The quarterback position is notoriously difficult to evaluate and project. It’s why teams spend premium draft picks on JaMarcus Russells, Ryan Leafs and Blaine Gabberts seemingly every year.
While there’s no fool-proof evaluation strategy that you can follow for guaranteed success, there are certain traits you can look for that will assist you in narrowing down the list of potentially good quarterbacks.
The weight I’ve applied to each of these traits is, of course, subjective, but I believe that it is essential to consider each of these traits when evaluating a quarterback prospect.
SIZE/PHYSICAL TRAITS (5%)
Because size is not a skill, I don’t believe in downgrading a player for his measurables unless they hinder his game in some way. As long as a quarterback meets my minimum size thresholds, they will not be downgraded significantly, if at all. In general, here is what I desire and require of a quarterback prospect from a measurables standpoint:
- Height — no hard requirement, but I look for quarterbacks that are approximately 6′ or taller
- Weight — no hard requirement, but I prefer a quarterback with a BMI around 28 (6-4, 230; 6-2, 220; 6-0, 205, etc.)
- Hand size — minimum 9-inch handspan
ARM STRENGTH/VELOCITY (15%)
A certain level of arm strength is necessary to succeed in the NFL. Here are the things I look for to help me gauge arm strength.
- Ability to make 50-60 yard throws on a rope
- Ability to make tight window throws at each level of the field
- Ability to make drive throws from opposite hash
- Ability to drive throws from off-balance throwing positions
ACCURACY/BALL PLACEMENT (25%)
The single most important physical trait for an NFL passer, a quarterback must possess functional accuracy in order to be successful. This can be tricky to quantify, but in general I look for quarterbacks with a 60% or higher career completion percentage, though circumstances such as injury-shortened seasons, offensive schemes, and lackluster supporting casts must be taken into account.
A 60% or better collegiate career completion percentage does not guarantee success at the pro level, but the threshold is a useful guideline when you consider that most quarterbacks who fall short of this mark fail to pan out as long-term starters in the NFL and good quarterbacks generally meet or exceed this threshold.
I put the most stock into short and intermediate passing numbers, but I also want a quarterback who can challenge a defense vertically. Charting quarterback accuracy by level (short, intermediate, deep) and area (left, middle, right) of the field is a useful tool for quantifying accuracy and catchable ball percentage.
- Short accuracy (0-10 yards) — These should generally be easy completions so I look for a 70% or better catchable pass percentage on these throws.
- Intermediate accuracy (11-19 yards) — Intermediate passing accuracy is oftentimes what separates good quarterbacks from average quarterbacks. I look for a 60% or better catchable pass percentage on throws in this range.
- Deep accuracy (20+ yards) — 40% or better
- Accuracy on the move rolling right AND left
- Touch/pace — can the quarterback vary ball speeds/make touch throws at each level of the field
- Accuracy numbers vs pressure
- 3rd down percentage
THROWING MECHANICS (5%)
Also subjective to an extent, but in general I look for quarterbacks who:
- Have a quick and compact throwing motion
- High release point
- Step into throws consistently
- Drive off their back foot
- Square shoulders to their targets
- Feet pointing towards their targets
- Reset their feet when forced off of initial throwing platform
- Hold the ball against their chestplate while scanning the field
MENTAL PROCESSING (20%)
A very broad criteria which encompasses:
- Decision-making — ability to make sound decisions with the football; avoid risky throws
- Field vision — ability to read the field pre- and post-snap; move through progressions, identify coverages and/or potential blitzes and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage
- Eye discipline/manipulation — ability to create throwing windows by looking off defenders; ability to avoid staring down receivers
- Internal clock — ability to get the ball out in a timely manner/avoid unnecessary sacks/know when give up on a play
- Anticipation — ability to throw receivers open, throw to a spot, release the ball before a receiver gets out of his break
- Timing — ability to get the ball out on schedule
POCKET PRESENCE (15%)
Pocket feel and mobility are absolutely essential for high-level quarterback play. A good quarterback must, at the very least, demonstrate functional pocket presence. Tom Brady isn’t much of an athlete, but he’s great at extending plays because he has such a great feel for maneuvering within the pocket. No quarterback in the NFL is better at navigating the pocket than Aaron Rodgers.
- Awareness in the pocket of surrounding bodies and ability to ‘feel’ the rush
- A quarterback’s subtle movements in the pocket
- Ability of a quarterback to keep their eyes downfield when faced with pressure
Pocket mobility is more important than outside-the-pocket mobility, but the latter has become increasingly important in today’s game. These are things I look for to help me determine a quarterback’s mobility score.
- Ability to extend plays outside of the pocket
- Ability to hurt defenses as a runner
More important to the quarterback position than any other, intangibles can make or break a prospect. A player may have immense physical talent, but if they don’t have the work ethic it simply won’t be enough to succeed. Another broad criteria that can be difficult to quantify, but in general I consider these factors:
- Starting experience (3 years is preferred, 2 is acceptable, 1 or less is a red flag)
- Leadership — what do coaches and teammates think of them? Do they elevate the players around them?
- Work ethic — what do people within the program say about the player’s work habits?
- Poise — how does the quarterback respond to adversity and high pressure situations?
- Toughness — is the quarterback willing to stand in the pocket and take hits/play through injuries?
- Pedigree — do they have relatives who were/are athletes?
- Career record — QB wins isn’t necessarily a great indicator of NFL success, but it’s worth noting that the vast majority of starting quarterbacks in the NFL had winning records over the course of their collegiate careers.
- Does the quarterback have any off-the-field concerns?
My general rule for durability is that I don’t factor it into the grade unless I have significant concerns about a player’s ability to stay healthy.
The accumulation of these scores adds up to a total score out of 100 and places the prospect into one of the categories I’ve defined.