ESPN's Mike Sando ranked the 32 NFL quarterbacks into tiers back in 2014, and then updated those rankings this week for his 2015 edition of the "Quarterback Tiers" project. He polled 35 NFL insiders - coaches and personnel evanluators - from around the league in an anonymous survey, asking them to rank the NFL starting quarterbacks, placing each of them into one of four tiers (there are actually five tiers in the polling, but no quarterbacks ranked low enough to reach the bottom group). The groups were defined as:
• Tier 1 quarterbacks can carry their teams week after week and contend for championships without as much help.
• Tier 2 QBs are less consistent and need more help, but good enough to figure prominently into a championship equation.
• Tier 3 are quarterbacks who are good enough to start but need lots of support, making it tougher to contend at the highest level.
• Tier 4 is typically reserved for unproven starters or those who might not be expected to last in the lineup all season. Voters used the fifth tier sparingly.
Sando then averaged the rankings, and placed each quarterback accordingly. The pannel consisted 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.
Tier one consisted of the expected names: Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in the overall top spot, followed by Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees, in that order (so, maybe Big Ben being that high is a little surprise, but, by the definition, he probably does fit the grouping). Tier two featured quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, and Tony Romo.
It is not until you reach the third ranked quarterback in tier three, the 17th overall spot, that you find Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He averaged a 2.86 in his tier ranking, so there were plenty of those polled who see him as a tier two quarterback, but also plenty that see him further down the list. His rank is a six position improvement over last season, but it comes down to siganture wins and pocket presence for some of the voters. Sando writes:
Voters moved Tannehill more solidly into the third tier, with most suggesting a 2 would be his ceiling. Tannehill has made statistical gains every year even though the Dolphins have struggled to build a capable offensive line, running game and receiving corps around him. The defense also fell apart late last season. Even with those mitigating factors, some voters wanted to see more from Tannehill.
"He does not have any signature wins yet," an offensive coordinator said. "Who has Tannehill beat toward the end of the year?"
A personnel director who studied Tannehill closely coming out of college said he thought accuracy and pocket poise would always be issues. He feels the same way now.
"Look, he is not Mark Sanchez, but there are some similarities in Mike Tannenbaum giving Tannehill [a six-year, $96-million] deal and Tannenbaum giving Sanchez [a three-year, $40.5-million] deal," this director said. "They want to be ahead of the curve and I get it, but you need to be right. Tannehill is a great kid, he works, he does everything you want, but there was a little bit of panic in college, and there still is. I have not seen a game yet where it slowed down for him. Say what you want, he has a losing record."
A different director called Tannehill a 2 with the potential to reach the top tier based on athleticism and potential for positional growth after playing receiver in college. But he had concerns about Tannehill's deep-ball accuracy, adding that Tannehill could use a better running back. He also thought losing Charles Claywould hurt more than some anticipated.
"His biggest issue is his lack of natural arm strength, and because of that, you watch him on tape last year, Mike Wallace is wide open constantly and he just can't get the ball down the field," a GM said. "But being a smooth operator, he is a guy who is trending toward a 2. I do see the physical tools to be a 1."
Tannehill's ranking, at least tier wise, is probably correct at this point, though I would probably slide him in at the end of tier two rather than the top of tier three. It really does come down to wins for the Dolphins' fourth-year quarterback, who has a 23-25 career record and needs to continue his yearly improvement this season if Miami is going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The unidentified GM at the end of the write up from Sando is probably exactly right: Tannehill is trending toward a 2, with the tools to make it into being a 1, but everything has to come together for him this season. The Dolphins have spent a lot of money to put the weapons around him - with some question marks still on the offensive line - and it is now up to Tannehill to make it all work.
Hopefully by next year's rankings, RT17 is safely in Tier 2, with the pollsters debating his ceiling as a potential Tier 1 candidate.