John Leyba/Getty Images
John Leyba/Getty Images

The NFL’s Smartest QBs

Watching film and putting on pads makes players appreciate others who do the same every week. These five quarterbacks all stand out to me on film as being the most intelligent at their craft. Didn't make the list? Don't be mad, bro

By
Richard Sherman
· More from Richard·

There is a very common misconception about me that ends today. It seems some people believe I lack respect, especially for my opponents. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a football guy, and there are few things I enjoy more than watching tape and breaking down quarterbacks. It’s a long, tedious process, but I believe the way we approach film study in Seattle both sets us apart on the field and enhances my own appreciation for the best players in the NFL.

Before I share my top 5 smartest quarterbacks of 2013, with an emphasis on the most intelligent passers in the game, please understand that I’m not talking about these guys in terms of reputation or highlight reel plays. In Seattle, we chart players the same way scouts do, and we approach games with heads full of tendencies translated from raw data.

For example, we keep track of how many passes the opponent throws down the field 20 yards or more, and what route concepts they like on 3rd and long, medium and short. Does the quarterback go through all of his progressions? Does he stare his targets down? When you’re playing a team more than once in a season, you’ve got to consider that quarterbacks make adjustments depending on the defense they face. They’re considering the reads they’ll make and the times they’ll look to scramble based on their experience against your scheme. Our coaches chart those tendencies and give them to us in scouting reports.

We take the tendencies and memorize them each week, helping us decide in a split second when it’s appropriate to gamble within the confines of the defense. Gambles = Interceptions.

After three seasons, I feel like I’ve watched and played enough pro football to be an authority on the league’s smartest quarterbacks. It’s no coincidence that these five men each have teams in the postseason—the days of defenses alone winning championships and teams advancing in the playoffs with 200-yard passing performances went away shortly after the Buccaneers won it in 2002, when I was 14.

1. Peyton Manning

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What makes him special: When we played Peyton in the preseason, I found a new appreciation for the way he makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage; he controls the protections, and if he sees the blitz coming he slides it. The thing that sets him apart is that he’ll change it to a run play if you don’t have enough players in the box, and they’ll get five or six yards because you’re not ready for it. Nobody else has both the authority to do that within their offense and the understanding to know when it’s appropriate.

His arm, however, is another story. His passes will be accurate and on time, but he throws ducks.

2. Drew Brees

What makes him special: He makes incredible adjustments during the game. He’ll struggle for a stretch and then go to the sidelines and look at pictures and then come back and attack the defense a new way. It’s almost like they installed a whole new game plan. He’s never done that to us, but I can recall the first Carolina game, when it was a back and forth battle at first and then he finally found the weakness and he just kept attacking it. He caught momentum, and then he just kept them off balance. He went to Colston, then to the outside with Graham, then Sproles and Kenny Stills and Lance Moore. Once he has you on your heels, you don’t know what’s coming.

3. Aaron Rodgers

What makes him special: He really plays the game calm. He makes all of his checks, and plays with a double count, which a lot of quarterbacks do to get defenses to show their hand. He can identify defenses and he really spreads the ball out to some great receivers. Jordy Nelson is one of the best out there. Then you have Rodgers’ ability to scramble. He’s probably as good as Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and RG3. He’s got a great football mind, so his ability to run gets overshadowed. He stumped us early in the game last year, when we played them on Monday night. We had everybody covered on the double go and we thought, Okay, we’ve got him. And he took off for 18 or 19 yards and you think, It’s gonna be a long day.

In two seasons together, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson have led the Seahawks to a 24-8 record in the regular season. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
In two seasons together, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson have led the Seahawks to a 24-8 record in the regular season. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

4. Russell Wilson

What makes him special: His understanding of the pass rush lanes and his elusiveness is unique. Some of that is about intelligence: Watching film and knowing where the defense likes to attack. He has a tremendous understanding of scheme and zone reads, and play-action fakes. In the Jacksonville game, we were in the red zone and he was supposed to run a bootleg right. He saw the blitz coming and he acted like he didn’t see it. He pretended to look left, then he spun around a guy and hit Zach Miller in the end zone, wide open. That kind of understanding of the game and your surroundings is what makes your quarterback elite.

5. Andrew Luck

Sherman (9) and Andrew Luck were teammates for two seasons at Stanford in 2009 and 2010. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Sherman (9) and Andrew Luck were teammates for two seasons at Stanford in 2009 and 2010. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

What makes him special: As my teammate at Stanford, I saw him call offenses, given three or four plays to pick from, and choose the correct play. He understands the run game and where the mismatches are by counting the linebackers. And he’s also an underrated scrambler who can take off at any time and buy more passing opportunities. When they beat us this year, the best thing he did was buy himself time. He has the ability to step up in the pocket and ignore the rush and find guys downfield. The goal is to bring different looks at him and never let him get comfortable.

Honorable mention: Tom Brady

It is what it is. If this were a top 6, he’d be in there. Tom Brady is one of the hardest to intercept, and still has one of the best arms in the league, but this was the year the young guys took a step forward.

Superlatives

Who’s next: Cam Newton

Hardest to intercept: Tom Brady

Most conservative: Alex Smith

Toughest to sack: Tony Romo

Biggest trash-talker: Jay Cutler

Best arm: Andrew Luck

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617 comments
Eric King
Eric King

One year later, this list seems laughable. Manning and Brees have regressed rapidly, and Brady just trashed Luck. And Cutler as the biggest trash talker? Come on, man.

Sicko123
Sicko123

LMFAO at the Loser Reporter who told Peyton "Richard Sherman Was Critical Of You" but he left out the rest of this Article and how he Praised the hell out of him and listed him as the Smartest QB in the NFL. Just get to the game, now people are just reaching for Controversy after awhile. This Article been up for a Month Now! Sherman did a great job breaking these QB's down IMO.

WhiteHorse
WhiteHorse

Welcome to the big party Sherman, but it would be wise to bring the real winners being the Seahawks. I hope no-one gets hurt and it's a good game. I have nothing against you personally it's the fact I have been a Broncos fan for 34 yrs and at this point I would like to say "May the best team Win". Do your best - nothing else will do, no excuses, be glad Elway is not still playing.  Hope you are on your toes because the words OMAHA will be echoing in yo ears for days.  "Go  Broncos"  I hope it snows !

BulldozinFacts
BulldozinFacts

Why the hell are some of you even arguing with Sherm, when he's the guy who's played these QB's, study the hell out of them, and gone up against their no.1 options... Whereas you, are busy suckling on the teets of spors Analysts who will claim Tannehill is the best QB in the league for a week, then the next call him a terrible decision maker... To add to that you're all overweight men in your mid thirities who'll never play these QB's and are restricted to sitting on a couch with pizza and beer in hand...

Really don't understand the logic of arguing with a guy who plays against anyone you've mentioned and you can only watch on TV... Shut up...

DanielHamner
DanielHamner

I love all these people trying to argue the list against a man who graduated from Stanford and spends the majority of his time studying QB's

elderdavid11
elderdavid11

I demand an explanation to the Jay Cutler comment! What makes him the biggest trash-talker!? 

sensorchip
sensorchip

Nonsense. Rivers should be definitely on this list. Bengals quotes after the recent wildcard game included " smartest QB they have EVER played against", etc.  and they beat Colts, Packers, and Patriots

earlettehannibal
earlettehannibal

Excellent analysis, sounds like Sherman really did his homework for this one.  His writing is also impressive.

Forsaken_Noctis
Forsaken_Noctis

I am a Patriots fans, i Believe Brady is one of the best of all time if not the best, but i agree with Sherman, this year is the time the young guys to step up.


Is pretty amazing that a guy like Sherman who i believe its the best on his position right now says that Brady is the hardest to intercept, come on guys Brady doesn't need to be in top of everybody list.


And i do believe Sherman is a great analyst, look at him play and tell me he doesn't watch films. Great column man, congrats!


By the way people misunderstand lack of respect with game talk, to be able to understand the QB as thos guy does you need to respect their strengths.


I would love to see the Saints defeat Seattle, sorry dudes but i would like to see 49ers vs Saints and New England vs San Diego.

fasbss53
fasbss53

Anyone who takes this evaluation of quarterbacks as realistic facts or opinions are on the same drugs this PED USER is on along with the rest of his drug using buddies! My opinion!

Brady not in the top 3?

Must have been a hallucination day! 

Sicko123
Sicko123

Outstanding Job Richard Sherman! Stop being *FAN BOYS* and getting all emotional because your favorite QB for your Favorite Team wasn't mentioned. Sherman unlike most who just throw out an opinion without doing their homework, studies Film like he is a QB or a GM preparing for the NFL Draft or a Coach. Very Cerebral CB who really studies his opponent both Receiver and QB.

Indybeck
Indybeck

 Replace Russell Wilson(great young QB, but I think Sherman out him on there for obvious reasons) with Tom Brady and you have a solid list.

H_O_T_D_O_G
H_O_T_D_O_G

The fact that Brady isn't in the top three indicates that Richard Sherman isn't the great evaluator that he thinks he is. I suspect that the reason Brady isn't there is just a mind game in case the Seahawks end up meeting the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The fact is that Brady continually bests Peyton Manning in head to head contests despite the fact that Manning always has better receivers, precisely because Brady makes better choices under pressure. That's the definition of smartness.

Everyone forgets that Indy used to be in the Patriots division until Bill Polian whined to the NFL that it should be in the South not the East. Why? Brady is smarter than Manning and Belichik was smarter than Dungy and Mora. That's why the Patriots always ended the Colts season. But the Colts always had the superior receivers.

snowyphile
snowyphile

We'll see which QB is at the top of their game in February.  

Pattay13
Pattay13

Brady is probably the smartest QB for 2 reasons: 1) the guy prepared diligently and made most of his chance by eclipsing and replacing the highly paid franchise QB of the Patriots, Drew Bledsoe; and 2)he can read defenses and adjust better than most QBs in the league including Manning. Yes, he has had luck along the way but the smartest people are those who grasp the opportunities to win and learn to adjust to keep winning.  Brady was a 6th round draft pick who has won 3 SBs and has been to 5 since 2001. Not a shabby outing by any means. The rest of the QBs on Sherman's list are all top 3 round picks. 


That is not to say that Wilson, Newton, or Luck are not "smart", they will continue to develop and refine their intelligence as they gain more experience. Sherman is a dolt but I appreciate that he acknowledged Brady for something LOL. #gopatriots

Octavio
Octavio

Richard Sherman = Thin Busta Rhymes

KeithThe-RealistEllington
KeithThe-RealistEllington

He most definitely is right about Luck having the best arm......numbers tell the truth and with what he got, he makes the best of it in receivers. He just needs to start fast and the Colts would be unstoppable for the most part.

Dr.RosenRosen
Dr.RosenRosen

People here are confusing "smartest" with "best," and then discrediting the list, and a two-time All Pro, because Brady is not on the list.  


Perhaps in all of his film study, Sherman sees that Brady doesn't make all of the adjustments that others make, or zeroes in on a particular receiver (Gronk, understandably), or forces throws.  By calling Brady "hardest to intercept," however, Sherman is actually complimenting Brady.  It means that Brady may put himself in situations Manning and Brees avoid, but he has something (whether location of pass, fakes, eyes, etc.) that makes him harder to intercept.  In other words, the defense can read what Brady is doing but still not come up with the interception.


Contrast this with Manning and if the D figures out where Manning is going with the ball, there is a greater chance of interception because Manning throws "ducks."  The problem, of course, is figuring out where Manning is going to throw it...

zabka522
zabka522

A bit of irony here, in this line:  "It’s no coincidence that these five men each have teams in the postseason—the days of defenses alone winning championships and teams advancing in the playoffs with 200-yard passing performances went away shortly after the Buccaneers won it in 2002, when I was 14."  Uh....that is pretty much what Seattle got out of their QB this year (Wilson has 3357 yards, or 210/game).  They have a strong defense and a middling offense.

atepper001
atepper001

no way luck has a better arm than flacco, cutler or stafford. i woud take him any day and he is a great qb, might be at the top in a year or two overall as a qb but, arm strength #1, i am not buying it.

DashiellMenard
DashiellMenard

@fasbss53 Now who's jumping to conclusions? Sherman has never had a PED accusation hold up under scrutiny. Last I checked we were all Innocent until Proven Guilty in These United States. Just because he's good doesn't mean he's juicing, or that everyone else isn't - think about it, if there were a way to juice that didn't show up on tests then everyone would be doing it and it wouldn't make a whit of difference.


Furthermore, he was ranking the "smartest" NFL QBs, not the "best". And not even the "smartest of all time", but the smartest playing the game right now - and the Pats didn't look too great this past season.

Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

@Sicko123 All cornerbacks (and defensive players in general) study the opponents WR's and QB. 

IoaneFetu
IoaneFetu

@IndybeckIf we talking about this year, then Wilson earned that spot according to their team ranking in the NFL.

kmac360
kmac360

@ElvisHitler You're saying Colin Kaepernick belongs on a list of the five smartest QBs in the NFL?  Kaep and Rodgers didn't play the game head to head, by themselves.  Kaep didn't own anybody.  He squeaked out a win against a questionable GB defense.  Rodgers is a thousand times better than Kaep, and always will be.  You SF fans are unreal.  Is Kaep a great athlete that benefits from a strong line, good running back and great defense?  Yes.  Is he one of the smartest QBs in the league or better than Rodgers?  Not in a million years.  

RyanBowling
RyanBowling

@Pattay13  Not this year. Brady makes the list almost all years, and those golden years you speak of are great. But there's a cost to having that low a completion percentage. Not all of those were dropped passes either.


Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

@zabka522 Good point.  Seattle just got done winning the top seed in the NFC with exactly that!

Macheen
Macheen

@atepper001Best arm isn't limited to strongest. It also implies accuracy. I'd take Luck over Flacco, Cutler, and Stafford for accuracy (and strength) under duress.

Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

@IoaneFetu@Indybeck Wilson doesn't deserve to sniff that list.  And to add to that, Sherman has already picked New Orleans to win this weekend.  By his own admission, you don't win in the postseason with defense and a QB who throws for 200 yards a game (which is what Wilson throws for). 

ChadKnaub
ChadKnaub

so niners just happened "squeeze" by them twice In a year huh? Good job. Kap knew what he was doing he played smart and let his legs and defense beat gb again he knows his limitations and I'm sure he knows what kind of qb Aaron Rodgers is, that's pretty smart if you ask me but yea definitely not in the same league Aaron Rogers

southaustin
southaustin

@ElvisHitler@OctavioRichard Sherman = Stanford Graduate The only way you 2 clownsever make it on to the Stanford campus is by carrying leaf blowers.

ChadKnaub
ChadKnaub

You all keep talking about luck, you all can keep luck and flacco is garbage so can't believe whoever said that, id take nick foles over Wilson luck. flacco ANYDAY

atepper001
atepper001

@Macheen @atepper001 i would bet him saying best arm = strongest. i have never heard of someone saying the best arm is strength and accuracy.  i would put accuracy under the hardest to intercept category along with just being a smart QB

Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

@DennisShaneMcCarthy@Ilovemesomeme@IoaneFetu@Indybeck You have to read the article. 


From the article: "the days of defenses alone winning championships and teams advancing in the playoffs with 200-yard passing performances went away shortly after the Buccaneers won it in 2002, when I was 14."


Apparently not Richard.  Your team just advanced in the playoffs with a quarterback who threw for 108 yards.

bayside
bayside

@kmac360 @ChadKnaub The 49ers have bested Green Bay in their last four matchups, including two play off games.  That's 4-0 with Kaep.  They "squeezed" by for this win, because it was -10 degrees.  Play on a neutral field, and this would be 30-40 points for the 49ers.  Not to mention the obvious PI and holding that the refs refused to call (which Seattle does all the time as well btw, because they can't cover our receivers straight up).  Anyone who watched the game objectively saw that the game was never in doubt (Rodgers got worked, couldn't escape, etc...).  Green Bay had to scrape and claw and make unbelievable plays to even have a slim slim chance.          

Guess what, Kaep is a better quarterback than Rodgers right now, and he doesn't get the credit he deserves.  He is faster, has a better arm, and is all around more elusive.  He'll win the Superbowl and you clowns will still be doubting him.  The 9ers have been in the NFC championship the last two years (and won it last year).  Rodgers has been bested.  Kaep will emerge as the elite QB of the NFL.  

Green Bay's glory days are over.  Stick a fork in them.  They're done. 


And as far as Peyton Manning goes, lol.  The choke artist himself.  I can't wait for an NFC team to just expose him for the bum he is (most likely the 49ers).        

kmac360
kmac360

@ChadKnaub They only "squeezed" by Green Bay once.  They worked them in Week 1.  I never said they didn't.  Also, I think you repeated what I said.  Kaep relied on his line, run game and defense to win.  There's nothing wrong with that.  I'm just saying that Kaep does NOT belong on a list of the five smartest QBs.

Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

@atepper001@Ilovemesomeme@ChadKnaub Seattle just advanced to the NFCCG by winning a game in which Russell Wilson completed 9 passes for 103 yards.  I never said Foles was better than Wilson.  You said Wilson had less talent around him than Foles.  When assessing talent one must view the entire team, not just a couple WR's. 


Foles actually has to throw the football well for the Eagles to win the ball game.  All Wilson has to do is show up, hand the ball to Lynch, and watch the defense force punts and turnovers. 


As I said, the dude just completed 9 balls for 103 yards in an entire game, and his team won.  If that's not being surrounded by lots of talent I don't know what is.

atepper001
atepper001

@Ilovemesomeme @atepper001 @ChadKnaub thanks for the comedy this morning. so you would trade mccoy for lynch straight up?  jackson for tate? peters and johnson protecting or the myriad of tackles seattle has had this year?  that right there tells you something. and the look at the #2's... doug baldwin?  really?  both avant and cooper are better than that first round bust.  celek and miller are pretty similar.  not to mention the system each coach runs.  i can't stand seattle and hope they lose but, no way you can say foles is better. and if you actually watch a seattle game, you can see what wilson brings to the table. he put that team on his back plenty of times in just 2 seasons.  philly has not put the team on foles back in their astonishing 12 wins in 2 years.

Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

@atepper001@ChadKnaub When you said Wilson has less talent around him then Foles, did you keep a straight face?  Wilson is nothing more than an auto-pilot function.  He threw the ball less than any other starting QB in the league.  Why?  Because the Seahawks have superior talent everywhere else. 

atepper001
atepper001

@ChadKnaub 1) irrelevent given the discussion we are having about arm strength and 2) really, foles over wilson?  wilson is doing just as much and for 2 years now with less talent around him then foles.  foles is a nice story but, let's check back next year and see if he isn't a one hit wonder.  or if he can win a playoff game (at home no less).  i hate the hawks but, wilson (and luck) is the real deal and i like the underdog story with foles but, i wouldn't go trading foles for Wilson or luck just yet.  typical philly fan i guess, talk with your heart and not your brain.

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