Assuming none of the quarterbacks get hurt, here are my predictions for how many starts the first-year dudes will get. I can’t wait to get a look at them in the preseason, since that is where the only live snaps shall be for some of them.
Andy Dalton, Bengals. Bruce Gradkowski is considered a gamer and has been able to navigate 4th-quarter victories for the Bucs and Raiders, but right now he’s losing out to Dalton. With the young Bengals starting at wideout and tight end – and with the Bengals still seeming far away from the Ravens and Steelers -, it makes sense that they might go with the philosophy of “trial by fire” instead of “sit and learn”. Dalton’s not the kind of guy who will crumble if he fails early on. Prediction: 16 starts.
Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars. I said when they drafted him that he’d beat out Garrard in camp. Garrard’s been injured and can still play quarterback for a Super Bowl team yet Gabbert is likely already a better fit for Koetter’s play-action style and is going to battle spiritedly to keep the job in the preseason opener and beyond. The one thing working against him may be Jack Del Rio’s hot seat (he gave up play-calling duties for the defense to Mel Tucker). However, maybe he can buy another year if they progress during the season as Gabbert does. You wonder if their free agency acquisitions – LBs Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, SS Dawan Landry – would have been made if there were no salary floor. I think it’s 51-49 that he starts week 1 and he was the highest-rated QB on my draft board (one of only three in the top tier, which was him – Christian Ponder – Cam Newton). Prediction: 16 starts.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers. Alex Smith will start and will make a playoff push with his elite playmakers and the lack of complete defenses in the NFC West. Kaepernick was the rawest of the QB’s drafted but is hard-working, so he could make it interesting. Kaepernick is mobile (so is Alex Smith), but if the offensive line in struggling, they are going to be even more dissuaded to play him. Kaepernick rushed for 1228 yards and 20 TDs (1 fewer than he passed for) his senior season at Nevada. Prediction: 0 starts.
Cam Newton, Panthers. Cam Newton, like Mark Sanchez, only started one season at the highest level of college football. His athletic ability far exceeds that of Jimmy Clausen. If Carolina’s rebuilding, the deciding comparison should not be how Newton is doing this camp compared to Clausen, it should be how Newton is doing this camp compared to Clausen’s first camp. They are close enough in this battle that – even though #1 overall money and #1 pick-to-coach link don’t wield the incentives to start that they used to – they have to think Newton has better long-term prospects and that they should start him right away. Newton has had up-and-down accuracy in camp. The Gabbert prediction was my most difficult one but this one may be a close second and it will also be flexible based on preseason. Prediction: 16 starts.
Jake Locker, Titans. Hasselbeck will win the job, but he needs to show he is healthy and not making bad throws like the last three seasons (34 TD, 44 INT). There’s a chance Hasselbeck plays at a Comeback Player of the Year level and a chance he plays mediocre, but the Titans will likely not be out of it until late in the season. Prediction: 2 starts.
Christian Ponder, Vikings. Donovan McNabb might not admit he was to blame for some of the problems in Washington, but he must know that the Vikings expect him to be efficient in running the offense, especially on third down. I get the feeling Leslie Frazier is excited for what Ponder can do, so – if the Vikings are out of it -, he’ll eventually give him a shot. The Vikings, however, have a fairly easy schedule and will be competing for a Wild Card spot late in the season. McNabb missed games due to injury in five of the last nine seasons. Prediction: 1 start.
I predict Scott Tolzien (Chargers), Ryan Mallett (Patriots), Tyrod Taylor (Ravens), Pat Devlin (Dolphins), and Ricky Stanzi (Chiefs) to make the final 53-man rosters .
I also predict Greg McElroy (Jets) and Adam Weber (Broncos) to make practice squads or be claimed by other teams while on their transfer to the practice squad.