Mike Sando, now of The Athletic, has posted his annual NFL quarterback tier rankings (subscription required). Sando polled fifty-five NFL coaches and executives and asked each to place all thirty-two quarterbacks into one of five tiers. Tier 1 was the best of the best, Tier 5 would be a non-starter in the NFL, and the remaining tiers fall somewhere in the middle.
To the surprise of no one, Drew Brees came out with a significant amount of “Tier 1” votes. In fact, he came out with the third most - behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady - Tier 1 votes in the NFL. No quarterback received a unanimous Tier 1 vote:
Tier 1 votes: 51 | Tier 2 votes: 4
Brees commanded top-tier votes at a higher rate this year than last, but quite a few voters thought he belonged at the bottom of Tier 1. There was greater enthusiasm for Mahomes than for Brees among voters who placed both in the top tier, but Brees’ much longer track record gave him the benefit of the doubt with some.
“I like to think of the ones being so rare over the years — Peyton, Brady, Rodgers,” an offensive coordinator said. “Then you take a breath and you say it’s Brees, whoever else. Look, I’m president of the Drew Brees fan club, but last year, when the run game dried up a little, I felt he was not carrying them like he was before.”
Much of the praise for Brees comes with subtle qualifiers.
“Drew can carry his team in those pure passing situations,” a head coach said. “He is limited in certain throws he has to make on rhythm now, but I think you still have to give him a 1.”
A defensive coordinator called Brees a 1 for knowing what to do but a 2 from a physical standpoint.
“The system bails him out with the run game, the quick passing game and the play-action,” said this coordinator, who placed only Rodgers and Brady in his top tier. “I don’t think he can carry a team (without that). His quick decision-making makes him.”
The general feeling was that the case for Brees as a 1 was stronger than the case for Brees as a 2.
“I think Drew is a first-half-of-the-season 1, second-half-of-the-season 2,” an offensive coordinator said. “Watch how they play now. If they play a bad defense, they might throw for 500 yards (as it was against Cincinnati last season). They play a good defense, they are going to be conservative and try to win a close game, like against Baltimore last year.”
The Saints have become much better on defense and special teams over the past couple of seasons. They have a strong ground game. Brees will surely accept that support after spending several years propping up a team that was historically bad on defense in particular.
“They’ve got a lot around him, but he makes it all go,” a GM said. “When you say, ‘As a passer, can carry the team and do all that,’ he still does that.”
Brees received only three more Top 1 votes than the 2018 NFL MVP, Patrick Mahomes. Other Tier 1 QBs included Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Philip Rivers. Across the NFC South, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons was given a Tier 2 ranking, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was on the cusp of Tier 1 and 2, and Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was given Tier 3 status.