During the NFL preseason, there’s nothing quite like a quarterback battle in training camp.
Whether it’s an incumbent veteran trying to fend off a hot-shot rookie, or previous back-ups fighting for the chance to finally be starters, the battles dominate the narrative in August.
With that said, here’s a look at the five quarterback battles that will be front and centre over the next month.
Even though the quarterback hierarchy in Baltimore isn’t likely to change by the time the season starts, this situation is worth mentioning because it could evolve during the year.
Since his magical Super Bowl run in 2013, Flacco has looked like nothing more than an average quarterback, with his passer rating topping out at 83.5 in the past three years.
Baltimore went 9-7 last season, while boasting a defence that ranked sixth in fewest point allowed (18.9) and first in takeaways (34). Their offence, on the other hand, accumulated the sixth-fewest total yards – in part due to a meager air attack.
If that side of the ball under Flacco is holding the Ravens back to start the season, Jackson could get an opportunity to jump-start things. But for that to happen, the rookie likely needs to earn the coaching staff’s trust with a decent preseason showing – and not just as a runner, but as a pocket passer.
Jackson is the future. His unseating of Flacco is a matter of when, not if.
The Browns are in a bit of conundrum. They have two quarterbacks who, based on their talent and the circumstances around their arrival to Cleveland, should theoretically start.
In March, the team traded a 2018 third-round pick for Tyrod Taylor, who was unwanted in Buffalo despite having a better passer rating than Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton and Derek Carr last season, all while adding 427 rushing yards with his legs.
The price the Browns paid for Taylor made it seem like he was the shoe-in starter for the coming season, but they then drafted Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick to complicate their decision.
If Mayfield lights up the preseason and looks ready to grab the reins of the offence, Cleveland will have a hard time keeping him on the bench, which appears to be the plan at the moment.
It’s not a bad problem to have by any means, especially for a team that won all of one game the past two years.
There’s a three-way battle going on in Buffalo, where veterans A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman are going against each other and rookie Josh Allen.
Peterman is the only returning Bills quarterback from that group, but he showed little last season to suggest he’s the long-term answer, even though the coaching staff confusingly preferred him to Taylor for a stretch.
Buffalo signed McCarron in March to a two-year deal worth $10 million, so it’s not as if they committed significant money to the former Cincinnati Bengal. But they must have seen something in McCarron to pursue him in free agency.
They clearly love Allen though, because they traded up from 12 to eight in the draft to select the Wyoming product, who has all the physical tools to succeed, but has been criticised for his accuracy issues and decision-making.
Allen may not be ready to start from day one, even if he does have a strong preseason, but the other options aren’t all that inspiring.
Of all the rookie quarterbacks taken in the draft, Josh Rosen may be the most ready to play right away, with his polish and accuracy making him an intriguing option to start.
However, the Cardinals didn’t hand veteran Sam Bradford a one-year, $20m deal (with a second-year option) to have the most expensive back-up in the league.
He’s seemingly never healthy, having missed 48 games over his eight-year career, but when has been on the field, Bradford has shown enough to suggest he can be an above-average signal caller.
Arizona are in a transition year after the retirement of head coach Bruce Arians and starting quarterback Carson Palmer, yet the roster is still talented enough to compete. For that reason, Bradford makes the most sense as a steady hand.
If he goes down though, which isn’t just possible but, based on his history, somewhat likely, Rosen could step in and keep the show going.
Say what you will about journeyman McCown and his limited upside, but the 39-year-old was effective last season as the Jets starter to lead one of the weakest rosters in the league to five wins.
Treading water isn’t what the Jets should be aiming for, however. Which is why Bridgewater and Darnold, at the very least, give the team a fresh start and something to believe in.
Bridgewater is a complete unknown at this point, having attempted all of two passes over the past two years. The strides he showed in his sophomore campaign were promising though, and the pedigree is there as a first-round pick.
Pedigree is something Darnold isn’t lacking either, with the strong-armed quarterback possessing tantalising upside. His brief holdout to start camp isn’t likely to hurt his prospects of starting, but he’ll have to really stand out in the preseason to move ahead of two players in front of him on the depth chart.
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