ESPN Got The QB Tiers Wrong…Let Me Fix It For You

Hi. I’m a nobody. But I’m a nobody with an opinion, and you’re going to read it.

I like to argue with people, it’s the primary reason I want to go on Big Brother, so I can make everyone mad and come in 6th.

“What happened to the playoff series you were working on?”

I got bored. I’m sorry, if I haven’t covered your team in that series yet it’s because I got bored. I really got writers block. I’m also a bad liar.

That’s beside the point.

ESPN released their QB Tier list last week and it has been the subject of a lot of discussion. We often talk about how there’s a shortage of quality QBs in the NFL compared to a few years ago, but there are still some solid starters out there. So I wanted to give my own take on their list, which you can find here. (For all intents and purposes, I agree largely with the ESPN list, I just wanted you to click mine). I’m also going to add a few guys outside the “presumed 32”, including backups like Josh McCown who ARE likely to see playing time this season. Also, I’m going in reverse.

Here’s a breakdown of how the tiers go:

Tier 1: Can carry his team each week. Team wins because of him.
Tier 2: Can carry team sometimes but not as consistently.
Tier 3: Legit starter but needs heavy run game/defense to win.
Tier 4: Might not want this guy starting all 16 games.
Tier 5: Do not think this guy should be starting.

Tier 5 – Perpetual Backup Energy/We Don’t Know Yet

Trevor Siemian
Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (3) throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

#38. Trevor Siemian – Is it fair? No. But in all honestly we know nothing of Trevor Siemian as a starting QB outside of the fact that he’s currently locked in a 3-way battle in Denver for the starting job. The only advantage Trevor has is familiarity with Gary Kubiak’s system, which hasn’t really helped him so far in camp. I’m always rooting for the underdog, especially in a competition that includes a journeyman QB and a project rookie.

#37. Blaine “Yo Gabba” Gabbert – He’s just not good enough to be a starter. He’s good in spots, and showed some upside last season, but for the most part he’s a guy with the “right build” who doesn’t play up to expectations. He might win the starting job in San Francisco, but he’s a stopgap until they can find a guy Chip likes in the draft.

#36. Paxton Lynch – We don’t know anything about this guy as a starter. He DOES have a lot of potential though as he’s very quick for a tall QB. The only issues scouts had with Lynch was his ability to process through plays/progressions, and laying out passes for receivers to actually pick up yards after the catch. He could be as good as promised, and that will vault him up the ranks next year. He’s just this low because we don’t know yet.

#35. Carson Wentz – You’re going to notice a theme here. As great as the upside is for these rookies, we don’t know enough about them to really give them any praise or disdain. Wentz could be the savior the Eagles needed, the next Donovan McNabb (with hopes of actually bringing them a ring). The only knock to him is that he’s going to a team that’s about to be completely decimated with little ability to rebuild because they gave up the farm to get him.

#34. Colin Kaepernick – He’s a shell of himself. I feel bad for him. He was completely overwhelmed without Harbaugh and thrust into a situation under a lame duck coach with a front office unsure of what direction it should go. The longer he stays there, the more broken he will be. He’s got to get out if he wants any kind of career revival.

Goff Rams

#33. Jared Goff – Only because he’s got a better surrounding cast (running back) than the other previously mentioned rookie QBs. He gets the big city of LA without too many expectations because LA doesn’t really care.

#32. Mark Sanchez – At the peak of his career he was a bad QB who was JUST bad enough to not get the Jets to the Super Bowl. He came close though. Sanchez is smarter as a player than he was in New York and maybe that will help in his endeavor to win the starting job. Or maybe do enough to get him 4 weeks before they force in Siemian and eventually Lynch.

#31. Chase Daniel – Another guy with limited playing experience who people believe has a tremendous upside. Daniel will see the field this season, I’d almost guarantee it. So we’ll be able to see what he’s really made of and why the Chiefs held onto him for so long.

Tier 4: The Rut

Fameis Jameis.jpg

#30. Sam Bradford – Fragile. Inaccurate. Doesn’t have the command he once (briefly) had when he was actually on the field in St. Louis. He’s a shell of his former self and definitely overpaid. Can still be a serviceable backup in the league, and should have been granted the trade/release instead of being paraded in the mess that is the Eagles right now.

#29.  Robert Griffin III – Broken QB that is with the perfect rebuilder. Hue Jackson took the Raiders to 6-2 under Jason Campbell. Also made Chris Redman a respectable starter for the final quarter of the season (2007). Any freaking thing is possible with that guy. RGIII still has elements of what made his game so strong his rookie year, just has to heck that ego at the door.

#28. Brock Osweiler – We don’t know anything about him honestly. General consensus is that he’s overpaid, but he’s setup very well to make a name for himself. He can’t be as bad as Brian Hoyer was last season, and being just an average QB would make Houston a major threat in the AFC. Osweiler still has a tendency to hesitate on the deep ball and (nitpick alert) has an elongated release. That one probably isn’t that big of a problem and is just me being OCD about mechanics (I used to make fun of Byron Leftwich because he looked like he was loading a cannon).

#27. Josh McCown – McGAWD. McCown is a backup who’s better than just a backup but still not good enough to be a longtime starter. He was actually pretty darn good in 2015 for Cleveland barring getting knocked out of 3 different games. He played solid football on a BAD team, which is why the Cowboys are clammoring to get this guy. 3:1 TD to INT ratio, savvy veteran with a knowledge of multiple offensive playbooks and styles. Will likely see playing time either as a fill-in for RG3 or Romo because, injury.


#26. Ryan Tannehill – Not as good as advertised. Athlete playing QB with some moderate success. I think Miami has pretty much written him off if Adam Gase can’t turn things around for him. Gase designs his offensives around route concepts that allow the QB to get the ball out quickly while also giving the QB several possible options. To Tannehill’s defense most of Philbin’s offense was uninspired and used the same personnel groupings over

and over

and over again.

#25. Marcus Mariota – Next 3 QBs have tremendous upside and are just this low because, reasons. I’ll take the unpopular road and say Whisenhunt deserved another year. He is the reason Mariota started out so hot. However, Mularkey did a whole lot to adjust to Mariota’s strengths by shifting the pocket around and allowing him to adjust to the NFL game over a period of time. Here’s the greatest part of Mariota’s game though: he’s accurate. Really accurate. He’s also patient. He let’s plays develop and he stays in that adjusted pocket until he’s ready to deliver that throw.  The build is there. In 2-3 years we’ll see Mariota up a few tiers.

#24. Teddy Bridgewater – People don’t give him credit. I know he has his shortcomings and believe me, there are plenty, but he’s not around the best cast aside from Adrian Peterson. He benefits incredibly from AP and a pretty good defense. He also has a coach that doesn’t put too much on him from the QB position. To label him a game manager is a little too much as it kind of says that it’s all he’ll ever be. I think he’ll evolve into a Philip Rivers like QB who gets better and better but needs the right cast to win at his “peak”.

#23. Jameis Winston – I got a love/hate relationship with Fameis Jameis. He forces a lot of decisions. A lot of them. Sometimes makes incredibly boneheaded plays. On the reverse he’s got the instincts and the intelligence for the position. Jameis is smart. He knows football. He’s also a natural leader and you can tell the team responds to him. Lovie should have never been fired, I wholeheartedly believe that. Jameis will still have a so-so year in 2016 before taking a major leap next season.

Tier 3: Starters vs. Starters with potential

Derek Carr

#22. Jay Cutler – How hard has he fallen? Cutler was the one guy who seemed to survive the 2006 NFL Draft, which included such names as Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Tarvaris “Hope you’re accurate with the gun cause you ain’t on the field” Jackson and the immortal Ingle Martin. Although, funny enough, Tarvaris is the only QB from that draft class with a Super Bowl ring. All that aside Jay Cutler hit his ceiling a long time ago, we have seen the best that he has to offer. Those days are gone. Cutler is still a sharp quarterback, he has one of the best arms in the league, but his tendency to force passes when they clearly aren’t there simply because he can has and will continue to be his downfall. He lost Matt Forte, even though I definitely believe Jordan Howard will become an integral part of that offense down the line, and he’ll end up losing Alshon Jeffery after this season.

#21. Kirk Cousins – I still don’t fully believe in him. Incredible close to last season. Best turnaround midseason that we’ve seen in quite awhile. But early season Cousins is still lurking in the background: the one that was very turnover prone and couldn’t hold onto the football if it were covered in gorilla glue. This is basically his “prove it” moment, he gambled on himself, let’s see if he wins.

#20. Matthew Stafford – Stafford is one QB of a quartet that I believe has reached their ceiling. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for him. Stafford’s ceiling is rather high and with the right team around him he could theoretically win a Super Bowl. Problem is that team isn’t around him. Don’t get me wrong, he’s got weapons. Just not what he used to have. Stafford is a gunner, he’s going to take risks and take shots down the field, but his major hang up is that he often folds under pressure. Send the right blitzes at him and he WILL make the wrong decision.

Aside: let me say that I am criticizing QBs within the context of what they do on the field. I can’t process the information they have to process that quickly or make those decisions. Neither can 99% of the people reading this. That’s why there are only 32 starting NFL QBs and approximately 70 QBs on a roster.

That being said I think Stafford still can thrive at a high level for the next few years. Detroit has about a 3 year window with him where he’ll still be playing at this level. Build and build quick.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars


#19. Blake Bortles – He offers a lot of opportunities for defenders to catch the football. That’s his major problem. Lucky for him in 2015 a lot of those throws didn’t result in the defender actually catching the ball (13 INTs to 30 TDs). Bortles gives two very very good WRs plenty of opportunities to make plays, but so does Ryan Fitzpatrick. There’s a risk/reward that comes with those decisions and a good quarterback should learn when it’s absolutely necessary to make those decisions, and when you should probably just throw the ball away and live another day. Bortles will eventually learn this, Gus Bradley is slowly getting to his young QB and teaching him those ropes. The pieces are finally coming together for the Jaguars.

#18. Ryan Fitzpatrick – I am a Fitzdefender. I’m not afraid to say it. We know how smart he is. Duh. He’s also great at seeing the field and processing information. His worst flaw is his tendency to be late with his release, under throw deep routes and just make boneheaded decisions. Fitzpatrick is like the reverse NBA Jam, when he goes cold, he goes COLD. Frigid. Zero Kelvin. And once he hits that point, you cannot turn him around. The other side of that is if you surround Fitzpatrick with talent (Marshall, Decker, Forte) he can take you pretty far. Jets may have missed the postseason, but they won 10 games last season, there’s a reason they caved in to Fitz’s demands.

alex smith chiefs

#17. Alex Smith – One of those rare mid-career revivals who actually has a chance to win a Super Bowl.  Alex Smith is one of the smarter QBs in the league and one of the most talented. He’s truly an athlete at the position who has the mobility to cause you a headache.  He doesn’t need you to move the launchpoint, but you’re in good hands knowing that he CAN and WILL if pressured to do so. He also adjusts to various defensive schemes rather well and has the talent around him to break a game wide open at any moment. This is certainly one of the most talented casts he’s ever played with.

#16. Andy Dalton – Remember when I said there were several QBs who we’ve got to start admitting that we have seen their ceiling? This is another one, or, well, he’s close to it, but I’m going to include him anyway.  Dalton took a step up last season and even though I fear that might be his ceiling it’s still a pretty nice stealing. He cut his interceptions from 17 in 2014 to 7 in 2015 (granted he missed a few games on the back end), and increased his yards per attempt by 14%.  He’s gotten better at seeing the field and letting plays develop and has taken fewer risks with the football. That’s big for a team like Cincinnati who has explosive talent all around and a strong defense. They want Dalton to be more than a game manager, but he doesn’t have to be Tom Brady and that’s a pretty comfortable zone to be in.

#15. Matt Ryan –  3rd member of the Ceiling Quartet. Matt Ryan is a good quarterback, but that’s about all he is. Good, with the capacity for a great season every once in awhile. Every guy needs a certain system to thrive in, Matt Ryan is at his best when he’s got a main threat that can occupy an additional defensive back and a Tight End that can win one on one matchups against a Nickel or Linebacker. He hasn’t had that since Gonzales left and it has shown. Yes, I know, Matt has had abysmal O-lines for awhile, I know the Falcons haven’t been able to build a defense through the draft for some time now (consequences of the Julio trade) and I know Kyle Shannahan is 90% of the reason the season went off the rails last year.  That doesn’t excuse the fact that Ryan hesitates to go deep when he’s got one of the most legit threats in the league, and it doesn’t excuse his decision making at times where he throws into double coverage and triple coverage in situations where it’s completely unwarranted. There were times the Falcons offense stalled out last year, and there were times where Matt Ryan himself stalled out.  Don’t fret though Falcons fans, Matt can still win a Super Bowl, but he needs consistency offensively, and a dynamic Tight End.


#14. Tyrod Taylor – The Bills locked him up through 2022 for a reason: he’s an up and coming star. Tyrod Taylor is a bold QB who loves making plays down the field. He was ranked 5th last year in yards per attempt last season (7.99) and 8th in number of 40+ passing yard plays. Taylor is a dual threat QB with enough pocket presence to be considered dangerous. He does still need to work on throwing from within the pocket and avoiding the panic, but overall he is a solid QB with tremendous upside who should and will get better within the next few years. 3,000 yards passing last year, 20:6 TD/INT ratio, 5.5 yards per rushing attempt with 4 rushing TDs. He also has, as you’ve noticed a common thread between a lot of these promising QBs on this list, a STRONG offensive cast around him. As long as he has Sammy Watkins he will continue to develop on a positive trend.

#13. Joe Flacco – Final member of the “ceiling” list. Except Flacco has a ring. We’ve seen the peak of Flacco’s game, specifically his Super Bowl run a few years back. He has suffered a regression 2 of the last 3 years specifically in 2015 and 2013 (to his defense he only played 10 games last season). My point is that Flacco has reached his peak: we’re not going to see a better Joe Flacco than we saw from 2010 – 2012. That peak has been reached and he’s going to need more talent than he did during that period in order to get back to the Super Bowl. The one great thing about Flacco is the fact that he does complete a good percentage of his passes and he typically doesn’t turn the ball over. So again, if you have those two qualities in a QB (especially a Super Bowl QB) you have a chance.

#12. Derek Carr – Definitely an up and coming superstar in the right system to be successful. Derek Carr is efficient, accurate, and relies heavily on timing, something that Bill Musgrave has integrated into his offense. The system has been broken down into simple reads, routes and concepts that Carr can get used to and get in rhythm with. Once Carr is in rhythm with his short, quick routes, and the corners begin creeping up it gives him the opportunity to take the top off the defense. Carr’s touch along with a smart OC and a talented group of receivers headlined by one of the best young WRs in the league presents a strong case for a QB that’s about to elevate towards the top tier very soon.

#11. Philip Rivers – Aging QB at the end of his career that can still bring something to the table of a bad team. I feel bad for Philip, I really do, for the first few years of his career he was always at the cusp of reaching the Super Bowl. Soon after it all fell apart, his team was decimated, and now he’s left with a shell of a franchise around him and it might be too late to build it back up to contender status in time before he’s out of the league. If you ask me, Rivers is a Top 15 QB in terms of wisdom alone. He’s knowledgeable of NFL defenses and has just enough left in the arm to exploit whatever you throw at him.

Tier 2: Elevated

knxv carson palmer arizona cardinals_1451246081101_29014663_ver1.0_640_480

#10. Andrew Luck – I believe he’s vastly overrated for what they try to make him out to be. Fact of the matter is Luck really hasn’t proven a whole lot, but he has proven enough to place him up here on his merit alone. He was bad last season. So much so that an over the hill Matt Hasselbeck held the team together a little more than he did.  Luck completed only 55% of his passes last season, second worse of his career, 15 TDs to 12 INTs in limited playing time.  He matched 75% of his interceptions from the previous seasons in 66% less time (12 INTs v. 16 INTs in 7 games v 16 games). He regressed horribly. So why do I believe he still deserves Top 10 status? Because of what he’s done before and what I believe he’ll return to doing.  Andrew Luck has shown he has the capability to break games wide open for the Colts and while I don’t think this team is anywhere near as talented overall as other contenders in the conference, I do believe he’s enough to make up for that.

#9. Tony Romo – Don’t laugh. Romo is a legit Top 10 QB in the league, the catch is whether or not he’s healthy. There’s no debate how important Romo is to the Cowboys just look at the team with him in the lineup vs them without him. Don’t give me anything about the backups being horrible (they were) there shouldn’t be THAT much of a drop off if Romo was just an average QB. He makes plays when plays aren’t there and he’s the fire of the offense. He makes mistakes here and there, but since he’s been pigeonholed as the “choker” he’ll never let go of that moniker so long as he turns the ball over. We’ve labeled him, we can’t unlabel him. Over his last two seasons in 19 games Romo has:

Completed 69% of his passes

Thrown for almost 4600 yards

Thrown 39 TDs to 16 INTs

That’s tough to replace. A healthy Romo means the Cowboys go deep.

#8. Eli Manning – I don’t know how you define Eli Manning. You really just can’t. He’s not Peyton at his peak and he’ll never be, but the accolades he’s amassed during his career aren’t anything to shy away from. 2 Super Bowl MVPs, 4 Pro Bowl nods, Most Passing Yards in a Single Postseason, Most 4th Quarter TDs in a season, Most Consecutive Completions to Start A Super Bowl, Most consecutive starts by an active QB. The only trend Eli has is that he’s relatively unpredictable when it comes to turnovers and he tends to throw them in bunches when they do happen. A theme to his career is that every 3rd season since he’s been a full time starter he will throw at least 20 interceptions. Let’s see if he breaks that trend this season.

#7. Drew Brees – Not the unquestionably elite-level QB he used to be. But still good enough to be dangerous. You still have to account for Drew Brees as he’ll still drop 500 yards on you in one night. The Saints are bad right now and not even Drew can make them a Super Bowl contender. He can no longer play so well that he makes up for a bad defense.

#6. Carson Palmer – A true career revival. Truthfully it’s no more than an aging veteran who still has the talent fitting into the right system. Carson still has a big arm and Bruce Arians loves building his offense around the spread, empty sets and the big play. Arians needs a guy like Palmer who is disciplined in the pocket and works through his reads. In Arians’ system, all WR routes are designed for success, there are very few decoy routes and very few plays that are designed specifically for one route/receiver. The offense is designed to specifically pick apart whatever defense it is up against by employing the right WR and route combinations and a QB who can process it all. Palmer is that guy. He may not be the elite level QB he was when he was in Cincinnati, but he’s still what is needed for this system to function. This team has proven they’re in the league’s Top 4 when firing on all cylinders and Palmer is the engine that helps it run. Stanton can run it to an extent when called upon, but even Arians has admitted he scales the empty, multi-progression combinations back when Palmer is out.

Tier 1: The Best of the Best, The Elite

ruzzle (USAToday)

#5. Russell Wilson – Another guy who has a unique and remarkable skill set that is being used in the most efficient and productive way. Russell Wilson was knocked initially for his lack of height and Pete Carroll/Seattle have found a way to turn it into an advantage. Their offense focuses on a lot of outside/sideline throws that give Wilson a clear vision of his throwing lanes. They allow him to move and get outside of the pocket, changing his launchpoint. They’ve built a system off of great timing and routes that are allowed to develop off of play action due to a strong running game threat.  Russell can still light you up, it’ll be interesting to see if Seattle will continue rolling offensively without Lynch.


#4. Ben Roethlesberger – Hasn’t had a “bad” season but once in his entire NFL career. Is a monster of a QB to try and take down. Is accurate and a major deep ball threat and has proven time and again that he doesn’t need a strong running game to beat you. Now he has one of the league’s most complete running backs and a Top 5 WR. He will put up numbers. He will hurt you. Roethlisberger has been so consistent in his NFL career that we consistently forget to put him in a Top 10/5 discussion because so we’re just used to him being good that great seasons from him don’t impress us.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers

#3. Cam Newton – I know most of the crowd says he needs to “prove it” one more year before they can put him at this level, but let me tell you why I don’t need that proof. Cam Newton has gotten steadily better mechanically every single year he’s been in the NFL and 2015 showed him putting everything together mentally. His progressions, his understanding of defenses and coverages, his knowledge of the intricacies of his offense and knowing when to tuck the ball in vs. throwing it away. Cam finally showed us what would happen when it all finally clicked. Although Atlanta and Denver showed that the puzzle can be solved when it comes to stopping him, it’s VERY hard to replicate or do unles you have a defensive line that can consistently pressure him up the middle. If he can adapt to that, Cam will move up to #1.


#2. Aaron Rodgers – My ONLY knock on Aaron is that he can’t do what Brady does when it comes to turning any “nobody” WR into a superstar. Rodgers makes players better, that’s a fact. He’s run this offense with and without Eddie Lacy, with and without Jordy Nelson. But something makes you feel not as threatened if Aaron is missing a weapon compared to when you hear Brady is missing a weapon. Rodgers is the complete QB: he’s mobile and can beat you with his legs, but he’d rather shred you to pieces with accuracy that’s so unholy accurate that it’s banned in several churches. I don’t know what else you can say about the guy other than the fact that from a team/franchise standpoint he’s already matched Favre’s legacy. He just doesn’t have the individual accolades yet.

Brady catching a ball

#1. Tom Brady

 Tom Brady is 39 years old.

I don’t think he’s ever “peaked”.

I think he just keeps getting better and it’s scary.

He could honestly play until he’s 45 years old because he rarely gets touched. His receivers get swapped out every other year and he still manages to play at an elite level. In other words: Brady is good no matter who is out there and he’s going to make them better. While Rodgers is approaching that level, he’s not quite there yet (see last year without Jordy Nelson) where he totally makes up for the lack of a major WR. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Brady tail off stat or performance wise and as much as sometimes I can’t stand him, I’m interested to see just how long he can keep it up. How many more rings he’ll win (I thought he was done before they pulled off the Seattle win) and how many records he’ll break.


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