NFL QB Competitions: Who Will Start?

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent IJune 24, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Quarterbacks Alex Smith #11 and Shaun Hill #13 of the San Francisco 49ers look on during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The NFL sees its fair share of quarterback competitions every summer. 2009 will be no exception. 

All around the country from New York, to San Francisco, to Tampa Bay, and many cities in between, quarterback competitions are heating up.

New York Jets (Mark Sanchez/Kellen Clemens)

Mark Sanchez was the fifth overall pick in April's draft.  The Jets traded up with Cleveland to snatch up the USC quarterback. 

At Southern Cal., Sanchez started just 16 games, and entered the draft after his junior season. Sanchez completed 64.3 percent of his passes at Southern California and tossed 41 touchdowns.

Sanchez is projected to have the upper hand in the competition.

Former second-round pick Kellen Clemens is the other combatant of the battle. Clemens has started in eight games, all coming in 2007. His career completion percentage of 52 percent and he has thrown five Touchdowns. Clemens has also thrown 11 interceptions.

"Clemens and Sanchez are really battling, I knew it was going to be a dogfight and right now, you can tell it really is," said new Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "We probably won’t know until…whenever it becomes obvious, that’s when we’ll make the decision."

Sanchez agreed to a five-year deal earlier this month with $28 million guaranteed.

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"I understand that with him getting the money, but the job as a coach is you’ve got to play the best guys and what gives you the chance to win," Ryan said. "I have to do what’s best for our football team. If that means we play a rookie, so be it. If we play Kellen Clemens, so be it. The guy is going to have to earn that job."

The fight between Clemens and Sanchez will certainly last through the dog days of summer, and it will be a tough decision for the coaching staff to make.

In the end, I see Mark Sanchez edging Clemens for the job.

Cleveland Browns (Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson)

The situation in Cleveland will be one of the most watched during training camp and preseason.

Quinn, the heavy fan favorite, was taken 22nd overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season holding the clipboard for starter Anderson. In 2008, Quinn got three starts before suffering a season-ending injury. In '08 he completed 66.6 percent of his passes while tossing two touchdowns and two interceptions. 

The Browns were 1-2 in his three starts.

A former Pro Bowl quarterback, Derek Anderson is the other half of the Browns' competition. Anderson had a surprise 2007 season, completing 56.5 percent of his pass attempts for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns. Anderson also was picked off 19 times.

After eight starts and a 3-5 record to start 2008, Anderson was replaced by Quinn.  When Quinn went down week 12, Anderson replaced him before being injured himself and ending his season.

At the conclusion of Browns mini camp, Quinn had a slight lead in this fight for the starting job.

"We're looking for...someone to get into the huddle, call the play, get the people lined up," said new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "The next thing is decision-making. Who can perform under pressure?"

With Quinn being young and an Ohio native, the fans are certainly pulling for him.  But the competition continues and will continue until the coaching staff finds the clear cut winner. 

After it's all said and done I believe Brady Quinn will be starting opening day.

San Francisco 49ers (Shaun Hill/Alex Smith)

Former first overall pick Alex Smith is fighting for perhaps his last chance to start in the NFL. The 25-year old Smith has started 30 career games and has just one full season under his belt. He has a career completion percentage of 54.4% percent.

His touchdown-to-interception ratio is just awful: 19 touchdowns and 31 interceptions over his career.

"Before the off-season started I wasn't really sure where Alex was," said head coach Mike Singletary. "He's been through a lot in four years."

Despite being around since 2002, Shaun Hill has just 10 career starts. He started two games in 2007 and eight in 2008. His 64 percent completion percentage for his career is very good.

However, he has thrown for just 2,547 yards in his eight seasons. Hill also has 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions over the past two seasons.  

The competition in San Francisco is probably the closest in the league. Nobody really has a clue of who will be the starter come week one.  

"The playing field is level now," Singletary said. "I don't think anyone is leading the competition."

With this competition far from over, I see it playing out as Shaun Hill starting September 13th in game one.

Detroit Lions (Daunte Culpepper/Matthew Stafford)

It seems like forever ago when Daunte Culpepper was a superstar throwing to Randy Moss in Minnesota, making a Pro Bowl, and being photographed for the cover of the Madden NFL video game.

After short stints in Miami, Oakland, and a flirt with retirement, Culpepper is now in Detroit trying to regain his old form. 

The 11th year quarterback has thrown for more than 20,000 yards and 146 touchdowns in his career with a 63.3 completion percentage. Twice in his career Culpepper has thrown for over 30 scores, including 39 in 2004.

"I'm seeing him make throws that he made back when he was at Minnesota," wide receiver Calvin Johnson said.

New Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said Culpepper has "put the rest of the league on notice that he's back."

Culpepper is not guaranteed the starting job. In fact, there is quite a competition going on in Detroit.

First overall pick Matthew Stafford is pressing for the job.

Stafford threw for 7,731 yards and 51 touchdowns during his time at Georgia. The 21-year old from Dallas, Texas. has a very strong arm that really impressed the Lions.

"There's been some throws he's made that we were like, 'Ain't no way he's getting that ball there,' but he's got the ball there," Johnson said. "He got it in tight. He can throw it in tight spaces. That's a good attribute."

He may have the arm, but will he be mentally ready for NFL action right away?

"Being physically the best doesn't mean you're ready to go on an NFL field and play." Schwartz said of Stafford. "He needs to be the best quarterback on the roster, and he needs to be ready as we view it. And if it's both of those things, then he's gonna start."

This competition has a long ways to go before we know the winner, and each Culpepper and Stafford have a lot to prove. 

I think Culpepper will start the season on top of the depth chart.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Byron Leftwich/Josh Freeman/Luke McCown/Josh Johnson)

Leftwich has the most starting experience. He spent four years and started 46 games in Jacksonville. He started two games in one season with Atlanta and backed up Super Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in one season with Pittsburgh.

Now in Tampa Bay, Leftwich expects to be the starter.

“I’m quite sure Luke McCown and both Josh Freeman and (Josh) Johnson think the same way, and I have no problem with that. I’ve always said this thing will be won on the football field,” he said. “They’ve assured us the best man will be the starter. I’m going to do my best to make sure I’m that guy.”

In six NFL seasons, Leftwich has a completion percentage of 58.6 percent and a touchdown-to-interception ration of 54:38.

McCown has spent four seasons with Tampa Bay, starting three games in 2007. Over the course of his six-year career, McCown has a completion percentage of 59.7 percent, nine touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and seven starts.

For the first time, McCown has a legitimate shot at the starting job.

"It's about getting a real opportunity," McCown said.

First-round pick Josh Freeman is also in the race for the top spot. 

"I want to win the job, but at the same time I know it's about winning football games first," said Freeman, who has yet to sign his rookie contract. "Right now, for me, it's about developing and I'm going to do everything I can to compete for the job."

In 35 starts at Kansas State, Freeman completed 57.1 percent of his passes, threw 44 touchdowns, and 34 interceptions. His threw for a total of 8,078 yards.

"[Josh Freeman] is pushing the envelope and the other guys are pushing back," rookie head coach Raheem Morris stated. "We're not going to give a guy anything. That guy has to take it."

Josh Johnson, the underdog in the competition and 2008 fifth-round draft pick, believes he has a great chance at winning the starting job.

"I don't doubt my abilities," Johnson said. "It's just a matter of time before I can show them off in game situations. It's not frustrating. It makes me hungry. It makes you a better competitor when you know every snap counts."

Johnson spent his rookie season on the Bucs' scout team. Former head coach Jon Gruden really liked what he saw in Johnson.

"When I first got here, guys told me if you can pick up this offense, you can learn any offense," Johnson said. "What I learned last year — the little tips and tricks here and there — it's helped me a lot this year. I appreciate the fact I was able to sit behind those guys last year as far as the preparation goes. I can apply it to the practice field now."

Along with Freeman, Johnson, Leftwich, and McCown, veteran Brian Griese also remains on the roster. However, he likely won't remain on the team.

The Buccaneers coaching staff has their work cut out for them. 

Ultimately, I think Byron Leftwich will be the starter week one against Dallas.

Other QB competitions to think about:

Minnesota Vikings - The QB competition in Minnesota seems moot now as Brett Favre is expected to come out of retirement and join the team as the starter. However, if Favre remains retired, Tavaris Jackson vs. Sage Rosenfels will make for a great competition.

Denver Broncos - After the shocking divorce between Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler and the Broncos, Kyle Orton and Chris Simms are being looked at as potential replacements. Head coach Josh McDaniels has said Orton will be the starter, but he also said Simms still has a chance.

As the start of training camp quickly approaches, continue to keep an eye on these very entertaining and fierce quarterback competitions.