ESPN has concluded its second annual "Quarterback Tiers" project; a ranking based on votes from 35 anonymous coaches and front-office staff from around the league. According to the article, which debuted today via the ESPN Insider package, the panel was made up of eight personnel directors, six general managers, four head coaches, five offensive coordinators, five defensive coordinators, three salary-cap managers, two ex-GMs, two ex-head coaches, and one offensive assistant coach. While ESPN would not release the identities of those who took part, at least their various roles gives us an insight to their relative importance of the league as a whole.
The voters were asked to place each projected starting QB from all 32 teams into one of five tiers. The top tier, of course, being the best and the bottom fifth tier acting as a hellish holding spot for those who they think will struggle to keep their jobs. So how did the poster-boy for the New York Giants fare?
According to the opinions of those polled, Eli Manning averaged out in Tier 2, with a ranking that placed him joint-12th overall, sharing the position with Detroit's Matt Stafford. Manning is down four spots from last year's inaugural version of this list, which is surprising because his play did improve since his dismal 2013 season.
"He had the drop-off in 2013, but I thought he really started to come on last year," a personnel director said. "Finally getting him weapons and guys with speed is really going to help him going forward. He is now throwing timing routes that he had not done before in his career. I like him. He has a poise about him. I do not think he is a [Tier] 1. He has played like 1 in the playoffs at times. I'd be surprised if he did not have a good year this year."
The article mainly focuses on Manning's inability to be consistent and goes on to compare him to a certain unloved Chicago quarterback. Don't shoot the messenger here, this is just a quote.
A personnel director also drew the [Jay] Cutler comparison, saying a team asking Manning to carry its offense with a pass-happy approach would get "more Cutler than consistent play" and that, like other players in the second and third tiers, Manning needs a combination of running game and defense to succeed.
They do back it up with some numbers, such as Manning's league-high 159 interceptions to Cutler's 130 since the latter entered the NFL in 2006. There is value in that stat, but Manning and Cutler, who ranked 20th in this list, are very different players. Both are turnover prone, but for very different reasons.
Despite popular belief, Cutler has actually been a quarterback who deals quite well with pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he has placed in the top-15 for accuracy under pressure every year since 2010 and has cracked the top-five twice. Manning however, has only gotten inside the top 15 once in the same span; the 2011 Championship season.
It's fair to attribute a number of Manning's interceptions to an underwhelming receiving corps and a leaky offensive line and he has had his share of puzzling decisions in his time, but the comparison to Cutler still seems off-base for reasons beyond individual triumphs.
The difference mainly comes down to their ceiling. On a good day, Manning can reach Godzilla-level highs, while Cutler may put in a commendable performance. Thankfully, the article does touch on this briefly and reminds everyone why the Big Blue faithful tend to defend Eli to their dying days.
"I've seen him play some bad football," a head coach said. "Based on this scale, to keep it consistent, I think you have to give him a 2. The guy can go win a championship, but if we are talking quarterback evaluation, a 1 can go win it for you every week. Eli has been a 1 the right time of year."