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Quarterback battles looming for Geno Smith, Matt Cassel & others

Six teams have unsettled quarterback depth charts. Which newcomers have a shot to wrest away a starting job before Week 1?

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Grant Halverson

With the dust of the NFL Draft settling, we finally have an idea of what each team's roster will look like for 2014. That means we can officially begin everybody's favorite offseason activity: arguing over quarterback competitions.

The majority of NFL teams -- 26 of them to be exact -- have their signal-caller situation pretty much locked in. That still leaves six clubs with various shades of gray under center. The most obvious competitions are on teams that took quarterbacks high in the draft, namely the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders. But controversy is also brewing for the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who brought in proven veterans to push struggling youngsters.

Browns: Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel

To hear the Browns talk, Johnny Manziel will be buried so far down the depth chart that not even the ESPN cameras that so adore him will be able to find him. Management has launched a PR campaign to assure the public -- and more importantly, Manziel himself -- that the first-round pick will have nothing handed to him. Owner Jimmy Haslam, general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine have all said publicly that Brian Hoyer is the team's starter.

NFL Draft grades

Sure, Hoyer had a good run there in 2013. He led the Browns to consecutive victories (yes, that qualifies as a good run in Cleveland) after taking over for Brandon Weeden in Week 3. In that span, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 590 yards, five touchdowns and three picks. Just as Hoyermania was gaining steam in Cleveland, however, a torn ACL in his third start ended his season.

Let's be honest though: despite being a sixth-year pro, Hoyer has only four more NFL starts than Manziel and nowhere near the upside. The Browns also didn't use a first-round pick on him. No matter how much the brass tries to downplay Manziel's role, Cleveland will face enormous pressure to start him if Hoyer stumbles early.

Predicted Week 1 starter: Hoyer

Buccaneers: Mike Glennon vs. Josh McCown

Most of the competitions on this list feature a veteran incumbent being threatened by a young hotshot addition. Mike Glennon, the second-year man who started 13 games a season ago, finds himself in the opposite position. Fresh off a resurgent season filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago, 11-year vet Josh McCown arrives as the expected starter for 2014.

The fact that Tampa passed on a quarterback in the draft is good news for Glennon's long-term standing -- Lovie Smith has named him the team's quarterback of the future -- but that doesn't mean much for this season. Smith named McCown his starter back in March, and though plenty could change once the team gets into camp, he clearly favors the veteran.

Judging by fan perception and the proliferation of Glennon trade rumors this offseason, you would think he had struggled badly in 2013. In fact, he put up solid numbers for a rookie: 2,600 yards, 19 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. Pro Football Focus rated him above fellow first-year passers Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel (granted, that's not saying a lot).

Glennon will have a shot to compete, but this is McCown's job to lose.

Predicted Week 1 starter: McCown

Jaguars: Chad Henne vs. Blake Bortles

Blaine Gabbert's been shipped off to San Francisco. Blake Bortles was drafted with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. That means Chad Henne will get much stiffer competition in 2014.

Henne was the lowest-ranked quarterback in the league last season by Pro Football Focus, but did enough to warrant a new two-year deal in March. Part of that had to do with the lack of offensive weapons around him a year ago, something GM Dave Caldwell tried to remedy by drafting two wideouts in the second round.

Caldwell has gone on record saying the plan is to groom Bortles behind Henne for the entirety of his first season, but that will ultimately be Gus Bradley's call. If Bortles' mental grasp of the pro game can catch up to his NFL-ready arm, and if the Jags aren't winning a lot of games, he could push Henne earlier than anticipated.

Predicted Week 1 starter: Henne

Jets: Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick

This is the most intriguing -- and wide-open -- race in the league. The Jets certainly don't want to admit their 2013 second-round pick, Geno Smith, was a mistake, but they also didn't bring in Michael Vick to babysit.

Smith, like the team he started all 16 games for, was a model of inconsistency last season. On one hand, he broke the Jets' franchise record for passing yards by a rookie and became just the fourth rookie in NFL history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 300 more. On the other hand, he completed just 55.8 percent of his passes and had twice as many turnovers as he had touchdowns thrown.

It's likely the Jets will look to give Smith a chance with the new set of weapons they've accrued this offseason (Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Jace Amaro), but Vick showed he still has plenty left in the tank during an early-season run in Philadelphia last year. That run came to an end when chronic injuries allowed Nick Foles to steal the show -- and that notorious injury problem may be Vick's biggest enemy in this competition.

If Vick can stay healthy, he may have the upper hand.

Predicted Week 1 starter: Vick

Raiders: Matt Schaub vs. Derek Carr

There's no nice way to put this: Matt Schaub was flat-out awful in Houston last season. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his seven-year Texans career and managed to lose his starting job to Case Keenum (I can't overstate how bad that is). That makes the notion that he could lose his new job in Oakland to second-round draft pick Derek Carr very believable.

That said, head coach Dennis Allen is reportedly committed to Schaub and told ESPN's Jim Trotter that it would take something "catastrophic" to replace him with Carr. Breaking an NFL record for consecutive games with a pick-six -- which Schaub did in 2013 -- would probably classify as catastrophic, so stay tuned.

Predicted Week 1 starter: Schaub

Vikings: Matt Cassel vs. Teddy Bridgewater

Though he was the third quarterback off the board on draft day, Teddy Bridgewater is considered by many experts to be the most pro-ready of the rookie signal-callers. That gives him the best chance of the group to become a Week 1 starter in Minnesota.

The Vikings' run-heavy system lends itself to a rookie taking over early, as Adrian Peterson will be able to shoulder the offensive load. Head coach Mike Zimmer has already said Bridgewater will take first-team reps in OTAs and will immediately compete for Matt Cassel's spot atop the depth chart, a job the veteran struggled to hold onto last season.

Cassel alternated with Christian Ponder in 2013, eventually seizing the starting spot for the final four games. He was up and down as a starter, going 3-3 and posting a quarterback rating of 81.6. A two-week stretch at the end of the season sums up his inconsistency: he threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns in Week 15 against the Eagles, then followed that up with a 114-yard, three-interception performance against the Bengals.

The Vikings forked up a two-year, $10 million contract to bring Cassel back this season, but he's a bridge option at best. The sooner they can get Bridgewater under center, the better.

Predicted Week 1 starter: Bridgewater