ESPN's Mike Sando released his second annual Quarterback Tiers project, in which he spoke to 35 coaches and evaluators (made up of eight personnel directors, six general managers, four head coaches, five offensive coordinators, five defensive coordinators, three salary-cap managers, two ex-GMs, two ex-head coaches, and one offensive assistant coach) around the league. Sando polled these key figures, and they were asked to place each of the 32 projected starters into one of five quarterback tiers, with Tier 1 reserved for the very best and Tier 5 reserved for the very worst.
In Tier 1, these NFL insiders placed (t-1) Aaron Rodgers, (t-1) Tom Brady, (3) Andrew Luck, (4) Ben Roethlisberger, (5) Peyton Manning, and (6) Drew Brees. In Tier 2, those evaluators placed (7) Phillip Rivers, (8) Russell Wilson, (9) Tony Romo, (10) Joe Flacco, (11) Matt Ryan, (t-12) Eli Manning, (t-12) Matthew Stafford, and (13) Cam Newton.
Tier 3 gets into guys like (15) Carson Palmer, (16) Alex Smith, (17) Ryan Tannehill, (t-18) Colin Kaepernick, (t-18) Andy Dalton, (t-20) Derek Carr, (t-20) Jay Cutler, (22) Nick Foles, (t-23) Sam Bradord and (t-23) Teddy Bridgewater. We don't really need to go into Tier 4, though a few notables would be (25) Marcus Mariota, (26) Jamies Winston, and (28) Robert Griffin.
11 of 35 voters said Wilson was a 1, up from three of 26 voters one year ago. One coordinator placed him in Tier 3. That main detractor of Wilson's game sounds a lot like some fans on Twitter, noting that he voted him into Tier 3 because "I think he needs Marshawn Lynch and the defense [to be great] to do what he has done." This coordinator also illuminated, in my opinion, his own confirmation bias in saying that (as written by Sando) his "college scouting report on Wilson read like a report would read for a top-tier prospect, but he gave a lower grade overall based on concerns over Wilson's height."
Per Sando, one offensive coach wrote that "the bubble is going to burst" for Wilson if the team ever required him to throw it more frequently, and a head coach added that he's "He is not a 1," because "He cannot win the whole thing. Is that why they are not paying him?"
That head coach continued, "I think you could make an argument to put him down as a 3, but I would say he is a 2. The running back and the tight end can help him. If you can make the game one-dimensional for him where he has to be a total pocket passer, it gets tough. Green Bay had four interceptions on him [in the NFC Championship]."
Other than those two quotes, the praise was eye-opening.
"At the end of the day, the won-lost record of your quarterback and the leadership goes hand-in-hand," a former GM told Sando. "He has been in the last two Super Bowls. You can say all you want about the defense, but the Bills had a good defense the last two years. What did it get them? Wilson has that late-game magic."
One defensive coordinator put Wilson in the top tier and said he thought Wilson is able to make every throw needed and could succeed as primarily a pocket passer, adding that throwing from the pocket consistently wasn't even necessarily a requirement. An offensive coordinator put Wilson into Tier 1, saying that "If they were throwing it like New Orleans, he'd have as many yards as Brees. He beats you doing the things he does. He is a 1, and he is up there with Aaron and Luck because of his uniqueness and all the s--- he can do."
All in all -- this poll is a fairly good representation of where I believe Wilson deserves to be -- #8 overall among NFL quarterbacks and on the borderline for Tier 1. I think that Wilson is an ascending player that still has to convince a lot of people in the league, the media, and among fans that he's a top player, but is facing a combination of confirmation bias around his height and draft position, the system he plays in, and those nearly impossible to break narratives. Wilson obviously has the advantage of playing on a team with a very strong defense, but he does as much for the running game as it does for him, and I'd firmly place Wilson among the Top-8 to Top-10 quarterbacks in the league without reservation.
The piece is a really interesting peek into how NFL insiders view the quarterback position. If you have an ESPN Insider account I'd definitely consider giving it a read, and if you don't, peruse the different SB Nation team blogs today and tomorrow to get a view on some of the other quarterbacks' evaluations.