The voting panel for our third annual NFL QB Tier Rankings consisted of 42 league insiders -- 10 general managers, five head coaches, seven offensive coordinators, five defensive coordinators, eight personnel evaluators and seven other position coaches/executives.
I polled coaches and evaluators on 33 QBs, asking them to place each player into one of five tiers, with Tier 1 reserved for the very best and Tier 5 reserved for the very worst:
Tier 1: Can carry his team each week. Team wins because of him.
Tier 2: Can carry team sometimes but not as consistently.
Tier 3: Legit starter but needs heavy run game/defense to win.
Tier 4: Might not want this guy starting all 16 games.
Tier 5: Do not think this guy should be starting.
In the end, we averaged the tier rankings for each quarterback to produce a 1-33 ranking across four tiers (no starting QBs received enough Tier 5 votes to fall into the fifth tier), and gave the insiders anonymity so they could speak candidly.
Here are the 2016 NFL QB Tier Rankings, with a full voting breakdown at the bottom of the article. We start with two players who received unanimous Tier 1 status for the second consecutive year.
TIER 1 (3 QBs TOTAL)
T-1. Tom Brady | New England Patriots
Avg. rating: 1.00 | Change in rating: 0% | 2015 rank: T-1
Brady opened last season with 22 TD passes and only two interceptions during the Patriots' 8-0 start. The TD-INT ratio dipped to 14-5 the rest of the way as New England lost top wide receiver Julian Edelman while becoming desperate enough at running back to bring Steven Jackson out of semi-retirement at age 32. It's tough finding league insiders who see significant decline in Brady, but speak to enough of them and you'll run across a few.
"He is going to be a 2 probably this year, but I'd say right now he is a 1," an offensive coordinator said. "I see him starting to slide a little bit physically. The thing that stands out to me is, the accuracy of his throws has really decreased. [Rob] Gronkowski and his receivers are making these unbelievable catches, ones that are low, that are outside, to make these plays."
Others thought Brady was actually improving by leveraging a growing knowledge base, finding new ways to beat defenses. A different offensive coordinator said he thought Brady worked through issues that affected him a couple years ago as he modified his throwing motion. This coordinator thought Brady had regained accuracy as a result.
"Yeah, he is pretty old, but does he look old to you when he plays?" one GM asked. "He is in complete and utter control of everything, and that is a 1 to me. And he can still throw the hell out of the ball. When he starts throwing like Peyton Manning threw last season, then I'll say, 'Well, he should be lower.'"