Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady will surely remain where 26 NFL coaches and evaluators voted theNew England Patriots quarterback entering the 2014 season: solidly in the top tier of players at the position.
While Brady validated his credentials, the recently completed 2014 NFL season could change perceptions for some of the quarterbacks we evaluated over the summer. Another survey will be helpful once teams without clear starters gain clarity at the position. In the meantime, here's a look at quarterbacks who could move up, quarterbacks who could move down, what the survey got right (or wrong) and why a quarterbacks coach from another team thinks Russell Wilson's late interception in the Super Bowl shouldn't work against him in future evaluations.
QBs who could move up
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Some of the voters thought Roethlisberger had declined from the top tier into the second group. He was seventh overall in the voting and trailed only Philip Riversamong players in the second tier. Six of the 26 voters did think he belonged in the top tier. More could agree after Roethlisberger threw 20 touchdown passes with only two interceptions against teams that finished with a winning record. The Steelers went 6-1 in those games.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
It was striking to see what Romo could do when allowed to function behind an elite offensive line and within a system that leaned heavily on a powerful running game. Coaches and evaluators expect top-tier quarterbacks to play that way even without benefiting from the ground game that drove Dallas' offense. Still, there is no question 2014 represented an improvement for Romo.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Palmer received three votes in the second tier, 17 in the third tier and six in the fourth tier. He ranked 11th in Total QBR this past season, however, and one of the panelists who placed Palmer in the third tier before the season said this more recently: "Carson Palmer is a '2' when healthy." That was clear before Palmer suffered a knee injury last season.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill ranked 23rd out of 32 projected starters heading into the season, placing him second-to-last among nine players in the third tier. He received nine fourth-tier votes entering the season. That number should shrink quite a bit after Tannehill set career bests in a wide range of statistical categories, including passer rating (92.8, which was 14th) and QBR (59.1, or 15th).
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson was solidly in the second tier, tying for eighth overall with Romo, Matt Ryanand Eli Manning. Three voters put him in the top tier, 14 put him in the second tier and nine put him in the third. I could see some of those third-tier votes shifting higher if more coaches and evaluators start viewing Wilson the way Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes described him during a conversation we had at the Pro Bowl. Grimes: "He isn't the traditional guy, but when it comes down to just basics -- can he make accurate throws and make all the throws? -- he can definitely do that. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes and when they need big plays, he makes them. You hear a lot about their defense and it is amazing, but I believe that he is a big, big part of their team winning games."
QBs who could move down
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
A healthy Manning is obviously a Tier 1 quarterback as long as he does not retire. We saw that when Manning opened last season with 22 touchdown passes against only three interceptions. The way a diminished Manning played later in the season will raise concerns until there's some evidence he's back in form physically.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford ranked near the bottom of the second tier as coaches and evaluators watched to see whether a new coaching staff could maximize his obvious physical gifts. The Lions wound up winning with defense. They said they were happy with the way Stafford reduced turnovers, but is anyone going to feel great about where Stafford is headed?
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Kaepernick came in right behind Stafford near the bottom of the second tier after voters gave him 14 second-tier votes, 11 third-tier votes and one in the fourth tier. I would expect perceptions to shift harder into the third tier after a rough season for the 49ers. Kaepernick's year-by-year QBR scores have fallen from 72.2 (2012) to 68.6 (2013) to 55.9 (2014).
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler finished 17th overall and trailed only Cam Newton in the third tier, which served as a warning beacon for what awaited the Bears last season. The gap between Cutler's perceived physical talent and level of play has only widened.
Robert Griffin III, Washington ********
Coaches and evaluators saw Griffin as a third-tier quarterback (tied for 19th overall) amid questions about his ability to bounce back from career-altering injury.
I expect Griffin to fall into the fourth tier after a rough 2014 season.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
The glass was half-full for Foles after he finished the 2013 season with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. Perceptions will change after a tougher 2014 season. Foles saw his dropbacks per game climb from 27.9 in 2013 to 40.8 last season, the largest increase in the league for regular starters. Kaepernick and Cutler trended similarly, likely at the expense of efficiency. Romo and Joe Flacco were among the quarterbacks who trended toward fewer dropbacks. Their efficiency improved.
What the survey got right
The 15 quarterbacks who finished in the top two tiers kept their starting jobs (Foles, the lowest-ranked starter in the second tier, lost his job to injury). Ten of the 17 quarterbacks voted into the third and fourth tiers lost their jobs for performance-related reasons. Three others -- Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford and Matt Cassel -- wound up suffering season-ending injuries. That left only Cam Newton, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill standing from the lower tiers.
There was some debate about whether Andrew Luck belonged in the top tier already, but I would not expect voters to think less of him following the 2014 season.
What the survey got wrong
Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick lost his job to Ryan Mallett last season, but he might belong closer to the third tier than to the fourth (he received 10 fifth-tier votes in the survey and finished 30th overall, ahead of only Jake Locker and Geno Smith). I do not expect coaches and evaluators to reverse course on Fitzpatrick, but his numbers over the past five seasons are nearly identical to the ones Cutler and Dalton have put up. Only Romo has gotten less defensive support than Fitzpatrick among regular starters, as detailed in this previous column.
Revisited: 2014 Survey of 26 Coaches & Personnel Evaluators