When it comes to sports journalism, good, repeatable ideas are nice. I know it’s a stretch — good ideas = nice? — but when you can repeat said idea, bring it back year after year, then you have anticipation. Mike Sando had such an idea four years ago with his “QB Tier rankings” for ESPN, which taps 50 “NFL insiders” for their opinions on how each potential starting quarterback for the upcoming season (rookies excluded) fits into a four-tiered slotting system.
Simply, Tier 1 gives us the “elite quarterbacks” we so desperately want to anoint.
Tier 4 gives us “The Garbage Fail Kids.” (Not to be confused, a fifth tier seems only to be used for voting purposes, but not for the final rankings.)
As such, the Seattle Seahawks finally have a quarterback worth monitoring in these rankings. Over the previous three votes, Russell Wilson has ranked eighth, eighth, and sixth. He finally managed to crack the top six in 2016 after a season in which he led the NFL in passer rating (110.1, the 16th-best ever) while also rushing for 553 yards. Yay for him.
Now a year later, Wilson is barely worthy of top-10 consideration, per the accumulated opinion of these 50 insiders.
Last season, Wilson suffered through three injuries, while not missing a start, and completed 64.7% of his passes for a career-high 4,219 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 7.7 Y/A, and a rating of 92.6. Wilson had six games in which he had at least 250 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions — Four players tied for the most such games with seven. Philip Rivers, ahead of Wilson in these rankings, had one such game.
"I'm not sure he is going to sit in the pocket and sling the ball to beat you," a defensive coordinator said, "but he is scary when he has the ball in his hands. It is hard to separate him from the run game, the defense and Marshawn [Lynch] and all that."
Those are the words about Wilson from one anonymous voter. Wilson led the NFL in passer rating from the pocket in 2015, playing mostly without Lynch. In fact, it’s “hard to separate him from Marshawn Lynch” despite the fact that he’s barely played alongside Beast Mode in the last two seasons.
Taking Wilson’s place in sixth is a “traditional quarterback” who was drafted 74 spots ahead of him in 2012. A player who for the first time in five seasons, finally came close to posting comparable numbers to Wilson in the regular season, though he has nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions in six playoff games, half of which he lost in blowout fashion. Wilson has made at least the second round of the playoffs in all five of his seasons. Despite playing in twice as many postseason games, Wilson has one fewer interceptions than the “traditional” QB.
Seventh place now belongs to a guy with a career Y/A of 6.5 and zero playoff games to prove whether or not he can actually perform in the postseason. Which, and I don’t know maybe I’m some kooky “old school” football writer, is something that can only be proven in the playoffs and is quite important to any ranking system, in my opinion. We’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks who dominated up until January and then completely bailed under the pressure. Posting a way-below average Y/A behind the NFL’s best pass protecting offensive line and having zero playoff experience can now be interpreted as “top-7 material.”
A tie for eighth is between a guy with a 1-1 postseason record over the last seven seasons, who also has led the NFL in interceptions in two of the last three seasons, and another “traditional” QB who at his best in 2016, came close to matching Wilson who was at his worst in 2016; Another former top overall pick with a 51-58 career regular season record and an 0-3 record in the playoffs. A guy who in his playoff loss last season, to Wilson, was outplayed in every way.
Then Wilson. Then a guy who I simply can’t slide by without naming names.
The fact that Eli Manning is one spot behind Wilson is in itself a mark of the inherent flaw of averages, but what’s worse is that five “insiders” ranked Manning as a Tier 1 quarterback and only three marked Wilson as Tier 1. If we were just ordering this by how many Tier 1 votes you got, Wilson would be 11th and rank behind Eli, a person who blew up onto the scene last year with a passer rating of 86.
“A passer rating of 86.”
Three years before that, Eli had a passer rating of 69.7. Over the course of a full season. What happened in 2014 then? The Giants acquired arguably the best weapon in the NFL over that period of time.
How many f^$#ing highlight one-handed catches does Odell Beckham need to make before some people realize that some of those balls weren’t accurately thrown to him?
Manning even finds himself ranked ahead of the 2015 MVP. As much as I’ve campaigned against the 2015 MVP as being the 2015 MVP, as many times as I’ve said he is a bad passer and overrated by his fans, he is at least two tiers ahead of Manning.
The uneasy trend of “traditional” — okay, okay, why fight it? I put it in the headline after all — Then comes another white quarterback. Then a black quarterback who averaged 8 Y/A, had a rating of 104.9, and won 13 games with more game-winning drives (5) than interceptions (4).
Then one of the worst starting quarterbacks white people have to offer (hint: a passer rating of 82.5 in the 58 games he’s had since winning the Super Bowl) gets to sit comfortably ahead of two minority quarterbacks that in only two years have turned their teams around from worst in the NFL to above .500.
Moving past a bunch more white dudes, you’ll eventually get to find out that Jay Cutler, forced into retirement because of his play and then forced back into the game because of desperation and an unwillingness by league executives to give minority candidates like Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin a job, is ranked ahead of Tyrod Taylor. Cutler played in five games last season, throwing four touchdowns and five interceptions with a 1-4 record for the Bears. Taylor went 7-8, threw 17 touchdowns, six interceptions, and rushed for 580 yards with six more touchdowns on a limited Bills offense. Then he was forced to take a $10 million paycut or risk getting cut.
Cutler is making $10 million. Since having to restructure his deal one year after signing it, Taylor is making $9.7 million. How is that not at least a little bit disturbing to anyone who has been watching football the last couple of years?
Kaepernick does even find himself ranked despite not having a job currently — he’s behind Mike Glennon, who has 11 pass attempts over the last two seasons combined.
Glennon has a 48.4 rating this preseason.
Certainly these same NFL insiders must be concerned about the future of the league then. Since football revolves around quarterbacks, and white quarterbacks continue to be so dominant over their minority counter-parts, what are they going to do about the trend of these GMs selecting more and more black college prospects to be the face of their franchise?
In 2017, Mitchell Trubisky was the first quarterback taken, but Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and DeShone Kizer were next off the board and look to be starting for their teams by 2018.
In 2016, we had the over-rating, over-drafting of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, only for Dak Prescott to be the breakout rookie. A player who, despite playing for the Cowboys, will probably spend much of the next decade ranked behind his white counter-parts even if all of the numbers suggest otherwise. If Luck-Wilson is any indication, then either Goff or Wentz only need to be inching closer to average in order to be more highly regarded than an elite Prescott. (If that is indeed what he becomes and his rookie season is encouraging in that regard.)
In 2015, minority QBs took the top two spots in the draft.
In 2014, the draft gave us Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, then delivered Teddy Bridgewater, who up until his blown knee, was considered by many to be superior to Derek Carr, the next QB off the board that year. Execs everywhere are also champing at the bit to name Jimmy Garoppolo (next to be selected in 2014) as a champ worth a bit.
Maybe next year will prove to be a “traditional” year for quarterbacks in the draft, with Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Mason Rudolph, and Luke Falk all competing for a top selection with Lamar Jackson. Or maybe Jackson will dominate in a league that is leaning more and more heavily on offenses led by quarterbacks who have a varied skillset like he does.
Either way, it seems like there are still a lot of people around the league who refuse to see the value in players like Wilson like we do. Who don’t care about stats. Who don’t care about wins. Who don’t care about Super Bowls. Who don’t care about highlights. Who don’t care about gifs. Who don’t care about how a person carries himself off the field. Who don’t care about staying off the injury report and when they are on the report, play anyway. Who don’t care about how bad the offensive line is. Who don’t care about — well, they just don’t care about anything you think they’d want to care about when ranking players.
We can’t say that any one person here has made a racial judgment call against Wilson or for ... frickin’ Eli Manning — REALLY? ... because this is an aggregate score. It’s not a one person problem. It’s an issue that still permeates the thought processes of many.
It’s a damn good idea for an article though.