You know you're onto something interesting when an NFL head coach requests a few additional moments with your laptop.
"Let me see that one more time," one coach said, leaning forward in his chair.
I asked 26 league insiders to grade every projected starting quarterback on a 1-5 scale, with "one" reserved for the best and "five" for the worst. Eight general managers, two former GMs, four pro personnel evaluators, seven coordinators, two head coaches, two position coaches and a top executive participated, attacking the project with gusto almost across the board.
The result of the polling is a composite ranking of all 32 NFL starting quarterbacks, and an understanding of how some of the league's most important evaluators separate the best from the rest at the position. With their input, we were able to compile an average rating of each QB, to rank them in a 1-32 pecking order, and to divide the starters into general tiers. I've passed along insights from voters when applicable.
Five QBs cracked Tier 1, including one surprise. Ten other QBs fell into Tier 2 and nine landed in Tier 3. The remaining eight starters fell into Tier 4. Five of them received nearly as many Tier 5 votes, but not enough to drop any of them into that bottom level.
"That is a pretty good consensus of where we are at in the league," one of the GMs said upon surveying the overall results.
The head coach referenced earlier has finished staring at the results. Now, it's your turn.
Tier 1 (5)
T-1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (1.04 average rating)
I was deep into this project when ESPN Insider published Sam Monson's piece highlighting Brady's diminished production while under pressure. Monson questioned Brady's status as one of the top five QBs. Still, none of the people I spoke with thought Brady had slipped to a significant degree. Twenty-five of the 26 voters put him in the first tier. The lone exception, a pro personnel evaluator, saved his only Tier 1 vote for Peyton Manning. He was an unusually tough grader at the top, focused more intently than others on the 2013 season, when Manning performed at a historic level.
"Brady did a lot of good things with limited resources, but I saw holes when they put the onus on him to carry it all, as you saw when Denver beat him," this evaluator said. "Brady has to have more of a running game at this stage. He cannot line up with five wides and win it as consistently as before. I still think Brady is a top-five quarterback, but I would not say he is the best right now."
That was a minority opinion. A veteran offensive assistant who listed Manning, Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Luck as his Tier 1 QBs said the first three were pretty much interchangeable.
"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.
"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.
Tier 2 (10)Jump to: Tier 1 | Tier 3 | Tier 4
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.
"Rivers can't run, but he can throw and he's smart," a defensive coordinator said. "He is definitely a two to me -- a real good quarterback."
Another defensive coordinator put Rivers in his first tier with Brees, Brady, Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He also described what separated the top-tier QBs from the rest in his mind. "A one to me is a guy that -- he is going to get 300 on you every game and you kind of know it," that coordinator said. "He's a guy you are going to have to manage, you're going to have to try to disguise and do different things against because he has seen everything. Those guys see everything. The twos are guys you can get. Like Eli, you can get him on some things and can disguise some things on him. But [the twos] still run their offense, they have control of it."
One of the offensive coaches placed Rivers and Roethlisberger in the top tier. He noted that Rivers wins with his mind while Roethlisberger wins with his physical abilities. Several GMs said they thought Roethlisberger had declined into the second tier over the past couple seasons. "If you were there in Pittsburgh, you saw him run the no-huddle, you saw the command, you saw him run and make plays," a coordinator said. "Other people will not think as much of him. He is a very good quarterback, able to get himself out of tough positions."
Said one GM: "Ben plays big-boy football -- and regardless of what you think, he knows how to win the game."
I was surprised to see Ryan command zero Tier 1 votes and six Tier 3 votes. Nearly everyone said Ryan needed to prove himself in the playoffs. There was a feeling Ryan would never be able to carry his team the way the very best QBs have.
That's not a knock, either. "If you told me I'm getting a guy who can win 10 games and get you to the championship game and lose, I'd take it in a heartbeat," one former GM said.
The other former GM said it's become clear to him Ryan cannot carry a team. "I think he has potential, but I see a guy that is a little bit hesitant and cannot pull the trigger," this former GM said. "From afar, it looks like the more Matt Ryan has on his plate, the less productive he becomes."
One evaluator noted that Ryan has benefited from outstanding receiving weapons: Julio Jones can win jump balls; Roddy White, a former wrestler, knows how to fight for position; and the recently retired Tony Gonzalez was a master at using leverage to make life easier for quarterbacks.
One of the pro personnel evaluators called Ryan a "solid starter who will never be a top-five player" at the position. Another put it this way: "He's the most disappointing guy to me. He does not have a great line or run game, but other guys overcome that and are better than Ryan has been. You can throw stats away at some point and it's just a feel for the player."
A few evaluators questioned whether Romo had the mind-set to play at the highest level consistently. It's a familiar refrain in league circles, a feeling that Romo is an undisciplined QB playing for an undisciplined organization with a poorly constructed roster.
"People want to knock him," one GM responded, "but the guy has talent and is one of the top 10 starters in the league."
Romo is 34 years old and coming off back surgery, but he still could be in line for a "monster" season, one evaluator said. "But I absolutely believe they will not win big with him. As soon as he decides it's a clutch moment, his brain goes elsewhere. He loses focus and tries to create something."
Everyone likes Wilson. But not everyone loves him, especially when it comes to projecting how a 5-foot-10 QB would fare without a dominant defense and running game on his side. Still, Wilson came in ahead of Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, three other young, mobile QBs.
"I love Russell Wilson," one GM said. "I like him for the intangibles, which Kaepernick has not displayed. I have Wilson as a three and think he might ascend to a two. I don't think he will ever be a one. Kaepernick has a chance to be a one, but he also has a chance to be a three or a four."
Evaluators across the board lauded Wilson for his decision-making, both with the football and in avoiding big hits when scrambling.
Still, some said they wanted to see more from Wilson in terms of decision-making and downfield accuracy from within the pocket. "He has a curl-flat wide open and cannot see it, so he spins out and rips it 40 yards downfield to make an amazing big play," one evaluator said.
A head coach said he'd rather have Sam Bradford than Wilson purely from a talent standpoint.
As noted previously, the numbers from Wilson and Kaepernick from within the pocket are solid, but that doesn't mean people in the league perceive them as effective pocket passers. One head coach said teams with good game plans have taken away escape routes and made Wilson struggle. Injuries at receiver and along the offensive line have not helped. "I want them to win games from the pocket at some point," one GM said of shorter QBs. "That is what will separate Russell Wilson -- besides a great 'D' -- from the Doug Fluties of the world. Eventually, you made them beat you from the pocket and they could not do it. Maybe he ascends to the bottom of that one tier, but I see him probably more top of the second."
Quite a few voters paused and feigned anguish when asked to make sense of Manning following a brutal 2013 season. Seventeen of them placed Manning in the second tier.
"He is really a two when you supply him with the right weapons," a head coach said. "He is a guy that has the ultimate trust in a big wide receiver."
Some thought Manning would benefit from a scheme change this offseason, but most of the voters placing him in the second tier sounded a little apprehensive. "I see Eli having a hard time generating things on his own," one GM said. "I don't see a great decision-maker. He has never struck me as a take-charge, carry-the-team type of guy." That GM put Manning in the third tier. Another drew comparisons between Manning and the Kurt Warner who became gun-shy at times later in his career.
"Eli can go from a championship quarterback to throwing five interceptions in one game," an offensive coordinator said.
Flacco came in just ahead of Matthew Stafford, thanks to a couple of Tier 1 votes from evaluators honoring the dominant form Flacco showed during the Ravens' Super Bowl run.
"Flacco would be a guy that you probably either love him or hate him because he's a big guy, probably not the most mobile guy, and he's kind of got the droopy face, kind of like the Jay Cutler face, where it always looks like things are bad," an offensive coordinator said.
One defensive coordinator said he thought Flacco played with a grittiness that was appealing. Another saw shortcomings from a football standpoint. "He has a big arm, but he misses so many plays because he doesn't read defenses well," this second defensive coordinator said. "On film, you see guys open, but he doesn't throw it to the right guy."
13. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (2.38 average rating)
There's a feeling among evaluators that Stafford, more than any other QB outside the top five, has the talent to ascend into the first tier. He is arguably the most intriguing starter in the league.
"I've watched Stafford a lot and some of the decision-making is questionable," a defensive coordinator said. "[But] as a talent, I would have drafted the kid No. 1 when he was coming out of Georgia."
A head coach said it's critical for Stafford to work on his mechanics the way Brady and Peyton Manning have done over the years.
14. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (2.50 average rating)
Evaluators want to see more from Kaepernick as a reader of defenses, playing within the pocket. They acknowledge his strong arm and dynamic running ability: Kaepernick, like Wilson, has good passing stats from within the pocket, with or without play-action. But there's still a perception around the league that neither is proven in that area.
"Kaepernick can affect the game on so many levels," a defensive coordinator said. "He's been to a Super Bowl, been in a championship game. He has kind of revolutionized some stuff. He is a different kind of 'two' than most of them, more multidimensional."
Kaepernick, like Wilson, has benefited from a dominant defense and running game, and his team hasn't asked him to carry the offense week after week.
But he's been resilient. "Last year, there were a number of people injured and he still kept finding ways to win," a different defensive coordinator said. "Those kind of guys who show that moxie at quarterback, as a defensive coach, that does factor [in] to me. It is not necessarily all based on their stats."
15. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles (2.56 average rating)
Foles just made the bottom of the second tier, even though three evaluators put him in the fourth tier, including one GM who called him "a four who played like a two" last season.
Another GM boldly placed Foles in the first tier based on what he saw last season. He kept Foles there upon additional reflection, but his was an outlying view.
Most wanted to see more. We've seen Matt Cassel and other QBs flash for a season or two before fading away. Still, the evaluators most familiar with Foles liked his future. When asked about the Cassel comparison, they thought Foles had a much better arm. But others wondered if part of one season wasn't enough to go on. "Foles could be like a Kerry Collins or Jake Delhomme, a three who plays like a two or four," one evaluator said.
Tier 3 (9)Jump to: Tier 1 | Tier 2 | Tier 4
16. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (2.58 average rating)
Players with the ability to escape the pocket and run have less incentive to become polished pocket passers, according to some. That is one reason a number of defensive backs I've spoken with think Newton and others with similar skill sets might never move into the top tier.
One GM called Newton "phenomenal" and someone he'd pay to see play. He thought Newton needed continuity on the coaching staff and in the huddle. "He is a little bit like Ben [Roethlisberger] in that he is so physical," one head coach said. "But he is so inconsistent. I would say he is a three. Some days, he's a one. Some days, he's a five."
Newton appears to have no limitations. "I would say Cam Newton has rare stuff," a defensive coordinator said. "You don't worry about him getting hit like you worry about other quarterbacks. He would be at the top of the list for me as a three because he is not a rare thrower, but he has rare stuff. I could see him elevating to a two, and it might just be winning past the regular season."
I thought Cutler would fall into the second tier based on his talent, but 16 of the 26 voters put him in the third. They lamented Cutler's inconsistency, poor mechanics, proclivity for turnovers and abbreviated postseason résumé.
A few evaluators thought Cutler took a step forward last season and could progress further now that the Bears' offensive line has stabilized. "For me, it's all about how impactful a player can be on game day," one GM said, defending Cutler. "The reason Cutler is not a one is because he is too up and down. But you talk about a guy that can beat you with his arm, and how many in the league can do it better than him? Now he finally has a line in front of him, he has more than one receiver. So, there is no way he is a three, in my opinion."
The Bears' failure to protect Cutler in past seasons arguably justified what some have seen as the QB's negative body language. "I don't know the kid," a defensive coordinator said. "I like him as a player. He runs their offense very well, he can make any throw, I think he has some toughness to him, some cockiness to him. He is as good as Matt Ryan. He's a two."
Smith was solidly in the middle of the third tier. A defensive coordinator familiar with Smith's career in San Francisco said he thought the 49ers' game plans demonstrated very little confidence in the former No. 1 pick. "It really did seem like he was just managing," the coordinator said. "The guy is an NFL talent. Can he make a play somewhere? Of course, they can all make plays. But it seemed like when they say managing it, it was almost like they were managing him. Don't let him screw it up. Not like he was managing the game."
Smith has heard it all before. Despite a Total QBR (51.8) that ranks 22nd over the past three seasons, he has the third-best winning percentage (.750, including playoffs) of any quarterback over the same time frame.
Even with a winning record, Smith doesn't receive high marks from evaluators. "There is nothing about him runningwise or arm-talentwise that makes you say, 'Shoot, we have to take this away,'" one GM said. "But he is better than an Andy Dalton because he protects the ball. Dalton does not protect the ball. There are just too many games he gives it to the other team."
T-19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (3.00 average rating)
The people who like Dalton like him more as a person than as a talent. They love his approach to the game, his professionalism and his demeanor. They think the Bengals can win with him if they're strong enough in other areas. But most don't see him climbing out of the third tier, where 20 of 26 evaluators placed Dalton without much hesitation.
One person familiar with Dalton questioned how he'd fit under his new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson. He described Dalton as a "sweetheart" and Jackson as a "badass who would punch you out" -- and as someone who wouldn't be afraid to give Jason Campbell a chance.
"The ceiling for Dalton is a three," one GM said. "There is not enough about him. With a Colin Kaepernick, does he read coverages well? No, but if things are clicking for him, he can throw fastballs. Dalton cannot do that."
A former GM called Dalton a "poor man's Russell Wilson" for his dedication to the job and the respect that dedication earns throughout a building. "With Dalton, if he is your quarterback for 10 years, you'll go to the playoffs five times and say he's a good QB," the former GM said. "But is he physically gifted enough to win it if you have to throw it?"
T-19. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (3.00 average rating)
Only five of the evaluators who cast ballots for Griffin placed him in the second tier. Fifteen placed him in the third tier. Five put him in the fourth. And when I spoke with a mix of players -- four defensive backs, two linebackers and two QBs -- they gave him a 4.1 grade on average. I decided against including the players' grades in the overall results because they tended to be exceedingly low. One GM put Griffin in the second tier despite some reservations about Griffin's personality. The veteran QBs I consulted separately crushed Griffin in that area. "He does not take any blame," one of them said. A head coach placed Griffin in the fourth tier and said, "I just don't think he can play in the pocket."
Health and durability are key variables. "Pre-injury and with [Mike] Shanahan and all the things they did [in 2012], I would put him in that two category with Wilson and Kaepernick," a defensive coordinator said. "If he is healthy, he adds a scary dimension because the kid can run and he is accurate enough, but post-injury, I don't know."
Palmer is an interesting study because his production went from being pretty brutal through eight games last season (10 TDs, 14 INTs, 35.1 QBR score) to ranking among the NFL's best from that point forward (14 TDs, 8 INTs, 68.9 QBR).
Not many people seemed to notice. Twenty-three of 26 voters placed Palmer in the third or fourth tier. The eight players who gave Griffin a 4.1 grade on average combined to rate Palmer at 3.1, something I found interesting and somewhat surprising. "I really like Palmer," a veteran safety said. "He is a tough guy. I respect his game and his work ethic. I like the way he plays."
T-21. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (3.12 average rating)
Just about everyone placed Bradford in the third tier, almost as a hedge. They thought he had the talent to be a solid two, if only he could stay on the field.
The harshest criticism painted Bradford as a player who struggles at handling pressure and throwing accurately on his second or third reads. "There are some guys like Cam Newton where you go, 'Oh boy,'" a defensive coordinator said. "You would never say that going against Bradford. We were just like, 'OK, let's go play football.'"
One of the head coaches thought Bradford had gotten a bad rap. "I don't think offensively they have done a very good job with him," this coach said. "Talentwise, I think Bradford has it all, but I'd have to say he is a three. He can stay in the pocket, he can make all the throws, he can check things."
A pro personnel director put Tannehill in the second tier, but a defensive coordinator whose team faced the Dolphins was not convinced.
Either way, Tannehill needs better blocking. "To me, he is a manager of the game, a guy where if everything is right, he is OK," the defensive coordinator said. "We didn't fear him. I don't think he has the strongest arm, the best release. When you ask me about guys, I think about how I have to game plan against them. Am I afraid of them?"
One pro personnel evaluator placed Tannehill in the second tier, predicting good things for the third-year pro behind an upgraded line and within an uptempo offense.
24. Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3.52 average rating)
Teams will be watching to see how McCown's 2013 season in Marc Trestman's system translates to Tampa Bay. Some see a 34-year-old QB with no résumé before last season, when McCown arguably provided an upgrade from Cutler with 13 touchdown passes and one interception.
"We got ready for him last year and boy, did he have a good season," a defensive coordinator said. "I would have to put him in the three group because you have to factor age in there and it might have just been that perfect storm, but he played well last year. It could have been the system. Maybe it was right with the reads and what they did. Good for him."
A head coach called McCown "a four who played like a three" or better at times last season.
Tier 4 (8)Jump to: Tier 1 | Tier 2 | Tier 3
Questions persist about whether Schaub can right his career after a brutal 2013 season. He is seen as a system QB. Ten of the voters put him in the third tier, but 15 had him lower than that.
"That will be interesting confidencewise coming off last year," a defensive coordinator said. "He is accurate, but I put him in that three category because the passes were underneath, boot type and then, here and there, they took shots."
Lots of people loved Henne -- as a backup. "He'll have one good game and then have trouble repeating it," one GM said.
Manuel hasn't played enough to register with evaluators. Twenty-three voters placed him in the bottom two tiers. The two former GMs were higher on Manuel, placing him in the third tier. "I think he can beat you from the pocket and be an NFL passer and some of that is having studied him before the draft," one ex-GM said. "I still have some belief in him. EJ has some intangibles. He can process information that the Geno Smiths and Jake Lockers of the world cannot process well enough to be good from the pocket."
A defensive coordinator whose team faced the Bills last season questioned Buffalo's approach. "They tried to run some Cam Newton stuff with him, but I think he is a pocket passer," the coordinator said. "What are they doing with him? He may be a three-minus, but I would give him a four right now."
28. Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings (4.27 average rating)
Cassel was at his best in New England and Kansas City under Charlie Weis. There's some thought among evaluators that he has a tendency to hold the ball and stare down his receivers in the absence of proactive coaching. Perhaps Norv Turner can help him out. "Everything has to be right to win games with him," a GM said.
Hoyer and Henne drew positive reviews as backups, but not as starters. "Hoyer is a great backup," one defensive coordinator said. "He can win some games for you, but if he had to start all 16, that's going to be tough."
A head coach put it this way: "He is a four leaning toward a three, but he is a four. He is OK. He is smart. He gets the ball out quick. He knows what he's doing in the New England system. He was playing pretty well for the Browns last year before he got hurt."
Fitzpatrick ranked a respectable 16th in Total QBR last season (55.4). That was better than the figures for Roethlisberger (54.3) or Stafford (52.5), but the reviews from evaluators were almost universally negative -- overly so, in my opinion.
"The one thing he gives you is, he is not a statue in the pocket," a former head coach said. "At least he can move around a little bit. He would rather play empty-set football. It's kind of how he made his money in Buffalo. I don't know that Bill O'Brien is going to do that with him in Houston."
The Titans were 4-3 when Locker started last season. He had eight TD passes, four INTs and a respectable 58.1 QBR score. That seemed encouraging, and yet compliments for Locker were scarce.
"Locker never showed from college that he could do it from the pocket," one GM said.
The hope in Tennessee is that a new coaching staff and better luck with injuries could help Locker ascend to a higher tier. "We'll see," a former GM said. "Guys like Locker can be run-around guys. To me, Jake's die has been cast."
It's too early to write off Smith. Some coaches in particular had a hard time placing any QBs in the fifth tier. To them, a Tier 5 QB would be a backup, not a starter.
"Would a five be an Akili Smith or JaMarcus Russell?" one coordinator asked. "I think the way Geno Smith played last year was close to that. He was a rookie and he struggled and some of his reads were poor, but I would give him a four."
"He is young enough to make a move," a pro personnel evaluator said.