Welcome to our second annual "Quarterback Tiers" project, with a voting panel of 35 league insiders (up from 26 last year). The process was straightforward: The coaches and evaluators I polled placed each of the 32 projected starters into one of five tiers, with Tier 1 reserved for the very best and Tier 5 reserved for the very worst.
While it's far from rigid, our NFL front office and coach voters typically categorized the tiers as follows:
• Tier 1 quarterbacks can carry their teams week after week and contend for championships without as much help.
• Tier 2 QBs are less consistent and need more help, but good enough to figure prominently into a championship equation.
• Tier 3 are quarterbacks who are good enough to start but need lots of support, making it tougher to contend at the highest level.
• Tier 4 is typically reserved for unproven starters or those who might not be expected to last in the lineup all season. Voters used the fifth tier sparingly.
We gave the insiders anonymity so they could speak candidly. They did not disappoint. The 35th and final insider, a longtime defensive coordinator, could not believe it when I told him five of the previous 34 had left Andrew Luck outside the top tier on their ballots. "Those five guys didn't play against him. He is a 1, I am telling you. He is f------ good. Nobody blocks anybody up front, and he is still good."
In the end, we averaged the tier rankings for each quarterback to produce a 1-32 ranking across four tiers (no starting QBs received enough Tier 5 votes to fall into the fifth tier). There was movement in the pecking order from our piece last year. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees slipped. Luck and Ben Roethlisberger surged. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady held firm and were the only unanimous Tier 1 players. And perhaps surprisingly, Derek Carr holds an early lead on Teddy Bridgewater among the 2014 draftees.
There's a lot to digest, so we won't delay any longer. First, though, a big thank you to our panel: eight personnel directors, six general managers, four head coaches, five offensive coordinators, five defensive coordinators, three salary-cap managers, one ex-GM, two ex-head coaches, and one offensive assistant coach.
Tier 1 (6 QBs total)
T-1. Aaron Rodgers | Green Bay Packers
Average rating: 1.0 | Change in rating: +3.7%
2014 Rank: T-1
Rodgers tied with Brady in the voting as a unanimous Tier 1 choice, but he gets top billing based on feedback from voters. A personnel director with NFC North experience called him "unequivocally" the best in the league. An offensive coach who studied every offensive snap for Green Bay and New England last season called Rodgers better than Brady by a noticeable notch.
"I hate playing against him," a defensive coordinator said.
There is a lot to like about Rodgers if you don't have to face him. He seems unflappable. He saves plays with his legs. He ranks as arguably the game's best back-shoulder fade thrower. He possesses superior vision when forced to move. And he knows where his receivers are going to be in a pinch. These are some of the qualities one veteran coach rattled off.
"From the time he decides to throw the ball to the time it comes off his hand is the quickest in the NFL by a lot," this coach said. "Tony Romo is also quick, but Rodgers throws spirals down the field that carry. Romo will do it and it will float. Rodgers doesn't even have to try. He is so explosively quick. He can hold the ball longer and he knows it."