The Athletic: 2020 Quarterback Tiers - 50 coaches and evaluators rank the NFL starters

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Mike Sando 2h ago

The 2020 Quarterback Tiers results are here, and there’s change at the top in the seventh edition of the annual survey. Two quarterbacks were unanimous Tier 1 selections, but for the first time, their names were not Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. One of the NFL’s bright young stars displaced an all-time great in the top tier.

League MVP Lamar Jackson made a massive jump, as expected, but there was still debate over how far he should climb.

Fifty NFL coaches and evaluators rated 35 veteran quarterbacks this year while providing candid evaluations that appear in the analysis below. The process was simple. Coaches and evaluators placed each quarterback in one of five tiers, from best (Tier 1) to worst (Tier 5). Once ballots were collected, results were averaged to create a ranking. Our unanimous Tier 1 choices averaged 1.00, while the lowest-rated player averaged 4.30. Quarterbacks fell into the tiers in which they received the most votes.

The survey excludes rookies. We included two quarterbacks for New England, Chicago, Washington and Las Vegas because those teams’ situations are interesting and/or it’s plausible to think more than one veteran could start for various reasons. Enough preamble. Let’s talk quarterbacks!

TIER 1
A Tier 1 quarterback can carry his team each week. The team wins because of him. He expertly handles pure passing situations. He has no real holes in his game.


Tier 1 votes: 50 | 2019 Tier: 1

There was excitement but little shock when Mahomes led two late touchdown drives to beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl. The Tier 1 quarterback is supposed to expertly handle those treacherous situations when the opposing defense knows what is coming —not every time, of course, but enough to separate himself. The team without the Tier 1 quarterback is more apt to handle things the way San Francisco did shortly before halftime of the same game, when the decision was made not to play aggressively on offense.

Mahomes joins Wilson, Rodgers and Brady as the only unanimous Tier 1 selections in the seven-year history of the QB Tiers survey. Rodgers and Brady did it four consecutive seasons ending in 2018. Mahomes and Wilson stand alone this year, with most voters giving Mahomes the edge as the best quarterback in the league, while acknowledging his favorable circumstances.

“The guy is a freak show,” a head coach said. “I have never seen a guy that big, that athletic, that strong of an arm, that good at decision making, that many clubs in his bag. He’s got touch, he’s got zip, he can throw the long-ass bomb, he can avoid guys, he knows where his issues are protection-wise. He is a guy I really enjoy watching play.”

Counting playoffs, the Chiefs posted a 5-1 record last season in games when they trailed by 10 or more points. The rest of the league was 32-209-1.

“They are talented in Kansas City and they have a great coach, but Mahomes does carry that football team,” an evaluator with three decades of NFL experience said. “They have had a game manager (Alex Smith) and could not get over the hump. Mahomes has gotten them over. He has changed that whole thing. Patrick Mahomes dominates. You never feel like the game is over. I can’t think of anyone like him.”

Mahomes arguably enjoys the NFL’s best receiving tight end in Travis Kelce, its scariest deep receiver in Tyreek Hill and its most accomplished offensive coach.

“Extraordinary weapons,” a former head coach said, “but you have to give Mahomes credit. He’s accurate, especially when he has to move and he resets. He gets it, he understands the scheme of the plays. He is the perfect guy because if it’s not there, he can bail you out and make it look good.”


Tier 1 votes: 50 | 2019 Tier: 1

The Seahawks last season became the fourth team in the 16-game schedule era to finish 11-5 or better while allowing at least 24.5 points per game. The other teams on that list — the 2018 Chiefs, 2016 Falcons and 2013 Broncos — had league MVPs behind center. Seattle had Wilson, who famously has yet to command a single MVP vote, but plays like an MVP pretty consistently.

“I think he does more for his team than anybody, with a bad set of cards,” a head coach said.

A general manager pointed to the Seahawks’ overtime victory at San Francisco last season, a game the team finished without leading receiver Tyler Lockett.

“I remember watching it going, ‘This is going to be a tie freaking game,’” the GM said. “The 49ers basically brought the house. Wilson finds a gap and runs it like 30 yards, gets Jason Myers in field-goal range for the winner. He makes the play when nobody thinks they are going to make it. And he is the most calm. Him and Aaron Rodgers are the two calmest guys that I watch. I never see Russell Wilson rattled. He wills that team.”

Some voters thought the Seahawks would be better off opening up their offense early in games to take greater advantage of their quarterback. Seattle shifted that way last season after being historically conservative in 2018, but with a defensive-minded head coach in Pete Carroll, Seattle still leaned toward the run-heavy end of the continuum on early downs, early in games.

“If Wilson was playing in Kansas City, people would be calling him the best quarterback in the NFL, and if Mahomes was in Seattle, they would be saying, ‘God, this guy is really good, but you wish they would give him a chance early in games,’” an offensive coordinator said.

Counting playoffs, Wilson is 7-7 in his past 14 starts when the Seahawks allowed more than 24 points. He was 3-26 in those games previously.

“Originally, Wilson was a very good football player,” a GM said, “and now he has evolved into being a very good quarterback as well.”


Tier 1 votes: 46 | Tier 2 votes: 4 | 2019 Tier: 1

Voters blamed Rodgers’ supporting cast, not the quarterback himself, for the Packers’ offensive regression over the past five seasons. But for the first time in the seven-year history of this survey, Rodgers did not at least tie for the top spot. Four voters placed him in the second tier, twice as many as last year.

“I know some people don’t like him because of whatever, but all I know is, if you picked five quarterbacks you don’t want to play every week, he is one of them,” a defensive coach with NFC North experience said. “I don’t want to fuck with that guy. You can say what you want, but when you go into a game, that is the first guy you are preparing for. It ain’t the running back, it ain’t the receiver because he has free-agent running backs and third-round receivers, fourth-round receivers, just dudes, no tight end. You are worried about that dude.”

None of the four voters who placed Rodgers in the second tier would have to draw up a game plan to defend him. The quartet included two contract negotiators and two young offensive assistant coaches.

“He has clearly lost something in his game,” one of them said. “He still has ‘wow’ moments and games, but is not the same guy he was the last 10 years.”
There has been statistical decline. The 2010-2014 Packers outpaced the 2015-2019 version in offensive points per game (27.8 to 23.7), offensive expected points added per game (10.0 to 3.2), EPA per pass attempt (0.38 to 0.16) and EPA per play (0.16 to 0.05) when Rodgers was in the lineup, according to models developed by Albert Larcada, senior director for TruMedia Networks.

“I have faced him so many times and he is the same guy,” a different defensive coach with NFC North experience said. “The weapons around him have really fallen off. Before, they had a mix of young and veteran guys who understood the system. When they lost Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, what they tried to do is patch it. Davante Adams is a good receiver, but to me, I would not say he is a No. 1. They tried to plug in Jimmy Graham, a stopgap.”

There was some thought Rodgers’ production could spike in his second season running coach Matt LaFleur’s offense if the quarterback has bought in fully. That was the case for Matt Ryan in a similar system under Kyle Shanahan with the Falcons in 2016. Of course, LaFleur is not Shanahan and there is no Julio Jones in Green Bay, but LaFleur was the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach under Shanahan that season, at least.

“I just think in the right offensive situation for him, Rodgers would kill it,” a former head coach said. “He still does. He still makes plays and throws that are unbelievable and can extend the play. It is hard to find guys like that. Adams is the one guy he plays well with, but I don’t see that feel with other guys and I don’t think Rodgers necessarily has the discipline of going through those progressions. He drops back and has to find guys and when he does that, a lot of times he has to make a snap throw and some of those throws that he makes are incredible, but if he was dialed into what was going on and where he was trying to attack and throwing it, I think he would be even better.”


Tier 1 votes: 33 | Tier 2 votes: 17 | 2019 Tier: 1

Two-thirds of voters placed Brees in the top tier this year, down from 93 percent a year ago, despite Brees coming off a season in which he ranked third in Total QBR (71.7) and set a career high for passer rating (116.3), while missing five games to injury. A dramatic drop in production on deep passes could reflect waning arm strength, a dearth of downfield options, a combination of both or possibly even neither.

“The dude is deadly,” a defensive coach who faced the Saints last season said. “His football acumen, his ability to see the field, to read defenses. When he came off the injury with the thumb, he did not have the same velocity on the ball, but when you play them dudes, you’re scared to death, because of him.”

Another coach thought the downfield passing issues — 10 completions on 26 attempts on passes traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, an unusually low number and completion rate for Brees — primarily reflected the lack of a deep threat.

“I gave him a two, but I really want to give him a three,” a defensive coach countered. “I think the system helps him. I don’t think he can throw the ball (as well) outside the numbers unless it’s 5 yards or less. He can throw an over route out of play-action, but he doesn’t sit back there and hold the ball. I gave him a two because he knows the offense, but I’m not scared of him.”

Another defensive coach wasn’t so brazen, placing Brees in the top tier.

“It could be some voo-doo where I don’t want to be the one saying he is slipping and then have to go play him in the playoffs,” this coach said.

Brees’ ability to play quickly in two-minute situations remained tops in the league, another voter said. An evaluator with NFC South ties thought Brees continued to drive the Saints’ offensive success.

“Sometimes it is more the receivers and backs and people around the quarterback,” this evaluator said. “Maybe that is how I feel about Dak Prescott. But I think with the Saints, it is Drew Brees. He makes everyone around him better. He is the one that puts the team on his back when they have to win a game and I think he can still do that.”



Tier 1 votes: 28 | Tier 2 votes: 22 | 2019 Tier: 2

The average tier vote for Watson improved from 2.27 last year to 1.44 this year, the second-largest improvement in the survey. Only the Ravens’ Jackson made a larger jump. Voters thought Watson lagged behind the other Tier 1 quarterbacks in the finer points of the dropback passing game, but their respect for his ability to drive success with relatively little perceived support proved compelling, amid fears Watson could suffer from DeAndre Hopkins’ departure.

“The Buffalo game won me over,” an exec said of the Texans’ comeback from a 16-0 deficit to beat the Bills in the playoffs. “Watson gets everyone to believe in the face of certain peril. He makes the plays he needs to. This year will be a good test for him with a new cast.”

Led by Watson, the 2019 Texans were the only team to finish .500 or better while ranking 20th or lower in defensive EPA. Houston was 10-6.

“I look at the way the team wins,” a personnel director said. “Is it true complementary ball? Is it heavy run game? Does the quarterback rely on play-action? Is it stingy defense that allows them to have additional possessions? And then look at their supporting cast. When I think of the ones, I can put you into any roster and I know you are going to have a high level of success. I think with Deshaun Watson, there is a lot of, he wins in spite of his cast.”

A defensive coach who had questions about Watson came away impressed after watching hundreds of Houston plays on video this offseason. This coach cited a Tier 1 decision against Baltimore where Watson recognized the coverage, dropped down and threw under an oncoming rusher instead of throwing over the top, which would have risked a pick-six interception. The throw from Watson missed its target, but Watson knew exactly what to do.

“Smart by Watson because he knows it’s zone coverage,” the coach said. “The Tier 1 guy does the same thing but drops down and throws it accurately under the defender’s arm, all wrist.”

Multiple coaches wanted to see Houston add more wrinkles to its offense as Watson develops.

“Playing him, you fear him running, but you don’t fear him as a passer, and his running was not like Lamar Jackson,” a defensive coordinator said. “It was drop back, not there, take off and run. We never thought he was going to dice us up for 300 yards. I look at ones as guys that you feel like, ‘We better have some shit for this guy, we’d better manipulate our coverages, we’d better do this, we’d better do that.”

Other voters overruled these objections.

“He shredded New England on that Sunday night game,” a GM said. “In the playoffs, Buffalo’s defense was playing lights out with a great game plan, but really talented players at some point figure some things out along the way, and Watson started finding some things. I don’t think there are a lot of other quarterbacks down 16-0 the way Buffalo’s defense was playing that would have brought that team back.”

TIER 2
A Tier 2 quarterback can carry his team sometimes but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.


Tier 1 votes: 22 | Tier 2 votes: 28 | 2019 Tier: 1

Just what the rest of the NFL needs, a bunch of coaches and evaluators questioning whether Brady still belongs among the very best.
“I would take him over Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan,” a GM said.

We’ll wait while Tampa Bay staffers paste that one in Brady’s new locker.

“He’s cautious, he is a little more skittish in the pocket,” an exec said. “He doesn’t want to take a hit. I think the arm is still there, but a lot of in-cutting routes, I think he has to be played to his strengths. Really really smart, knows where to go with it, but he just doesn’t quite dominate.”

Paging Rob Gronkowski.

“I think his arm strength is diminished and if you are around football a lot, you notice his ball placement is slipping a little bit,” an offensive play-caller said. “If he throws a stop route outside, he might miss it. It is such a long throw for him that he has to juice it up more and it’s not as smooth for him, so he loses some accuracy. I will be interested in seeing what happens with him being back with Gronk.”

Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard far surpass the weaponry that surrounded Brady in New England last season.

“Brady is going to be able to stretch the field in ways he has not been able to in New England for years,” a personnel director said. “To me, the only question mark in Tampa is, where does the pass-catching running back come from? I don’t think they have addressed that. Who is James White there?”

Before this year, voters gave Brady the Tier 1 treatment 254 times on 258 ballots. Twenty-two voters placed him in the top tier this year, but with 28 breaking ranks, we shall indulge the doubters.

“I think he can still be good, but he needs a run game,” a GM said. “People don’t realize, New England has had a good run game. They had a really good defense. They were so in sync for two decades in the same system offensively, and now all of a sudden Tom has to wait one more second because he is not 100 percent sure what Mike Evans is thinking. That opens him up to get hit.”

Can you name a Bruce Arians-coached quarterback who did not get crushed?

“I still say Brady is a one,” a defensive coordinator said. “When the supporting cast was there, he scored points, produced and they won. I take it back to when Gary Kubiak got Peyton Manning in Denver. Kubiak had his system and tried to blend it with Peyton, but as they went along, it was more Peyton. If it is purely Arians’ system, Brady will struggle more because a lot of his game is getting the ball out quick, identifying by formation man or zone.”


Tier 1 votes: 16 | Tier 2 votes: 31 | Tier 3 votes: 3 | 2019 Tier: 4

Every player ranked above Jackson has won in the playoffs. All but one of them, Watson, has won a Super Bowl. Jackson has done neither, but with MVP honors already on his resume after only one full season as an NFL starter, voters pushed the 2018 first-round pick to the brink of the top tier without much reservation. Jackson is the only quarterback from the 2018 or 2019 drafts to crack the top two tiers (Kyler Murray came close).

“The most dominant guy in the league,” an exec said. “How is he not a one now?”

Jackson belongs in the top tier if we waive the pure-passing requirement that arguably has stood between the Ravens and a playoff victory over the past two seasons. Pure-pass situations arise when, through score differential and time remaining, the offense must pass, thereby freeing defenses from worrying about the running game. Jackson’s success is predicated on an exceptionally well-schemed running game that features his generational talent prominently. Teams dependent upon dynamic rushing attacks can suddenly flounder when their quarterbacks are forced to pass. That is where the top-tier quarterbacks traditionally separate themselves. Think Mahomes when facing a 10-point deficit against the 49ers in the Super Bowl, or Brady trailing 28-3 against the Falcons a few years earlier.

“When it really comes down to it, at the end of the year, and at the start of the playoffs, the accuracy of the quarterback, his ability to manage the situations, be able to make those plays, is what the good ones do and is what gets them to the Super Bowl where they have success,” a former head coach said. “Right now, Lamar has not been able to win a playoff game with a top-10 defense and run game. You could make the case Baltimore, with that defense, wins their playoff game if they have Brady last year.”

A few voters said top-tier quarterbacks should be able to thrive across offensive systems, instead of needing an organization to change everything it does in order for the quarterback to succeed.

“This is not a quarterback/play-caller marriage assessment,” one of these voters said. “We are talking about pure quarterback play.”

Mostly, we are talking about arguably the most electrifying player in the league, a player already regarded among the top seven quarterbacks in the game, and known for working on every aspect of his game.

“I think it all boils down to how you view the quarterback position,” an evaluator who loved Jackson coming out of college said. “Is it the traditional tall white guy who sits in the pocket and can make all the throws, or do you see the quarterback position as evolving, and you can use your legs to get out of a jam? If you view that as a priority, then he ranks higher for you. Otherwise, you see him as a running back that day. I feel like this is the same discussion as when Cam Newton won the MVP.”
Newton won MVP honors after the 2015 season. He was fourth overall in the next Quarterback Tiers survey. That made him the top quarterback in the second tier.


Tier 1 votes: 11 | Tier 2 votes: 34 | Tier 3 votes: 5 | 2019 Tier: 1

For the first time in the seven-year history of this survey, the Steelers do not employ the highest-rated quarterback in the AFC North. That distinction belongs to Baltimore now that Jackson is thriving while Roethlisberger recovers from elbow surgery at age 38.

“Still afraid to play him,” an exec from an AFC contender said of Big Ben.

One year ago, Roethlisberger was the seventh of eight quarterbacks in the top tier. That was before Andrew Luck retired and Roethlisberger’s ulnar collateral ligament also quit working.

“I’m concerned,” an exec said. “Ben is a little bit like Philip Rivers, a statue back there now, and there are durability concerns. Things have to be right, and he does not have the same weapons he had the last time he played for a long period of time. I saw him in the tunnel last season and, my God, he had that beard going and looked more like one of their offensive linemen.”

Roethlisberger has since ditched the beard and posted video of himself throwing to teammates. One secondary coach said he thought Roethlisberger would come back refreshed and motivated after being forced to watch from the sideline for a year. There was no consensus, however.

“I think Ben is partially done,” a defensive coordinator said. “I give Ben right now a low-end three and he could easily drop to a four. I don’t think the name carries the weight it used to. I didn’t think he was great once Antonio Brown left. Can he get back to where he was at one time?”

Another defensive coach swatted away that harsh take on Roethlisberger as wishful thinking.

“These top quarterbacks, like a Brees, a Stafford, a Roethlisberger, they come back (from injuries) perfectly spry and healthy,” this defensive coach said. “You are dealing with masters of the position. Ben goes out there in the first few weeks this year, they will be playing against defenses with no preseason games and these guys, especially if they have a veteran receiving corps that they are used to, then their skills become amplified. These defenses will have no ability to disguise their coverage, to work against the play clock, to really get into game situations where they can fool with the quarterback. This can be a little bit like sheep to wolves, these Tier 1 quarterbacks playing against these virus defenses.”


Tier 1 votes: 5 | Tier 2 votes: 38 | Tier 3 votes: 7 | 2019 Tier: 2

Stafford has played 11 seasons, owns no playoff victories, is coming off a broken back at age 32 and actually ranks two spots higher than he did last year, with a higher average tier vote. Voters liked what they saw from him last season.

“Two at the minimum,” an exec with NFC North ties said. “He was trending to a one this past year before he got hurt. If that joker was healthy, he would have been a one this year. I think he’s doing better and fits better within the scheme (under coordinator Darrell Bevell).”

Stafford set career single-season highs last season for yards per attempt (8.6), EPA per attempt (0.26), passer rating (106.0) and Total QBR (69.6). The Lions still went only 3-4-1 in his starts.

“Why he hasn’t won more, I always try to put my finger on that,” a coach with extensive experience against Stafford said. “We always talk about the culture. Pat Mahomes comes into the league and sits behind Alex Smith, and you have Andy Reid there. If you put Matt Stafford in that situation his rookie year and he gets to see, ‘OK, this is a Hall of Fame head coach, a quarterback that has been around the league that I can learn from and see his habits.’ I don’t know if Matt Stafford has ever been exposed to what it’s supposed to look like.”

This coach and four other voters placed Stafford in the top tier. Seven others showed their exasperation with the quarterback’s failure to drive team success by placing him in the third tier, despite his obvious talent.

“He is the opposite of Watson,” an evaluator who placed Stafford in the third tier said. “Same kind of thing with Derek Carr. Big, strong arm, a couple ‘wow’ passes here and there, but you’re not a consistent winner and your errors sometimes lose the game.”

Multiple coaches and execs from teams that have faced Stafford frequently said they fear facing him regardless.

“If you landed him in Pittsburgh or San Francisco, you’d see a winner,” a defensive coordinator said. “He is going down that Carson Palmer road. Carson never really won until he got late in his career, either. Carson could always throw the ball. He was a first-round pick. He got to Arizona and he made some things happen. Never quite won the big one, but he was still a damn good quarterback.”


Tier 1 votes: 4 | Tier 2 votes: 38 | Tier 3 votes: 8 | 2019 Tier: 2

Ryan’s 2016 MVP season pushed him to the fringes of the top tier at that time, but he has lost ground every year since and now has almost the exact same vote distribution as he had in 2015. What changed more, Ryan or what the Falcons put around him, including former coordinator Kyle Shanahan?

“He can carry a team sometimes,” an offensive coordinator said. “He handles pure pass in doses but he really needs the play-action game to make him good, and I just think he is aging a little bit. The protection thing has gotten him a little bit skittish, but I like the guy.”

Ryan lived a relatively stress-free life during his MVP season, attempting a career-low 13 fourth-quarter passes while trailing. That figure surged to 102 last season, second-most in the league behind Andy Dalton and one off Ryan’s previous career high.

“You don’t see the command, him putting the team on his back to go win the game,” a defensive coordinator who gave Ryan a Tier 3 vote said. “You see the first-round picks of Julio (Jones) and (Calvin) Ridley, but you don’t see him win the game. it is very systemized and he can throw it good, but he is not a command Tier 2 quarterback”

Voters are interested in seeing whether newcomers Hayden Hurst and Todd Gurley can make a difference.

“We played him a lot over the years and if he didn’t have certain assets, he couldn’t do it,” an exec said. “When our D-line handled their O-line, he was a mess. He could have some amazing games and then some where you are just, wow, this-guy-is-not-a-starter type games. I do think he’s a two, but the game is changing and his lack of mobility shows up.”


Tier 1 votes: 5 | Tier 2 votes: 35 | Tier 3 votes: 10 | 2019 Tier: 2

Wentz inched upward after starting all 16 regular-season games for the first time since his rookie season. He still lost ground to surging NFC East rival Dak Prescott, with only a few votes separating the Philly and Dallas quarterbacks. They combined for eight Tier 1 votes.

“He was a one at a point, but we played him this past year and I think he lost a little bit physically,” an exec who placed Wentz in the second tier said. “Some of it was, he did not have the same weapons he had early on. But I also thought there were some inconsistencies in his game that I did not see early on. Some of it may be because of the knee injury. It is also interesting out of there you hear guys wanted (Nick) Foles over him. It sounds like there might be something underlying there.”

There were no psychologists on the voting panel this year. No formally accredited ones, anyway. But there were some interesting analyses of an unusual situation, one where the team never played better than when the anointed franchise quarterback was lost and the backup won it all.

“You have these veteran receivers there who want their targets, you had (Nelson) Agholor struggling with drops in a contract year and then you have a young quarterback whose personality might not be strong enough to navigate all that,” an exec said. “The quarterback needs to be able to say, ‘Shut the eff up, get in the huddle, this is the play and I’m going to go through my progressions’ instead of worrying about a guy’s targets. If you noticed, when they started playing good, it was when they had these no-names at receiver, almost like Wentz could finally just play the offense.”

The Eagles drafted three receivers this year. Perhaps those wideouts can grow with their quarterback instead of putting pressure on him. Other voters thought Wentz could threaten the top tier if he improved his risk management. They saw a quarterback who too frequently treats every play like the final play of a game the Eagles are trailing by a touchdown.

“I really like the guy and when he plays he can be a one,” a former GM said, “but injuries and the fact that they did not need him to win a Super Bowl against the Patriots, and they won with a guy I think is a four, makes it tough to push him higher. People say he is elite and at times he might be, but not consistent.”


Tier 1 votes: 3 | Tier 2 votes: 33 | Tier 3 votes: 14 | 2019 Tier: 3

Prescott would rank even higher if Dallas had enjoyed greater team success and if voters could more cleanly separate his production from an offensive supporting cast that, since 2016, has drawn one-third of its starts from players voted to the Pro Bowl, second-most only to the Steelers.

“He can make every throw, he is athletic, he has command, he’s tough —where is the hole in his game?” a defensive coach who placed Prescott in the top tier said. “He hits deep balls, he has touch. He had somewhat of a rough game against Philly late in the season. I think he’s a complete guy. People say he needs the run game, but they ran it too much in the playoffs.”

Prescott is one of three quarterbacks to start all 64 games over the past four seasons, along with Wilson and Philip Rivers. Only Brady owns more regular-season victories as a starter than Prescott over that span.

“He really impressed me just with his, he has a little ‘it’ to him,” a GM said. “When you watch him live, he doesn’t get fazed. He has better arm talent than you thought. He’s big, he stands strong in the pocket, more accurate than I thought, he can escape, he can buy time, he can create. He is also one of those guys that needs players around him. When the left tackle went down, he was not as good. He is not in the top-five that can carry it, but he is a strong two.”

Prescott had been 17th in the rankings each of the previous two years. This season marked the first time he commanded votes in the top tier.

Some still think Prescott lacks consistent accuracy. An opposing coach thought Prescott handled two-minute situations especially well.

“Dak is a sure-fire two and potentially could be a one,” an offensive coordinator said. “He needs a run in the playoffs, maybe a Super Bowl. I’ve watched a lot of his film. He does a nice job reading and I think he’s a great player. He was a fourth-round pick and thought of a little bit as a running quarterback in college. I think people are surprised at how good he is at reading and processing and throwing the ball where it needs to go and throwing it accurately. I have him as a high, high two, a top-seven quarterback in the league.”


Tier 1 votes: 1 |Tier 2 votes: 27 |Tier 3 votes: 19 |Tier 4 votes: 3 |2019 Tier: 1

Rivers was the only quarterback in the survey to receive at least one vote in each of the top four tiers. That was probably fitting as voters tried to figure out what a poor final season with the Chargers meant now that Rivers is starting fresh with the Colts at age 38. His average tier vote plummeted from 1.40 last year to 2.48 this time, the largest drop for any quarterback in the survey.

“He needed to get out of there,” a former head coach said of Rivers leaving the Chargers. “It is like Brady, but the opposite. Brady wanted freedom. Rivers needs to be reeled in and be accountable. When it goes bad, he can’t just say, ‘Shit happens to the best of them.’ He makes questionable decisions when things get tight or when he’s pressured, just trying to make something happen. Being in a new situation and being accountable to everybody will help him get back to that status.”

That is the hope for the Colts after Rivers tossed 20 interceptions last season, the third time in his career he has thrown at least that many in a season.

“Rivers had a bad year and that happens with him every once in a while,” an offensive coach said. “I think he’s still a two and he could be a one with the Colts if their line is good.”

Some are excited to see Rivers in a better organization. Others think he might be finished. A secondary coach who faced Rivers last season thought the quarterback was “losing it” and could no longer make throws consistently down the field. A defensive coordinator called Rivers a “low-end three, borderline four” who is at the end, noting that Rivers has gone from lacking mobility to not even being able to slide effectively in the pocket.

“I think he has a chance to be pretty good in Indy in the dome with a good line, because he can still throw when he has time,” a GM countered. “I think a lot was weighing on him last year and the team moved and the writing was on the wall they were going in a different direction. I would be surprised if this year he doesn’t come back and say, ‘Don’t write me off yet, I can still do this.’ ”

TIER 3
A Tier 3 quarterback is a legitimate starter but needs a heavier running game and/or defensive component to win. A lower-volume dropback passing offense suits him best.


Tier 1 votes: 1 | Tier 2: 19 |Tier 3: 25 | Tier 4: 5 | 2019 Tier: N/A

Very few quarterbacks coming off their rookie seasons have polled as well as Murray polled this year. Coaches and evaluators tend to use the fourth tier liberally for players with short track records. That contributed to artificially low ratings for Mahomes and Jackson entering their second seasons. Unlike those two, Murray started all 16 games as a rookie. Reviews were favorable.

“His movement and escapability drives defenses crazy and he throws the ball deep extremely well,” an offensive coordinator said
Murray is one of 17 quarterbacks drafted since 2013 to appear in Quarterback Tiers coming off their rookie seasons. Of those, only Prescott (2.52) and Baker Mayfield (2.53) polled higher than the 2.68 average for Murray this year. Murray, Prescott and Mayfield all ranked 14th at this stage.

“I like him because he is competitive, he is super accurate, he can run,” another offensive coordinator said. “The only problem for me, and I know this doesn’t skew into your quarterback evaluation, is that he is good when he runs the football, but when he does that too much, he can’t last.”

A defensive coordinator thought Murray would become more difficult to defend if he increased his willingness to take a few hits running the ball. Of course, that defensive coordinator would surely love for his linebackers and safeties to get in a few hard shots on the NFL’s smallest starting quarterback. Multiple defensive coaches used the phrase “pain in the ass” to describe what they thought Murray would become. There were some comparisons to Wilson, although the general feel was that Murray would always be the better runner, Wilson the better passer.

“I think the kid is going to be really good,” a defensive coach said. “He knows when to run, he knows when to pass, he does not turn the ball over much and that little joker can throw. They are going to be better. I’m not ready to give the kid Tier 2 yet, but I think he is a legitimate starter and he will jump fast.”


Tier 2 votes: 15 | Tier 3 votes: 35 | 2019 Tier: 3

A couple voters interestingly suggested Cousins is basically Matt Ryan. Both are accurate passers when protected, both struggle against pressure and neither improvises well. Place them into play-action schemes with skilled play-callers and both can produce statistics that, on paper, could make them indistinguishable from Hall of Famers. Both might seem prone to the inexplicable mistake, especially in a chaotic situation. Cousins is more mobile. Ryan has advanced farther in the postseason and was considered the superior talent entering the league.

“I get it, people say Cousins is a three, but when I look at the other threes, there are none of those guys that I think are better,” a GM said. “There are games where I have seen Kirk Cousins carry his team. I don’t think he can do it week in and week out. He does need that play-action, zone-stretch and he needs some weapons. Matt Ryan is the same exact way. If I was choosing, I would choose Matt Ryan, but it wouldn’t be by a lot.”

The Vikings fell behind the Broncos 20-0 at halftime last season, the sort of deficit a quarterback dependent upon play-action isn’t supposed to surmount. Cousins completed 18 of 23 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, leading a 27-23 comeback victory. An offensive coach who studied the game did not change his Tier 3 grade for Cousins afterward.

“Minnesota went right to two-minute coming out of the half,” this coach said. “If Denver played Cover 2 that entire half, there is zero chance they come back otherwise. Cousins hit a bunch of big plays vs. single safety because Denver had some corner I’ve never heard of trying to cover Stefon Diggs. If they made Cousins dink and dunk, there is no way they could have done that for 30 minutes to come back.”

The Vikings still came back to win. And they did win at New Orleans in the playoffs with Cousins connecting on some impressive passes, including a deep ball to Adam Thielen and the winning pass to Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone on third down (a coach noted that the deep ball might have produced a touchdown if Cousins had led Thielen outside).

“Winning down in New Orleans was awesome,” a personnel director said. “I did not see that coming. I don’t know if he will take the next step. Some of it is the personality. Awesome guy, I would love for my daughter to marry him. Just some of the things you hear out of there from teammates and from a leadership standpoint, I don’t know if it is there.”

Cousins averaged 2.70 with voters this year, virtually unchanged from his 2.71 average last year. A head coach called Cousins the “poster child” for Tier 3 because he excels in a higher-volume play-action scheme with less emphasis on the dropback game. An exec thought Cousins didn’t fit well in the second or third tiers, belonging somewhere in between. An offensive coordinator disliked hearing Cousins say he was looking forward to playing without fans, which the coordinator saw as another example of Cousins worrying too much about what others think, similar to the time the quarterback punctuated a Washington victory with his famous exclamation of, “You like that!”

Defensive coaches tend to put things more bluntly.

“You don’t ever go into a game going, ‘Boy, I don’t know what we are going to do about this fucking Cousins,’ ” one said. “Doesn’t mean he’s a bad player. Legit starter, but needs some shit around him.”


Tier 2 votes: 13 | Tier 3 votes: 37 | 2019 Tier: 2

The first quarterback selected in the 2016 draft ranks third in this survey behind Wentz and Prescott among players selected in that class. He is also the only one to start a Super Bowl, but with the Rams’ roster losing key contributors, voters do not think Goff is going to make up the difference.

“It’s almost like a system guy and if it’s not right there for him, he can’t make shit out of nothing and that is what the really good ones do,” a secondary coach said.

A defensive coordinator whose team faced the Rams last season called Goff a systemized quarterback who gets shaky in the pocket against the rush. An exec said he thought Goff struggled to see the field. A defensive coach said he saw some Mitch Trubisky in Goff — as in, what exactly does either one do exceptionally well? And then there is the familiar criticism suggesting coach Sean McVay is doing the work for Goff by reading coverages and relaying adjustments through the headset before the snap.

“Goff is a two and he is better than any of these critics want to give him,” an offensive coach said. “Remember when New England was stealing the hand signals, telling Brady the coverage on every play and he was just killing it through his first five or six years? I don’t give a coach that much credit because the guy has the ball in his hands and has to make the plays. Watch the production. The Rams are not a high-percentage pass team. They throw it up the field. They ask a helluva lot of Goff with the types of throws they make. Goff makes a lot of really, really good throws.”

Nearly all voters agreed Goff needed the Rams to revive the running game that was their signature when Todd Gurley was in peak form.

“The team fell apart around him,” an exec said. “He struggled in blowouts. Who wouldn’t? I’m not ready to toss him aside yet. He definitely took a step back, though.


Tier 2 Votes: 12 | Tier 3 votes: 37 | Tier 4 votes: 1 | 2019 Tier: 3

Winning is the No. 1 goal, of course, but the manner in which the 49ers won this past season — with an elite defense and a dynamic offensive play-caller who minimized his quarterback at every opportunity, including famously in the Super Bowl — hurt Garoppolo among voters. The run-heavy system coach Kyle Shanahan runs is ideally suited for protecting the Tier 3 quarterback, which might be one reason why Cousins, the alleged “poster child” for the third tier, was a player the 49ers thought they could win with before Garoppolo became available.

“Garoppolo had a good season,” a coach from a rival NFC West team said. “I don’t know why people have a hard time giving him props. I think he is what he is and it’s OK. Not everybody is Aaron Rodgers. We haven’t given out a bunch of ones this year. Can he strap it on his back and win it if he has to? I don’t know if he is that, either. They had such a dynamic run game, he kind of hid in behind that. I think he’s a three and he’s gotta prove it. Last year was his first full year of doing it. That is a good start.”

The 49ers have a 19-5 record when Garoppolo starts. Pro Football Reference credited Garoppolo with four fourth-quarter comeback victories last season. No quarterback had more.

“He’s good, not great,” an exec said. “He does some good things with a good cast. You worry about the deep ball, the consistent accuracy, but he’s not bad. Just when you think he is going to be a two, he does something and you are like, ‘Damn.’ Even in the playoff game against Minnesota, he wasn’t very good. He got lucky a few times and they just ran the ball, played good defense.”

A veteran offensive coordinator said Garoppolo “truly is the closest thing to Cousins” and “a product of what they do” offensively.

“Super Bowl quarterback, he is doing something right,” a head coach said. “When he gets going, he is not bad. You can kind of tell what the coach is thinking with some of his calls.”


Tier 2 votes: 10 | Tier 3 votes: 38 | Tier 4 votes: 2 | 2019 Tier: N/A

Tannehill apparently is who voters thought he was, landing in Tier 3 for the sixth time in six appearances. But with 10 second-tier votes this year, Tannehill produced his best average vote at 2.84, a tick better than he finished in 2015. Voters think he averaged a league-leading 9.6 yards per attempt with a league-high 117.5 passer rating and career-best 62.2 Total QBR last season for reasons other than Tannehill suddenly becoming a superstar quarterback.

“Great running game, play-action pass —he’s a good quarterback in that type of system,” a former GM said. “He’s an Andy Dalton, maybe a little better because he is more mobile and gives you a better element there. Good play-calling, good scheme fit, a strong three, but you take away the run game, he’s not good enough to get to Tier 2. Definitely more accurate than (Marcus) Mariota.”

The Titans went 7-3 in games Tannehill started, posting stats that would have trailed only the Ravens over a full season: 28.4 offensive points per game, 8.6 offensive EPA per game, 0.15 EPA per play. Tannehill was healthy, expectations were low, Derrick Henry was dominant and the organizational culture seemed strong — all things Tannehill did not have on his side for key stretches of his time in Miami.

“Last season was ridiculous stuff at the end of the year, numbers wise, but if you look at Tannehill in Miami, they won some ballgames when that kid played for them (42-46 starting record),” a defensive coach said. “The injury history was a big deal and he couldn’t do it. They have a great running back there in Tennessee and they tailored some of that to what they were doing and they have a good offensive line. I was going to make him a two, but I don’t know if he can carry his team.”
There is at least some precedent for Tannehill’s recent success.

“If you remember in Miami, when they made the playoffs (in 2016), Jay Ajayi ran for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games, and (Adam) Gase said the game was finally slowing down for Tannehill,” an exec said. “He was understanding the offense, getting more comfortable, and then he got hurt. Now he gets into a good environment, and good culture, he is healthy again, he has that run game, he has matured and we are maybe seeing what Miami hoped they were getting.”


Tier 2 votes: 14 |Tier 3 votes: 29 |Tier 4 votes: 6 |Tier 5 votes: 1 |2019 Tier: 3

No one has seen a healthy Newton play since the 2018 season. No one has seen Newton play for the Patriots ever. No one knows how the Patriots plan to use Newton. No one knows exactly how healthy Newton might be at this stage, and whether he can hold up physically. That explains why Newton received votes in every tier but the top one, even drawing one vote in the fifth tier from a coach who thought the quarterback might be finished. There is so much uncertainty.

“Beyond all that, Cam is not inheriting a great supporting cast,” an evaluator said. “Go back in the vault and look at Denver when (Josh) McDaniels had (Tim) Tebow. There was not a great receiving corps, but they took advantage of an athletic quarterback’s ability to run, to run QB power, read option, those things. I don’t know how much you can do that with Cam because I don’t know what his health is.”

Newton appeared rather ripped in throwing videos he released this offseason.

“I don’t think he is Superman any more,” a coach who placed Newton in the third tier said. “Remember when (Colin) Kaepernick became vegan, changed his body and he just wasn’t as dynamic of an athlete any more? Cam was 265 and bigger than everybody. He looks skinny now, like he is 235 and wants to have ripped abs, and that’s his choice. Is he going to have that power running element?”

A former GM said he thought the Patriots with Newton could be the surprise team in the league. He thought they would win 10-plus games and threaten in the playoffs.
“You could put Cam as a four, but I think he is a three and if he’s healthy, and if he buys into what they do, I think he’s got a chance,” the ex-GM said. “I’ve always thought he was a baller. He’s tough. He adds an element a lot of guys don’t add. If he can get short to intermediate timing down, he’s going to be a pretty good fit. He is a top-20 guy in this league if his arm is healthy and he doesn’t have to change his motion.”

There were four “ifs” in that paragraph, which seems appropriate for a quarterback who got votes in the second through fifth tiers. So much remains unknown.


Tier 2 votes: 3 | Tier 3 votes: 45 | Tier 4 votes: 2 | 2019 Tier: 3

Voters are not in love with Carr. They do not think Jon Gruden is in love with Carr. They also think the Raiders could do more to support the quarterback they drafted while headquartered in a different city under a different head coach and general manager. We included Mariota in the survey because coaches and evaluators aren’t unanimous in the thought that Carr would remain the starter all season.

“Disappointing, inspires no confidence any more,” an exec said of Carr, “but too talented to be anything less than a three.”

Carr ranks 20th in the survey for the second year in a row after peaking at No. 7 in 2017, when he was coming off a season in which he went 12-3 as a starter with 28 touchdown passes, six interceptions and a career-high (but only slightly above average) 54.6 Total QBR.

“When things are going well, you can see the ability Carr has,” a defensive coordinator said, “but he is a dude who when he gets hit, his whole game changes.”

This was a common criticism of Carr coming out of Fresno State, that he won’t stand firm against the rush. Making the same critical mistake twice — fumbling out of the end zone while extending the ball across the pylon against Green Bay this past season, after having the same thing happen against Dallas in 2017 — did not sit well with a play-caller who added that Carr “makes a lot of plays when it’s easy and struggles when it’s hard” — another widely held criticism.

“I think he’s a two and gets a bad rap,” another exec said. “He had the good year, broke his leg, (Jack) Del Rio gets fired the next year, they bring in Gruden and Gruden is like Larry Brown for point guards on quarterbacks. Carr has to deal with that, and then they are retooling the roster and look at how his weapons have changed. They have yet to give him a vote of confidence. They say it, but they are still scouting other quarterbacks, openly bringing them in.”

The Raiders agreed to terms with Mariota before free agency even began.

“I think Derek has the slight edge right now on Marcus, but they are both threes at this point and both need help,” an evaluator said. “Jon loved Mariota coming out.”


Tier 2 votes: 6 | Tier 3 votes: 38 | Tier 4 votes: 6 | 2019 Tier: 2

The Browns probably did not plan for Mayfield to have four head coaches (one interim) and two general managers in his first three NFL seasons, but here we are, and it’s no surprise.

“He was on a Tier 1-2 trajectory, took a step back and might be better in a more disciplined environment,” an exec said.

The optimism surrounding Mayfield following his promising 2018 rookie season has been tempered also because, trying as the organizational circumstances might have been, Mayfield did not transcend them in meaningful ways, despite having good talent around him at the skill positions.

“Look at last year how many opportunities he had to make a play on third down and did not do it,” an evaluator said. “You can’t blame it all on coaching. And he’s not a leader. He doesn’t say the right things. To me, a lot of that position is, can you lead? And he hasn’t proven so far that he can lead. Look how many times he was in the news for saying something stupid. He had to apologize to his own team. It’s one thing if you’re winning. He’s not. Go to the podium with a little humility.”

New coach Kevin Stefanski is the one responsible for fostering a more professional environment. He is bringing a structured offense that is generally regarded as easy for quarterbacks to handle because of the heavy emphasis on the running game and play-action.

“I think Kevin Stefanski will help Mayfield, but there is a risk Kevin will be so like he was in Minnesota — so close to the vest — that Mayfield’s creativity might not show up,” an offensive coach said. “There is a fine balance there. Mayfield is a three that needs to understand how to play quarterback better than just going back and playing street ball.”

Stefanski was presumably constrained by Mike Zimmer, the Vikings’ defensive-minded head coach, while ranking third last season in rushing frequency on early downs in the first 28 minutes of games, before time and score differential influence play-calling tendencies.

“Baker is a tough one for me, but I’m going to go with a two on him because I know he can do it,” an exec who studied Mayfield closely before the 2018 draft said. “For him to regress like he did, the stories I’ve heard coming out of there, I think around the right people and with the right structure, he can be a Tier 2. He needed to be in a small town, similar to Norman, and keep a thumb on him. If they do that up there, he can be a two. If they don’t, he is going to be a three that is going to frustrate you and then his mouth gets him in trouble sometimes.”


Tier 2 votes: 4 | Tier 3 votes: 40 | Tier 4 votes: 6 | 2019 Tier: 4

Allen enjoyed the third-largest improvement from last year in average tier vote (3.69 to 3.04) as voters bumped him into the third tier, where he seems to fit as a quarterback who has won while supported by a top defense, without yet distinguishing himself as a player who can sometimes carry his team on the strength of his passing, especially in pure-pass situations.

“I think he is a three trending towards a two,” a former head coach said. “I saw him make some throws this year in the pocket that were really good throws. He will stand in there and get hit and make an accurate throw down the field and he has a good arm. I thought he did a better job understanding how to throw the ball later in the season, not always trying to throw it through the back of the wall.”

Allen’s postseason meltdown at Houston is a hard visual to shake. Voters who were skeptical of Allen coming out of college or through the start of his career could easily point to that game for validation. Yet, Allen became one of only four players to move into a higher tier from last year, joining Jackson, Watson and Prescott in that regard. But there are some who think he’s a better football player than quarterback, which isn’t always insurmountable but has been in extreme cases such as Tim Tebow and Blake Bortles.

“He is not a real good decision maker, he is not especially accurate,” a defensive coach who faced the Bills said. “He is a tough competitor, but just a dude —a lower three if you were asking me.”

An offensive coach said Allen would reach the second tier if he could compensate for a lack of instincts and accuracy by “doing some other things like Lamar (Jackson).”

Allen is already doing some of those things. He ran the ball on 18 percent of his plays last season, the second-highest rate behind Jackson (29 percent) among 33 quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts. His 544 yards rushing ranked third behind Jackson and Murray. His nine rushing touchdowns led all quarterbacks, but weren’t enough to elevate him higher than 24th in Total QBR.

“A lot of these guys rely on their athleticism, but you don’t see Kyler Murray or Russell Wilson take a lot of straight-up clean shots,” an offensive play-caller said. “With Josh and Lamar, they will lower their right shoulders. There are a couple shots where you go, ‘How the hell does he not get stretchered off?’ Josh is not as dynamic as those guys above him and I think his passing leaves a little to be desired, but he is good, he makes enough plays, they play defense behind him.”

Allen tied for the NFL lead in fourth-quarter comeback victories last season.

“This will be a big year for him just to see where he goes,” a head coach said. “I thought he was accurate enough. People hit him with his accuracy. I thought, teach him how to get into rhythm and go. He had good vision. He was throwing to the right guys.”


Tier 2 votes: 2 | Tier 3 votes: 39 | Tier 4 votes: 9 | 2019 Tier: N/A

Bridgewater is already a success story for returning from the devastating knee injury that threatened his career before the 2016 season. His 3.14 average tier vote this year mirrors the 3.10 average from the Quarterback Tiers survey conducted weeks before the injury. That means he’s back to where he was before the injury, at least in the eyes of coaches and evaluators. But he still has much to prove.

“He hasn’t played 16 games in five years,” an exec said. “Can he stay healthy? What he did in New Orleans, everyone grains-of-salt that with the coaching staff there and their scheme. It is hard to judge.”

The Panthers are banking on a quarterback with 221 regular-season pass attempts in the past four-and-a-half years, under an offensive coordinator who has never called plays, following an offseason that prevented teams from practicing, in a division featuring rivals led by Brady, Brees and Ryan. A coach who saw Bridgewater against the Bears last season was impressed, but as Bridgewater switches to a weaker team in Carolina, this coach noted wryly that a good quarterback with a bad defense usually makes a bad quarterback.

“Teddy is a good game manager,” a defensive coordinator said. “You give him a three on command and game management. His arm isn’t the best. Teddy is going to play very safe. He is not going to have the turnovers, but he is not going to take the chances. If he sees an opposite color jersey within a yard or two, he probably is not going to throw it.”


Tier 2 votes: 2 | Tier 3 votes: 37 | Tier 4 votes: 11 | 2019 Tier: 3

Darnold polled slightly higher than the Giants’ Daniel Jones, but when coaches and evaluators were asked which quarterback they preferred in the long term, most went with Jones. They had seen more of Darnold and weren’t particularly moved one way or the other. It was easier placing Jones in the fourth tier simply because he hasn’t played a full season.

“I think Darnold is a legit starter but don’t know that he has a ton of upside,” an opposing defensive coach said. “I feel like the message is going to be, OK, flashed sometimes as a rookie, then he got hurt, then flashed this past year, and I feel like the message for his whole career is going to be that he is on the cusp of putting it together and becoming something he is not. I don’t know if he has the decision making.”

Voters see Darnold as a highly instinctive player who struggles reading defenses, isn’t always sure where to go with the football and is prone to having happy feet, but still could ascend if the organization upgrades what has been an abysmal cast around him. The Jets are the only team in the NFL to get zero starts since 2016 from offensive players voted to the Pro Bowl.

“He is an up-and-coming young guy who has accuracy, who is more athletic than you know,” a personnel director said. “He just has some young quarterback mistakes at times that you hope will get cleaned up.”

Darnold’s instincts could be his strong suit, but also his limitation.

“You are going to have critical points in games where defenses are going to contain you and you have to stand there with the rush and make that throw with guys flying around you,” an evaluator said. “Darnold makes plays from the pocket, but I don’t think he is most comfortable in the pocket. I think he is more comfortable back-yarding it. He is super instinctive. When the play breaks down, look out, he might make something, but when everything is drawn up, run the way it is, it is contained and he has to sit there and make play after play from the pocket, I think you’ve got him.”


Tier 2 votes: 1 | Tier 3 votes: 29 | Tier 4 votes: 20 | 2019 Tier: N/A

Coaches and evaluators like much of what they’ve seen, but quite a few were not ready to pass judgment after only 12 starts. Twenty voters placed Jones in the fourth tier, which is reserved for veteran stopgaps who ideally would not start all 16 games, and young players for which there isn’t enough information. Jones falls into the latter category, just as the Ravens’ Jackson did one year ago following an abbreviated season as a starter, and just as Mahomes did two years ago after making only one start during his rookie year.

No one thinks Jones is going to be a breakout star along the lines of Jackson or Mahomes, but there is hope he might threaten the second tier.

“He is going to jump some of those dudes in the third tier ahead of him,” a quarterbacks coach said. “He has enough arm talent. His decision making and poise are better than Josh Allen or Sam Darnold. And he’s not on a better team. He has a better running back, but he just makes good decisions, sees the field. I’ve just been impressed, and he has enough poise where he can do it consistently, whereas I think the Buffalo guy (Allen) doesn’t, and Darnold doesn’t.”

Jones’ ball security and tendency to hold the football too long were by far the biggest concerns raised by voters. Learning a second NFL system in two years without a normal offseason was another. There was hope spending one season with Eli Manning would pay off.

“He is better than I thought he was coming out of college, but he led the league in fumbles and had a lot of bad plays at Duke,” an offensive coordinator said. “You can rationalize and say he was outmanned, playing against really good teams, but guys that have bad plays have bad plays.”

Jones finished his rookie season with 23 turnovers, tied for second in the NFL behind Jameis Winston.

“He is tougher than I thought he was,” a different quarterbacks coach said. “He stared down the barrel of a gun. That system put him in some positions where he had to really show some courage, stand back in the pocket, deep three-level throws. He was getting smacked, but he was delivering the ball, he’s accurate. He has athletic ability, arm talent, smarts, toughs. If they get the right coach, right people around him, he is going to be really good.”


Tier 2 votes: 1 | Tier 3 votes: 27 | Tier 4 votes: 22 | 2019 Tier: 3

The Bears have two quarterbacks in the survey and the highest-ranked one is not Mitch Trubisky. Foles’ spectacular run as the Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning backup, when contrasted with his failed stints as an opening-week starter, cemented his reputation as the ultimate relief pitcher while giving him the edge over Trubisky among voters. Is this a case of a team with two quarterbacks having no quarterback?

“As bad as Trubisky is, I know Foles is even worse, just watching him in Jacksonville last year,” a defensive coordinator said. “He could have stuck to his backup quarterback role, come in as a relief pitcher, but some guys like him and (Ryan) Fitzpatrick want to be starters, and that gets them exposed.”

Not that anyone should fault Foles for accepting the fat contract Jacksonville offered him last offseason, a deal the Bears acquired and reworked upon adding him. In fairness to Foles, he has performed pretty well in good situations (Philadelphia) and struggled in bad situations (Jacksonville, St. Louis).

“You can win with him, but everything has to be right and you have to play his type of offense,” a personnel director said. “You saw what they did with him when they won the Super Bowl with the Eagles. They went back to Chip Kelly’s offense a little bit, a lot of read-option, play-action off the read option and threw it when they had to throw it. If he has to throw it every down, you are going to lose games.”

TIER 4
A Tier 4 quarterback could be an unproven player with some upside or a veteran who is ultimately best suited as a backup.


Tier 3 votes: 20 | Tier 4 votes: 27 | Tier 5 votes: 3 | 2019 Tier: 3

If it felt as though Mariota did not impact games while with Tennessee, either through offensive approach or poor individual play or a combination of the two, the numbers do not protest the notion. Mariota is among 67 quarterbacks to start at least 50 regular-season games over the past 20 seasons. He accounted for zero touchdowns passing or rushing in 34 percent of his starts, fourth-worst among those 67 quarterbacks behind only Joey Harrington, David Carr and Matt Cassel.

“I really want to like him, but he’s a four,” a former head coach said. “I think Jon Gruden, if he committed to him, could do what he did with Rich Gannon, because I think the guy has some real good ability. Mariota has issues keeping his eyes up the field, but I think he was in a tough position there in Tennessee with the combination of things they had going on. At some point, you have to overcome whatever it is.”

A defensive coordinator thought Mariota “will get rid of the ball like Gruden wants and he will be a dink-and-dunk guy” … while labeling Mariota a four who does not read defenses well.

“Honestly, if you watched the preseason tape last year, Tannehill vs. Mariota, and you are totally unbiased, Tannehill outplayed him and should have been starting from day one,” an exec said. “We played Mariota twice, beat him both times and he was awful.”


Tier 3 votes: 17 | Tier 4 votes: 28 |Tier 5 votes: 5 | 2019 Tier: 4

With 33 of 50 voters placing Fitzpatrick in the fourth or fifth tier, voters are looking forward to seeing what rookie Tua Tagovailoa offers.

“He is entertaining, if nothing else,” a former head coach said of Fitzpatrick. “Those guys are great relief pitchers, but as soon as you start them and they have to go nine innings, you see why they are relief pitchers. They can give you two or three. The biggest thing, if Fitz has a great game, you might as well call the Titanic because he’s going to tank it after that. He thinks he can make every throw after that and he’s a superstar. They won’t stay in their role. I like Fitz, but that’s what he is.”


Tier 3 votes: 14 | Tier 4 votes: 31 | Tier 5 votes: 5 | 2019 Tier: N/A

The Chargers seemed eager for a change at quarterback and will get one in Taylor, who is basically the opposite of Rivers. Taylor owns a 23-21-1 starting record with 65 total touchdowns (51 passing, 14 rushing) and only 22 turnovers in those starts. He has run the ball on 17 percent of his offensive plays, double the league average for starting quarterbacks last season (Rivers was at 1.9 percent).

“Tyrod is not going to turn the ball over, but he is not going to throw it and he does not throw it (downfield) inside the numbers, the hash, because he can’t see,” a defensive coordinator said. “His intelligence and the way he can run the ball will keep him in games, but he is not going to beat you with his arm.”

Taylor was a full-time starter with Buffalo from 2015-2017. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn was on the Bills’ staff for two of those seasons.

“He smoked us in Buffalo a few years ago,” a defensive coach said. “We couldn’t tackle him. I think he’s a legit starter. They are not going to be super shitty with him in there.


Tier 2 votes: 1 | Tier 3 votes: 6 | Tier 4 votes: 43 | 2019 Tier: N/A

Lock has started only five games, which almost guaranteed he would receive mostly Tier 4 votes indicating there’s not enough information to make an assessment. A few voters were willing to rate Lock higher than that based on what they saw during his brief time on the field, and also based on what they thought of him coming out of college.

“He was awful in the preseason and then better in the regular season— you liked what you saw,” a GM said. “He’s got some arm talent. I will be interested when teams actually study him a little more and know what he can do well and what he can’t do well.”

An offensive coordinator did not think Lock stood firm against the rush in college and wanted to see the quarterback prove himself in that regard. He also thought Lock’s downfield accuracy was not exceptional. When new Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was with the Giants last season, Daniel Jones did not rank among the league leaders in average air yards after becoming a starter in Week 3, but on passes traveling more than 15 yards downfield, Jones was tied with Aaron Rodgers for second in most touchdowns (10) and tied with Baker Mayfield for third in most interceptions (seven).

“The system is going to be interesting for him,” an offensive coach said. “We will see, because Daniel Jones got the heck knocked out of him. Lock is going to have to stand back there and throw the ball down the field. That’s great, but there is always a risk-reward.



Tier 2 votes: 1 | Tier 3: 10 | Tier 4: 35 | Tier 5: 4 | 2019 Tier: N/A

Most voters think Minshew showed enough flashes to project as a backup, with some potential to develop into a Tier 3 starter.

“Once enough film was out there, teams caught on to how to defend him,” an exec said. “We’ll see, though. Oakland last year, he came back to beat them. I liked that game. Impressive. But he is a mixed bag for me. If your goal is to win the Super Bowl and compete for playoffs and have a chance, I don’t think you can do it with him for 16 games.”

Another exec noted that Minshew seemed exceptional against Tennessee, Oakland, Cincinnati and the Jets … and terrible against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Houston and the Chargers.

“We played him and I don’t know why Jacksonville did not draft a quarterback,” a defensive coach said. “Minshew magic? They are fooling themselves. He can run around and do a little freaky stuff and make a play and make you say, ‘Ooo, ahh,’ but he is going to get you beat.”

If a player with a more impressive draft pedigree had produced the numbers Minshew produced, would the evaluations differ? A sixth-round pick from Washington State in 2019, Minshew put up numbers almost identical to the ones Brady produced last season for completion rate, yards per attempt, touchdowns, interceptions, passer rating, air yards and EPA per pass attempt.

“I really like the kid,” a head coach said. “He’s scrappy. Probably a three. He is one of those guys probably a little bit like Fitzpatrick. Might not kill you, but doesn’t win games for you.”


Tier 3 votes: 10 | Tier 4 votes: 32 | Tier 5 votes: 8 | 2019 Tier: 3

Eight voters placed Trubisky in the rarely used fifth tier, reserved for players who shouldn’t be in the conversation as starters at all. But he also drew 10 votes in the third tier from voters who thought Trubisky proved as a rookie he could be a legitimate starter on a team with a strong defense and sufficient running game. The Bears went to the playoffs using that formula in 2017.

“He had a legitimate skillset enough to be drafted in the first round,” a head coach said. “I don’t think anybody will deny that. You just would have hoped — a lot of these guys come in the league and they get better incrementally. You just saw things on tape, saw some things live where it wasn’t getting better, and then the Bears saw that, too. They can say what they want, but it’s obviously why they brought in Foles.”

The Bears have scored 17 or more points in only 57 percent of Trubisky’s starts, counting playoffs. That ranks 22nd out of 23 quarterbacks with at least 32 starts over the past three seasons. The Raiders’ Carr is the only quarterback ranked lower. Mahomes leads the way at 97.2 percent.

“I don’t see any elite trait,” a defensive coach said. “Trubisky doesn’t have a great arm. Josh Allen has a freak-show arm. Trubisky is an OK athlete, but he is not this super-dynamic athlete. Usually, the guys like that who make it are mentally ahead of everyone else, but I didn’t get that from him, either. I did not see him diagnosing, getting the ball out in 1.5 seconds, knowing where to go with it. We caught him on a couple disguises. I’m like, what does this guy do? What is his X-Man ability?”
Another coach compared Trubisky to Mark Sanchez, who went to two AFC Championship Games with a strong defense and running game on his side, only to regress under intense scrutiny in a major media market, until he was finally cast aside.

“I think he can function,” a GM said. “Is he great? No. But is he as bad as the media portrays him? No.”


Tier 3 votes: 1 | Tier 4 votes: 47 | Tier 5 votes: 2 | 2019 Tier: N/A

NFL teams selected five quarterbacks in the first three rounds of the 2019 draft. Four of those five will be learning new offenses under new coordinators entering their second season. Haskins is one of them. He started seven games as a rookie, finishing with seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

“He’s a four that can be a two,” a former head coach said. “He just hasn’t played enough. This guy has great vision, he has a big-time arm, he has good movement, he wants to be good. Shit, he beat out the No. 1 pick in the draft in college. I like him a lot, but you can’t base it on six or seven games in one of the most fucked-up situations you can ever be in.”

That was the most enthusiastic endorsement for Haskins. Others were harshly skeptical, and some were in between. The general feeling was not one of excitement at this early stage.

“I did not see him as a starter coming out,” a former GM said. “Accuracy, decision making, all those things. I did not see the ‘how-could-you-take-Daniel-Jones-over-Haskins thing. To me, it was clear Daniel Jones was better. I don’t know if Haskins can be consistent enough. He has the big arm, big body. Don’t know about his intangibles. I just haven’t seen it yet. It will be interesting.”


Tier 4 votes: 46 | Tier 5 votes: 4 | 2019 Tier: N/A

The assumption is that Newton will be the starter for the Patriots this season. Stidham was in the survey this year before Newton signed, but he attempted only four passes during his 2019 rookie season.

“You liked what you saw in the preseason,” an exec said. “He showed he was accurate, athletic, he could create, he just showed everything you need to be to be a starter. There was some bad as well, but you saw the traits. He knew where to go with the ball, you liked the poise, quick decisions.”

Not that preseason is necessarily meaningful.

“That’s great,” a defensive coach said of Stidham looking good in preseason. “I got a bunch of guys that had a great preseason for us.”


Tier 3 votes: 1 | Tier 4 votes: 33 | Tier 5 votes: 16 | 2019 Tier: N/A

Allen already knows the offensive system coordinator Scott Turner is bringing to Washington from Carolina, potentially giving him an advantage over Haskins, at least in the short term. Alex Smith’s potential availability is another variable to watch. Smith was not included in the survey because it wasn’t clear until recently he would be cleared to return, and voters could not know anything about his abilities after such an arduous rehabilitation from such a devastating injury.

As for Allen, he tossed 15 interceptions in his 12 starts for the Panthers last season.

“He is a risk-taker, he doesn’t have a lot of discipline in his reads, does not have great instincts for the game, but he does have physical skills, so he is a backup,” an offensive coach said.

The Panthers went 5-1 in Allen’s first six starts, but 0-6 in his final six.

“I know he won a couple games in Carolina,” a former head coach said, “but I think that is a comfort spot for Scott Turner that he can use to help train Haskins and, in the worst-case scenario, go in and know what the language sounds like.”
 

Cowboysrock55

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Seems like a list that clings to past accomplishments more than where a QB currently is. A guy like Phillip Rivers doesn't belong that high any more but because he was good in the past it seems like he is still being voted highly.

Still don't get the Stafford love. He pads his stats a ton but wins very little. Yet that's sort of the criticism for Dak from last year. Matt Ryan is still living in the past as well.
 

Iamtdg

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Seems like a list that clings to past accomplishments more than where a QB currently is. A guy like Phillip Rivers doesn't belong that high any more but because he was good in the past it seems like he is still being voted highly.

Still don't get the Stafford love. He pads his stats a ton but wins very little. Yet that's sort of the criticism for Dak from last year. Matt Ryan is still living in the past as well.
Rodgers doesn't deserve to be that high either anymore.
 

Genghis Khan

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Yet that's sort of the criticism for Dak from last year.
Yep. Look at the criticism that Dak's supporting cast somehow invalidates or diminishes his stats and accomplishments. They compared his supporting cast to Pittsburgh's. Yet did they dock Big Ben's for the same sin? No? Interesting.

They also accused Dak of not winning enough. Yet, look at Stafford's ranking. Look at Watson.

And that's not even mentioning Wentz over Dak.

Joke.
 

1bigfan13

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Until he proves otherwise I'm going to die on the hill shouting that Deshaun Watson is overrated.

IMO, he belongs in the same group as Wentz & Dak.

I'm not sure what everyone else is watching. His numbers are good but they're nothing special. His 2018-2019 numbers are pretty much the same as Dak's.
 

Iamtdg

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These are coaches and GMs giving these rankings, right?
Fifty NFL coaches and evaluators rated 35 veteran quarterbacks this year while providing candid evaluations that appear in the analysis below.

Doesn't specify if those evaluators are GMs or just scouts.
 

Rev

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Until he proves otherwise I'm going to die on the hill shouting that Deshaun Watson is overrated.

IMO, he belongs in the same group as Wentz & Dak.

I'm not sure what everyone else is watching. His numbers are good but they're nothing special. His 2018-2019 numbers are pretty much the same as Dak's.
You have company.
 

Rodwellian89

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Shame about his injury, but I think Wentz would have been higher.

Think he will end up with the other old boys in 5 years!

Not even in the ESPN Top 100 players in the league!!!?!?!?
 

boozeman

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Until he proves otherwise I'm going to die on the hill shouting that Deshaun Watson is overrated.

IMO, he belongs in the same group as Wentz & Dak.

I'm not sure what everyone else is watching. His numbers are good but they're nothing special. His 2018-2019 numbers are pretty much the same as Dak's.
Absolutely.
 

Chocolate Lab

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I think he's a little overrated too, but unlike Dak he had a horrible OL in front of him and, other than Hopkins, worse talent overall.
 

Iamtdg

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He makes his Oline worse than it is though.
Patrick Mahomes did the same thing in college. That's why I was iffy on him doing good things in the NFL. He was always abandoning clean pockets which made his line look terrible because they had no idea where he was behind them at any given time. I knew that had to coached out of him for him to succeed at this level, and Reid has done just that.
 

Cowboysrock55

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Patrick Mahomes did the same thing in college. That's why I was iffy on him doing good things in the NFL. He was always abandoning clean pockets which made his line look terrible because they had no idea where he was behind them at any given time. I knew that had to coached out of him for him to succeed at this level, and Reid has done just that.
Yeah Reid is the perfect coach for him. The guy has been great with QBs for a long time.
 

DontCryWolfe

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He makes his Oline worse than it is though.
I feel like that was more a product of him recognizing the deficiencies he had in front of him more than anything else. It’s no slight to Dak, and I know i’m in the minority here, but I would swap the two in an instant. And that’s coming from someone who thought he was going to bust, hard.
 

Cowboysrock55

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I feel like that was more a product of him recognizing the deficiencies he had in front of him more than anything else. It’s no slight to Dak, and I know i’m in the minority here, but I would swap the two in an instant. And that’s coming from someone who thought he was going to bust, hard.
He has gotten better with coaching but he used to hold the ball way too long. He still bails on the pocket way too quickly for my taste and takes too many awkward hits as a result but he has gotten better at least.
 
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