Does The NFL Have A QB Crisis?

On Wednesday, Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Why the NFL has a quarterback crisis.”

The article, a great read, goes on to say that it is becoming harder and harder to find quarterbacks from the college level who can immediately join the NFL and eventually develop into top level talent.

The bulk of the article claims that as college offenses drift away stylistically from NFL offenses, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the next elite level quarterback.

Headline grabbing aside, this “crisis” the NFL currently finds itself in isn’t necessarily a new one, and it is less of a crisis and more of a long-term dilemma.

Before continuing, it is important to note that, yes, college offenses are drifting further and further away from NFL norms. Whether it be with tempo like Baylor, with misdirection like Auburn, or with an option-base like Georgia Tech, what is seen on Saturday is likely to be substantially different from Sunday. Misdirection and option-football are not new to college football and certainly not new for talent scouts.

In general, it is very hard to make it to the NFL. Most teams only retain about 50% of their draft class over the long term. The number looks even gloomier if one were to analyze which of those draft picks actually become “good” players. The fact that only one quarterback starts at a time cuts the opportunity even more so.

Finding good players for the NFL has never been an easy process and it likely never will be.  Also, consider how long it has taken to reach this point. Currently, the oldest starting quarterback, based on year drafted, is Peyton Manning, drafted in 1998.

It has taken 17 years to find 10-12 starting quarterbacks who are play at an “elite” level. Now consider how many failed quarterbacks have taken snaps in that span. Even simpler, consider how many quarterbacks have entered the league since Andrew Luck, arguably the newest “elite” passer, was drafted in 2012.

It’s easy to see that if the NFL does indeed have a quarterback crisis, it has been happening for a long time

As for the future, the NFL does have a small inkling of a problem. In large part, the “new wave” college offense is based on simplicity. Since the flexibility of a college football roster pales in comparison to a pro roster, college coaches need to find simpler methods for teaching the team and making them competitive.

Meanwhile the NFL game is all about details. For instance, Chris B. Brown documents how Peyton Manning loves to run a pass concept called levels. Brown shows how Manning and his coaches have manipulated that levels play every which way in his career, to adjust to the defense and adjust what the defense must prepare for. Details.

An adjustment for Baylor might be as simple as the same exact play that was previously run, where basically the quarterback is just keying on one defender, but with a different formation. Or a different side of the field a play will be run on.

Based on this comparison, it is easy to see why NFL teams would be frustrated with the current crop of passers who do very little of what is required, mentally, of top tier NFL quarterbacks.

Clark quotes Browns General Manager Ray Farmer who talks about potentially using quarterback-like running backs as package players. This could be a solution, and there is probably a way where coaches can eventually scheme to use this strategy.

NFL teams have already begun to adapt college schemes to pros. Several teams, most notably the Patriots, have adopted the idea of no-huddle as a staple of their offense. Meanwhile, Chip Kelly has brought a spread based rushing attack, much like the ones used in college. It isn’t too hard to remember when the read-option and pistol formation were implemented by the 49ers.

So while those around the game may lament how they can’t find a typical NFL quarterback, they already have begun to implement current staples of the college game into the pro game. How much of that is to actually ease the transition for their respective young quarterback and how much is because the coaches view it as a strategic advantage is unknown. It is probably some factor of both.

This doesn’t mean that an NFL team can just take any college quarterback and ease them into being a quality starting quarterback. Much of the same general evaluations regarding decision making, arm strength, accuracy, decision making etc. still very much apply to figuring out which college passers can be NFL quality players.

It is understandable that the typical NFL quarterback which has boomed in the 21st century seems to be phased out at the younger level. But at the same time, the NFL has already shown that it can develop it’s game around it’s younger players by implementing components of the college game, while they pick up on the more advanced components of the NFL game.

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