Many Buffalo Bills fans viewed the debut season of Tyrod Taylor as a qualified success. He played better than anybody could have ever imagined he would when the Bills signed him as an unheralded free agent and has a stranglehold on the starting quarterback job going into this season.
That said, it seems that many in the league don’t necessarily feel the same way.
Mike Sando’s annual ranking of the NFL’s quarterbacks is out (Insider access required), and Taylor comes in at a very disappointing 26th of 33 (the San Francisco 49ers are represented by both Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert).
Before I move too far into this, I should note that the ranking is a composite analysis from, as Sando writes, "10 general managers, five head coaches, seven offensive coordinators, five defensive coordinators, eight personnel evaluators and seven other position coaches/executives." They are asked to place quarterbacks into one of five tiers, although this year’s edition only consisted of four.
Taylor’s ranking put him into the third tier, which is described as "Legit starter but needs heavy run game/defense to win." Honestly, I don’t disagree with that sentiment at this point, although it’s worth noting that Taylor himself is a very big part of that heavy run game.
Two of the sources Sando quotes compare him unfavorably to a similar, yet much more successful, quarterback. One GM writes, "There is hope he turns into a poor man's Russell Wilson, but I don't think he can stay healthy. I don't think he is strong enough and he doesn't throw the ball as well, either." A head coach said, "Tyrod Taylor can do a lot of things Russell Wilson can do, but Tyrod misses throws ... if Russell gets the open guy and sees him, he hits him."
This is another line that I don’t entirely disagree with right now. Health is an issue with Taylor, and he did miss a few throws last season that Wilson probably would have made. Of course, a lot of quarterbacks compare unfavorably to Wilson, and the similarities in playing style make the comparisons between the two inevitable.
Taylor did receive one second-tier vote from a head coach (all of the sources in the article were anonymous), who said, "I think he is smart and I think he sees stuff ... he is not the biggest guy, but he has a gun. He has a good way about him." Again, I agree with this coach. Taylor’s arm is almost as good of an asset as his legs, if not more so, and, despite all of the questions and criticisms, he’s never seemed flustered or upset about his situation.
While I don’t disagree with most of the comments, I do disagree with a few of the passers ranked ahead of Taylor. The two spots immediately ahead of him are filled by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill, two quarterbacks who were outperformed by Taylor twice last season en route to the Bills’ 4-0 record against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. Marcus Mariota might have all the potential in the world, but the same voters that dinged Taylor as fragile for missing two games didn’t do the same to the Titans quarterback for missing four. Those voters also placed Tony Romo at 11, despite two major injuries and an above-average interception total in 2015.
Interestingly, Sando writes that "voters think Taylor will have to improve his accuracy and durability to ascend." Another article up on ESPN right now, written by Football Outsiders’ Scott Kaczmar, ranks the 10 most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL using an analytical approach referred to as passing plus-minus.
Guess who came it at tenth?
Taylor really is the East Coast version of Russell Wilson with his ability to throw deep (10.7 air yards per throw ranked third in 2015) and scramble so effectively (second in rushing DYAR). Taylor just was not as durable and did not get the same defensive help that Rex Ryan was supposed to provide. But there are few players you should be more excited to see play 16 games this season than Taylor. Let's just hope Taylor keeps the focus on getting better instead of maintaining the 71.8 completion percentage he had through Week 9 last year.
The book on Taylor still has a lot of blank pages that need to be filled, so ranking systems are generally going to be all over the place with him until he really shows the league who he is as a quarterback. That said, there are quite a few guys ranked ahead of him that I would take Taylor over in a heartbeat. This shows me that the NFL really needs to start doing their homework on the guy.