The 2017 Sando/ESPN QB Tiers Rankings

Mike Sando has released his latest QB tiers results at ESPN and once again we’ll use that to see just how well the ranking of players matches up with salaries. For those who have never read these pieces before, Mike generally asks a number of NFL executives to slot the various quarterbacks into tiers and then he goes through the figures to do a leaguewide ranking. It’s a great concept and definitely one of my favorites of the year and I really enjoy seeing how the salaries match up with the rankings.

For the second year in a row the number of veterans is so high I think this is a bit worrisome for the league. The highest player ranked on a rookie contract is Dak Prescott at 14, the start of the third tier. After that the rookies either are all ranked close together in tier 3 or looked at as low level players in tier 4. All the tier 1 players are over 30 and 8 of the top 13 were drafted before 2010. The league really can use more and more of these younger guys to really raise their games.  This is also a big reason why teams keep taking shots on these lower level veterans which bodes well for players like Alex Smith who could be moving on next season.

It is also interesting to see just how much a recent year sways opinions for players. Matt Ryan jumped from the bottom of the 2nd tier into the 1st tier. Cam Newton fell from the top of the 2nd tier to the bottom of it. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor were top of 3rd tier guys last year while Fitzpatrick wasn’t even included this year and Taylor nearly dropped to the 4th tier.

It would also seem that at least last season the rankings provided by Sando at the bottom did an excellent job of predicting QB turnover. Of the veteran players ranked 20 and down just about all flopped. Those names were Fitzpatrick, Taylor, Brock Osweiler, Sam Bradford, Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, Robert Griffin III, and Case Keenum. Bradford is the only one of those players on solid footing and only he and Taylor are on the same team as last year.

Since rookie contract are slotted I eliminated them from any salary evaluation. I then broke up the veteran tier into even quarters and averaged those numbers to compare with the ESPN numbers.  Since the ESPN counts were varied per tier I also broke up the salaries based on the counts for each ESPN tier:

TierSalary (Even Quartiles)Salary (ESPN Count)ESPN
1$23,654,322$23,985,187$21,870,000
2$21,220,417$21,259,063$21,960,221
3$18,944,445$17,645,833$17,266,667
4$12,178,571$9,250,000$11,250,000

Much like last year the salaries match up pretty well which has more to do with the NFL market for quarterbacks having no true spread. It has been a game of leapfrog since 2012. The top 14 players in the NFL all make over $20 million per year but none makes more than $25. The top 22 all make at least $15 million. It’s only the bottom two players who make under $10 million.

The hit rate this year saw 44% of the players slotting in both the same salary as ESPN tier. The breakdown was 2 of 5 in the first tier, 4 of 8 in tier 2, 2 of 8 from tier 3 and 3 of 4 in tier 4.

Using the ESPN rankings we can also manipulate the salary data a little bit to assign new APYs based on their ranking. Using those APYs we can help identify the most over and undervalued players.

On the undervalued front Jay Cutler comes out on top being ranked at a $16 million level but only being paid $10 million. Cutler has some baggage which impacted his salary this year and was basically out of the NFL before and injury in Miami to Ryan Tannehill helped him get back in the league.

In the no surprise category Tom Brady is the second most undervalued. He had the top rank in ESPN but only ranks 14th in salary, a difference of $4.5 million. The 13 slot difference is far and away tops in the NFL. Cutler’s rank movement is low and he only grabbed the top slot because of the way the players are all valued. Brian Hoyer ranked third, but I would expect his ending to be similar to Fitzpatricks last year.

Matt Stafford is 4th and jumps 9 slots. He is on a pretty old contract and I would expect him to sign for well over $25 million shortly. He will move from under to overvalued once that happens. Aaron Rodgers rounds out the top 5.

Rodgers and Brady are the perfect example of why the QB market needs more of a spread. These are two of the best players in the NFL and are undervalued in large part because of how the market now works. If you want to beat these players in the playoffs you are not going to do it by paying truly inferior QBs close to the same salary.

In the no surprise department Osweiler was the most overvalued (by $12 million) and odds are he will be a pure backup next year and not on this list at all. He was the only player with a truly huge drop.

Surprisingly Kirk Cousins came in second which I guess has to do with the various opinions on him either being a system guy or just a bit of a later bloomer like Drew Brees. The two most promising younger players, Andrew Luck and Derek Carr, were the next two overvalued. I was more surprised by Carr in this case since he had a good year. Luck I think has more and more people realizing that he is not on track to really be the top guy anymore. The other big rank dropper was Joe Flacco which is pretty much a standard each year for this list.

Here is the full list of the veteran players.

NameESPN TierSalary TierSalary RankESPN Rank

Rank

Diff

APYNew APYAPY Difference% Change
Derek Carr2117-6$25,005,000$21,900,000-$3,105,000-12.4%
Andrew Luck2126-4$24,594,000$22,000,000-$2,594,000-10.5%
Drew Brees1134-1$24,250,000$23,943,600-$306,400-1.3%
Kirk Cousins21413-9$23,943,600$20,750,000-$3,193,600-13.3%
Joe Flacco31514-9$22,133,333$20,500,000-$1,633,333-7.4%
Aaron Rodgers11624$22,000,000$24,594,000$2,594,00011.8%
Russell Wilson22710-3$21,900,000$21,000,000-$900,000-4.1%
Ben Roethlisberger12835$21,850,000$24,250,000$2,400,00011.0%
Eli Manning22911-2$21,000,000$20,812,500-$187,500-0.9%
Carson Palmer32915-6$21,000,000$19,250,000-$1,750,000-8.3%
Philip Rivers221183$20,812,500$21,425,000$612,5002.9%
Cam Newton2212120$20,760,000$20,760,000$00.0%
Matt Ryan131358$20,750,000$22,133,333$1,383,3336.7%
Tom Brady1314113$20,500,000$25,005,000$4,505,00022.0%
Ryan Tannehill331518-3$19,250,000$17,500,000-$1,750,000-9.1%
Brock Osweiler431625-9$18,000,000$6,000,000-$12,000,000-66.7%
Matt Stafford231789$17,666,667$21,425,000$3,758,33321.3%
Sam Bradford331819-1$17,500,000$17,000,000-$500,000-2.9%
Alex Smith3419172$17,000,000$17,666,667$666,6673.9%
Andy Dalton3420164$16,000,000$18,000,000$2,000,00012.5%
Tyrod Taylor3421210$15,250,000$15,250,000$00.0%
Mike Glennon4422220$15,000,000$15,000,000$00.0%
Jay Cutler3423203$10,000,000$16,000,000$6,000,00060.0%
Brian Hoyer4424231$6,000,000$10,000,000$4,000,00066.7%
Josh McCown4424240$6,000,000$6,000,000$00.0%

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc