Quarterback Tiers
By Sigmund Bloom and Jene Bramel
August 23rd, 2011

Whether you do a full set of projections to compare players or put your rank lists together by gut feel, every cheat sheet can be broken out into tiers. The process is simple and its rewards are many. Breaking your rankings into tiers forces you to crystallize your opinions on players. It will help you make good strategic decisions during your draft, by keeping you on the right side of runs or highlighting positions that may be sloughed a round longer than you thought or that you should target early than you expected. Testing your tiers in a few mock drafts will leave you prepared for every contingency during your draft and keep you from scrambling when you're on the clock in those all-important middle rounds.

This series will walk you through our tiering process position by position, including the major defensive position, and offer our strategic insights along the way. We'll have thoughts on whether you should go with a top quarterback or QBBC, whether you should target a top TE over your RB3 or WR3, whether you should prioritize DL over LB and whether there are any defensive backs worth drafting early.

We'll start with the quarterback position and a key strategic decision that must be made each year: Lock down a gold standard option early or look for a committee in the later rounds.

Sigmund Bloom


  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Michael Vick
  • Vick has a higher demonstrated upside with more risk of injury or bad play, Rodgers has a higher proven ceiling with much less risk. I wouldn't take either until the mid 2nd, and that's only in a scoring system that emphasizes QBs and/or stud performances. Vick's poor Week 2 preseason effort only accentuates his risk. Rodgers has a bit of injury risk himself compared to pocket passers. You just forgo too much potential value at QB later in the draft when you build around one of these two QBs, but they clearly deserve to be the first two off the board.

    24K Gold

  • Tom Brady
  • Drew Brees
  • Philip Rivers
  • Peyton Manning
  • Tony Romo
  • I have this group packed very tightly and would happily take the last one on the board whenever I can them. Brady has me intrigued again this year because of his blistering second half of 2010 and the no holds barred way the Pats have begun this preseason, but I know I can get Romo with similar numbers at least a round later. Brees has been unbelievably consistent, and while he's not set up for career numbers this year, he was playing through a knee injury last year, so that could result in a net gain. Rivers was doing it with the likes of Patrick Crayton and Seji Ajirotutu last year, you know he'll be fine, and he'll also face some weak pass defenses in division. Manning has the neck issue hanging over him, but his track record means you don't knock him down a tier, you knock him down within his tier. Romo is the one getting no respect, possibly because of having two serious in-season injuries in the last few years (including last year), but he has been at or near the level of the rest of the names on this list after Miles Austin broke out in 2009.

    Jene Bramel

    I have the top two tiers essentially the same.

    I've nearly dropped Vick into the second tier several times, but his single game upside and ability to turn a bad passing week into a great fantasy day on the strength of his rushing stats keep him in the elite tier. He essentially gives you an extra starter every week, representing both a strong QB1 and RB2 in one lineup spot. I also think there may be an argument that Brady belongs in the elite tier. If you feel the same, taking him in third round may represent more value than waiting to pick off Rivers or Romo in the sixth.

    With a total of seven quarterbacks in these two strong tiers, I'd rather err on the side of reaching to roster one than give up that potential advantage to seven teams and leave myself fussing over playing matchups with a QBBC approach. If you can't get Rodgers or Vick (mid to late second in a 12 team league), Brady/Brees (late third to early fourth), Manning/Rivers (early fourth to mid fifth) or Romo (late fifth to sixth) at value, I'd be moving on your pick of the next tier quickly.

    Sigmund Bloom

    18 K Gold

  • Matt Ryan
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Matt Schaub
  • Josh Freeman
  • Any one of the members of this group could join the 24 K club this year. Ryan has Julio Jones and a healthy Harry Douglas, Roethlisberger was near that tier last year and has a very weak schedule. If he can eliminate the occasional dud from his scoring patterns, he'll make his owners very happy. Schaub was 24K in 2009 and was almost there again in the second half of last year. An improved defense under Wade Phillips could actually be bad for Schaub, but he is often falling a round or more after Ryan and Big Ben. Freeman was ridiculously efficient last year and is a threat to run to boot. His schedule gets tougher, but his targets get more experienced this year. If he takes a similar step to the one he took last year, he will make his owners look very smart. You can wait and take the 11th QB off the board and still get one of these guys. If you can't time your Romo pick, you can still be just fine.

    In the Alchemist Lab

  • Sam Bradford
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Bradford gains a year of experience, a few new targets, and Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator who made a fantasy stud out of Kyle Orton last year. Matthew Stafford will be a shotgun-spread style offense and he has the requisite skills to be a top fantasy QB. Bradford faded as the season went on last year. Stafford has missed more games than he has played in his two years. Either could be a surprise top 5-7 QB or a player that leaves you looking for more at QB. Still, if you are the last to take a QB in a 12 team league, this isn't a bad committee to employ, especially because the RB/WR talent drops off a cliff at right about the point you'll be taking these guys - which is about the 9th or 10th round. Even if you miss on one, there are upside backups to take later and of course, there's the waiver wire. Don't despair.

    Jene Bramel

    Bloom makes a good argument. I won't necessarily despair if I'm "stuck" with better RB and WR talent because I've missed on a quarterback from my top two tiers. But I'm not sure that I want to give that advantage during the regular season and I sure don't want to hope that Vick or Rodgers or Brees has a middling game in a playoff week so I don't lose too much ground with a Ryan or Schaub.

    I have five quarterbacks in the third tier - Roethlisberger, Stafford, Schaub, Ryan and Freeman. All of them could crack the top six this year, but all of them put at least one nagging doubt in my mind. I think Stafford might be the surprise of the season. There's not an above-replacement-level WR2 on the roster, but Calvin Johnson more than makes up for it. I also think Jahvid Best is an underrated receiving option that could add 500-600 receiving yards to Stafford's total and keep his QB from holding the ball too long on passing downs waiting for someone other than Johnson to uncover himself in the secondary. There's something that bothers me about Matt Ryan, but it's too hard to ignore last year's stats, the addition of Julio Jones (who looks tremendous) and the coaching staff saying they'd like to open up the offense this year.

    If you're confident that one of these players has a top ten floor and are comfortable playing matchups, then QBBC is for you. If not, make sure you get one of the top seven.

    I very much like Sam Bradford and it'll be interesting to see what Josh McDaniels cooks up for him. But his receiving group is too muddled to give him more than a 3200 yard - 18 touchdown floor and I'm not comfortable with him in my third tier. His second half schedule is very interesting for those looking for a fantasy backup, but I'd pair him with a high floor QB if you're putting him in your QBBC.

    Sigmund Bloom


  • Eli Manning
  • Jay Cutler
  • Joe Flacco
  • You pretty much know what you have here. Manning, Cutler, and Flacco will probably be among the top five QBs in a given week at least five times this year, but they will also put up their share of middling and poor games. All three have been starters long enough for us to see their true ceiling, which is a QB who can be a pleasant surprise sometimes and usually hold the line, but not the kind that helps you win fantasy championships. I would only take them if they are completely neglected in your draft for too long.

    Jene Bramel

    My fourth tier (a safe, high floor QB2, strong QBBC candidate) includes Manning, Flacco and Bradford, but I'd rather have Sanchez than Cutler. I think the Jets offense is better than many think and I think Sanchez is nearing the point at which he finds the right mix of youthful risk-taking and veteran poise. Santonio Holmes, Derrick Mason and Dustin Keller are all underrated football players. Plaxico Burress looks like he hasn't lost much. Depending on my roster composition, I may draft Sanchez over Flacco, Cutler or Bradford as my QB2.

    Sigmund Bloom

    In the Alchemist Lab - Part II

  • Colt McCoy
  • Mark Sanchez
  • Cam Newton
  • John Beck
  • Any of these young QBs could take a big step up this year (in Newton's case a big debut) to vastly outperform their draft position. McCoy is being coached by West Coast offense guru Pat Shurmur and he looks great in camp and preseason so far. Sanchez will run a more balanced offense this year, and he finally has a #1 receiver to really grow with in Santonio Holmes. Newton is similar to Vince Young and Tim Tebow in overall playing style, and both of them made big fantasy splashes in their rookie years. This is the tier my backup will come from in most leagues. I don't believe in Shanny and I don't believe in Beck, but he is so cheap and the numbers out of the Redskins pass offense late last year were so good, I'll take my chance late if I haven't taken a #2 QB and hope that he doesn't play like number two. If he does, nothing lost really because I'll have another shot a WW flavor of the week early.

    On Shaky Ground

  • Matt Cassel
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick
  • Kevin Kolb
  • Cassel lost Charlie Weis after a terrific first 15 games and now the Chiefs offense is stalled out. Fitzpatrick lost field-stretching wide receiver Lee Evans and otherwise is a QB of limited raw ability. Kolb might have little running game to help keep pressure off of him (which the norm in Arizona). Someone is likely to be more optimistic about this group QBs than I am. Any of them could be revealed as pretenders during the season and basically be a worthless pick.

    One More Time?

  • Kyle Orton
  • Donovan McNabb
  • Matt Hasselbeck
  • These vets offer some veteran safety with upside, Orton because of his familiarity with the receivers and last year's numbers, McNabb because it really might have been the Shanahans as much as it was him last year, and Hasselbeck because he has a better overall set of targets than he had in Seattle. If you decide to wait until the end of the draft to take a backup, here are your candidates. I would almost be as likely to just go in without a backup as take one over a RB/WR flier.

    Jene Bramel

    Manning, Flacco, Bradford and Sanchez form the highest subset of my QB2 tier. There are four subsets to this tier, which encompasses all the quarterbacks I'm willing to draft with the intention of them possibly starting a fantasy game for me. The entire tier is 17 deep.

    After the safe first four, I have a slight drop to three other players with a reasonable QB2 floor and a little upside, but that carry single game downside that worries me - Cutler, Kolb and Cassel. I like those three (and those in the tiers to follow) as my QB2 only if I've successfully nabbed a top seven player.

    The next two QB2 tiers are either extremely risky (due to talent, situation, depth chart) or have little upside.

    The risky group includes Orton, Fitzpatrick, Newton, McCoy, Andy Dalton and Tim Tebow. I like this group more than the next, because I think each has top ten upside in a single game with an attractive matchup. I've been grabbing Tebow in particular in deeper leagues as a late season flyer. He had top five numbers in his games as a starter last season.

    The little upside group includes Hasselbeck, McNabb, David Garrard and Jason Campbell. All have enough upside to draft, but I have no confidence that any of them have a better than middling chance to put up a 300 yard, three TD game if needed. They're safe enough to draft in a pinch, but little more.

    Sigmund Bloom

    High Upside Backups

  • Tim Tebow
  • Vince Young
  • Shaun Hill
  • Jon Kitna
  • Any of these because instant top 15 QBs the moment they become starters. Tebow is a potential top 10 if they let him run a lot.

    Why Bother?

  • Chad Henne
  • Jason Campbell
  • Alex Smith
  • Jacksonville QBs
  • Seattle QBs
  • Cincinnati QBs
  • Because of talent and surrounding offense, these QBs offer little in the way of upside over the course of a whole season. They have their weeks when they shine, but they aren't worth roster spots in typical 12 team one QB starts leagues.

    Jene Bramel

    After the four way split QB2 tier, there are a few backups on my priority watch list - Kitna, Tyler Thigpen (who has been very productive for Chan Gailey in the past), Hill, Blaine Gabbert, Young (though I'd say my confidence in him as a starter is lukewarm at best), Jake Locker and Bruce Gradkowski. All would be worth a look as a waiver wire pickup, with Kitna, Thigpen and Hill fitting into the third group of the QB2 tier as risky, high single game upside plays.

    Like Bloom, I have a do not draft list. I'm not drafting Tarvaris Jackson, Chad Henne, John Beck, Alex Smith or Rex Grossman no matter what they do in the preseason.

    Hope you enjoyed the first installment. We'll be rolling out the others over the next 7-10 days. Comments, suggestions or questions are welcome below or by email at bloom@footballguys.com or bramel@footballguys.com. You can also follow our active Twitter feeds @SigmundBloom and @JeneBramel. Thanks for reading.

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