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.