It's no surprise to find a ranking of NFL quarterbacks and Peyton Manning right at the top. In this ESPN Insider piece by Mike Sando [paywall], a committee of 26 anonymous NFL "insiders" - eight general managers, two former GMs, four pro personnel evaluators, seven coordinators, two head coaches, two position coaches and a top executive - slotted every team's starting quarterback in tiers, 1-5. The outcomes were averaged and rounded. To land in Tier 1 required the quarterback to average below 1.50; Tier 2 required an average below 2.50, and so on.
Peyton Manning tied with three other quarterbacks - Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers - as Tier 1 quarterbacks and tops in the league. But none of them received unanimous Tier 1 rankings - they each received one Tier 2 vote.
Manning nearly received two. As Sando relays:
One of the evaluators with a background in pro personnel nearly gave Manning a Tier 2 grade on our first run through the ballot. Then, he started laughing.
"As soon as I said two, I was like, 'Really?' " the evaluator said. "Arm strength is such an issue at this point and the smart teams are going to neutralize him easier than others, but he is a one."
Common sense prevails. This evaluator recognized that an aging arm hasn't shown any lack of production from Manning. In fact, his arm was stronger in 2013 than 2012.
Still, there was one evaluator who ranked Manning a 2.
Manning received his only Tier 2 grade from a GM concerned that the QB's age had hampered his ability to avoid the rush. Brady, Brees and Rodgers were the only Tier 1 QBs on this GM's ballot.
Manning has never been very mobile - that has little do with his age and more to do with his playing style. But Manning excelled under pressure nevertheless in 2013 - he doesn't have to move around, he just has to get rid of the football to avoid pressure. Manning had the highest completion percentage (58.1%) and lowest sack percentage (11.0%) when under pressure of any starting quarterback in the league in 2013. This Tier 2 rating just doesn't have any merit.
In other words, NFL insiders have their preconceptions and biases just like everyone else.
The only other Tier 1 quarterback outside of the four on top was the heir apparent to Manning in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck (who ranked 5th with a 1.50 average). September 7th can't get here soon enough!
Other AFC West quarterback rankings: