Quarterback battles draw a lot of headlines long before the season is even set to start. Turn on sports talk radio in a market like Chicago or San Francisco or Boston and the debates are already raging. You may not hear a lot of unique takes between now and the start of training camp in August, but the discussion will be dominated by one burning question – “Who will be the Week 1 Starting Quarterback?”
DraftKings Sportsbook has odds posted for three of the teams in question. The Patriots, 49ers, and Bears all drafted quarterbacks in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft because they have concerns, and rightfully so.
One thing that could help the cause for the young gunslingers is that we should have a much more traditional lead-up to the NFL season. Minicamps, OTAs, and the preseason should all resemble what we’re used to seeing now that the COVID-19 pandemic has toned down and a lot of the players are vaccinated or will be prior to the season.
The lack of practice and preseason reps from 2020 did make things harder on some of last year’s first-round picks. That shouldn’t be the case this season.
Let’s handicap all three situations and see which bet makes the most sense.
New England PatriotsWeek 1 Starting QB Odds
- Cam Newton -286
- Mac Jones +300
- Jarrett Stidham +800
We don’t really know if the New England Patriots had aspirations of taking Mac Jones, but when the Alabama quarterback started to fall deeper into the first round, the Draft Room in Foxboro had to be excited. As Tom Brady was busy leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the playoffs and subsequently the Lombardi Trophy, Cam Newton was having a poor season as the QB1 for the Patriots.
It wasn’t just that the Patriots failed to win the division for the first time since 2008. It was that the Patriots had their first losing season since 2000. That, coincidentally, was the last year that Tom Brady was not a New England Patriot.
The reality is that Newtown wasn’t the only issue for New England. Some key defensive starters opted out of the COVID season and the wide receiver room was devoid of talent. Newton wound up completing nearly 66% of his passes, but had more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his career in a full season. He threw 10 picks and had eight TD passes. He ran 137 times for 592 yards as the Patriots changed the offense out of necessity.
While Mac Jones, and to a lesser degree Jarrett Stidham, likely provide higher upside than Newton, is this really the kind of situation that you want to throw a young guy into for the 2021 season? Are Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne big enough upgrades to give Jones the keys to the offense and lose the running threat that Newton provides? Are tight end additions Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry the difference? The offensive line looks solid on paper to protect New England’s investment in Jones.
We know Stidham isn’t the answer. He could have been, but the Patriots went out and got Newton to effectively block Stidham from having to start. It comes down to the unproven Jones against the veteran Newton.
The +300 price on Jones doesn’t seem like enough to take this risk with a longtime head coach that will give preferential treatment to veterans. It may not take long for Jones to unseat Newton, though.
San Francisco 49ers Week 1 Starting QB Odds
- Jimmy Garoppolo -278
- Trey Lance +220
- Josh Rosen +3300
- Nate Sudfeld +4000
The San Francisco 49ers paid a king’s ransom to move up to the #3 spot and have the choice of Trey Lance, Justin Fields, or Mac Jones. They could have even gone crazy with something off the board or even taken Kyle Pitts to create the most unstoppable tight end group in football.
Lance wound up being the choice, as the first three picks were all quarterbacks. Kyle Shanahan has a brilliant offensive mind, so we have to trust his evaluations of Lance, the FCS quarterback taken out of North Dakota State. Whether or not Lance gets the Week 1 start is what we are betting on here.
Another question here is whether or not Jimmy G gets traded. That could obviously throw a wrench in what happens in Week 1. A lot of teams seem pretty set with their QB depth charts right now, but injuries are always a possibility. If a major injury pops up, John Lynch is getting a phone call.
With that in mind, how crazy is Josh Rosen at +3300 or Nate Sudfeld at +4000? Let’s be honest, there is virtually no way that Lance starts in Week 1. He threw 30 passes in one game last season. He was a one-year starter at NDSU with a 28/0 TD/INT ratio in his sophomore season. He also ran for 1,100 yards. He’s a big deal and a dual-threat guy and could be a great NFL player.
The leap from college football to the NFL is big enough, let alone the leap from FCS to NFL as a quarterback.
Shanahan has repeatedly insisted that Jimmy G will be on the roster. The idea here seems to be that Lance won’t play in 2021 unless he has to and that means Garoppolo for now. I’d bet Rosen or Sudfeld over Lance. If Garoppolo were to get hurt in training camp, the 49ers would have a hard time throwing Lance to the wolves.
Chicago Bears Week 1 Starting QB Odds
- Andy Dalton -167
- Justin Fields +160
- Nick Foles +900
It would be just like the Chicago Bears to spend millions of dollars on Andy Dalton and then draft a first-round quarterback in Justin Fields. Fields is not a similar comp to Mitchell Trubisky, so let’s get that out of the way now. Fields was effectively a two-year starter at Ohio State, playing in some huge games, including two College Football Playoffs. He put up monster numbers with 63 TD against just nine interceptions and completed over 68% of his passes.
To be fair to the critics of Fields, he absolutely had more talent to work with than any team Ohio State faced in the regular season. Life was made easy enough on him. That won’t be the case in the NFL, but his accuracy is impressive and his mobility is a nice touch.
The job is Andy Dalton’s to lose. Narratives and fun discussions, especially within the Chicago mediasphere, will make this chat a lot more interesting and exciting than it needs to be. The Red Rifle is the right kind of stopgap for this scenario. Fields can learn with the 2s, get a bunch of reps in the preseason, and the Bears can either play out the season with Dalton and his $10 million deal or move him into a backup capacity.
Going with a veteran placeholder in Week 1 while a potential franchise quarterback learns the NFL game from the sidelines is a popular scenario and one that makes sense here.