"The best guys bring everyone else's level up and the guys around them can change and they still play at a high level," an offensive coordinator said. "You saw that comment by Brees talking about Jimmy Graham and he was saying, 'Well, Jimmy is really good, but I've been here for eight years and Jimmy was not here for four of those years and we still had the big numbers.' With these Tier 1 guys, they're productive almost regardless."
One evaluator questioned whether Brees could hang with the other Tier 1 players when his team fell behind by 21 or 28 points. Since 2010, counting the playoffs, Brady is 2-1 and Manning is 1-3 when their teams fall behind by 21-28 points. Their QBR scores were exceptional in those situations (90.9 for Brady and 88.3 for Manning). Rodgers went 0-2 in those games, but played respectably (64.6 QBR). Brees, meanwhile, had an 0-5 record in these games and a 52.6 QBR.
5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (1.50 average rating)
Luck doesn't have the track record of the other Tier 1 QBs, and there was a clear gap in the voting between him and the top four. But people in the league love him almost unconditionally, and 14 of the 26 voters insisted upon putting him in the top tier (each of the top four received 25 of 26 Tier 1 votes).
The evaluators think Luck has carried a subpar roster to a 22-10 record without much help. They see no limitations. They have zero doubt about his long-term stardom and felt strongly enough to give him 14 first-tier votes even while acknowledging he's below the Big Four at this early stage. Every other QB fell into the tier in which he received the most votes, and So shall Luck, even if his Tier 1 designation feels a bit premature.
"I'm not going to downgrade him because it's only his second year," a defensive coordinator said after placing Luck in the first tier. "He can put it on his back as a younger player, where some of these other guys had good help running the ball like Ben (Roethlisberger) or Matt (Ryan) or Russell (Wilson) or Joe (Flacco). They have had people you could hand it to. They say you can win with a young QB when you have a top-10 defense and a top-10 running game. Luck hasn't had either."
The Colts have gone 22-10 with Luck, while ranking 28th in defensive EPA and 24th in both rushing yards and rushing attempts by running backs. Luck ranks fourth in drop-backs over that span, trailing only Matthew Stafford, Brees and Ryan.
Still, there isn't much of an individual statistical argument for Luck's inclusion in Tier 1. His completion percentage (57.0) and passer rating (81.5) lag. His QBR score (63.8) ranks eighth and reflects significant value added through rushing. "Luck turns the ball over too much," one GM said in explaining why he left Luck in the second tier for now. A head coach called Luck "a two becoming a one" -- a comment consistent with the thinking of everyone who placed Luck in the second tier.
Quite a few analysts said they would ideally put Rivers and Roethlisberger in the 1.5 range -- better than the typical Tier 2 player, but not as dynamic as the Tier 1 QBs. Eighteen of the 26 voters placed Rivers in the second tier. The same was true for Roethlisberger.