Evaluating quarterbacks

Last year I wrote a series on how to scout/evaluate the different positions on the field. In the last few weeks, I have been asked about evaluating quarterbacks so I thought this would be as good a time as any to rewrite the article (with some changes).

Evaluating quarterbacks looks like it can be fairly easy but in reality it can be a frustrating experience. There is so much more to it than just looking at stats. When I started scouting, many of the colleges were using simplified pro style systems and that made projecting a player a bit easier. In today’s college game the vast majority of schools are using a form of the “Spread” and that is entirely different than what we see/do in the NFL.

In many of the college spreads, the quarterback is only asked to read half the field. He has a primary and secondary receiver to one side and maybe a “check down” and that’s it. He never looks to the opposite side of the field and is asked to make a quick decision and get the ball out of his hand. What can look to be complex is actually very simple as compared to what a quarterback is asked to do in the NFL. In the pro game, the quarterback might have 3 to 4 receivers that he reads in a progression. These receivers are on both sides of the field and in many offenses the routes can change depending on what the defense is “showing.” I’ve heard many scouts refer to the college spreads as basically “basketball” on grass and that’s not too far from the truth.

Brett FavreICONBrett Favre wasn't a fast guy, but his quick feet in the pocket and “feel” for pass rushers enabled him to keep plays alive.

Scouts are almost never going to evaluate the exact same way, but when I am looking at a quarterback the first thing I want to see is if he is capable of playing in my team's scheme from a physical standpoint. Does he have the size, movement skills and arm strength to play in our system? Most NFL offensive coordinators want size. The ideal player would be in the 6-3 to 6-5 range with good athleticism. Athleticism is more than speed; it’s the player's quick feet, agility and body control. Brett Favre was far from being a fast guy, but his quick feet in the pocket and “feel” for pass rushers enabled him to keep plays alive. Quarterbacks who can make plays or extend plays with their feet are highly valued.

More so than size and athleticism are the intangibles and what many call the “it” factor. Some have “it” and some don’t. “It” is a combination of things starting with instincts. To be a successful NFL quarterback you have to have outstanding instincts. He has to anticipate and understand things extremely well. Intelligence is important but in my opinion instincts are even more important. There have been many great quarterbacks through the years who didn’t have high “test” scores or great natural intelligence but their instincts for the game were off the charts.

Another part of the ”it” factor is leadership and competitiveness. Most of the top quarterbacks are outstanding leaders and extremely competitive players. They hate to lose at anything. Play them in a game of golf or pool and they are still looking to “bury” you. It’s their nature! That competitive nature is so strong that their teammates feel it and their teammates have the security that he can and will get the job done. He has to be in total command. The shy, meek personality may have the physical traits but he isn’t going to get his teammates to believe in him and he will eventually “fail.”

A few years ago there was a quarterback in the draft that was highly touted by a lot of teams because of his physical traits. During the interview process I talked to the player about his college career. His college career started slowly but after a coaching change he started to win games and his stats improved. He told me that as an underclassman when he wasn’t successful, he would walk around campus in a hooded sweatshirt with the hood because he didn’t want people to recognize him. Right away I knew he was not the player for me. He didn’t think of himself as a winner so how could he get his teammates to feel he could win? This player was a first round pick but bounced around the league and is now looking for work. The reason? He didn’t have “it.”

When looking at the physical traits, I look at a lot of things. Arm strength is of course important but not the most important. If you’re looking for a quarterback to play in Chicago, New York or Buffalo arm strength can be more important because of weather conditions. Players with weak arms are going to struggle in these places. Still, players with average arms have succeeded because they spin the ball well. What do I mean by “spin?” When the ball comes out of the quarterback's hand I look for a ball that has a tight spin and doesn’t flutter. A tight ball has a chance to “cut” the wind, a loose ball will get carried by the wind. Also, you have to remember that a quarterback’s arm strength can improve. What you see coming out of college is not what you will see five years later. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees all have stronger arms now than they did when they entered the league.

Next, I look at a player’s release. Does he have a tight compact delivery where he gets the ball out of his hand quickly or does he have a long windup? How is his footwork at delivery? Is he a quick stepper or a long strider into the throw? If I determine that he has a poor delivery, then I ask myself if it is something that can be corrected with coaching. You can work for months trying to correct a player's only to have him “revert” back to his old form in the heat of battle.

What’s difficult in evaluating college quarterbacks today is you seldom see them take snaps from under center. They are always in the spread. You might think that because he is a quarterback of course he can take a snap…sorry that’s not the case. It’s a learned trait that has to be practiced. A few years ago at the Senior Bowl there were so many fumbled exchanges the first day of practice, both teams had to go to a spread-style attack in order to play the game. All six quarterbacks invited had only played in spread formations while in college and had taken few snaps from under center. It was comical to watch. Before you draft a quarterback, it’s imperative to work him out to see if he in fact can take a snap from under center.

Accuracy is a key component when evaluating. Accuracy can be definded by completion percentage, but in my opinion it’s completion percentage and ball placement. In the college game, the window to complete a pass is usually fairly large; in the pro game it’s a lot tighter. Quarterbacks with top ball placement skills can put the ball where the receiver can do something after the catch. You also want the ball to be placed where there is a minimum chance of interception.

When watching game tape of quarterbacks you have to look at more than his ability to make throws. You have to study how he performs in different situations. Does he make the big play when it’s needed? How many times does he make a first down throw when it’s third and long? How often does he sustain drives and put points on the board? What kind of points is he getting…field goals or touchdowns? Does he make the players around him better players? Is he a winner?

I could go on and on with this subject but we don’t have the space. My hope is that this gives you an idea of what it takes to scout quarterbacks for today’s NF L.

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