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Predicting NFL’s 5 training camp QB battles, including Russell Wilson vs. Justin Fields



Predicting NFL’s 5 training camp QB battles, including Russell Wilson vs. Justin Fields

That sound you hear, off in the distance?

Training camp.

NFL training camps are about to begin, and in just two days rookies will report to Owings Mills, Maryland, as the Baltimore Ravens are the first team to begin camp. While Baltimore’s veterans will not report until next week, football is slowly coming back.

Which means training camp battles will be heating up.

There are battles to watch this summer on every team, and at almost every position. But let’s be honest: Quarterbacks move the needle.

Here are five critical QB battles that will play out over the rest of the summer, and how we would handicap each battle heading into the 2024 NFL season.

Bo Nix vs. Jarrett Stidham

There is an argument to be made that Bo Nix was put on this planet to play quarterback for Sean Payton.

The strengths highlighted in Nix’s scouting report mirror what Payton wants from his quarterbacks: Traits such as his experience, quick decision-making, and the ability to solve problems on the fly, no matter what the defense throws at him.

While he might be the last of the quarterbacks taken in the first round, the fit in Denver is close to perfect. That was the argument advanced by Tim Lynch recently, that the coach and rookie “seemed to be a perfect match for what Nix excels at and what Payton wants to do in his offense.”

And that gives the rookie the edge in this battle.

Edge: Nix

Aidan O’Connell vs. Gardner Minshew

The training camp battle in Pittsburgh may get the majority of headlines, but the fight for the Las Vegas Raiders’ starting quarterback spot might be the most fascinating to watch this summer.

Sitting at No. 13 in the 2024 NFL Draft the Raiders were potentially in range for one of the rookie passers, and were linked to quarterbacks throughout the process, most notably Michael Penix Jr. But that option was removed when the Atlanta Falcons surprised the NFL world and drafted Penix at No. 8, and when Bo Nix came off the board to the Denver Broncos right ahead of them, Las Vegas pivoted to Brock Bowers.

This means Aidan O’Connell — their fourth-round selection a year ago — and free agent Gardner Minshew are their two top options.

Minshew brings experience to the position, which head coach Antonio Pierce could value. But O’Connell held his own over 11 games last year, through 12 touchdown passes against seven interceptions.

He also received a boost recently from wide receiver Davante Adams.

“I think right now, if I had to say, I think Aidan has the job because, you know, obviously he was here before and that’s the way that it was,” Adams said recently. “He was running with the ones (starters) more, and until Gardner comes in and takes the job away from him, I think it’s Aidan’s job right now. He doing what he’s got to to do to hold onto it. We still gotta keep working and do what we gotta do to get better.”

Ultimately, the Raiders know exactly what Minshew is capable of. But finding out exactly what they have in O’Connell might be a smart way to start the season.

Edge: O’Connell

Drake Maye vs. Jacoby Brissett

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, Drake Maye will likely be entrenched as the New England Patriots starting quarterback.

Whether he is their starter for Week 1 is the bigger question.

While Maye entered the 2024 college football season in the mix for the top spot on the quarterback board, a Heisman-winning campaign from Jayden Daniels saw the LSU passer move up boards, while Maye slid down a bit.

That made the Patriots — and their fans — rather happy on draft night when they saw a QB once discussed as the potential No. 1 overall selection slide to them at No. 3.

There are certainly areas where Maye needs to improve, and adjusting to the NFL game takes time for all young quarterbacks. But the Patriots need to see what they have in him this year. The sooner New England confirms that Maye is their QB of the future the quicker they can start to build around him, similar to what the Houston Texans did over the past season-plus with C.J. Stroud.

In Jacoby Brissett, New England has a quarterback they can rely on to give them solid play, and Brissett allows the Patriots time to make sure Maye is up to speed and ready to handle life under center in the NFL. They drafted Maye to be the quarterback for the next ten years, and not just the next ten weeks. So they will probably take their time with him.

But eventually, he will be in the huddle.

Edge: Brissett

J.J. McCarthy vs. Sam Darnold

In many ways, this discussion mirrors the debate in New England.

The Kirk Cousins Era in Minnesota came to an end, with the Vikings moving on from the veteran quarterback this offseason. They signed Sam Darnold to give them a veteran option, and while Darnold has never quite lived up to the billing as the third-overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, he gives head coach Kevin O’Connell a solid option under center. And in O’Connell’s offense — and with Justin Jefferson on the outside — Darnold could have success.

As for McCarthy, one of the knocks on the Michigan quarterback was that in that offense, he was not asked to do much. The Wolverines relied on their run game and their defense and there were stretches — particularly late in the season when McCarthy was battling an ankle injury — when he was more along for the ride than anything else.

Now, there are reasons to believe that McCarthy will live up to his own first-round status, and transcend the Michigan situation that led to questions about his NFL viability. But with Darnold in place, the Vikings do not need to hurry.

So they might not.

Edge: Darnold

Russell Wilson vs. Justin Fields

This might be the “main event” of the quarterback training camp battles.

Two veteran passers. One a Super Bowl winner at the tail end of his career, seeking redemption after a failed stint in Denver. The other a former first-round NFL selection, seeking some redemption of his own after losing favor in the Windy City. Football fans love redemption stories, and one will be written in Pittsburgh this summer.

But which redemption story will reign supreme?

Head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that Wilson starts on pole position in this fight, given his experience. “I just think that provides clarity for all parties involved. Russell is a veteran, man. He’s got a proven process of readiness,” said Tomlin at the NFL’s Winter Meetings. “He’s been in this league a long time. He’s capable of rallying troops, receivers, tight ends, running backs, et cetera. He’s just got a lot of experience in terms of what it takes to be the guy over the course of a 12-month calendar and I just think that that’s something that a younger guy like Justin could learn from.”

However, Fields will have an “opportunity” to win the job.

“Rest assured when it’s time to compete,” added Tomlin, “Justin will be given an opportunity to compete, and we’ll allow those guys to sort themselves out.”

Wilson could be a solid fit in the offense under incoming offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, given that we expect Pittsburgh to rely on the run game and play-action passing concepts, both of which could be ideal for Wilson at this point in his career.

However, Fields’ ability to create with his legs — something that is becoming more of a prerequisite in the modern NFL — could give him an edge when it comes to generating explosive plays, both as a passer and a runner.

The verdict? Wilson begins on pole position and is a good fit in what we expect to see from Smith’s offense, so he starts with a slight lead.

But Fields can still win this fight.

Edge: Wilson

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