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NFL1000: Free-Agent Rankings for the 2017 QB Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agent Rankings for the 2017 QB Market

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this first installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and quarterback scout Cian Fahey dive into this year's QB class.

    Each year, NFL teams with stout defenses and potent rushing attacks miss the postseason for one primary reason: They don't have the right quarterback. And if you can't get the right quarterback in the draft, your other main hope is free agency.

    When it comes to signing quarterbacks in free agency…boy, do you need to be careful. The game's most important position is also the highest-paid position, and when multiple teams are angling for the best signal-caller in any free-agent class, things can get pricey in a hurry.

    Teams with smart front offices don't overspend at any position. Not even quarterback. They cool their jets, align themselves with players who fit their system and personnel, and strike at the right time. That's what the Saints did with Drew Brees. Brees was coming off a shoulder injury in San Diego in 2005, but new head coach Sean Payton saw enough to know he had the mental ability to understand his complex playbook and the physical gifts to execute it. Coach, quarterback and front office were aligned, and the rest is history.

    What happens when a front office takes a stab in the dark in desperation? Look no further than the Texans giving Brock Osweiler a four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million guaranteed based on a limited number of snaps as Peyton Manning's backup. In 2016, Osweiler was terrible—he failed to grasp head coach Bill O'Brien's system and was rarely on the same page with his own receivers. Now, Texans owner Bob McNair has said the team is again likely looking for a franchise quarterback, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Unless they change their thought process, they may only compile their mistakes.

    When the 2017 league year begins in early March, the new wave of free-agent quarterbacks will be on the market. Here's how we see the top 10.

10. EJ Manuel

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: EJ Manuel did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

              

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    EJ Manuel got an unexpected opportunity to showcase his skill set in Week 17 when the Buffalo Bills decided to bench Tyrod Taylor. The Bills didn't do so because Manuel was better. They benched Taylor because the Bills were trying to protect him from an injury that would guarantee his $30-plus million contract option for 2017.

    Any suggestion the Bills made about wanting to get a look at Manuel was quickly extinguished. In Week 17, Manuel again proved why he should never have been a first-round pick. His complete absence of accuracy and slow processing in the pocket make it impossible for the offense around him to function.

    The 6'4" Manuel is a tall quarterback with enough athleticism to execute play fakes, but his arm strength doesn't offer much value. Beyond his lack of accuracy, Manuel also shows no control of velocity. He either throws passes at 100 mph or floats them. Not only does this hurt his accuracy, but it also prevents him from working the middle of the field or throwing to intermediate routes.

    It's hard to envision Manuel making a final 53-man roster, but he might get a spot to compete in training camp.

                

    Doug's Quick Take

    Manuel doesn't have base issues with strength, mobility or velocity, but his mechanics have regressed since his college days, and he doesn't throw to what he sees. He's a project backup quarterback at best, which is a shame, because he showed more potential than that at Florida State. Perhaps he can get in a better system and start all over again.

         

    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills

9. Blaine Gabbert

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Accuracy: 10.8/25  
    Arm: 16.3/25
    Pressure: 10.2/20
    Decision-Making: 8.5/20
    Position Value: 10/10
    Overall: 55.8/100
    2016 QB Rank: 38/38

                 

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    Blaine Gabbert was the lowest-ranked quarterback who qualified for the regular-season NFL1000 rankings by a considerable margin.

    The San Francisco 49ers starter looked like he didn't know what he was doing in 2016. Gabbert regularly threw his wide receivers into contact short of the first-down marker despite having time in the pocket. When he tried to heave the ball downfield, he demonstrated no understanding of timing while often overthrowing his receivers. Gabbert's overthrows were often so wild that his receivers gave up before finishing their routes so they could watch the ball fly far downfield.

    Compounding Gabbert's lack of accuracy and questionable decision-making was his obliviousness in the pocket. The 27-year-old is essentially an athlete trying to play the position. His instinct is to run when he is pressured or his first read is covered, and he's at his best when scrambling.

    Gabbert shouldn't be anywhere near an NFL roster unless he changes position and tries to become a full-time special teams player of some kind. He could get another shot, though, given the dearth of quality free-agent quarterbacks available this year.

                

    Doug's Quick Take

    Gabbert's best hope is to land with an offense run by an ambitious quarterbacks coach who believes he can fix just about anything. Because in Gabbert's case, just about everything needs fixing. He has the ability to make a couple of good throws per game, but from a mechanical and field-reading standpoint, there's not a lot to like here. 

        

    Potential Suitors: Washington, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks

8. Matt McGloin

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Matt McGloin did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.  

     

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    Matt McGloin will likely return to the Oakland Raiders because they have greater needs elsewhere than disrupting their quarterback room. McGloin could become Oakland's third quarterback instead of its second, though, if Connor Cook can take a step forward in his development ahead of next season.

    Cook didn't show enough to assure himself of McGloin's spot when he was forced into action late last season. McGloin himself had his opportunity stolen from him when he was quickly injured against the Denver Broncos in Week 17.

    The 27-year-old McGloin has thrown just 277 passes in his career, completing 161. He hasn't yet made a notable impression, but to his credit, he has avoided being a disaster when forced into action. For teams with established starters, that is typically enough to solidify yourself as the backup. McGloin's physical talent won't entice other teams to compete for his services with bigger contract offers, though.

     

    Doug's Quick Take

    McGloin is an ideal backup quarterback—tough, smart and limited, but aware enough of his limitations to know what he can't do. Teams looking for a second banana and spot starter could do a lot worse. 

        

    Potential Suitors: Oakland Raiders

7. Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Accuracy: 13.1/25  
    Arm: 16.3/25
    Pressure: 10.6/20
    Decision-Making: 10.7/20
    Position Value: 10/10
    Overall: 60.7/100 
    2016 QB Rank: 35/38

     

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    To the surprise of nobody who paid attention to Ryan Fitzpatrick's 2015 seasonor his whole career, for that matterit all collapsed in 2016.

    Fitzpatrick's penchant for making terrible decisions and throwing the ball inaccurately hurt the Jets a lot in 2015. The team around him was built to contend in the AFC, but Fitzpatrick's struggles put New York in position to miss the postseason courtesy of a Week 17 meltdown against the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick's issues were the same in 2016, but the rest of the team didn't play to the same level that it did the previous season. Part of that was health; another part was schedule.

    At 34 years old, Fitzpatrick's arm strength has almost completely faded. His arm loops down to his waist and around like a windmill when he throws the ball. The combination of that motion and his limited strength not only makes it difficult for Fitzpatrick to throw with any kind of precision, but it also buys more time for defenders trying to react to his actions. Fitzpatrick's skill set has always been that of a backup, but his dying arm strength makes him a borderline backup, if not a third or fourth option.

    The misperception of Fitzpatrick has always been that he is a smart quarterback who understands how to execute an offense. That hasn't been the case over the course of his career, and it especially wasn't true in 2016. Fitzpatrick's six-interception display against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 was one of the worst performances you're ever likely to see.

    One of the challenges facing Fitzpatrick should be how he responded to adversity in 2016. He showed no awareness of his own failures, accusing the Jets of losing faith in him when he was benched.

    Based on his play in 2016, Fitzpatrick shouldn't be on a roster in 2017.

     

    Doug's Quick Take

    If he is on a roster (and I'm inclined to agree he shouldn't be), Fitzpatrick shouldn't be a starter. He's at the point in his career when a quarterback's physical decline unearths his flaws to a worrisome degree. Fitzpatrick was once a decent system quarterback, but he now requires too much around him with too little return on investment. 

        

    Potential Suitors: Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers

6. Geno Smith

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Geno Smith did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

     

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    Few quarterbacks have endured the consistent misfortune that Geno Smith has throughout his career. A quarterback who wasn't ready to start entering the league wasn't just forced to start as a rookie; he was dropped into a volatile situation with no talent around him. When he was set to start with better talent and a new regime, a teammate broke his jaw by punching him in the face, causing him to lose his job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Once Smith got back on the field, he tore his ACL shortly thereafter.

    That torn ACL prevented Smith from playing extended minutes in 2016, and it will impact his market entering next year. Smith likely won't be ready until just before training camp, if even then. He hasn't built up a cache of evidence to assure himself of another opportunity, but he is clearly more talented than some of the other free agents on the market.

    Smith not only possesses a strong arm; he has shown off stretches of consistent accuracy to every level of the field. His problem has always been turning the ball over, but within the context of his situation, those mistakes were inevitable. To carve out a lengthy NFL career moving forward, Smith will need to prove that he is healthy but also that his disrupted development didn't completely ruin him as a player.

    It won't be a signing that comes with any fanfare—it will probably be an unpopular signing, too—but Smith is a quarterback with legitimate upside and is still relatively young (26). For a team looking to take a flier on a camp body, he is the perfect signing to make.

     

    Doug's Quick Take

    Quarterbacks who go from limited collegiate systems to limited pro systems, with bad NFL coaching to boot, are often doomed to obscurity. Smith has enough on the ball to be a good project quarterback for the right team, but expecting starting-quality play right off the bat would be problematic.  

     

    Potential Suitors: New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers

5. Case Keenum

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Accuracy: 14/25  
    Arm: 17.6/25
    Pressure: 11.3/20
    Decision-Making: 10.8/20
    Position Value: 10/10
    Overall: 63.7/100
    2016 QB Rank: 33/38

     

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    Case Keenum held on to the Rams starting quarterback spot for much longer than anyone expected. Jared Goff was always going to replace Keenum, and once Goff saw the field, it became clear that Keenum's starting was more about Goff's readiness (or lack thereof) than about Keenum's ability.

    There were long stretches throughout the season when Keenum played relatively well. His 321-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 6 comes to mind, as Keenum threw the ball accurately and made good, quick decisions to put the ball in his receiver's hands. His issues were primarily with his consistency, as Keenum would often make drive-killing mistakes, whether it was running into a sack, missing an open receiver or throwing the ball straight to a defender.

    With that inconsistency came limited accuracy and a lack of physical talent.

    Keenum is an aggressive deep passer who will push the ball downfield. He did so regularly to Kenny Britt. However, his arm strength doesn't match his mindset. Too often, Keenum's passes floated when the Rams tasked him with pushing the ball further than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. He did show some competence throwing on the run, but any team that signs Keenum will need to feature a strong running game and dominant defense to carry him.

    At the very least, Keenum's play in 2016 should assure him an opportunity of continuing his career in the NFL as a backup.

     

    Doug's Quick Take

    There are players who can do more than they're able to show in truly horrid offenses. Keenum isn't one of those guys, but that doesn't mean his future is a disaster. He's a career backup who would do well in a run-heavy offense. 

         

    Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers

4. Matt Barkley

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Accuracy: 13.6/25  
    Arm: 17.4/25
    Pressure: 12.1/20
    Decision-Making: 11.9/20
    Position Value: 10/10
    Overall: 65/100
    2016 QB Rank: 30/38

       

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    Matt Barkley was one of the big surprises at quarterback in 2016. Barkley was the Bears' third starter after Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer were injured. His receivers initially sabotaged his production by dropping accurate passes at an abnormal rate. Once his supporting cast settled down, Barkley showed off consistent competence.

    Barkley's poise in the pocket stood out more than anything else because of how rarely backup quarterbacks aren't flustered by a consistent pass rush. He regularly established his base before resetting his feet while moving away from pressure in the pocket, and he cycled through progressions to find open receivers when given time and beat blitzes with quick decisions.

    Before the final weeks of the season, Barkley's biggest issue was pushing the ball downfield. He too often missed open receivers or didn't put the ball in a spot where his receiver had an opportunity to make a spectacular catch against tight coverage.

    The final weeks of the regular season wiped out any discussion of Barkley as a potential starter in 2017. His poise remained in the pocket but his decision-making crumbled, and some awful overthrown passes over the middle of the field led to more interception opportunities. Still, Barkley showed enough prior to that point to assure himself of a primary backup spot somewhere in 2017.

           

    Doug's Quick Take

    If you're looking for an Alex Smith lite, Barkley is your man. He's not good for a ton of explosive plays, but he's taken what he learned at USC, worked hard to improve upon it and is the kind of player set to maximize a fairly low ceiling. Barkley is a career backup and spot starter—but a good one. I'd love to see what he'd do in Andy Reid's offense in Kansas City.

        

    Potential Suitors: Chicago Bears, New York Jets

3. Brian Hoyer

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Accuracy: 15/25  
    Arm: 17.2/25
    Pressure: 11.5/20
    Decision-Making: 12.7/20
    Position Value: 10/10
    Overall: 66.4/100
    2016 QB Rank: 25/38

         

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    At this point of his career, Brian Hoyer is the quintessential example of a journeyman quarterback. Hoyer has gone from the Cleveland Browns to the Houston Texans to the Chicago Bears over the past three seasons. He proved in Cleveland and Houston that he shouldn't be relied on as a starter, but he played well as a backup in Chicago before suffering a broken left arm in mid-October.

    Hoyer's skill set is impressive. He doesn't have a particularly strong arm, but he is capable of pushing the ball downfield and manipulates the trajectory of his intermediate passes with ease. That allows him to throw with some anticipation and fit the ball into zone coverage with greater consistency than other potential backups. His accuracy is still too erratic to be considered good, but with quality receivers to rely on, he can be a serviceable player.

    Within the pocket, Hoyer is willing to stand in and deliver the ball against pressure, but he will do so with inevitable mistakes. His positives in the pocket come in his movement. Hoyer can react to pressure and get off his first read if he has space to work in. He's not necessarily a creative player, but he also doesn't show off heavy feet that invite pressure.

    Hoyer's experience in different systems should help him quickly acclimate himself into a backup role. Furthermore, his broken arm shouldn't impact his play in 2017. It was his non-throwing arm, and he should complete his recovery long before any preparation for the 2017 season begins.

    The Chicago Bears may look to re-sign Hoyer as a bridge starter for an incoming quarterback, but Barkley's play could make him expendable. Barkley will likely be cheaper than Hoyer, which matters more when dealing with backups rather than starters.

         

    Doug's Quick Take

    Hoyer's biggest problem was that people expected too much of him as a potential starter based on his time as Tom Brady's backup. You'd think NFL teams would get over the Brady fairy dust at some point, but here we are. I'm not impressed with Hoyer's field acuity—he has stretches where he's not seeing things well—and I don't see him as the kind of quarterback who works within his limitations. That's a dangerous thing for any offense. 

        

    Potential Suitors: New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons

2. Mike Glennon

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Mike Glennon did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

         

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    Mike Glennon didn't play enough in 2016 to qualify for the NFL1000 season rankings, as Jameis Winston supplanted him as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback two years ago. While Glennon was never a spectacular player, he could feel somewhat aggrieved about losing his spot. Had the Buccaneers not wound up with a top pick that year, he likely would have remained the starter or at least had an opportunity to compete for the starting spot the following season.

    Winston's arrival as the franchise quarterback ended Glennon's chance at being a starter in Tampa Bay, but now that he is hitting free agency, he should receive opportunities elsewhere. That's not to say Glennon is a star, but he showed off the kind of consistency and competence that backup quarterbacks rarely do during his short time on the field in Tampa Bay.

    At 6'6", 225 pounds, Glennon is tall with the mobility to execute hard play fakes and work outside of the pocket on designed bootleg plays. He also shows off some subtlety with his footwork in the pocket to function in tight spaces. The one consistent issue he had behind the line of scrimmage in Tampa Bay was his tendency to run backward out of the pocket instead of stepping up. It was a constant but not fatal flaw.

    As a passer, Glennon's arm isn't as strong as his frame might suggest. That's not to say arm strength is a concern, however. Glennon has the ability to push the ball downfield with ease and can fit the ball into tighter windows by throwing with touch and anticipation on intermediate routes. While he can throw receivers open through tight windows, it's not something a team should expect him to do repeatedly. 

    In an ideal scenario, Glennon would be responsible for a complementary passing attack where the foundation of the offense is one of the league's best running games. That would allow him to throw off play action and prioritize taking care of the football over creating big plays.

    Glennon's physical talent is greater than that of anyone else who is scheduled to hit the open market, and he has shown more technical precision than most. The greatest concern is that he has been on the sideline for a long time, and he could very quickly be overpaid.

            

    Doug's Quick Take

    The one thing that impresses me about Glennon's NFL tape is that he has shown the ability to run an offense. That sounds basic to a silly degree, but it really isn't—many young NFL quarterbacks have no clue how to keep things in check during game-day situations. He should get another shot as an NFL starter, and though I don't think he'll be a spectacular one, he's a great deal as a bridge guy for the right price. 

        

    Potential Suitors: Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers

1. Kirk Cousins

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Accuracy: 15.1/25  
    Arm: 17.9/25
    Pressure: 11.7/20
    Decision-Making: 11.6/20
    Position Value: 10/10
    Overall: 66.3/100
    2016 QB Rank: 26/38

           

    NFL1000 QB Scout, Cian Fahey

    In all likelihood, Kirk Cousins won't reach the free-agent market. He'll either sign a long-term deal with Washington or receive the franchise tag for the second season in a row. The uncertainty surrounding Cousins' immediate future and value reflects his level of play. He had some good games in 2016 but spent most of the season holding back an offense that was just as talented as any other in the league.

    Accuracy is a big concern for Cousins. His high completion percentage is a reflection of the type of offense he plays in. He primarily throws the ball short and does so from clean pockets to receivers who can make difficult adjustments on a consistent basis. When he is asked to push the ball further downfield, his limited arm strength and wayward ball placement show up more consistently. That was highlighted on the play that ended Washington's season, when he threw behind an open receiver over the middle of the field against the New York Giants.

    Cousins is destined to be overpaid. He's not someone who elevates his teammates; he is someone who has been elevated by his teammates. A significant chunk of his production came at the expense of the team's chances of winning games (e.g., being overly reliant on checking the ball down when playing from behind).

    The way to sell Cousins is to suggest that the past two seasons are his floor rather than his ceiling. He did take a step forward in 2016 by avoiding the idiotic interceptions he suffered through the first half of the 2015 season. When Cousins put the ball up for grabs in 2016, there was at least a rational line of thinking behind his actions. That wasn't always the case the previous season.

    Selling Cousins as someone who can develop further in 2017 is tough. Not only does the 28-year-old have limited physical traits, but he also hasn't shown enough viability against pressure. With 32 straight regular-season starts under his belt, Cousins is who he is at this point.

     

    Doug's Quick Take

    Cousins should be praised for making the most of his clear physical limitations. He's not a great deep thrower, he's too skittish in the pocket for my taste, and he has stretches of game action in which his mechanics fall apart. Still, he's been more productive than his talent might indicate. The question is, does an NFL team want to pay him as a top-tier starter when he clearly needs advantageous receiver splits and routes, and a lot of talent around him? I'd rather take a shot on a guy who hasn't maxed out his talent, and I see Cousins as a problematic player in that more will be expected of him in the future than he's able to deliver. 

        

    Potential Suitors: Washington, San Francisco 49ers

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