Mike Sando's QB Tiers for 2021

Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

This is one of my favorite pieces every offseason: Mike Sando's annual poll for The Athletic of general managers, coaches, and other executives on the veteran starting quarterbacks in the league. Sando's process is brilliant in its simplicity: he asks each participant to rank quarterbacks from Tier 1 (best) to Tier 5 (worst), but he gets enough opinions around the league that granularity emerges in the results.

There are few surprises at the top, where Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes were unanimous Tier 1 selections, followed closely by Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. The names at the bottom—Drew Lock, Tyrod Taylor, Taysom Hill, and the Eagles combo of Jalen Hurts and Joe Flacco—are also expected. But there's a lot of disagreement in between. Most of that is centered around the status of veterans such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cam Newton, and Ben Roethlisberger, but it's second-year man Joe Burrow out of Cincinnati who caused the most disagreement, with 27 votes in Tier 2, 17 in Tier 3, and six in Tier 4.

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32 comments, Last at 08 Aug 2021, 10:43am

1 Useless Extra Point

Gotta have a subscription to The Athletic read full article.  If you do, you would have read it already.

9 I wouldn't say that it's…

I wouldn't say that it's useless. I had no idea this article exists and am interested in it and its findings (not interested enough to buy a subscription to The Atlantic, but still). And there's been some interesting discussion below on the back of this extra point.

That being said, it feels like there could have been more extra points recently (e.g. player contract extensions, Rodgers' return to the Packers, etc.).

2 I was gonna ask - if someone…

If someone can post the summary of the rest of the tiers that would be amazing.

I am curious to hear the explanation for why say Wilson is a tier 1 player but Watson is not. I have to imagine record is influencing this when it really should not. 

3 1: Rodgers, Mahomes, Brady,…

1: Rodgers, Mahomes, Brady, Wilson, Watson

2: Allen, Jackson, Stafford, Prescott, Herbert, Ryan, Murray, Tannenhill, Burrow

3: Carr, Roethlisberger, Mayfield, Cousins, Goff, Wentz, Garoppolo, Jones, Fitzpatrick

4: Darnold, Winston, Bridgewater, Newton, Dalton, Tagovailoa, Hurts, Lock, Taylor, Hill, Flacco 

Mostly in order, but there were some ties, that I didn't have the time or inclination to point out.

Teams that haven't named a starter yet have multiple QB's ranked.

4 My overall take is that…

My overall take is that there is a lot of disagreement in NFL circles (as pointed out by Aaron) about the QBs who aren't clearly great or aren't clearly terrible. 

I also think a smattering of NFL front office people/coaches or on crack:  Daniel Jones getting a tier 2 vote, Roethlisberger getting a tier 1 vote, and Stafford (no matter how much I like him) being ranked above Prescott are insane.

6 Some yikes

Burrow over Carr is wholey projection. Murray can at least run.

And someone voted Fitz tier 1!

And these are in order? So They have Allen over Lamar and Stafford over Dak? Wow, I wonder why...

8 I'm going to stick my neck…

I'm going to stick my neck out and proclaim that Matthew Stafford is a coach killer. By that I mean he has all the physical tools and displays just enough of the mental side of the game to flirt with being some elite level player, but just never brings enough consistency week to week or down to down. And ultimately when the team disappoints the coach ends up being the fall guy.

Maybe I'll be proven wrong this year as he gets paired with a coaching genius and a much better organization. But he's had a long time in the NFL now and you see a very common recurring pattern with his play. I'm not saying he's not capable of having a great season, but I would be very surprised if two or three years down the road we realize that we had Stafford pegged incorrectly this whole time.

10 Agreed 100%. His highlight…

Agreed 100%. His highlight throws are spectacular which causes him to be overrated but he misses too many easy ones and makes so many bad decisions. If any coach can win with him, though, it's McVay.

7 Thanks for posting this. I…

Thanks for posting this.

I am honestly not sure what to make of their tier 2 and tier designations.

Herbert and especially Burrow are still very much projections. Putting them in tier 2 at this point feels way too premature. And why is Murray there and not Carr? It feels like coaches are putting players in tier 2 who project to be Superstars potentially, while tier 3 is exclusively for players who have established themselves as never going to be a Superstar. 

I'm glad Sando put this list together, but it's a pretty sad reflection on NFL decision makers now honestly. In the sense that it's showing some very obvious signs of bias. 



14 I mean, maybe the opinion on…

I mean, maybe the opinion on Carr is just because there were grumblings that Gruden might move on from Carr a few years ago? I guess?

Certainly can't be performance, I certainly don't see much of a performance difference between Carr and Tannehill, for instance.

16 This actually passes my…

This actually passes my rough eyeball test. Ask yourself: if you had a QB at any (non-1) tier, would you trade them for any QB in the tier above? And within a tier - would a trade be a meh, or at least highly contestable? I think on these tests, 2 might need to be split into a 2a, 2b, maybe 2c, but the rest holds up to my (ignorant) inspection

17 I want to add. Let's say…

I want to add. Let's say everyone but the current crop of super young players is the same age. Mahomes, Rodgers, Watson etc are all 25 and as good as they are now. Are they interchangeable within their own tiers such that at least its a debating point.

Once more, I am going to omit Brady here because I still think there's a bit of an uncertainty about what he is at this age(he went from the worst receiving core to either the best or one of the very best).

Posed that way, I don't think Wilson and Watson belong with Mahomes and Rodgers. That's why they are tier 1s and those 2 can be debated, just as Wilson and Watson can as well.

I don't think Baltimore or Buffalo would trade Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson straight up for Burrow or Herbert even if the latter two were cost controlled because there's much more certainty about how good the former two are. 

And that btw is why I have a big issue with this list. Its mixing way too many details into a big melange such that there appears to be no true set of factors that apply to everyone.

19 I don't find these sorts of…

I don't find these sorts of rankings/tiers debates very interesting, for the reasons you state. But it certainly appears consistency of performance is being undervalued, and 'potential' being overvalued in this list. Which in turn probably tells you a lot about NFL coaches/executives, and how they likely overvalue their own ability to identify/coach up young players.

28 With Brady I suspect it's…

With Brady I suspect it's now just heresy to doubt him in any way, or rank him anywhere but the very top of any list, no matter the context. (This is also sort of evident in next season's Super Bowl odds, where Tampa are clear NFC favorites, and I'm sitting there thinking "44 year old QB, I'll steer clear thanks!"). 

29 I mean

You could couldve said that the last decade. Dude just won the SB, it's probably better to just be late at this point instead of predicting gloom and doom unless you actually see some time of physical decline like Brees or Peyton.

21 Holy crap I'd trade Carr for…

Holy crap I'd trade Carr for Ryan. Easy. Six year age difference! And I'd trade Brady for half the QBs in tier 2 at a moment.

I think the problem is that it's some wacko combination of "what performance I expect for them next year" and "what QB I would want in my franchise long term." Expecting Carr to be significantly worse next year than any of the Tier 2 guys is just weird (especially Burrow!). And if you're factoring in Burrow's youth, then it makes no sense having guys like Brady in Tier 1.

5 Noooo subscription

I don't do tiers

1. Mahomes

2. Rodgers

3. Brady

4. Russ

5. Watson

6. Lamar

7. Dak

8. Tannehill

9. Ryan

10. Allen


11 Pretty good, although I…

Pretty good, although I think Dak will ultimately be judged a better QB than Lamar when all is said and done. I'd also put Allen at 9 ahead of Ryan at this point. 

31 To be precise

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Lamar is about to play his age-24 season, and Dak just turned 28.  That's a huge difference, in scouting & development terms.

32 Yeah

In reply to by JimZipCode

Unless some really different information comes out I don't think anyone is gonna flip those 2 after this year.

12 My biased opinion is that I…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

My biased opinion is that I can't put Tanny ahead of Baker, and a lot of it is based on the game last year (one of the most important of the year for both teams.)


Ryan is long overdue for a 2015 Peyton Manning level decline.

15 Not Really

You forget he plays in the NFC South, where the climate (or air, or water, or something) enables pocket passing QBs to play into their 40s.

20 Why? Ryan plays a lot of his…

In reply to by Raiderfan

Why? Ryan plays a lot of his games in domes or comfortable environments each year (as Raiderfan pointed out), has been as consistent as they come, and unlike Manning, has never had a major injury that would affect his ability to throw. 

25 Was known to be important…

Was known to be important both that week and in the following weeks for straight-by-record playoff seedimg and several levels of tiebreakers (i.e. not just head-to-head but also vs. AFC overall record and common opponents, i.e. allowed CLE to sweep the AFCS and, if it were needed, make up for the NYJ and LV disasters by finishing the 7-5 vs. the AFC.


Hard to knock Baker on inconsistency when Tanny's first half in that game put TEN down 4 TDs.

26 Dude

that seems overstating it.

Either way, you're basing consistency off one game? Man you gotta let it go before I bring up Baker losing to TN in 2019.

27 Well, not a lot of…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Well, not a lot of consistency for Tanny in that one important game. 

I knew 2019 would come up. :) Besides being another year back, it's interesting that, say, Josh Allen gets a mostly free pass because his improvement has been basically linear, while Baker's 2019 left a lot to be desired..

All the same, I do enjoy this old AFC Central rivalry - 6 games in the last 7 seasons, and a 3-3 record with something crazy in basically every game.

30 Again

Literally one game that you're overstating the importance of. Back up a year and he threw 3 picks vs TN. Not great!! Tannehill only turned the ball over once through both games. Don't like it but forgivable. 

Allen had a better season than Baker ever had and it happens to be the most recent/relevant. Not a free pass. A 10th place ranking from me is, believe it or not, EXTREMELY harsh. Go on twitter and you'll see people going bonkers over Allen being too LOW at 7th in Maddens ratings (ironically they have the same top 10 as me lol, I was first though, check the timestamps). 

Bakers 16 games in 2019 was a big step back and pretty concerning over his nice 14 game (13 start) rookie year. 20 was a nice rebound but, admittedly Allen has surpassed despite the bad first two years (slight improvement his 2nd year). Have showed their ceilings.