QB Tiers List not kind to black QBs

Lamar Jackson
Photo: Getty Images

Top 10 NFL lists are typically there to incite a reaction. But Mike Sando’s 2022 QB Tiers List thwacks you upside the head over and over. The exclusion of Lamar Jackson from quarterback top 10 lists this offseason is standard operating protocol, but the disdain for the league’s top black quarterbacks slipped through the slander in Sando’s anonymous sources.

Joe Burrow was described as a “young Tom Brady” and praised for his brains. Justin Herbert joined Tier 1 off of the strength of some gaudy numbers and a 15-17 record. However, this provides an insight into how harshly black quarterbacks are critiqued. A few comments in, I was doom scrolling to find out what incendiary nonsense would be said next.

The comments Sando included don’t represent the entirety of the NFL community, but you can bet it’s just a small sample of a much larger subset of coaches and execs. Sando says he spoke to 50 people, six GMs, eight head coaches, 10 talent evaluators, 12 coordinators, six quarterback coaches, seven execs, and one team’s personnel department.

They mostly raved about Brady, Rodgers, Herbert, Stafford, and Josh Allen. Compare the most pessimistic takes about Patrick Mahomes from one defensive coordinator in contrast to the critiques about Josh Allen.

Even the most biting critiques of Allen were bullish on his upside.

“Josh Allen is a better version of Lamar (Jackson), and I love him as a football player,” a defensive coordinator said. “I still think he is erratic as a thrower and so he doesn’t scare me the same way Rodgers does. But he’s ascending.”

That passage sets the tone for the positivity directed towards Tier 1 and Tier 2 quarterbacks. If you expected everyone to show the same reverence for Mahomes that’s shown for Rodgers or Allen, you’d be wrong.

“We love Mahomes because of his unorthodox throws, not because of his natural pocket presence,” this voter said. “And when that disappears, that is when they lose games. I don’t think that is a 1. I think that is a 2. Nothing against the guy. I love the kid. But take his first read away and what does he do? He runs, he scrambles and he plays streetball.”

In his inaugural season as a starter, Mahomes dissected Bill Belichick’s notoriously deceptive defensive schemes in the AFC Title Game. In 2021, defenses purportedly figured Mahomes out and maybe the bar for Mahomes is higher; that’s typically how it works for black men in professional settings. But 37 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, 4,800 yards, and the fifth-highest QBR in the NFL during a down year doesn’t sound like someone who can’t read a defense.

The assertion that he turns into a streetball QB after his first read is the most asinine take of all. The funny thing is that he didn’t even lead the league in passing touchdowns outside the pocket. Josh Allen did.

Mahomes is 20,000 yards into his career, possesses a 4-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, won a regular season MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, and appeared in four consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances.

Stafford was ranked the top Tier 2 QB and some of the remarks about Russell Wilson sound like they came from the mouth of a disgruntled member of the Seahawks organization.

“The difference with Russell is, he is a lot more high-maintenance,” a GM said. “He’s got the entourage, he needs the office at the facility, the extra hotel rooms on the road, all that stuff. It will be interesting how that dynamic works with a rookie head coach and rookie offensive coordinator, how they jell.”

Understandably, Wilson has been descending down Sando’s Tier list for the past two seasons, but what entourage is this John Doe referring to? Did he confuse Future with Russ or did Russ’ appearance in Entourage get seared into his brain or is that a colloquialism for his wife and family?

Kyler Murray?

The critiques of Murray’s pure passing are fair, but Murray being situated behind Derek Carr feels like a mistake. Murray’s third season was a three steps forward situation in the first half of the regular season followed by two steps back in the second half. His sloppiness and execution are fair targets, but the shots at his introverted personality are incongruent when Justin Herbert is the league’s most soft-spoken quarterback. The passive aggressiveness has to stop though if he’s going to be the catalyst for a Super Bowl in Arizona.

“When he cannot run, I haven’t seen him play well enough from the pocket to win. And then I don’t think he possesses the decision-making or the ability to just control a game with his mind.”

The critique about the IQ of black quarterbacks is a hackneyed tradition alongside tropes such as the scrappy white skill-position player. Nothing has indicated that Murray doesn’t have the intellectual capabilities to flourish behind the line. The only thing stopping him is his diminutive size and predilection from bailing out the pocket when pressure closes in.

The Lamar Jackson section, at No. 10 in Tier 2, is where the anonymous comments get a little demented. He brings the toxicity out of football guys struggling to cope with the changing nature of the quarterback position.

Jackson was so sensational as a dual threat during his 2019 MVP season that 16 voters placed him in Tier 1 heading into 2020. This year, there were as many votes for Jackson in Tier 1 (eight) as there were in Tier 3.

“If he has to pass to win the game, they ain’t winning the game,” another defensive coordinator said. “He’s so unique as an athlete and he’s really a good football player, but I don’t (care) if he wins the league MVP 12 times, I don’t think he’ll ever be a 1 as a quarterback. He’ll be a 1 as a football player, but not as a quarterback. So many games come down to two-minute, and that is why they have a hard time advancing even when they are good on defense. Playoffs are tight. You have to be able to throw the ball, and he is just so inconsistent throwing the ball. It is hit or miss.”

The “Lamar Jackson is an RB” discourse is pretty par for the course, but a defensive coordinator uttering those words is still jarring. The vitriol is always telling though. There’s an obvious line between criticism and contempt. This defensive coordinator’s snarling attitude towards Lamar leaps off the page. You can imagine him reveling in his gleeful refusal to accept Jackson as a quarterback. It’s a sign of pathological hatred for the Lamars of the NFL, and a misunderstanding of how much of an outlier he is.

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