(USA Today Sports Images)
There are many training camp position battles that will have a much bigger effect on the outcome of the 2013 NFL season than who plays quarterback for the Oakland Raiders or Jacksonville Jaguars.
Whoever wins the battle to be Seattle’s backup running back or Denver’s starting middle linebacker will likely have much more of an impact on who wins the Super Bowl than any of the five quarterback battles going into camp.
But, we care about quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez’s comments that he’s ready for the Jets’ competition reminded us of that. And so, with training camps coming up soon, here are the starting quarterback battles that truly seem up for competition as camp begins, ranked from least to most interesting:
Jacksonville Jaguars (a.k.a. the team that drafted a punter instead of Russell Wilson)
The combatants: Blaine Gabbert vs. Chad Henne
I still don’t get how the Jaguars didn’t take one shot on any of the quarterbacks available in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Even if you don’t love Tyler Wilson, Ryan Nassib or Matt Barkley, the impact of hitting on a quarterback in the fourth round is well worth the gamble. Maybe, in the worst case scenario, you get a solid backup going forward. But they passed on all the quarterbacks, and now we’re stuck with this.
The only good thing about this “battle” is it will be over at some point.
Verdict: Gabbert wins the job, because the Jaguars aren’t going to be very good this season anyway and they might as well try out the former first-round pick again. And then they figure out this offseason that they’re allowed to draft a quarterback for 2014.
The combatants: Kevin Kolb vs. E.J. Manuel
This one doesn’t have much long-term intrigue because, let’s face it, Kolb isn’t holding off Manuel for long. This is worth keeping an eye on because Manuel is an intriguing player. He wasn’t universally considered the top quarterback of last year’s draft class, but Buffalo took him as the first quarterback off the board, and he does have a good skill set. Good luck finding anyone who is excited about Kolb’s future.
Offseason accounts from Buffalo reporters had Manuel getting a comparable amount of reps to Kolb, which should indicate the rookie will be given every chance to win the job.
Verdict: Manuel starts the season opener. The Bills have more invested in him, and he’s the future. Might as well start the process now.
Geno Smith (7) and Mark Sanchez (USA Today Sports Images) New York Jets
The combatants: Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith
Here’s where it starts to get a little more interesting. Sanchez said he’s planning to win the job, and he’s probably right. He has the experience edge and let’s be honest, Rex Ryan isn’t going to be around after this season if Smith struggles. He won’t benefit in 2014 from Smith learning on the job (unless Smith pulls a Russell Wilson. Andrew Luck or RGIII), so why would he go that route? Smith’s final half of last season and West Virginia and his fall into the second round of the draft shows that he has work to do anyway. (Reports that Smith didn’t go to the informal “Jets West” private workouts this week won’t help that much either.)
Verdict: Sanchez wins it, but there will be a ton of pressure to play Smith if Sanchez keeps turning the ball over. Expect the crowd reaction to be fierce with every single mistake Sanchez makes this season.
The combatants: Matt Flynn vs. Tyler Wilson vs. Terrelle Pryor
I might be a little crazy but I’m looking forward to this one. The ultimate results of the other three are obvious (the rookies take over eventually in New York and Buffalo, and whoever wins in Jacksonville sets the game back 30 years), this one is tougher to predict. Flynn is intriguing for one reason: He has started two games in the NFL and has had two great performances. I know about sample sizes, I know Flynn has weaknesses that are easily spotted on film, but his two starts have to mean something. But Wilson slipped in the draft mostly because Arkansas was terrible last year, and not surprisingly he is getting rave reviews in the offseason. That pick was perfect for the Raiders. The reward of landing a franchise quarterback is always going to be worth a fourth-round pick (and before the 2012 season the talented Wilson was considered a likely first-round pick). If Wilson isn’t very good, it’s easy to move on.
There’s also Pryor, who is at least somewhat interesting in this era of read-option offensive success. How this battle plays out will affect the Raiders’ future plans and have an impact on the 2014 draft.
Verdict: Flynn wins, Wilson gets a long look at some point, but neither prove in 2013 to be franchise quarterbacks. Then the Raiders look long and hard to see how good Teddy Bridgewater is.
The combatants: Michael Vick vs. Nick Foles vs. Matt Barkley
This is the battle with the most moving parts, and the most interesting. Vick was immediately lauded as the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense when Kelly was hired, and while he may be, Kelly doesn’t rely on his quarterbacks running the ball as much as is portrayed. Reports have started to filter in that Foles might have the upper hand, and it makes sense. Foles isn’t fast, but maybe Kelly isn’t looking for that. Foles looked good at times last year when thrown into the fire, and he’s a lot younger and cheaper than Vick. There’s also Barkley, another case like Wilson – another player once thought of as a sure first-rounder who slipped and should be in Jacksonville right now. It seems like a race where nobody should be surprised if any of the three win it.
Verdict: Vick starts opening day because he is so intriguing. Vick at his peak may be a memory now, but it’s still worth chasing. Plan on seeing at least Barkley this season, and maybe him and Foles. It’ll take a while for Kelly to figure out who fits best.