Aug 22, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) following a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Patriots defeated the Saints 26-24.

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NFL QB Tier Rankings - Preseason Edition

Placing every NFL starter into one of six tiers

Seth Dunlap
August 28, 2018 - 7:31 pm
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Three times every season -- preseason, midseason, and postseason -- I evaluate quarterback play across the NFL and try to categorize each player into one of six tiers, from the elite to the replacement level.  It's a fun exercise, and allows for clearer separation from the "good" to the "great".  Yet this year that separation is harder than ever to find.

Quarterback play across the NFL is at a historically high level.   In fact, for the first time in the five year's of this 'Quarterback Tiers' project, I've had to re-define and adjust the tiers.  There are just too many signal callers playing at an elite level, and we can even see separation inside the 'elite' group.  So, we have a new Tier 1 I'm calling 'Mega-Elite'.  Also, there just aren't many starting quarterbacks in the league who are playing at a replacement level, or worse.  Therefore, we've completely eliminated the previous Tier 6 (CFL All-Stars).  Frankly, there wasn't anybody I'd put into that category this time.

A few notes before we get to the Tiers: 

  • Ben Roethlisberger clearly is a lock for the Hall of Fame, yet when you truly look at his play the past two seasons it would be disingenuous to classify him among the 'Mega-Elite'.  I wrangled with his placement more than perhaps anybody else.
  • There are 18 (!) quarterbacks in the top three Tiers.  That's a number we've never had in this project before.  That's more than half of the NFL that likely has their "franchise" quarterback in place.  Furthermore, there are 10 other quarterbacks I put into the 'Trent Dilfer' tier that I think have the ability to win a championship with enough talent around them.   If we're doing the math, that's an unreal 28 quarterbacks who, in the right system with the right players around them, can give teams legitimate championship aspirations.  The league has never before been this deep at the position.
  • I ranked every quarterback we can reasonably expect to get starts this season, including Ryan Fitzpatrick and Nick Foles.
  • This list is malleable, and certainly will change during our mid-season rankings.  Just because your favorite quarterback isn't in the tier you think he should be, there's every chance he can be, with the right level of play, get there in the future.  I don't like inflexible lists.  This isn't one of them.

With that, here are my 2018 Preseason Quarterback Tiers.  Let the debates begin!

 

Tier 1 – Mega-Elite Superstars

Defined:  The quarterbacks separating themselves from even other ‘elite’ signal callers, who have the ability to nearly single-handedly carry an offense throughout an entire season, regardless of the talent, or lack thereof, around them.  Irreplaceable franchise stalwarts who have clearly defined Hall of Fame career trajectories.  League-wide shifts in play calling and offensive schemes can be attributed to these ‘mega-elite’ stars.

  • Tom Brady
  • Drew Brees
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Russell Wilson

 

Tier 2 – The Elite

Defined:  A category that has expanded vastly over the past few years.  Quarterbacks who play at a consistently high level, statistically superior to the majority of their peers.  Super Bowl caliber quarterbacks and the usual MVP contenders.   Injuries are not considered a factor, rather their play while on the field remains at an elite level. 

  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Matt Ryan
  • Kirk Cousins
  • Philip Rivers
  • Andrew Luck

 

Tier 3 – The Game Changers

Defined:  Quarterbacks with, usually, a remarkable athletic skill set that clearly puts them beyond the ‘Trent Dilfer’ category.  They have the ability to look like best quarterback in the league on a given day.  However, they don’t make ‘The Elite’ tier as either their track record is too short or too inconsistent to merit consideration among that group.

  • Carson Wentz
  • Cam Newton
  • Derek Carr
  • Alex Smith
  • Andy Dalton
  • Jared Goff
  • Deshaun Watson
  • Jimmy Garoppolo

 

Tier 4 – The Trent Dilfers

Defined:  Also see ‘Game Manager’.  Not a pejorative, these ‘Dilfers’ aren’t flashy but they are consistent and worthy starting NFL quarterbacks who can steady a franchise and provide opportunity for regular season and playoff success.  With enough talent across the rest of the roster, these quarterbacks can even win a Super Bowl. 

  • Joe Flacco
  • Nick Foles
  • Dak Prescott
  • Marcus Mariota
  • Tyrod Taylor
  • Ryan Tannehill
  • Blake Bortles
  • Eli Manning
  • Sam Bradford
  • Jameis Winston

 

Tier 5 – Replacement Level

Defined:  What we’ve seen from these quarterbacks doesn’t warrant consideration in a higher tier.  They might be old veteran placeholders, or young guns who are still learning on the job, but their play on the field has been replacement level recently. There’s also no reason to believe, even with superior talent across the roster, these quarterbacks could win a championship. The teams employing these quarterbacks as starters might need to search for better options under center.

  • Mitchell Trubisky
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick
  • Case Keenum

 

Tier 6 – Not Enough Information

Defined:  This self-explanatory tier is for quarterbacks who we are still evaluating, and haven’t had enough on-field NFL experience to definitively put them into a specific category.

  • Josh Allen
  • Sam Darnold
  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Lamar Jackson
  • Baker Mayfield

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