Quarterbacks, unlike other position groups, face a zero-sum game when it comes to starting competitions. And because they dictate so much of how an offense functions, those battles can influence the direction of an entire season.
The 2021 preseason features no shortage of quarterback battles, with multiple rookies and several veterans credibly vying for a starting job. The first full week of exhibition action provides a valuable early look at how those situations might ultimately unfold.
Earlier this week, DK Nation released its first quarterback rankings of the 2021 preseason. We take a look at how some key position battles have impacted those rankings.
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Perhaps no play in the first week of the preseason garnered more attention than Trey Lance’s 80-yard bomb off play-action, a moment that highlighted the No. 3 overall pick’s cannon arm and fearlessness. But it meant just as much that the San Francisco 49ers played Lance with the starting offense (four snaps, only four fewer than presumptive starter Jimmy Garoppolo). That lack of disparity between Lance and Garoppolo cracks open the door for the rookie to move ahead of the depth chart, even if only slightly.
In DK Nation’s latest quarterback rankings, Lance (No. 19) already leads Garoppolo (No. 38). If the 49ers continue to give Lance time with the starting offense — and especially if he continues to demonstrate his readiness — Lance could bump up into low-end starter territory in fantasy.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
As with Lance, Justin Fields has a chorus of supporters who want to see him ascend to the top of the depth chart immediately. While the Chicago Bears have publicly stated that veteran Andy Dalton will open the season under center, Fields’ performance and workload in the preseason opener suggest some wiggle room exists. Dalton played just seven snaps, two series that failed to produce a first down. After a slow start, Fields played significantly better, completing 14 of 20 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. The rookie also ran five times for 33 yards and another score. Fields didn’t play with the starters in the preseason opener, but the Bears have increased his time with the No. 1 offense in subsequent practices.
Accordingly, Fields remains ahead of Dalton in DK Nation’s fantasy rankings, coming in at No. 25 and No. 39, respectively. That ranking suggests that Fields might have a harder time cracking the lineup than other rookie signal-callers currently in competition for the starting job, but his upside appears high if the Bears can resolve their offensive line concerns.
Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints
In the wake of Drew Brees’ retirement, the New Orleans Saints have fielded the most high-profile quarterback competition in the NFL this year: Jameis Winston versus Taysom Hill. Training-camp practices have yet to reveal a clear front-runner, leaving the preseason opener as the main source for how head coach Sean Payton and the staff view the two signal-callers at this point in the process.
During last Saturday’s tilt with the Baltimore Ravens, Hill appeared exclusively with the starting offense, playing 20 snaps in total. Winston received a nearly identical workload (19 snaps), but all came with backups. Both tossed picks, though Winston threw for a touchdown, an 8-yard completion to Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
With the snap count so close and Payton providing no real indication that either quarterback has taken a lead, Winston and Hill remain stuck together in the back of DK Nation’s rankings. Unless the second preseason game shifts the workload in a meaningful way or one suffers an injury, expect them to stay well outside starting territory in fantasy.
Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos
Similar to the Saints’ QB competition, the Denver Broncos had a near-even split of snaps for Drew Lock (20) and Teddy Bridgewater (17) during their first preseason game. Also in a similar fashion, only Lock took snaps with the starters.
DK Nation’s current fantasy rankings reflect that lack of separation, with Lock coming in at No. 34 and Bridgewater at No. 29. Neither has proven to be a reliable fantasy starter at any point in their careers, which limits their upside with the Broncos. Still, whoever wins the job could have fantasy relevance as a streaming option given the number of playmakers — Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, and more — in Denver’s offense.