Skip to main content

Ranking starting quarterbacks by perceived leadership

NFL quarterbacks ranked from the best perceived leaders to the worst

In their new bookThis is Your Brain on Sports, L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers challenge conventional wisdom, uncover the hidden influences in sports and use reams of data to investigate questions that tug at every fan.

In one chapter, the authors set out to explore a long-standing myth: Are quarterbacks really the most attractive players on the gridiron? They asked 100 respondents (a mix of males and females) to rate the attractiveness of each quarterback who opened the 2014 season as their team's starter. Each photo was cropped at the neck so no team uniform was visible. They wanted respondents to be unaware that they were looking at NFL players, much less quarterbacks. As a point of comparison, other position groups were added into the mix (starting with wide receivers and defensive backs).

The search—which yielded surprising results—led to another interesting discovery. After rating the attractiveness of each player, respondents were asked to rate the strength of his leadership skills. Quarterbacks consistently rated as the strongest leaders, even though none of the raters knew the faces belonged to QBs. Could a simple head shot really convey enough information for raters effectively to differentiate players by position? 

For further confirmation, the authors refined the test, asking respondents to rate the photos on a 1-10 scale (10 being the highest) in five categories: leadership, intelligence, confidence, poise and social skill. The five ratings were combined into an overall score of perceived leadership quality. The results are listed below, with the quarterbacks ranked from the best perceived leaders to the worst.

How does the five-trait average of perceived leadership qualities in quarterbacks (the number listed below the quarterback's name) correlate to NFL success? With the exception of a few outliers, it passes the eyeball test. The more a QB looks like a leader, it seems, the more successful his track record tends to be.

(Note: The below is a ranking of the 32 starting QBs heading into the 2014 season so teams may differ from current roster situations.)

Image placeholder title

1. EJ Manuel, Bills

7.45

Image placeholder title

2. Matt Ryan, Falcons

7.13

Image placeholder title

3. Alex Smith, Chiefs

7.05

Image placeholder title

4. Tom Brady, Patriots

6.82

Image placeholder title

5. Carson Palmer, Cardinals

6.81

Image placeholder title

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings

6.62

Image placeholder title

7. Nick Foles, Eagles

6.59

Image placeholder title

8. Cam Newton, Panthers

6.54

Image placeholder title

9. Aaron Rodgers, Packers

6.49

Image placeholder title

10. Philip Rivers, Chargers

6.49

SI Recommends

Image placeholder title

11. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

6.47

Image placeholder title

12. Russell Wilson, Seahawks

6.40

Image placeholder title

13. Drew Brees, Saints

6.39

Image placeholder title

14. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers

6.34

Image placeholder title

15. Tony Romo, Cowboys

6.33

Image placeholder title

16. Robert Griffin III, Redskins

6.31

Image placeholder title

17. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

6.23

Image placeholder title

18. Eli Manning, Giants

6.23

Image placeholder title

19. Geno Smith, Jets

6.20

Image placeholder title

20. Derek Carr, Raiders

6.01

Image placeholder title

21. Peyton Manning, Broncos

5.96

Image placeholder title

22. Chad Henne, Jaguars

5.94

Image placeholder title

23. Brian Hoyer, Browns

5.92

Image placeholder title

24. Josh McCown, Buccaneers

5.87

Image placeholder title

25. Andy Dalton, Bengals

5.86

Image placeholder title

26. Joe Flacco, Ravens

5.77

Image placeholder title

27. Andrew Luck, Colts

5.67

Image placeholder title

28. Sam Bradford, Rams

5.49

Image placeholder title

29. Matthew Stafford, Lions

5.45

Image placeholder title

30. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Texans

5.37

Image placeholder title

31. Jay Cutler, Bears

5.18

Image placeholder title

32. Jake Locker, Titans

3.96