Every year right before the NFL regular season starts, The Athletic’s Mike Sando compiles the opinions of league officials on starting quarterbacks, placing the elite in Tier 1 and the not-so-elite in Tier 4 or Tier 5. To be more specific considering these surveys are anonymous, Sando notes that “the 50 league insiders who placed 30 veteran quarterbacks into tiers included eight general managers, 10 head coaches, 15 coordinators, 10 executives, four quarterbacks coaches and three involved in coaching/analytics.” The placements are averaged out to create the tiers and rankings within tiers.
No one was placed in Tier 5, so we’re running with four tiers for the 2023 edition. As you might expect, Patrick Mahomes was a unanimous Tier 1 selection, followed by Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and (to my surprise) Justin Herbert.
We’ll circle back to Tier 2 in a minute, but Tier 3 is where we find Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith. He comes in at 20th out of 30 quarterbacks, which is a sharp increase from when he was placed in Tier 5 (“best suited as a backup”) in 2022. It was the largest year-to-year jump for any QB who’d appeared in the survey multiple times (which dates back to 2013),
Here are the quotes from a couple of anonymous coordinators and a league exec:
“He’s got arm talent in terms of strength and accuracy, he’s got mobility, and the guy is really smart,” an offensive coordinator said. “He also has a great way about him with the guys, and what expressed itself is that the can lead a football team. They believe in the guy. And so I put him at a 3, but he is in that 2-3 range, depending on the day.”
“I don’t think what Geno did last year was a fluke,” a defensive coordinator said. “You did see him press a little bit at times, which could be more of a mindset thing. To become a 2, you have to prove it two years. Geno has the ability to do it. I do not expect a big dropoff.”
Some thought the Seahawks’ offensive struggles against the 49ers in the playoffs showed Smith’s limitations.
“The defense was playing well enough to keep them in the game in spots, but there were times Geno couldn’t fully take over and make that special play that when everything else breaks down, the quarterback has to make,” an exec said. “He’s really good at what he is, but I think ultimately he will be a little limited in his ascension.”
To note: “A Tier 3 quarterback is a legitimate starter but needs a heavier running game and/or defensive component to win. A lower-volume dropback passing offense suits him best.”
Geno finds himself ahead of Justin Fields, Ryan Tannehill, and Mac Jones, but behind (in order from 13th-19th) Kyler Murray, Derek Carr, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Tua Tagavailoa, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Daniel Jones. And yeah, it’s not lost on me that three years removed from Let Russ Cook, Russell Wilson now sits in the exact tier where Seattle/Pete Carroll built a negative reputation for “holding him back” by not throwing more often.
If you want to make it to Tier 2, you have to be considered someone who “can carry his team sometimes but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.”
The Tier 2 grouping consists of Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, and (by the barest of margins) Kirk Cousins.
Considering Geno wasn’t even considered starter caliber last season, this is a legitimate improvement in league-wide opinion. I can definitely see him being higher in that Tier 3 group (certainly above Daniel Jones), but I think only a severe homer would put him in Tier 2 category right now. Using overall body of work, despite my attention-grabbing headline, it’s not a travesty that Smith still ranks lower than Wilson, but Russell was among the biggest drops in stock from last year. It is also more than reasonable to echo the opinion of the anonymous defensive coordinator and want to see Smith pull this off for a second straight season before definitively determining how good he truly is. If Geno can improve upon his 2022 season, he’ll be considered a Tier 2 QB next season, which in itself is remarkable when you consider his career path.