What Each Top Rookie QB Must Do to Win a Starting Job in NFL Training Camp
For rookie quarterbacks, the rubber is about to meet the road.
The same could be said for a lot of rookies each and every offseason, but quarterbacks are a different animal altogether. Quarterbacks, by nature, are big men on campus throughout their college careers—especially if their school happens to be a big-time football factory. The leap to the NFL, however, can often leave them flat on their proverbial face.
This year's class—more than most—may have that dynamic in spades.
We saw quarterbacks from plenty of non-BCS powerhouse schools come off the board before a string of SEC quarterbacks that some felt could go in the late first to early third round. Scouting misses aside, it's a much different world living it up at a place like Alabama or LSU and then fighting for a backup position.
Though this class lacked a true blue-chip, consensus, "Andrew Luck-type," it was one of the deepest quarterback crops we've seen in a while, and a bunch of these prospects could see burn at some point in the 2014 season.
Yet, every single quarterback has at least something to prove before their respective teams put them under center.
Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Competition: Chad Henne, Ricky Stanzi, Stephen Morris
Percentage Chance to Be Starter Week 1: 15 percent
Look, the Jaguars don't want Bortles to be the starter this year. They've said it themselves.
It makes sense, as the Jaguars have kept a long view of this rebuilding plan and are doing things the right way—measured and methodical. Because of that, they were willing to take their choice of quarterbacks in this draft class without worrying about the player's immediate starting ability.
For general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley, that meant taking the incredible poise and physical ability of Bortles, without questioning his inability to lead a pro-style offense against pro-style competition right away.
All that said, I wouldn't completely count out Bortles working his way to the front of the pack, even if it isn't by Week 1. The Jaguars have fashioned their regime as "Seahawks South," and the original version figured out that playing the best guy—regardless of preconceived notions—is always the right call.
What does Bortles have to do?
He needs to prove that he can be as unflappable in the NFL pocket as he was against the inferior competition he faced in college. If he does that, the Jaguars don't have to worry about Bortles being burned by his trial by fire, and he could exceed their early expectations.
Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns)
The Competition: Brian Hoyer, Tyler Thigpen, Connor Shaw
Percentage Chance to Be Starter Week 1: 50 percent
I wholeheartedly believe Johnny Manziel should be the starting quarterback for the Browns in Week 1.
He might be the biggest obstacle in his own way.
See, I don't believe that Manziel has a lot of wiggle room between the best-possible and worst-possible scenarios for his career. He's what scouts call a boom-or-bust prospect, because he's got incredible physical talent, but his style of play (and his attitude) may not fit in with the NFL.
Manziel is what I call an "innovator" at the position. When everything else breaks down, he can still make plays. That's a trait that isn't found anywhere near Hoyer, and the Browns offense may not have a whole lot of talent this season.
If Manziel is going to start, he needs to grow up a little bit and take the rhetorical bull by the horns. The Browns need him to put a stop to the carousel they've had at the quarterback position for a long time, and if Manziel shows up to training camp with a command of the offense, he should get every opportunity to supplant Hoyer pretty quickly.
Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings)
The Competition: Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder
Percentage Chance to Be Starter Week 1: 65 percent
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer may be one of the more heralded head coaching prospects in a while. Many have had him as a head coaching candidate for four or five years already. But he's got his work cut out for him on both sides of the ball.
He said publicly, though, that he's "not afraid" to go with Bridgewater, and that's the right attitude to have with a rookie who is probably the most pro-ready in the class. In that same link above, offensive coordinator Norv Turner expressed belief that Bridgewater is further along than originally expected.
Bridgewater was picked apart in the predraft process, but he played in (and thrived in) a pro-style offense at the collegiate level and will have a ton of help around him in Minnesota. There's no light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to either Cassell and Ponder, so Bridgewater should be solidly in the discussion.
To push that 65 percent into the 90 to 100 percent range, Bridgewater needs to leave no doubt about his ability to handle Turner's offense—both mentally, and physically in terms of taking deep shots down the field. If he does that, there's zero reason not to bring on a new era of Vikings football.
Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders)
The Competition: Matt Schaub, Matt McGloin, Trent Edwards
Percentage Chance to Be Starter Week 1: 10 percent
Though Albert Breer of NFL Media has reported that there's some belief in the Raiders organization that Carr could compete for the starting job, he's really in the same boat as Bortles is with the Jaguars: Carr may be the best natural athlete on the Raiders QB depth chart, but he's worlds behind in terms of readiness.
Also like the Jaguars, general manager Reggie McKenzie has needed to take a less-than-immediate approach to rebuilding the roster in Oakland. After years of mismanagement (both in terms of cap space and draft picks), McKenzie has done a good job getting this team back to square one and adding good young talent.
The Raiders have low expectations and are willing to aim for mediocrity (or less) in the upcoming season as they continue to build out the makings of a pretty decent roster (though, being in the same division with the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos and defensively adept Kansas City Chiefs won't make life easy).
Again like Bortles, however, don't be surprised if Carr is given some time at the end of the season. Like the Jaguars' Chad Henne, Schaub doesn't exactly have No. 1 on lock down and he looked rattled for much of last season.
Of course, that also means that Schaub could conceivably fall flat on his face even earlier, and coaches could become enamored with Carr's fantastic arm. That's why there's a tiny chance Carr grabs hold of the starting job in training camp.
Jimmy Garoppolo (New England Patriots)
The Competition: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Percentage Chance to Be Starter Week 1: 0 percent
Realistically, I'm not sure what sort of natural disaster it would take to get Garoppolo into the starting spot in Week 1, but it would probably have to be directed by Michael Bay. This isn't anything against the former Eastern Illinois passer, who has been one of my favorite prospects in this class for some time, but the Patriots aren't even entertaining the idea of this being any sort of "battle" and for very good reason.
Think what you want about Brady, who many believe had one of the worst seasons of his career with the little help around him last season, but he's not going anywhere unless it's under his own terms—or he gets injured. Mallett, too, though he may have been shopped around the draft, isn't likely losing a spot to a quarterback coming from the FCS.
Garoppolo possesses some pretty nice physical tools and one of the quickest releases I have ever seen. He will get a chance to start in the NFL some day and may even light up some preseason games, but he's not starting this year.
Logan Thomas (Arizona Cardinals)
Thomas has all of the tools to be a starter for the Cardinals in 2016, but he's such a long-term project that it's beyond the realm of imagination that he would be anything but a gadget player in his rookie year.
Tom Savage (Houston Texans)
Savage was a favorite of some in the predraft community, but he's a long-term project at best. This team can win a few games with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and probably not fall off too much with Case Keenum getting a second chance. Houston's not winning with Savage, though. Not this year, at least.
Aaron Murray (Kansas City Chiefs)
Alex Smith may not be the most exciting starter, but he's a pretty good mentor for Murray, and the Chiefs aren't going to upset that apple cart by overturning it too soon. The biggest question is if Murray can manage to beat out Chase Daniel (who has even less upside) and Tyler Bray (who has the most upside but lacks Murray's polish).
A.J. McCarron (Cincinnati Bengals)
Andy Dalton has his playoff woes, but he's been lights out during the regular season for the Bengals. Hue Jackson, the newly appointed offensive coordinator, should help matters even more. McCarron has such a similar profile to Dalton, though, that it's possible the Bengals could trust him if Dalton stumbles out of the gate. I'm not Dalton's biggest fan, but I wouldn't bet on that happening.
Zach Mettenberger (Tennessee Titans)
I've been a vocal critic of Jake Locker since before his draft selection, and I've also been one of Mettenberger's biggest fans. Still, while Mettenberger might think he's got a shot at the job, I'll side with the local Tennessee media that believes he's competing for the No. 3 spot instead of No. 1.