight room. He’s the first guy out on the field for practice and the last to leave. Quinn is an accurate passer and relies heavily on quick, short passes, often to the running back or tight end.
He’s intelligent, a natural leader, and a native Ohioan. Teammates and fans love him, and there is constant pressure to give Quinn a chance on the field.
Derek Anderson has a strong arm, quick release, and can create the big plays. He was on fire in 2007. Actually, it seemed like the entire team was hot that season. He put up great numbers, and there was nothing that could stop him—that is, until the following season.
Anderson quickly cooled off after his contract year and struggled in 2008. The team was plagued with injuries, and Anderson didn’t have much of a running game to fall back on.
In 2007, he threw for a remarkable 3,787 yards but only 1,615 yards in 10 games the following year.
Anderson could have had a lucky season in 2007 or an unlucky season in 2008. Maybe he fell short because the team suffered injuries, and maybe, just maybe, he could produce another stellar year. Either way, it doesn’t matter.
Simply put, Quinn shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines for a third year watching a guy who may or may not impress.
Pick: Brady Quinn
It’s time to give him a chance to prove himself. Coach Eric Mangini prefers a ball control offense, controlling the ball with short passes and the running game. Quinn could fit perfectly into this scheme.
Kyle Orton has gone 21-11 as a starter in the NFL. He doesn’t make many mistakes and manages the game similarly to Super Bowl winners Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer.
He doesn’t lose games, but he doesn’t necessarily win them either.
Playing under Josh McDaniels and his pass-heavy offense might pose a challenge for Orton. However, easing some of the pressure are five starters from the NFL's No. 2 offense returning to the line, as well as an arsenal of strong offensive weapons.
The Broncos have two receivers familiar with McDaniels’ offense in players Chad Jackson and Jabar Gaffney. Brandon Marshall is a superstar, and receiver Eddie Royal is an excellent, complementary No. 2.
Tight end Tony Scheffler poses yet another threat, and it seems the Broncos will be effective with any quarterback.
In 2005, Chris Simms showed us his potential when he led the Buccaneers to the playoffs. He definitely has good arm strength, but he has trouble getting the ball over the line and balls are constantly knocked down.
Simms lacks experience and hasn’t started a game since 2006.
Pick: Kyle Orton
Orton will limit the number of turnovers and keep the defense off the field, which has always been the Broncos’ weakness. Orton played with a limited number of offensive weapons in Chicago, yet was still a winning quarterback.
Let’s see what he can do with this arsenal.