"Brady might be the best because he does it with the least every year, just about," this offensive assistant said. "To me, there is no falloff with that guy. If he played with what Rodgers and Peyton and Brees have played with, it would not even be close. He has not had an outside guy since Randy Moss. These other guys have outside guys coming out of their ears, especially Peyton and Rodgers. It is such a difference when you have outside guys that can stretch, like Manning had in Indy. Then he'd kill you with the inside guys. Brady doesn't have half the skill players that Manning has. The thing that is scary is that sneakily, the Patriots were pretty good last year anyway."
From 2006 through 2012, Brady trailed only Manning in Total QBR at 74.8. That figure fell off to 48.6 through eight games last season as the Patriots lost nearly all their top weapons, but it was back to 73.1 over the final eight games, fourth-best in the league over that span.
T-1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (1.04 average rating)
Not much explanation required here. All Manning did last season was set an NFL record with 55 touchdown passes.
One of the evaluators with a background in pro personnel nearly gave Manning a Tier 2 grade on our first run through the ballot. Then, he started laughing.
"As soon as I said two, I was like, 'Really?' " the evaluator said. "Arm strength is such an issue at this point and the smart teams are going to neutralize him easier than others, but he is a one."
Manning received his only Tier 2 grade from a GM concerned that the QB's age had hampered his ability to avoid the rush. Brady, Brees and Rodgers were the only Tier 1 QBs on this GM's ballot. Exceptions such as these could say more about the voting process than the players. "It's an incredible accomplishment if you can get everyone in the building on the same scale," another GM said.
T-1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (1.04 average rating)
If Rodgers gives up anything to Brady and Manning before the snap -- which is debatable -- his athletic ability seems to make up for it.
"You can't fool him," a defensive coordinator said. "We watched some cutups on him and he was ridiculous. He sees everything. They'd have a blitz on and he'd throw it and he knows what the blitz is. I don't know how he knows it. He throws into this tight window that nobody would throw into. Brees is the same way."
A veteran cornerback I talked to this offseason put it this way: "He is very cerebral. I don't think he is quite like a Peyton Manning, but he can read defenses and all that stuff, and when stuff breaks down, he is mobile enough to get out of the pocket and run. That is what made him so good, especially a couple years ago. He is still playing well. He just got hurt last year."
T-1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (1.04 average rating)
Brees' credentials need no explanation. Still, most placed him just behind Brady and Manning within the top tier.
One evaluator said he thought Brees wasn't as good outdoors. But Brady wasn't any better statistically in outdoor road games last season. Among Tier 1 QBs, only Manning (83.0 QBR) and Luck (59.1) were particularly good in outdoor road games.