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Russell Wilson or Justin Fields? Gardner Minshew or Aidan O'Connell? Predictions for two true QB battles

Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment covers:

But first, a look at the two most compelling quarterback competitions in 2024.

This is the time of year when coaches say every starting job is up for grabs, but we all know that isn't true -- especially at the game's most important position. Nearly every team has an established pecking order at quarterback, or at least a long-term plan it hopes to follow. At the moment, though, two squads appear to have legitimate quarterback battles on their hands …

Both competitions are essentially The Known Commodity (Wilson/Minshew) vs. The Upside Play (Fields/O'Connell). So, who has the advantage in each situation? Or, more crucially to each team, who will have the bigger impact on the 2024 season? Let's break it down, one battle at a time ...


Russell Wilson

The nine-time Pro Bowler was gliding along on a Hall of Fame path until a disappointing two-year stint in Denver changed the league's perception of the former Super Bowl champ. 

In Pittsburgh, Wilson can rekindle his magic in an offense directed by Arthur Smith. As the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Smith helped Ryan Tannehill play the best football of his career by utilizing a game plan that mixed a dynamic ground attack with play-action passes. Considering Tannehill won Comeback Player of the Year under Smith's tutelage, Wilson could rejoin the elite ranks as a playmaker directing an offense ideally suited for his talents as a dynamic weapon in the backfield. 

With 39 game-winning drives (the second-most among active quarterbacks, trailing only Matthew Stafford), 31 fourth-quarter comebacks and seven seasons with a passer rating in the triple digits, the veteran possesses the winning pedigree the Steelers need to climb back into title contention. 

Justin Fields

The former first-round pick certainly flashed in Chicago, but overall, he did not play up to expectations with the Bears. That said, the Steelers are getting an A-level athlete with outstanding tools as a dual-threat playmaker. Fields' combination of size (6-foot-3, 227 pounds), speed (a reported 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his pre-draft pro day) and arm talent could make him a potential superstar if Smith can unlock his potential in an offense built for an athletic quarterback with running skills. 

Considering Fields' status as a former 1,100-yard rusher (in 2022) with a rugged game and unlimited range as a passer, the Steelers could tap into a read-option ground attack and vertical passing game to create explosive plays on the perimeter. Though Fields' athleticism has led to speculation about the former No. 11 overall pick taking on a Kordell Stewart-type "slash" role while serving as Wilson's apprentice, he could wrestle the QB1 job away from the veteran due to the offense's big-play potential with him at the helm. 

While questions persist regarding Fields' skills as a pocket passer due to his inconsistent accuracy, ball placement and timing, the 25-year-old could flourish in a system that creates easy throws for the quarterback off play-action fakes. Given Smith's success in utilizing a similar approach to unlock Tannehill's game, the football world could see Fields play his best ball in the 'Burgh. 


Despite Fields' potential, the 35-year-old's experience and winning pedigree are exactly what the Steelers need to climb back to the top of a brutally tough AFC North. In addition, Wilson's stellar performance in the clutch could be the difference in a must-win game. Not to mention, Pittsburgh faces an absolute gauntlet over the final eight weeks of the regular season. Russ' veteran savvy can't be overlooked.


Gardner Minshew

After filling in admirably for the injured Anthony Richardson last season in Indy, the veteran heads to The Strip looking to guide the Raiders to the playoffs for just the third time since the Super Bowl season of 2002. As a streaky gunslinger with a fearless approach, Minshew has played at a high level in spurts throughout his career.

All in all, he's posted a 62.6 completion percentage with a 59:24 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 49 career games as a part-time starter for the Jaguars, Eagles and Colts. Although those numbers do not jump off the page, the veteran's production exceeds his talents as a dink-and-dunk passer with limited range. Minshew's high IQ and quick release enable him to pick apart opponents on "catch, rock and throw" concepts designed to attack underneath coverage. With a collection of catch-and-run standouts around him in Las Vegas (SEE: Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Brock Bowers and Michael Mayer), the journeyman could thrive as a pass-first point guard in a fast-break offense directed by new Raiders offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. 

Given his success as a "super sub," Minshew has the upside to put the Raiders in playoff contention in Antonio Pierce's first full season as a head coach. 

Aidan O'Connell

The 2023 fourth-round pick has earned a chance to compete for the starting job after guiding the Raiders to a 5-5 record as a surprise rookie starter for an interim head coach. O'Connell's intelligence and managerial skills are suited for an efficient offense built on rhythm throws and a punishing running game. 

After completing 62.1 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, the youngster absolutely is a viable contender for the QB1 role despite Las Vegas signing his competition to a two-year, $25 million contract with $15 million in guarantees. Though the team has promised to play the best player regardless of money, the second-year pro must continue to improve his play to secure a spot as the full-time starter. 

With a new offensive scheme expected to feature more timing and rhythm-based throws, O'Connell could surprise the football world and claim the No.1 spot for the Silver and Black. 


I think that, despite paying Minshew good money in free agency, the Raiders will ultimately hand the keys of the offense to the second-year pro, banking on his efficiency. I envision O'Connell operating Getsy's scheme well, enabling him to manage the game effectively, based on time, score and situation. Given the league's razor-thin margins, the trust between head coach and quarterback is everything. This will result in O'Connell leading the team.

OTAs on way out? Why it'd make sense

Earlier this week, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported that the NFL Players Association is working on a proposal to overhaul the offseason starting as soon as 2025. The idea would be to eliminate voluntary on-field work in the spring and instead have players report for training camp earlier in the summer. This would allow for a more gradual escalation in physical activity, with the thinking being that it could be the best way to approach a rigorous season that lasts into the winter. The potentially sweeping changes have traditionalists up in arms, but they could result in a better on-field product at the start of the regular season. And that's not the only possible benefit.

While I love spring football, with OTAs and minicamps fulfilling my gridiron desires in May and June, the current calendar feels crammed. The end of one season immediately transitions into the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the draft. Consequently, coaches and high-level executives barely have a chance to analyze the previous campaign before jumping into the scouting process midstream without fully knowing the draft prospects. With the new proposal, coaches could immerse themselves in the scouting process to give valuable insights and perspective on each prospect's talent and potential fit within the scheme without the distraction of an upcoming offseason program littered with meetings. Moreover, removing spring football could lead to more collaboration and better results on draft day. Considering the importance of talent acquisition and player development in the NFL, the ability to entirely focus on free agency and the draft would be a positive development for the team-building process.

For the strength-and-conditioning coaches, the proposed changes to the offseason calendar could lead to fewer injuries at the beginning of the preseason. Instead of working around the month-and-a-half break following the current offseason program, coaches could build a comprehensive plan that gradually increases the workload heading into training camp. By supervising workouts in June and July, these coaches could make tweaks and adjustments to each player's daily regimen to ensure everyone's in tip-top shape in the preseason.

Under the current format, strength coaches build a foundation in the spring with workouts designed to improve player strength, conditioning and endurance. However, the summer break leads players to work out with personal trainers who implement different methods and philosophies leading up to training camp. Considering the unique approaches some trainers and skill developers utilize, the six-week sabbatical from the team can ultimately pose more risks than rewards for players.

For players, the shift in the offseason calendar would eliminate the summer break and change vacation plans, but it would create an extended "rest and recovery" period after the season. Instead of a six-week break following the Super Bowl, players would have at least three months to rest from a grueling schedule that features an 18-week regular-season slate -- not to mention, another month-plus, should their team make the Super Bowl. The extended time would enable players to fully rehab from the season, while allowing them to work with skill-development trainers or explore other training methods designed to help their overall athleticism and strength (SEE: martial arts, yoga, Pilates, etc.).

An extended training camp might make some think of the old days when Vince Lombardi and others took players through gassers, up-downs and the since-banned Oklahoma drills in intense heat. In reality, the new schedule would enable coaches to slowly introduce schemes and tactics while focusing extensively on the fundamentals (blocking, tackling, pursuit and ball security) that lead to better execution on game days. Given the typical sloppiness of the season's first month, a longer training camp could help the on-field product, with the team better prepared for kickoff.

In a league that can be slow to embrace change, a fresh approach to the offseason could produce a win-win for players, coaches and fans, with improved play between the lines.

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