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.