This article is part of our Job Battles series.
This series will break down relevant job battles around the league and lean on early training camp reports to guess which way the jobs might be headed. This post is about the NFL's starting quarterback competitions.
The blurbs are listed in alphabetical team order, with the fantasy favorite in each case listed on the left.
The assumption is that Dalton is the favorite to begin the year as starter for the Bears, and if he does he would have some considerable shot at lasting the whole year as starter. 'Considerable' can still fall well short of 'likely,' and the idea of Dalton holding off a bigger, stronger-armed, highly athletic top prospect like Fields for an entire season somehow seems wrong. Dalton is a seasoned pro and knows how to handle himself well in practices – a test Fields is taking for the first time, while Dalton goes in knowing all the answers – but Dalton also struggled to move the ball in a 2020 Dallas offense with lots of wide receiver talent, and when the Bears signed Dalton in free agency they didn't expect Fields to fall to them in the draft. At the very least it should be safe to say that Dalton will find himself on the bench early in the year if he doesn't improve on the level of play he's shown in the last two seasons. Dalton has been legitimately bad since 2019, completing just 61.6 percent of his passes at 6.6 yards per attempt with 30 touchdowns to 22 interceptions. Dalton has never been good and he seems to be getting worse.
In short, even if Dalton is the Week 1 favorite, the chances of Fields starting all year seem more likely than the possibility of Dalton starting all year. If or when Fields takes the starting role, major fantasy upside would follow thanks to his uncommon rushing upside. His 4.46 wheels give him a viable rush threat even if the pass isn't working, and at 6-foot-3, 227 pounds he can probably withstand a decent amount of volume on the ground if necessary, too. Perhaps it would be a favor to Fields to spare him the Rams defense in Week 1, but it's hard to see why Chicago would start Dalton Week 2 onward.
These two quarterbacks are both limited, and genre-wise they are opposites of each other. The basic theme here is Bridgewater presents perceived reliability, while Lock offers perceived upside at the cost of consistency.
There's still time for Lock to take a turn for the better, but that time is just about up and his starting point is uniquely discouraging in the meantime. Even if you project some improvement with Lock's prior work you still end up with a bad player – he needs to make drastic improvements to be a viable starting NFL quarterback. The arm and athleticism are there, and he seems to have heart, but the processing instincts and the accuracy just don't seem natural to Lock.
Bridgewater, of course, has his own limitations, but they relate more to upside and playmaking rather than basic technique. With Lock you worry about the basic functions of a play, while with Bridgewater you worry that he makes the play impotent. If you need a high-level play, Bridgewater probably can't make it. There's a chance that the Broncos don't need high-level plays from the quarterback position, however.
The Broncos have two reasons to possibly prefer a low-upside 'game manager' over a vague-upside wildcard. The first is that the Denver pass-catching personnel is among the best in the league – Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Tim Patrick, Albert Okwuegbunam and KJ Hamler is a truly loaded group – and pass catchers that explosive can make a quarterback look better than he is. Lock is so wild at times that it won't matter how good the pass catchers are. The second reason is that the Denver defense might be one of the best in the NFL this year. If the Denver defense is smothering, then the Broncos will rarely feel urgent game scripts. If a game is in a manageable script, it's reasonable to conclude that a game-manager quarterback is more viable than an up-and-down quarterback at risk of mangling an otherwise manageable situation.
To this point offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has spoken glowingly of both Lock and Bridgewater, so it's not clear what way the team might be inclined. Nor is it clear when they plan to make a decision. Bridgewater was definitely the better player in 2020, though, outpacing Lock's completion percentage by nearly 12 points and his YPA figure by a full yard. Lock can still win, but he needs to make major improvements just to catch up to Bridgewater's 2020 standard.
Bill Belichick seems sincere when he says Newton is New England's starting quarterback, but a prospect like Jones isn't long for the bench, and in the meantime a competition will ensue between the rookie 15th overall pick and the 11-year veteran. Both players appear competent, and the early training camp reports have been positive around both.
Jones was arguably as good of a prospect out of Alabama as fifth overall 2020 pick Tua Tagovailoa. Like Tua, Jones posted obscene passing production for the Crimson Tide, and especially in 2020. Joe Burrow's 2019 LSU production might never be matched, but Jones was pretty close to that level last year, completing 77.4 percent of his passes at 11.2 yards per attempt while throwing 41 touchdowns on just 402 attempts. If Jones needs to play in 2021 then there is reason for optimism.
If Jones doesn't play in 2021 then it will likely be due to strong play on Newton's part rather than poor play by Jones. Newton's 2020 season was ugly at times, but his overall peripheral stats were encouraging even before you adjust for the fact that his top two wide receivers were Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd, his top tight end Ryan Izzo. Newton's completion percentage of 65.8 at 7.2 yards per attempt is rather healthy in light of that, and the eight passing touchdowns to 10 interceptions isn't nearly as meaningful as Newton's 20 total touchdowns versus 11 total turnovers. Newton went over 20 fantasy points in eight of 15 games, and twice over 40 points.
Newton has a lengthy injury history at this point and Jones' talent means the veteran will have a short leash even if he's the Week 1 starter. If Newton plays well in that event, though, then there won't necessarily be any pressure for New England to switch to Jones.
The Saints have a lot to think about at the quarterback position, especially in light of Michael Thomas' injury and indefinite absence. As a team gets worse it generally needs to throw more than it might otherwise intend to, because falling behind on the scoreboard generally forces a team to throw the ball to catch up. The less competitive the Saints are, the more difficult it might be to justify playing time for Hill, who isn't a natural passer and needs to utilize his rushing threat to force openings in the defense. Running the ball takes time off the clock, and defenses don't care if you do it while you're losing. If defenses don't care about the rush threat then they devote more resources toward stopping the pass, which is generally a scenario stacked against a player of Hill's skill set.
Then again, Winston is anything but a source of stability. For as much as it's generally true that a team needs to throw more when they fall behind, it's not necessarily true that Winston presents a worthwhile upgrade over Hill in that particular scenario. It may just be a lose/lose, and the Saints might decide to go with Hill even knowing that the game is over if they fall behind more than one score. The Saints could theoretically go with the absolute worst-case fantasy scenario: a situational rotation between Hill and Winston. Hill could open games and either stay in if winning or be relieved by Winston if falling behind. Or, Winston could be the quarterback in the first 80 yards while Hill plays as a red-zone specialist. It would be frustrating, but we can't rule it out.
According to the Athletic's Larry Holder, however, it's Winston who has looked the most compelling early in camp. Particularly with the Saints defense likely to regress this year, this competition could keep trending toward Winston's favor if he continues to stand out as a passer. It's still fair to wonder whether Winston is worth the hassle in fantasy when Hill is likely to play either way – it's a messy scenario.
Kyle Shanahan once again has himself in a weird situation. He's insisting publicly that Garoppolo is the 49ers' starter over Lance – and he's even giving Garoppolo all of the first-team reps to prove it – but Garoppolo has reportedly looked less than convincing, like he has often throughout his San Francisco career, and Lance has reportedly looked emphatically strong. Lance isn't playing unless he gets those first-team reps, so at the very least Shanahan is making a convincing bluff in the meantime, but this arrangement with Garoppolo starting doesn't seem tenable.
Particularly after trading a fortune to trade up to the third pick, you'd think Shanahan would be interested in extracting immediate returns from Lance, who presents a tantalizing combination of size, arm strength and athleticism. Lance might be able to match Garoppolo's low bar as a passer, and as a runner Lance completely transforms the offense. You can read a great breakdown of the 49ers practices in this article by Niners Nation's Kyle Posey.
After Tuesday's practice, the Lance train isn't slowing down any time soon. Lance completed 13 of his 14 attempts, with the lone incompletion coming on the final deep pass of the game.
Lance wasn't just sharp; he was in command and did a few things that even Shanahan would compliment him over. One play that stood out was the defensive pressuring Lance, and he bought time with his legs by drifting backward before eventually finding a receiver for an eight-yard gain.
The highlight of the day came when Lance evaded the rush, rolled out slightly to the left, and heaved a deep pass to Trent Sherfield on a deep post, or "thru" route.
The 49ers didn't suffer much in the dropoff from Garoppolo to Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard when Garoppolo missed time in recent years, which speaks to the relative ease of playing quarterback in Shanahan's scheme. If throwing the ball is easier in this offense than others and Lance offers a unique upgrade on the ground, then Shanahan has a lot to think about if he means to stand by Garoppolo. Garoppolo has been good at no point as a passer, so Lance would seemingly need to be worse than bad as a passer to be less effective in this offense than Garoppolo.
The 49ers face the Lions and Eagles to begin the year, then they see the Packers, Seahawks and Cardinals. Rather than easing Lance in over the year, it seems like the 49ers would sooner prepare Lance for the tougher stretch by letting him start Week 1 and work on his rhythm against the comparatively meek Lions and Eagles. It's difficult to see an angle by which Garoppolo keeps a convincing grip on this job, even for the beginning of the year.