Earlier this week, ESPN released its fourth annual quarterback tier rankings (Insider required). How the rankings work is each year Mike Sando enlists a group directly involved with the NFL to place quarterbacks -- rookies excluded -- into five tiers with Tier 1 as the best and Tier 5 as the worst, though only four tiers were used here. This year there were 50 voters that included nine general managers, six pro personnel directors, five other executives, five head coaches, seven offensive coordinators, six defensive coordinators, five defensive assistants, three analytics directors, two quarterbacks coaches, and two national scouts.
Five quarterbacks finished in Tier 1 and included Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan. Eight quarterbacks fell into Tier 2 and that’s where we find New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Per the article, Tier 2 quarterbacks are described as those who “can carry his team sometimes, but not as consistently. Can handle pure-pass situations in doses or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. Has a hole or two in his game.”
Manning came in 11th overall with an average tier ranking of 2.18. He fell between Russell Wilson (1.96) and Cam Newton (2.30) and below the likes of Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, and Matthew Stafford.
His 11th overall ranking is right around where he’s been in the past versions of this exercise: eighth in 2014, 12th in 2015, and ninth in 2016. Despite being the sixth quarterback in Tier 2, he was the second to have an average ranking above 2.0.
A few of the evaluators were kind to Manning while also noting the inconsistency the quarterback has shown over the years. Said a current head coach:
“Eli is very tough for me [to evaluate]," a head coach said. "Some days he is a 1, some days he is a 4. He is all over the place. He has to have a guy [he trusts as a receiver], and when he has a guy, he is really good. The guy has to have a good wingspan, a catching radius. That doesn't mean he has to be big. He just has to be very, very sure-handed because the accuracy is a little off."
Then there was a quarterbacks coach who said:
“I watched every pass he threw two years ago when I studied their offense, and when I watched it, I thought the finer details were outstanding. His pocket presence is phenomenal. Watch him step up, watch him slide, watch his eyes. His command at the line of scrimmage, you can see he gets them in the right plays. I just thought, 'Man, he is really good.'"
And that’s the thing with Eli. He does have those minute details down. Manning will more often avoid pressure and get a pass off than run his way into a sack, though sometimes those passes can be ill-advised.
It is interesting to see much of the league still has this favorable a view of this version of Manning despite his up and down seasons over the past few years. It was only four seasons ago when he led the league with 27 interceptions. And while he has improved under Ben McAdoo -- he had his second highest touchdown rate (5.7) and second lowest interception rate (2.3) in 2015 -- 2016 was a struggle.
While Manning came in 11th overall, he was also third among the class of 2004 quarterbacks behind Roethlisberger and Rivers. However, he did place first among the current crop of quarterbacks in the NFC East.
Overall, this list did appear to favor veteran throwers with a longer track record, Derek Carr ranking seventh aside. Up and comers like Dak Prescott and Marcus Mariota were tucked into Tier 3, as well as Jameis Winston and Carson Wentz. All four of them were below Joe Flacco.
Given how the voters seemed to think, it’s not hard to see why Manning finished 11th, though it would be highly gracious to believe he’s going to be a borderline top-10 quarterback for the 2017 season. He hasn’t been in the top-10 of yards per attempt since the 2011 season, though he was 11th in 2012 and 13th in 2014. By Football Outsiders’ DVOA, their advanced efficiency stat, he was also last in the top-10 during 2011 and has since ranked 13th, 38th, 16th, and 19th among quarterbacks.
There’s reason to believe Manning and the offense should be better than they were last season, but it would take a significant upgrade for the quarterback to play up to his ranking here.