QB or Not QB?: ESPN’s Jeff Saturday Lines Up the NFL 2021 Season

By Kevin Kenney 


With Drew Brees now retired, the big question in the Big Easy is…Winston or Hill?

The battle will be between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, the latter a utility man who’s played special teams as well as QB, who adds a running dimension, and who is not the interception machine Winston has been. It figures to be an interesting preseason and early season as coach Sean Payton figures it all out.

“Taysom Hill is a dual threat–a guy who’s really never played quarterback (regularly),’’ says Saturday. “He’s really kind’ve a Swiss Army knife. Does Sean Payton want to move on with that type of offense? Or would he go back to the style of Jameis Winston–a pocket passer (whose talent) is not to be argued with?  It’s just, can Sean Payton control his turnovers? Because if he can, that’s an offense that could explode.’’


It was not at the level of the Rodgers-Packers contretemps, but Russell Wilson did make offseason news by airing gripes with the Seahawks, particularly in regard to his lack of pass protection. While things eased as camps opened, you have to wonder if they will flare up again if Wilson–still an elite quarterback who can lead a team to great things–starts getting regularly pounded by defenses.

``How many hits he’s taken and sacks he’s taken are just unheard of,’’ says Saturday. ``I think ultimately the frustration is, they haven’t taken care of him, right? From an offensive line perspective, recently it’s been inept, and his body is the one that’s taken the abuse.

``He has a good receiving corps…but all the plays in the world don’t matter if you’re on your back. I can completely understand his frustration. I don’t think they’ve done a good job of taking care of him, and ultimately his frustration is showing.’’


Just two years ago, Jimmy Garoppolo was a Super Bowl quarterback coming off a 13-3 season. Now he’s a quarterback fighting for his job, as the Niners traded up in the 2021 draft to grab North Dakota State’s big-armed and mobile Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick.

Yes, 2019 was a magical season for Garoppolo, even if it did end in a loss to the Chiefs for the big prize. But sandwiched around that year were two injury–shortened campaigns. Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL in 2018, and a nagging high ankle sprain in 2020. It concerned the Niners enough to make them look elsewhere.

If Garoppolo, who turns 30 in November, can stay on the field, Lance might do a lot of sitting and learning in his rookie year–and the Niners might make some noise in the stacked NFC West. But Lance is clearly the future in the Bay Area, and this will be an intriguing QB competition to watch.

``When I think about the competition between Cam Newton and Mac Jones (in New England), the competition out in San Francisco with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance…it’s one of the most exciting times,’’ says Saturday.

``How fast those jobs can be taken over by younger quarterbacks, or can the old guys keep them at arm’s length’’ will be fascinating storylines to watch, he adds.


Carson Wentz was the toast of Philadelphia in 2017 before injuring his knee and watching Nick Foles lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. Last season, Wentz struggled mightily and ended up on the bench–before being traded to Indianapolis, where he’s now reunited with coach Frank Reich…the offensive coordinator of that title-winning Eagles team. Wentz replaces the retired Philip Rivers.

Can Reich engineer a renaissance for Wentz, who will be 29 in December? Turns out, the answer won’t be known for a while, maybe a long while, as Wentz broke a bone in his foot early in training camp and was expected to miss between five and 12 weeks following surgery.  Second-year QB Jacob Eason was next in line, but he’s a big question mark.

``I will tell you Carson Wentz with the Colts is going to be a huge story,’’ says Saturday. ``Can (Reich)  unlock all the talent and the ability that Carson Wentz showed early in his career? I think that’s a huge one.’’

Time will tell–just more time than the Colts had originally thought.


This was a 1-15 dumpster fire in 2020. But that wretched record gave the Jags the No. 1 overall pick in Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence…as well as a new head coach in Urban Meyer, himself an NFL rookie after a legendary college career. It’s a double-debut that Saturday likens to ``doing two experiments simultaneously.’’

``You’re bringing a coach in who’s never done it (in the NFL), and you’re bringing in the No. 1 pick in the draft who everybody says is the most polished QB that they’ve seen since Andrew Luck,’’ says Saturday. “Getting those two guys together, it’s going to be very interesting to see how all of it comes together.’’

And, he adds with a laugh, ``The more interesting part is that if things don’t go well, who gets blamed? ’Cause in the NFL, somebody’s gonna get blamed!’’

But he’s optimistic it can work.

``What I’ve seen from Urban Meyer, at Ohio State–the offensive development that he has used, it definitely translates to the NFL,’’ he says. ``When you look at players that he continually put in the NFL, whether it was through the offensive line, or at receiver, or at quarterback, he has seen quality NFL talent repeatedly, and he has built those things.’’



These longtime punchlines now pack punch to contend, with Baker Mayfield leading the Browns off an 11-5 season and Josh Allen helming the Bills, coming off a 13-3 mark.

``The Bills did similar to what the Bucs did–they kept most of their guys and they’re just trying to build on what they already have,’’ Saturday says. ``And you look at the moves that the Browns made on defense–good gosh, adding (linebacker Jadeveon) Clowney–you look at those rosters, and you go, those are two teams you don’t want to mess with. Those are some dudes, man.

``They’re built offensive-line wise, defensive-line wise. Cleveland might arguably have the best roster, just on paper, in the NFL. If Mayfield even plays close to what he did last year, with OBJ (Odell Beckham Jr., who was injured) being added to this offense…This is going to be a team that nobody’s going to want to face in January, I guarantee that.

``The only thing that concerns me with the Bills is, I want to see their run game take another step. Josh Allen last year kind’ve did it all. I want to see their run game take another step forward to help Josh Allen.’’

Kevin Kenney, Senior Contributing Writer to Cigar and Spirits Magazine, is a veteran journalist. He’s also written for United Press International and Fox Sports, among other ports of call.

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