2012 NFL Position Battles: Quarterbacks

Contributed by: Jeff Hunter
Last Updated: Jul 26, 2012 11:10 AM

Training camps always have somewhat compelling storylines all around.  The biggest, however, are always the quarterback battles.  Whether it is a young up-and-comer taking on a veteran, or the free-agent pickup going against the maligned incumbent, everybody is always interested in who will be calling the signals for each team’s offense.  The 2012 training camps will not be lacking in quarterback intrigue, with teams from Miami to Seattle looking for their quarterback for the upcoming season.  Here’s a look at the top quarterback battles for 2012, from least to most compelling.

7. Buffalo Bills (Backup)
Incumbent – Tyler Thigpen
Challenger – Vince Young

Races for the backup position usually aren’t very interesting, but this one does have some intrigue.  First, there’s the aura of Young, former No. 3 overall pick and 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year.  The Bills brought him in on a one-year deal (after something of a dismal year in Philadelphia) to compete with Thigpen, who has a great run under head coach Chan Gailey in Kansas City but whose Bills career has been defined by getting hit in the head by a ball when we was warming up on the sideline.

Also, while whoever wins this battle will begin the year as the No. 2 option (with the loser possibly getting cut), starter Ryan Fitzpatrick is on a somewhat shorter leash than his contract would lead one to believe, so the opportunity to start is available if things start to fall apart for the Bills.

Likely Winner: Young – Thigpen has always been something of an afterthought for the Bills, and Young has the pedigree to win the job even with the disadvantage of not knowing the playbook as well as Thigpen.

6. New York Jets
Incumbent – Mark Sanchez
Challenger – Tim Tebow

Even before the Jets shipped two picks to Denver for Tebow, Sanchez has been maligned in New York.  While he has led the team to the AFC Championship Game twice, the team has thrived on running the ball and strong defense.  Sanchez has always been something of a game manager, and last season he did very little right in that regard as his team missed the playoffs.

Enter Tebow, he of the poor throwing motion but superb running skill and leadership.  The Jets locker room came unglued at the end of the season, and Tebow can serve as a peacemaker in addition to his unique set of talents on the field.

Likely Winner: Sanchez, with some Tebow here and there – Early reports suggest that Sanchez will be the primary quarterback, with Tebow doing anything from quarterbacking the red zone offense to covering kicks and punts.  If Sanchez starts to falter, however, Tebow could step in full-time under center.

5. Cleveland Browns
Incumbent – Colt McCoy
Challenger – Brandon Weeden

At times, McCoy looked like the quarterback of the future for the Browns in 2011.  More often, however, he struggled mightily.  How much of that was on him and how much was on the lack of talent around him is unclear, but what is clear is that Weeden was drafted to push for the starting job in 2012.

The team added Trent Richardson earlier in the draft to take some pressure off the quarterback, but did little to upgrade the receiving corps.  Whoever wins the job will have Joe Thomas (one of the game’s best) protecting their blind side, but not many better options to throw to.

Likely Winner: Weeden: While he is the rookie, Weeden is three years older than McCoy.  It’s unlikely the Browns drafted a 28-year-old quarterback in the first round to serve as a backup to someone they aren’t entirely sold on.

4. Miami Dolphins
Incumbent – Matt Moore
Challenger – David Garrard
Waiting In the Wings – Ryan Tannehill

The quarterback battle itself here isn’t terribly interesting.  Moore played well in the second half of last season, after he took over when Chad Henne went down with injury.   The team finished 6-3 under Moore after starting off 0-7.  In addition, Garrard sat out last season after opting to have surgery on his injured back, so he has a year of rust to shake off as well.

The real intrigue here is the status of rookie Tannehill.  He still has yet to sign a contract, and although there was never any real possibility of him starting in Week One there was some hope that he may get some looks near the end of the season.  If he misses significant reps in camp, however, that possibility is also out the window.

Likely Winner: Moore – he was effective enough at the end of last season to instill some confidence in the fan base, but he is on a very short leash, especially if Garrard has a solid camp.  Tannehill’s playing time will depend on when he signs and how the team does, but it’s likely that he won’t see significant action until 2013.

3. Tennessee Titans
Incumbent – Matt Hasselbeck
Challenger – Jake Locker

The Titans made a strong run at Peyton Manning this offseason, offering to make him the highest-paid player in the league, but he spurned them for a shot with the Broncos.  Instead, they will be in a similar situation to what they were in last year, relying on the aging veteran Hasselbeck.

However, while Locker was nowhere near ready last year, he showed a great deal of promise in limited action by throwing for 542 yards without an interception and a 99.4 quarterback rating.  Hasselbeck is 36, and his glory days are clearly behind him, so Locker could steal this one.

Likely Winner: Hasselbeck – The titans’ pursuit of Manning shows they were clearly looking for a veteran presence to start the season at quarterback, and they are likely willing to settle with Hasselbeck to give Locker a little more time to learn the NFL life.  A strong showing, however, could earn him the job quickly, if not by Week One then sometime around the halfway point of the year.

2. Seattle Seahawks
Incumbent – Tarvaris Jackson
Challengers – Matt Flynn, Russell Wilson

The Seahawks grabbed a lot of attention last season by finishing very strongly after starting off rather weak.  They did so, however, largely on improved defense and the rushing ability of Marshawn Lynch.  The quarterback position was a revolving door, with Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst both struggling.  Jackson did manage 3,091 yards, but only threw 14 touchdown passes.

To add some pressure, the Seahawks brought in the highly-regarded Flynn and drafted Wilson in the third round.  Flynn has shown in limited action that he can be a difference-maker, but his sample size is very small (largely one game against Detroit at the very end of last season).

Wilson, a five-year collegiate, lacks typical size, but the grad student impressed with his knowledge of the game and ability to pick up an offense, as well as with his speed and college production.

Likely Winner: Flynn – All things neutral, Wilson would probably get the job, but Pete Carroll shouldn’t be in any rush to bring along a rookie too quickly when he has two veterans on the roster.  Jackson has experience in the system, but if they were satisfied with him they wouldn’t have added two sources of competition in one offseason.

1. Arizona Cardinals
Incumbent With Big Contract – Kevin Kolb
Incumbent Without Big Contract – John Skelton

In the 2011 offseason, the Cardinals made a much-dissected and somewhat-criticized trade for Kolb, giving up top corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick.  They then gave him a much-dissected and more-criticized contract for five years and $63 million, hefty numbers for a player who made seven starts in four years with the Eagles.  Kolb struggled with the Cardinals, going 3-6 and throwing only 9 touchdowns (on a team with Larry Fitzgerald) before being lost for the season due to concussion.

Enter Skelton, the fifth-round pick out of Fordham in 2010.  He did throw more interceptions than touchdowns, but he almost matched Kolb’s yardage total in two fewer starts and, more importantly, led the team to wins in 5 of their final 6 games.

Likely Winner: Skelton – He didn’t blow people away statistically, never throwing for more than 315 yards while throwing multiple interceptions in 5 games, but he led the team to a great deal of wins, and the return of Ryan Williams from injury should shore up their running game to take pressure off of him.  Head coach Ken Whisenhunt isn’t afraid to sit the more expensive quarterback if it means winning games.

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