The quarterback carousel was alive and well this offseason.
The changes at the most important position across the league can easily swing a divisional or conference race. The Los Angeles Rams, Washington Football Team, and Indianapolis Colts were able to improve their immediate outlook with one swift move.
Other teams have to flesh out their QB situations. One of the best prop bets available right now on DraftKings Sportsbook is to handicap the starting signal-caller races in four situations. We're going to break down the opening day race in Chicago, New England, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
The key is to find the right blend of realism and value. Veterans inherently have an advantage, but there's something to be said about the possibility with going with a new starter. Coaches may be willing to go with who is comfortable but others are looking to save their job.
Let's jump in.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are officially entering a new era without future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Sean Payton gave a glimpse into what he might do without Brees last year. Instead of giving Jameis Winston playing time and fulfilling all of our interests, Payton went with Taysom Hill.
The dual-threat weapon was able to provide efficiency within the offense but clearly had his limitations. Hill's lack of arm strength and natural accuracy forced him to be a knock-off of Brees in the pocket. The offense lacked bite despite the team winning on the defense's back.
Payton's interest in seeing Hill start is viewed as peculiar by fans and even rival executives. While Winston is flawed, he's a dynamic passer who has much higher potential from within the pocket. Winston is the favorite by oddsmakers despite throwing just 11 times compared to Hill's 121 attempts in 2020.
The complexity of the passing game will be limited with Hill. Without a viable second receiver on the roster due to their cap situation, the Saints would be significantly handicapping the unit to go with Hill. Defenses will load the box and dare him to throw beyond 15 yards.
Winston will force passes and create his fair share of turnovers but also stress the defense in ways Hill can't. Winston's value here is hard to pass up because he's so much more capable as a passer, and Payton will have a hard time justifying giving Hill the reins full time.
The pick: Winston (-200)
New England Patriots
I'm as pro-Cam Newton as can be. While his statistics from 2020 are quite poor, including a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio, reviewing his film revealed more issues with his surrounding cast than the former MVP in many instances. Newton is obviously flawed but he's a smart passer who can make impact throws to overcome a lack of consistency.
It was strange to see the Patriots adopt such a run-heavy approach that lacked creative route combinations. Josh McDaniels had put together quality offenses with Tom Brady and limited receivers before, but reverted to an ineffective scheme in 2020. This all led to an overhaul of the unit this offseason.
Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne were added to the playmaker corps. There's a real possibility Julio Jones is next. And first-round pick Mac Jones is now an option under center besides Newton.
Jones is more similar to the pocket-passing Tom Brady than the mobile Newton. While Newton has better credentials, Jones was a perfect fit in what McDaniels ran with Brady. A timing-based offense with quick throws makes more sense than a less-creative run-based unit.
Newton's contract is an incentive-laden deal that mirrors what backups earn more than a starters' deal. I think that plays into how this race ends. Newton is the favorite but I believe Bill Belichick and McDaniels will be bold enough to go with who offers more long-term upside and immediate comfort as far as a stylistic option.
The pick: Jones (+275)
The Bears boast the most interesting QB battle of the four teams listed.
Former Bengals and Cowboys starter Andy Dalton is decidedly average but still an upgrade over what Chicago's had in a few seasons. He brings a skill set that'll benefit the offense on Day 1 even if the upside is limited.
His pocket passing was good enough for an efficient output with an injured Dallas offense. Chicago lacks the playmakers Dallas had, and this should play into this race. Matt Nagy must factor Dalton's lack of potential and postseason gusto when determining the starter.
Adding Justin Fields in the first round was of course a game-changer. No one thought the Bears would have a crack at him until they traded from No. 20 to No. 11. The smart, prolific passer can completely radicalize the Bears' offense.
Much of what Fields ran at Ohio State was advanced for a collegiate passer. Nagy can utilize his athleticism in ways Dalton can't compare, and Nagy should consider this to help overcome the lack of receiving depth on the roster. Dalton won't elevate anyone even if he's a stable presence most weeks.
I think this regime knows they have to make the playoffs in 2021 or else they're gone. Fields will be a franchise QB and the bumps along the way can be tolerated thanks to their excellent defense. He'll be a much better player at the end of the season than at the start.
The pick: Fields (+200)
San Francisco 49ers
Can Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers trust Jimmy Garoppolo? The offensive mastermind clearly doesn't view him as the long-term answer. Garoppolo is a good game-manager but his lack of durability and struggles executing the scheme are clear limitations.
His excellent raw stats in 2019 hid some of those problem areas. His nice 69% completion rate, 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns to 13 interceptions is a great season. But it was also built with many fluff plays and routine executions.
Shanahan knows this and would trade Jimmy G in a heartbeat if a team loses a QB to injury in the preseason. That's my prediction, in fact. It'd be great for the 49ers to recoup some of their assets from trading up for Trey Lance in this past draft.
Lance is a raw passer but the 49ers will put him in a terrific situation to find success early. His dynamic running ability and strong arm will buy him leeway as he develops much like it did for Josh Allen in Buffalo.
Lance's presence will confound defenses while the combination of scheme, quality playmakers, and Lance's dynamic skill set is too tempting for Shanahan to avoid starting.
The pick: Lance (+220)
Photo: Chicago Bears