NFL training camp QB battles: Who wins tightly contested races?

NFL training camps will open in just a matter of weeks, but it’s not too early to look at the most exciting position battles being waged across the league – those at the open quarterback spots.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks up during OTA practices at Houston Methodist Training Center.

There are six jobs that are mostly up for grabs. Here’s a breakdown of each, and a prediction at who is most likely to take snaps in Week 1.

Denver Broncos

This is the most entertaining battle to monitor. The Broncos are legitimate playoff contenders with a sound defense and plenty of skill-position talent. Though Trevor Siemian (59.5 % completion rate, 3,401 yards, 18 TDs, 10 INTs) played well last season, but waiting in the wings is 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch (59 % completion rate, 497 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), who has shown some improvements throughout organized team activities.

Why Lynch might win the job: Lynch is by far the more physically gifted of the two. He’s 6-7 with a powerful arm, and can flash excellent mobility when needed. He likely allows offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to be more creative in crafting a game plan because of those traits.

Why Siemian might win the job: What Siemian lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with experience and knowledge of the system. Before arriving in the NFL, Lynch had never stepped in a huddle, had never executed five- or seven-step drops and was a work in progress. Siemian showed in 2016 that he could be a serviceable starter who can take care of the ball, and make sound decisions.

Who will win the job? This is probably the toughest race to call, but it could be difficult for Denver to pull a player who performed well. That means that Lynch will probably have to surpass expectations to win the gig. The one thing helping Lynch is that Siemian struggled down the stretch, though Denver’s inept rushing game was a big reason for the team’s inefficiency. The slight edge goes to Siemian because of that experience – at least to start the season.


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Cleveland Browns

Brock Osweiler was initially seen as expendable after Cleveland took on his salary to acquire a second-round draft pick from the Houston Texans, but early indications are that he has impressed. Cody Kessler is the incumbent, and showed some potential in 2016. Second-round rookie DeShone Kizer should be considered an unlikely candidate to win the spot.

Why Kessler might win the job: In a roster sorely lacking talent last season, Kessler actually played OK. He appeared in nine games, started eight, and completed 65.6% of his passes for 1,380 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Granted, the production was low for the volume of snaps, but it was his rookie season, and he should only continue to develop under coach Hue Jackson.

Why Osweiler might win the job: Osweiler has far more experience, though last year was a rough go with the Texans (59% completion rate, 2,957 yards, 15 touchdowns, 16 interceptions).

Who will win the job? The language from executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown has hinted that Osweiler may not be in the Browns' plans. Of course, Osweiler could change that with superb play, but if the team is likely to move on from Osweiler, it may be in Cleveland’s best interest to see what it has in Kessler.

Josh McCown (left) might have the edge on Bryce Petty (right) and Christian Hackenberg (not pictured), but the 38-year-old would be an odd fit for a rebuilding team.

New York Jets

The Jets are in a rebuild, so it’s odd that their open competition involves a 38-year-old journeyman (Josh McCown) as well as two unproven passers (Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg). With a roster full of inexperienced players, New York may very cycle through a few quarterbacks this season as staying competitive could prove a struggle.

Why Hackenberg might win the job: After the Jets invested a second-round draft pick in him last year, Hackenberg didn't appear in a single game in 2016 while he worked on significant issues with his footwork and accuracy. Uneven performances in organized team activities show he still has some work to do, but his time may be now if the Jets are truly in a rebuild.

Why McCown might win the job: McCown is a known commodity after 14 seasons of experience, and he probably gives the Jets the best chance to win now.

Why Petty might win the job: Petty seems like the odd man out, but he did get some experience last season (56.4 % completion rate, 809 yards, three touchdowns, seven interceptions in six games). He understands when to throw the ball with some heat, and when he needs to apply touch. He also has impressive size at 6-3 and 230 pounds.

Who will win the job? The Jets have been saying they still expect to be competitive, but it would be an odd look to have such an inexperienced roster led by a journeyman. McCown isn’t the future for the Jets. Hackenberg might be. Though the team could be eyeing one of the draft-eligible prospects next spring in what is widely considered a strong QB class, Hackenberg should get the nod here if the team truly is embracing a total rebuild.


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Houston Texans

Coach Bill O’Brien has stressed that this is Tom Savage’s job, but Houston did spend a lot of capital to move up from No. 25 in the first round to No. 12 to pluck Deshaun Watson. The rookie has the physical gifts, and based on O’Brien has raved about the former Clemson star's recall. Of any rookie QB, Watson has the best shot to play on Day 1.

Why Savage might win the job: He’s entering his fourth season, but Savage is still a bit of an unknown. Still, he knows the offense far better than Watson does, and one of Houston's primary requirements is for its passer to limit mistakes. Savage – at least right now – may be better equipped for that.

Why Watson might win the job: The rookie clearly has far greater potential of the duo. And every time Savage makes a mistake, the pressure from fans to put in Watson will be unavoidable. Watson has a versatile skill set that makes him a threat on the move, and he thrives in big-pressure situations.

Who will win the job? The Texans will do everything they can to make Savage the Week 1 starter to allow Watson some time to catch his breath. O’Brien, however, hasn’t been shy about rotating quarterbacks from week to week. Will Savage be the starter by the end of the season? That’s a tougher sell.

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Chicago Bears

General manager Ryan Pace, coach John Fox and even the two quarterbacks themselves have all said this is Mike Glennon’s team – for now. The Bears' selection Mitchell Trubisky with the second-overall selection certainly puts more pressure on Glennon to produce, but this competition might be wrapped up by the first week of training camp.

Why Glennon might win the job: He has experience. Even though this is his first season under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, Glennon is a veteran with four years’ worth of studying NFL playbooks.

Why Trubisky might win the job: There’s a reason why the Bears and other teams atop the draft liked Trubisky. He’s accurate, displays good arm strength and has a good grasp of a pro-style offense. But he needs time to adjust to the NFL. The most likely way Trubisky wins this job might be through an injury to Glennon.

Who will win the job? It would be a major shock if Glennon didn’t win this job outright. Trubisky is certainly the future for the Bears, but with only 13 starts in college, he needs some time to develop. In an ideal scenario, he doesn’t take one regular-season snap in 2017 – unless it’s in garbage time.


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San Francisco 49ers

First-year general manager John Lynch opted to start from scratch at quarterback, and San Francisco signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. New coach Kyle Shanahan has said that Hoyer will be the starter, but Barkley – despite a poor finish to a trying season (59.7% completion rate, 1,611 yards, eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions in seven games) last year with the Bears – occasionally flashed some solid play in spurts.

Why Hoyer might win the job: The biggest thing Hoyer has going for him is a prior experience with Shanahan. While Shanahan was the offensive coordinator with the Browns in 2014, Hoyer started 13 games. He knows the offense exceptionally well, and there’s a comfort level between the two.

Why Barkley might win the job: While Barkley doesn’t have a ton of playing time, he’s well versed in a pro-style scheme and should pick up Shanahan’s offense fairly quickly. 

Who will win the job? Like the Bears gig, it would be a complete surprise to see anyone but Hoyer lead the 49ers offense. Hoyer has more experience and has started 31 games in his career. He may not be San Francisco’s future, but he’s the organization's best option right now.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

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