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The Value of Things: Quarterback Tiers

Which tier is Davis Mills in?

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Quarterback is the most important position on the field and probably the most important single player in all of team sports. Supposedly, you cannot win without a top tier quarterback. That’s certainly true most of the time, but we remember the Eli Mannings, Joe Flaccos, and Trent Dilfers of the world. We certainly can go back and include Jim Plunkett, Doug Williams, and a host of other guys.

So, we begin with the question everyone asks going into any discussion like this. What are tiers? Well, for my money there are three of them. The first tier are guys that are capable of winning a Super Bowl every year if you surround them with enough talent and place them in the right system. The second tier are capable of getting to the playoffs in the right situation but likely will never win one. The third tier is everyone else.

A partial listing of two tiers

Any article like this needs some click bait element to it. We need to get some attention after all. However, I will not go full board and simply list all 32 starting quarterbacks into a tier. We have some guys where the jury is out. So, I will list what we know from the first two tiers. Anyone not on the list is either in tier three or we don’t have enough information to accurately place them. They are here in no particular order.

Tier One Tier Two

  • Aaron Rogers Derek Carr
  • Tom Brady Ryan Tannehill
  • Russell Wilson Kirk Cousins
  • Matt Stafford Carson Wentz
  • Patrick Mahomes Jimmy Garappolo
  • Justin Hebert Baker Mayfield
  • Joe Burrow Jared Goff
  • Deshaun Watson Matt Ryan
  • Josh Allen

I know what you’re thinking because I think the same thing when looking at the list. Wow, there’s a lot of guys missing from that list. Most teams have a guy that they are just not sure about. Will Daniel Jones or Jalen Hurts prove to be guys you could start and get to the playoffs consistently with? What happens with Josh Fields? Trevor Lawrence? Mac Jones? Zach Wilson?

Furthermore, we could throw in a number of quarterbacks from around the league into the same conversation. Tua Tagovailoa is a huge name where we just aren’t sure. Based on his first two years in the league he looks like a tier three guy, but there are any number of factors that makes such a designation shaky. The Texans are just one of many teams where the issue is still in doubt.

People in the comments section will argue vehemently about quarterbacks in tier two that don’t belong (like say Wentz) or quarterbacks left off the list that do belong. Those arguments are fun in a sports bar kind of sense, but none of it is particularly compelling. None are leading a team to the promise land. A debate over Davis Mills likely ends up in the exact same spot.

Which tier is Davis Mills in?

As satisfying as it is to bust out numbers in a situation like this, the unfortunate truth is that you usually use the eyeball test for something like this. As a fan of numbers this has always been my kryptonite. Those that follow the game usually scoff at numbers people. They say that people that rely on numbers do so because they don’t understand what they are seeing. This is what baseball purists have told me all the time.

Watson 2017— 61.8 %, 1699 yards, 19 TDs, 8 INT, 269 rushing, 2 TDs, 118 Rate+

Mills 2021— 66.8%, 2664 yards, 16 TD, 10 INT, 44 yards, 0 TDs, 95 Rate+

Numbers can tell us a lot of things. Rate+ simply takes quarterback rating and makes 100 average. So, Watson was 18 percent better than average his rookie year while Mills was five percent worse. If you go by the conventional numbers you see Watson produced more points in fewer games. So, just about any statistical breakdown would demonstrate the obvious.

The truth is that you could ignore all of the numbers. The highlight reels tell you what you need to know. Watching a showdown between a Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen showed most teams that they need their own version to get the big game. They needed to bow over the Texans with multiple offers. None of those offers were for Davis Mills.

Whether Mills could lead the Texans to a playoff appearance is yet to be determined. He had good moments and bad moments, but it is hard to imagine him being a tier one quarterback. He made some nice plays last year, but there was nothing that gave the wow factor like any number of Watson plays over the years. Someone is getting a tier one quarterback and it isn’t the Texans.

No Man’s Land

The worst position to find yourself in is whether you have a tier one or tier two quarterback. The Texans are not in that situation. Some people spend their time arguing as to whether Mills is possibly Kirk Cousins, Matt Schaub, or Brian Hoyer. Who knows, maybe he is Derek Carr. None of those are tier one quarterbacks, so such a debate really doesn’t matter.

The teams in the worst position are those that don’t know for sure. Teams like the Cowboys, Ravens, and Cardinals really don’t know where they are at. Teams like the Falcons have a guy that might have been a tier one guy at some point, but isn’t anymore. Those teams have to decide whether to pay the guys or not. That’s an infinitely worse position to find yourself in than where the Texans are.

Whether Mills is tier two or tier three is not nearly as crucial. We know he is likely not the guy long-term. Once a Watson trade is consummated then you have the draft capital necessary to go looking for your next quarterback. If you think a Malik Willis has the potential to be a tier one guy then you select him. If you think any of the other guys are then you take them. If you don’t then you move on to 2023.