Unit Analysis: Best QBs are more than passers

The Sports Xchange

July 11, 2014 at 8:06 am.

Peyton Manning is the top QB in the NFL heading into 2014. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

By Frank Cooney, founder The Sports Xchange and

Good quarterbacks are much more than passers. They are leaders who instill confidence and make teammates play better together than the sum of their individual talents. Great quarterbacks insist on it.

Of course, an accurate throwing arm is a prerequisite to teammates buying into this leadership thing. But there are a lot of passers with strong, accurate arms who do not have what it takes to become leaders or great quarterbacks. Jeff George and JaMarcus Russell come to mind.

Looking at the current crop of NFL quarterbacks — which Sports Xchange reporters did in this analysis of the entire league — it is possible this may someday be considered a golden era for quarterbacks, not just because evolving rules are creating an aerial circus, but due to the unusual number of quarterbacks displaying both leadership and passing worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.

Peyton Manning, who transferred his astute leadership from Indianapolis to Denver, is clearly the best of the bunch heading into the 2014 season after throwing for a record 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards last year.

On Wednesday, NFL Network revealed that a vote of players (481 of them to be exact) correctly named Manning as the best player in the league. And while there have been a lot of great quarterbacks and leaders in NFL history, none displayed such a complete mental, physical and psychological control of the game as Manning.

But he alone would not make this a golden era for quarterbacks. There are at least three more with similar traits who were the second, third and fourth quarterbacks named in the NFLN poll, all among the top 11 overall — New England’s Tom Brady, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

That, in itself, would be enough to gild this group with gold, but there are another couple of veterans who may be only one more Super Bowl away from strong Hall of Fame consideration — Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and San Diego’s Philip Rivers.

Looking into the more distant future there are a few impressive young quarterbacks who may be in a HOF discussion someday, such as (in no particular order) Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who has one Super Bowl ring after only two seasons; Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, the Colts’ latest version of Manning, and maybe Carolina’s athletic wonder, Cam Newton.

In four of the last five seasons, at least nine quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards and last year two threw for more than 5,000, including Brees, whose single-season record Manning broke by one yard.

Brees extended his NFL record for most 5,000-yard seasons with his NFC-best 5,162 yards. He has thrown for 4,000 yards in eight straight seasons and has four of the eight 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history.

To put it all in historical perspective, the highly revered Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath (New York Jets) was the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season when he managed 4,007 yards in 1967 — in a 14-game season, still in the old American Football League, but when it was legal to mug receivers and quarterbacks.

We can only wonder how Namath would do in today’s game, which is far faster and complex, but with rules that favor passing.

Meantime, here is an analysis by Sports Xchange reporters of quarterbacks on every team (listed in alphabetical order):


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Carson Palmer. Backups – Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas.

Palmer was much better in the second half of the season than the first. He struggled in the offensive system early, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns in the first eight games. He needs to improve that ratio (24-22) next year. Stanton and Lindley did not play. Stanton is definitely the No. 2 quarterback, coach Bruce Arians said. That leaves Lindley and Thomas, a fourth-round pick, to compete for the final roster spot. Arians insists the job is open, although it would be hard to imagine the Cardinals cutting Thomas.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Matt Ryan. Backups – T.J. Yates, Sean Renfree, Jeff Mathews.

Ryan took a licking and kept on ticking last season while under relentless pressure. He was under duress on 37.6 percent of his dropbacks as the Falcons played with a patchwork offensive line. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes in the face of a constant pass rush. The Falcons made it an offseason priority to fix the line so that Ryan can operate in a cleaner pocket. He has shown that when he can step up in the pocket, he can be effective. Ryan has completed 2,093 of 3,288 pass attempts (63.7 percent) for 23,472 yards with 153 touchdowns, 77 interceptions and a 90.6 passer rating during his career. Yates takes over as the backup after being acquired in a trade.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Joe Flacco. Backups — Tyrod Taylor, Keith Wenning.

Flacco did not live up to the expectations that accompany a blockbuster $120.6 million contract as he threw a franchise-record 22 interceptions. It was an uncharacteristic season for the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. Some of the biggest priorities for the Ravens are providing Flacco with more time to throw and getting him into a comfort zone. He was sacked 48 times last season and clearly did not look comfortable. He has looked sharp during offseason minicamps and organized team activities. “It’s a new year, a new beginning and a chance to do new things,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve got a good team and an offense that can put up some numbers.” Taylor remains the backup heading into the final year of his rookie contract. He provides an athletic change of pace as insurance behind Flacco. Wenning did not look ready to be the backup during offseason practice sessions.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – EJ Manuel. Backups – Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Dennis Dixon.

This is a big year for the 2013 first-round pick, Manuel. After a frustrating rookie season when he could not stay healthy and missed six full games, Manuel’s grade was an incomplete, and no one can say with any certainty that he is this team’s future. The Bills have to hope that a full offseason with the coaches, and learning the playbook, will offset some of the lost playing time. Manuel is confident that will be the case, but he still has to go out there and prove it. If he goes down, the Bills are not good in the backup positions. Lewis is serviceable, but he is not taking this team to the playoffs, and Tuel and Dixon are non-entities.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Cam Newton. Backups – Derek Anderson, Matt Blanchard, Joe Webb.

Newton heads into his fourth season after a receiver makeover and ankle surgery. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula did a good job slowing Newton down in 2013, and it is hard to imagine much will change this season. Newton will be part game manager, part playmaker. He lost some weapons this offseason, but he gained some as well. Anderson has a pretty firm grasp on the backup job.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Jay Cutler. Backups – Jordan Palmer, Jimmy Clausen, David Fales.

Cutler enjoys a benefit rare during his nine-year career by starting in the same offense in successive seasons. He brings this advantage and one of the league’s strongest arms together with what seems to be a more mature approach as he attempts to be known as both a team leader and exceptional athlete. Whether Cutler can get rid of the ball quick enough to stay healthy appears to be the biggest question he faces heading into the season. The Bears have put a trio of passers with questionable arms and even less experience behind him after losing Josh McCown. Clausen has started, but not since 2010, and he lacks a big arm. Palmer might have a better arm, but no career starts and only 15 career attempts. Fales showed little in OTAs in terms of arm strength, but ran an offense in college with a similar approach to the Bears. If Cutler knows better where to send the ball in his second year within the offense, it is good because he will probably have to get rid of it quicker to avoid injury at all costs and keep this questionable group of backups on the bench.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Andy Dalton. Backups – Jason Campbell, A.J. McCarron, Matt Scott.

Few topics boil the blood pressure of Bengals fans more than Dalton, the Jekyll and Hyde quarterback who shows flashes of brilliance (2013 October Player of the Month) and ineptitude (one touchdown, seven turnovers in three playoff losses). He is still in negotiations for an extension and the team would like to have that done before camp starts and certainly before the season begins. If they cannot, he will be rolling the dice on himself (ala Joe Flacco). Coaches believe the experience of Campbell behind him will be beneficial for helping Dalton as the pressure-packed season unfolds. While McCarron draws headlines for his college career, he will be holding a clipboard in the shadows all season.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Brian Hoyer. Backups – Johnny Manziel, Tyler Thigpen, Connor Shaw.

Hoyer is in his sixth season and that gives him the edge over Manziel heading into training camp. Coach Mike Pettine vows to make the competition between Hoyer and Manziel even so the deck is not stacked. Manziel has made more news for partying hardy whenever the Browns were not practicing. He will not be able to do that in the prison-like situation of training camp. The scheme of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is new to both players, though Hoyer said there are some elements of it in what the Patriots ran when he was in New England from 2009-11. Hoyer is a pocket passer. Manziel makes his living with his feet as well as his arm. Shanahan can adapt the offense for both. Thigpen, a seven-year veteran, and Shaw, an undrafted rookie, will battle to be the third quarterback.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Tony Romo. Backups – Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden.

Romo should be ready to go for training camp after being limited in the offseason due to December back surgery. It was his second back surgery in as many seasons. But unlike last year when he did not do anything in the offseason and came into camp out of shape, he is ahead of schedule and the Cowboys have actually held him back to be on the safe side. The Cowboys remain committed to Romo, which is why they passed on Manziel in the NFL draft. They believe he has many more years left and can build off last season’s strong performance when he had 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions thanks to an influx of new ideas from new play-caller Scott Linehan. The training camp concern in Dallas is the backup quarterback. Orton has boycotted the entire offseason and wants to retire. They liked what they saw from Weeden in OTAs and minicamp and believe he can handle the job after being a first-round bust in Cleveland. But they want Orton to return $3 million in bonus money if he retires. He wants to be cut so does not have to pay anything back.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Peyton Manning. Backups – Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Bryn Renner.

What does Manning do for an encore after a season that was statistically the best in NFL history? He probably will not be satisfied with anything other than atoning for the 43-8 defeat in Super Bowl XLVIII. To get another Super Bowl shot, he will have to adjust to a new starting running back and the departure of wide receiver Eric Decker, who is replaced in the lineup by Emmanuel Sanders. General manager John Elway and head coach John Fox continue to describe Osweiler as the quarterback of the future, but if Manning stays healthy and returns for the 2015 season, the third-year passer could make it to the end of his first NFL contract without as much as a regular-season start. Dysert has shown flashes of being able to push Osweiler in practice. Renner’s snaps have been few and far between, and the practice squad is his likely ceiling for 2014.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Matthew Stafford. Backups — Dan Orlovsky, Kellen Moore, James Franklin.

The Lions did everything possible to help Stafford this offseason, bringing in coaches with extensive time working with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. They added some impressive pass catchers, so as long as his footwork improves and he plays smarter than he did with 19 interceptions last season, the Lions should have one of the league’s top offenses. Orlovsky is a solid No. 2, and Moore and Franklin will have a good competition in training camp.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Aaron Rodgers. Backups – Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien, Chase Rettig.

The fractured collarbone that sidelined Rodgers for seven games and endangered the Packers’ stranglehold on the NFC North before he returned to deliver a heroic comeback in the regular-season finale at Chicago is a distant memory. Rodgers was pain-free this spring and, in the opinion of ninth-year head coach Mike McCarthy, had his best offseason in a sterling career going on season No. 10. Rodgers just might be hitting his prime at age 30. Thanks to incorporating yoga into his workouts, he shed 10-plus pounds and is the lightest he has been as a pro with a weight below 220. Rodgers also has been reinvigorated by working with a still-deep, but remodeled receiving group, which has lost mainstays Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones the last two years. Also of comfort to Rodgers is having reliable understudies going into training camp after the Packers endured not having someone competent to direct and produce in the offense until it was almost too late last season. Flynn goes into his seventh NFL season after coming to the rescue in his return to Green Bay last November and keeping the Packers in the division-title and playoff hunt as their fourth starting QB of the season until Rodgers returned. He is not a full-time starter, as evidenced by not drawing any interest during the spring in his second go-around on the open market, and will have weather a challenge from Tolzien to hold onto the No. 2 job. Tolzien is coming off an encouraging spring of throwing the football with better accuracy and more zip on the ball after the fourth-year pro struggled in 2 1/2 games as Rodgers’ second fill-in last season. Rettig, an undrafted rookie from Boston College, is developmental material with good size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds).


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Ryan Fitzpatrick. Backups – Case Keenum, Tom Savage.

Fitzpatrick has thrown too many interceptions over the last four seasons. He has to make better decisions. In head coach Bill O’Brien’s system, the quarterback has a lot on his plate. Fitzpatrick has some mobility, and his arm is decent, but when he’s got the ball, he has to make the kind of decisions expected from a Harvard graduate. He is not being asked to win games, only to manage games and keep the team out of trouble with costly turnovers. Keenum was 0-8 as a starter last season, and seven of his losses were by seven or fewer points. Savage has ideal size and a great arm to go with an impressive work ethic, but he has only played one season since his true freshman year and needs a lot of refinement.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Andrew Luck. Backups — Matt Hasselbeck, Chandler Harnish.

Luck will be starting his third season with the Colts. He has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two years, albeit as a late addition. Still, he has become one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in a relatively short amount of time. Hasselbeck is the primary backup and will provide a veteran presence in the role. Harnish is a capable short-term fix if needed.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Chad Henne. Backups – Blake Bortles, Ricky Stanzi, Stephen Morris.

This is Henne’s job to lose and the way he practiced and ran the offense in OTAs and minicamp, it does not appear that he is in any hurry to give the job to Bortles. Many thought that the rookie from Central Florida would come in and steal the job away from the veteran quarterback, but that was anything but the case. Bortles took all his snaps with the No. 2 offense while Henne ran the first unit. Henne is not likely to make a significant difference in the Jaguars’ success in 2014, but he is adequate enough to hold down the starting job while the coaching staff assembles the right personnel around him. That includes upgrading the offensive line and wide receivers. Henne needs to have a complete meltdown for Bortles to win the job and that just is not likely to happen any time soon. No question Bortles is the franchise quarterback of the future, it just depends on how quickly he can be comfortable with the playbook and how average Henne needs to look for Bortles to earn a starting berth. The plan is for him to learn under Henne for a year and be ready to step in for the 2015 season.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Alex Smith. Backups – Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray.

As the Chiefs wrapped up their offseason work, the team did not have a new contract in hand with Smith; they have been working on an extension with agent Tom Condon since January. Communication between the parties remains open, but there has been little forward movement. It is going to be interesting to watch how general manager John Dorsey plays this scenario. Smith has one year to go on his current deal and he just turned 30. His play last year improved as the rest of the offense picked up head coach Andy Reid’s scheme and by the end of the season Smith was throwing the ball as well as any quarterback in the league, connecting for four touchdown passes in the playoffs against Indianapolis. What must be factored into the scenario is the presence of Murray, this year’s fifth-round draft choice and Bray, last year’s rookie free agent. Both are talented throwers with NFL potential.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Ryan Tannehill. Backups – Matt Moore, Pat Devlin, Brock Jensen.

Tannehill (24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions) has to master a new offense that gives him more pre-snap responsibilities. The offense features lots of motion and it is up to Tannehill to get everybody lined up in the right spots. On a personal level, Tannehill (81.7 passer rating, 24th in NFL) has to show he has improved his pocket presence and ability to throw the deep ball. Many of last season’s NFL-worst 58 sacks came because Tannehill held the ball too long or did not feel the pressure. As for the deep ball, Tannehill has the arm strength but he lacks accuracy. If Tannehill can make these improvements he could take the next step in his growth.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Matt Cassel. Backups – Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder.

The assumption is the 32-year-old Cassel, an inconsistent 10-year journeyman, will begin the season as the starter and hold onto the job for one season or until his production is surpassed by the rookie Bridgewater’s promise and progress. If Cassel maintains ball security — a big if, given his history — and the Vikings win early — an even bigger if, considering their first five opponents — then Bridgewater can be groomed slowly out of the spotlight by offensive coordinator Norv Turner. If Cassel plays like he did while going 10-5 as a Pro Bowler in Kansas City in 2010, the Vikings have a delightful problem going forward in 2015. If Cassel is the turnover machine he was while going 1-7 in Kansas City in 2012, he will be benched and the future will begin early with Bridgewater’s promotion. Selecting Bridgewater with the 32nd overall draft pick — the Vikings’ second pick of the first round — buys a comfortable level of patience, assuming Cassel is not a drag on the offense. The good news is Ponder has been dispatched to No. 3, where he has more value as an experienced and mobile insurance policy than he does as trade bait. Of course, if injuries were to strike other teams, the Vikings certainly would listen to all trade offers for the guy who will be out of the picture after his contract expires at the end of the season. Bridgewater already looks more poised, more decisive and more accurate than Ponder has looked, even in practice, in three-plus years. Pre-draft concerns about Bridgewater’s arm strength appear to be a non-issue because he has already shown he can make all the throws necessary in Turner’s offense, and do it with accuracy, proper trajectory and pace. Although he is not the favorite to win the starting job for opening day, he did make enough offseason progress to push Cassel in training camp and the preseason.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Tom Brady. Backups – Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Patriots’ depth chart at quarterback got an injection of interest with the selection of Garoppolo in the second round out of Eastern Illinois. Brady is obviously still the man in New England and the soon-to-be-38-year-old has said he wants to play into his mid-40s. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl last season despite a down year that saw his fewest touchdowns since 2006 and lowest completion percentage and rating since 2003 while working with a totally retooled receiving corps that lacked TE Rob Gronkowski for more than half the season. Brady claims his body feels as good as it did a decade ago and he was as healthy in 2013 as he has been in years, so the aging process has not exactly been an issue to this point heading into his 15th season. Still, Garoppolo instantly will compete with fourth-year backup Ryan Mallett for the No. 2 job. Mallett has attempted just four passes in his first three seasons in New England and been less than spectacular in his preseason chances. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, the tall former third-round pick with the big arm could be challenged by the more accurate, efficient Garoppolo as early as this summer. Whether Brady is showing signs of slowing down or not is debatable, but with Garoppolo’s selection with the highest Patriots quarterback pick since Drew Bledsoe was No. 1 overall in 1993, New England is clearly planning for the future with a guy who some in the organization believe already has NFL starting-caliber ability.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Drew Brees. Backups – Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin, Logan Kilgore.

Brees is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches his 36th birthday, and he showed it by throwing for more than 5,000 yards for a third consecutive season in 2013. He finished with 5,162 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions — seven fewer than in 2012. He completed 68.6 percent of his passes and had a 104.7 passer rating. The only problem was Brees was sacked a career-high 37 times, some of which he blamed on himself for holding the ball too long, which is one of the things the Saints hope to fix this season. McCown and Griffin, an undrafted free agent in 2013, will vie for the backup spot after Griffin was given more second-team reps than expected in the offseason.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Eli Manning. Backups – Ryan Nassib, Curtis Painter.

Manning, who is fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery, will look to rebound from last year’s horrendous showing that included a career-high in interceptions (27) plus a third straight season in which he saw his accuracy decline. An improved offensive line will certainly help, but whether the new things that coordinator Ben McAdoo appears to be asking of the quarterbacks, such as more rollouts and shorter passes, play into Manning’s strengths remains to be seen. Nassib is getting every opportunity to convince the coaching staff that it does not need a third quarterback on the roster. While he seems to have no trouble directing the offense, he has not looked good throwing the ball.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Geno Smith. Backups — Michael Vick, Tajh Boyd, Matt Simms.

Smith impressed the Jets with his maturity and stoicism last year. But all the positive intangibles in the world will not allow him to keep his job if his play comes close to dipping to the levels of his five-game slump last season, when he had no touchdowns and eight interceptions between Oct. 27 and Dec. 1. Smith’s impressive finishing kick — he had 976 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns in the last four games — provided a hint at a versatile player who could be more than just a placeholder or game manager at quarterback. He needs to keep building on last December in order to hold off Vick, who turns the Jets’ league-worst backup quarterback situation into one of its best. The increasingly injury-prone Vick, who turned 34 in June, is probably no longer suited to be a full-time quarterback, but he can certainly take the wheel and move the chains in electric fashion for a team built to win now. Boyd outplayed Simms by a wide margin during minicamp and is likely to win the No. 3 job. Simms replaced Smith at halftime against Miami on Dec. 1, but the snaps he took last season were the first meaningful ones he has taken since he completed his vagabond collegiate career with 62 attempts at Tennessee in 2011.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Matt Schaub. Backups – Derek Carr, Matt McGloin, Trent Edwards.

Schaub, coming off the worst season of his NFL career, enters camp as the unquestioned starter. He will be given more freedom within the Raiders offense to change plays at the line of scrimmage than he ever had in Houston. The Raiders are gambling that a change of scenery will return Schaub to his previous form, where he was only one of a handful of quarterbacks in NFL history to record five consecutive seasons with a passer rating of 90.0 or better. If Schaub flops as Matt Flynn did the previous season, or is injured, then Carr, a second-round draft pick out of Fresno State, assumes command. Carr has impressed offensive coordinator Greg Olson with his grasp of the offense and he is further along than the Raiders anticipated. McGloin won the starting job from Terrelle Pryor midway through last season as an undrafted free agent and showed promise as an NFL quarterback. Edwards sticks only if Schaub, Carr or McGloin are injured.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Nick Foles. Backups – Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, G.J. Kinne.

A year ago, Foles lost a training camp battle for the starting job to Vick. Vick ended up getting hurt, Foles replaced him and went on to have a Pro Bowl season, throwing 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions and leading the league in passing. There will be no battle for the starting job this summer. The No. 1 spot belongs to Foles. But the backup job is up for grabs between second-year man Barkley and ex-Jet Sanchez. Foles is an accurate passer and solid decision-maker who understands the value of ball security.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Ben Roethlisberger. Backups – Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones, Brendon Kay.

Roethlisberger had one of his best statistical seasons, but the Steelers lost their first four games in part because he turned the ball over too much. That was rectified when the Steelers tweaked their protection and went to the no-huddle, but Roethlisberger still finished with 14 interceptions, the third-highest total of his career. The Steelers must find a way to attack in the no-huddle while keeping the turnovers down this season. Gradkowski is entrenched as the top backup. He has started and won games in the league while third-stringer Jones, a fourth-round pick last year, has struggled to adapt to the professional game.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Sam Bradford. Backups – Shaun Hill, Garrett Gilbert, Austin Davis.

Returning from a torn ACL injury that short-circuited his 2013 season, Bradford knows the pressure there is simply to stay on the field. Including his final season at Oklahoma, Bradford has had injuries that affected his play in three of the last five seasons. With the Rams, in addition to 2013, there was a 2011 season affected by a high ankle sprain. He was playing well when the knee injury occurred last season, and he expects to pick up where he left off. Hill replaces Kellen Clemens as the backup, and if he has to play, the passing offense will not be as diminished as it was when Clemens had to play. The Rams like the potential of the rookie Gilbert, and he is expected to win the No. 3 job over Davis, who was cut at the end of the preseason last year only to be brought back after Bradford was injured.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Philip Rivers. Backups – Kellen Clemens, Brad Sorensen.

Rivers was sensational in his first year under coach Mike McCoy’s new system and there is no reason to believe he will not be just as good — if not better — in the second year. Rivers completed a team-record, career-best and NFL-leading 69.5 percent of his passes. His 32-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio was keen and he set a team-record tying mark with a 105.5 rating. Rivers has his mojo back and that is not a good sign for opposing defenses. Clemens replaces Charlie Whitehurst and possesses what any coach wants in a backup: someone with starting experience. Clemens has that, as recently as last season with the Rams. Sorensen should ride along as the No. 3 quarterback for another year.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Colin Kaepernick. Backups – Blaine Gabbert, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Josh Johnson, Kory Faulkner.

The revolving door at backup quarterback continues into 2014 for coach Jim Harbaugh and his offensive staff. At various points last season, the 49ers had Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien, Seneca Wallace and John Skelton backing up Kaepernick. Now, the team feels comfortable with Gabbert as the No. 2 from what he has shown during the offseason program, which has been congruent with the way they felt about him leading up to the 2011 draft when he went 26 picks ahead of Kaepernick. Given Harbaugh’s knack for coaching up the position, Gabbert could be an interesting candidate for a career resurrection if he ends up getting any playing time in 2014. He poses no threat to Kaepernick to start at this point, but could be an interesting trade piece should he play well. Only Bethel-Thompson and Faulkner have practice-squad eligibility.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Russell Wilson. Backups – Tarvaris Jackson, Terrelle Pryor, B.J. Daniels.

No question about the starter, with Wilson returning for his third season, already having established himself as one of the best in the NFL. Wilson will work in training camp on refining his game on third downs and the red zone, and building chemistry with a receiving corps that includes two rookies who could play key roles. Jackson and Pryor will wage a battle for the backup job that looms as one of the most intriguing on the team. Jackson is a veteran well-respected in the locker room, having been the starter in 2011 when he played through a painful pec injury. Pryor, though, has enticing athleticism and if he shows some improvement in the consistency of his passing, he could win the job. Daniels could be on the practice squad again.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Josh McCown. Backups – Mike Glennon, Mike Kafka.

Smith reached back into his past to select a quarterback — Bears free agent McCown, who threw for 13 touchdowns with just one interception in five starts last season. McCown was immediately named the starter over Mike Glennon, who has been dubbed the Bucs’ quarterback of the future. At 35, and having been a career backup, the Bucs are hoping McCown can become the late bloomer that Rich Gannon was for the Raiders. At the very least, he has built up credibility among teammates. A bigger question might be whether he is a good fit for coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Jake Locker. Backups – Charlie Whitehurst, Tyler Wilson, Zach Mettenberger.

The Titans declined Locker’s 2015 option, meaning the quarterback is in make-or-break mode this season. First, Locker has to stay healthy, and second, he has to show he can execute Ken Whisenhunt’s quarterback-friendly offense. Whisenhunt previously tutored a young Roethlisberger and revived the careers of Kurt Warner and Rivers. Now, it is Locker’s turn, provided he can stay healthy. He is coming off foot surgery and has missed 14 starts the past two years. Behind him, depth is thin. Whisenhunt brought clipboard carrier Whitehurst with him from San Diego, while Mettenberger, a rookie sixth-round pick, is a future starter option if Locker does not work out and could push Wilson off the roster.


–QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Robert Griffin III. Backups – Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy.

Griffin, for whom the Redskins gave St. Louis three first-round draft choices and a second-rounder to move up four spots to pick second overall in the 2012 draft, followed his record-setting rookie year with an underwhelming second season. Wearing a brace to protect his surgically repaired right knee, Griffin posted a modest 82.2 passer rating and was not his previously electrifying self. When then-coach Mike Shanahan sat him down for the final three games, Griffin had been sacked 38 times in 494 dropbacks and had rushed for 489 yards, 60 percent of his total from 2012. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor shed the brace, but had an inconsistent spring as he seeks to bounce back under new coach Jay Gruden, who is less intense than Shanahan and was himself a star quarterback in the Arena League. Cousins, who sparkled in relief of fellow rookie Griffin in 2012 until the wild-card playoff loss to Seattle in which the starter suffered the major knee injury, did not live up to that standard during his three December starts in 2013. Cousins’ trade value diminished and there is no longer talk of him being a true threat to start. McCoy, who was mediocre while starting 21 games during his first two seasons in Cleveland before barely seeing the field the past two seasons, replaces veteran Rex Grossman, who was not re-signed.

–Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.