The top tier of active NFL quarterbacks has always been an exclusive list that rarely requires more than five fingers to tally. Mike Sando of ESPN has provided his latest rankings, which limits that VIP section to just three at this point prior to the start of the 2016 regular season.
Here is the criteria and approach that Sando used to develop the list:
The voting panel for our third annual NFL QB Tier Rankings consisted of 42 league insiders -- 10 general managers, five head coaches, seven offensive coordinators, five defensive coordinators, eight personnel evaluators and seven other position coaches/executives.
I polled coaches and evaluators on 33 QBs, asking them to place each player into one of five tiers, with Tier 1 reserved for the very best and Tier 5 reserved for the very worst:
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.
In the end, we averaged the tier rankings for each quarterback to produce a 1-33 ranking across four tiers (no starting QBs received enough Tier 5 votes to fall into the fifth tier), and gave the insiders anonymity so they could speak candidly.
The Houston Texans and Brock Osweiler were ranked near the bottom of the tier 3 cluster with this justification:
Avg. rating: 3.36 | Change in rating: N/A | 2015 rank: N/A
Voters are universally optimistic about Texans coach Bill O'Brien getting the most from Osweiler. That doesn't mean voters universally think Osweiler is going to be an upper-tier QB.
"I wouldn't have minded if he stayed in Denver," said a head coach whose team faces the Broncos this season. "If he was any good, they would not have let him go. That is one position, especially if your general manager is a quarterback, you don't let that guy go if he is good."
The Texans are not the first team to spend big for a quarterback mostly because they didn't have one they liked. Teams don't have to love quarterbacks to pay them well. A personnel director from the AFC West said he thought Osweiler would gain confidence from knowing he has enough job security to ride out the occasional bad game.
"I just need to see him as the guy," another personnel director said. "He is a leader type, but he is not an innate leader. Some of it is manufactured. He has to grow into a leader. He will talk and do all that stuff but it is not as natural as it is with some of the other guys. I think that can backfire on you, especially when you are faced with adversity."
Voters described Osweiler as a big quarterback with a strong arm, average accuracy and unremarkable ability as an anticipatory thrower.
"If they try to put the game on his shoulders, I think he is not the type of quarterback who is going to win it for you," a different personnel director said. "He needs a strong run game, which they will give him. He needs an O-line, which he did not have in Denver last year. Is he a $17 million quarterback? Well, that's what the market says he was. That will put a lot of pressure on him to perform and I'd be a little leery of that."
I wonder, had Osweiler remained in Denver, whether he would be listed closer to the top of Tier 3. No doubt he has a lot to prove, and he'll get every opportunity in Houston. Take a look at how the rest of the league stacked up, and then share your thoughts in the comments below.
Here is the complete list:
1. Tom Brady - New England Patriots
2. Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers
3. Ben Roethlisberger - Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cam Newton - Carolina Panthers
5. Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints
6. Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks
7. Andrew Luck - Indianapolis Colts
8. Philip Rivers - San Diego Chargers
9. Eli Manning - New York Giants
10. Carson Palmer - Arizona Cardinals
11. Tony Romo - Dallas Cowboys
12. Joe Flacco - Baltimore Ravens
13. Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
14. Matthew Stafford - Detroit Lions
15. Andy Dalton - Cincinnati Bengals
16. Derek Carr - Oakland Raiders
17. Jameis Winston - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Alex Smith - Kansas City Chiefs
19. Marcus Mariota - Tennessee Titans
20. Kirk Cousins - Washington Redskins
21. Jay Cutler - Chicago Bears
22. Blake Bortles - Jacksonville Jaguars
23. Teddy Bridgewater - Minnesota Vikings
24. Ryan Tannehill - Miami Dolphins
25. Ryan Fitzpatrick - New York Jets
26. Tyrod Taylor - Buffalo Bills
27. Brock Osweiler - Houston Texans
28. Sam Bradford - Philadelphia Eagles
29. Colin Kaepernick - San Francisco 49ers
30. Blaine Gabbert - San Francisco 49ers
31. Mark Sanchez - Denver Broncos
32. Robert Griffin III - Cleveland Browns
33. Case Keenum - Los Angeles Rams