Position Breakdown: Quarterback

The most important position in all of sports is the NFL quarterback, and that is why it is studied so closely and so intently. A good QB can hide a multitude of other issues within a team, while a bad QB will only exacerbate them. An elite QB can take a bad team and make them a playoff team. A bad QB can take a playoff team and ensure they draft in the top 10 the following season.

There are a lot of qualities a good QB should have like leadership, winning mentality, and good in the huddle…but I’m not going to talk about any of those here. This is solely about the physical traits and execution of a QB during a play. All of those other qualities are for the media. I want to know can he play the position or not. I don’t buy the, “He’s a winner,” argument.

Regarding the size of a QB, I think it’s overstated. If a QB is under 6’ tall, it’s important to note but it doesn’t mean that he can’t play the position as well as a 6’6” guy. There is some legitimacy to a lack of size because it puts the QB at a disadvantage before he ever even steps onto the field. However, good quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson compensate for this in different ways – pocket movement, staying on their toes and not flatfooted, or a higher arm angle for a higher release point.

The quarterback position in the NFL is played from the pocket. So the first three things I want in a quarterback is accuracy (which involves both timing, delivery, and location), pocket presence/mobility, and intelligence. Accuracy isn’t just about locating the ball when throwing. It involves delivering the ball on time with the correct trajectory to the right spot. The nuances of accuracy are most evident in different types of throws: the stick throw into a tight window, a crossing route where the QB should throw the ball in the path of the receiver and allow him to catch and run (it’s important to pay attention to the WRs speed adjustment while the ball is in the air to evaluate this correctly), and the fit throw where a QB must have the correct trajectory to get the ball over the LB and in front of the DB. Timing is all about reading the coverage and putting the ball on the receiver at the appropriate time. Stick throws into tight windows and hitch throws that hit the receiver just out of his break are good indications that a QB has a good feel for timing. This is hard to project from college to the NFL because the speed of the game is so much faster in the NFL. This is best evaluated against good competition and across multiple WRs as the QB can be good with one receiver but not so smooth with another. It’s important to then discern who was off on the play.

Intelligence at the QB position can be discerned in how well he can read coverages and respond accordingly. This includes a ton of elements such as pre-snap evaluation, blitz recognition, coverage reads, understanding of route concepts, awareness of game situations, and finally, the execution based on all of that information. A quarterback must make good decisions and take care of the football. Turnovers are not acceptable. A QB should take calculated risks at particular times when the game favors it.

Pocket presence and mobility within the pocket are as vital to the success of a QB as any other. I would actually say that pocket presence is what separates the best from the rest. In the NFL the pocket is rarely clean. A QB must be able to shift and move within the pocket to give himself functional space to throw, all while keeping his eyes downfield. A QB can’t be successful if he can’t play from a muddied pocket or if he keeps dropping his eyes from reading the coverage and receivers to check the pass rush coming at him. It is of great importance that a QB should able to throw with different bases and from different platforms. Quarterbacks will shift and move in the pocket but it will still be necessary for them to alter their mechanics and delivery, yet still be able to deliver a strike to the receiver. The QB needs to be able to take a short stride (which is preferable mechanics anyways) but still be able to drive the ball even if he can’t follow through. He’ll also be required to deliver the ball while running forward, left, right, and sometimes backwards (not recommended).

The most debated trait of a QB often tends to be the importance of arm strength. I believe that arm strength is another factor that separates the elite QBs. It’s not necessary to have a cannon for an arm, but it’s a certainly a bonus. Weaker armed QBs can make it in the league but they still must have enough arm strength to make all the throws. The definitive throw is the deep out on the far side of the field. If a QB can drive the ball and hit the receiver on the sideline before the DB can close on the ball then his arm is strong enough to make any other throw. It certainly helps when the QB can deliver the ball on a line 20 yards downfield if necessary. Fitting the ball into the deep middle of the field between 2-deep safeties or to the deep post between DBs dropping into Cover-3 are good throws to watch for this ability.

There is a correlation between anticipation and arm strength that should be mentioned. A quarterback with a strong arm has more leniency in his recognition of an open receiver because he’s able to throw the ball later and still get it to the correct spot at the right time. A QB with lesser arm strength must see that same receiver coming open earlier to be able to get the ball to him in the open window. Arm strength should be evaluated with this in mind. Does the quarterback’s anticipation skills make up for any lack of arm strength he may have?


Regarding athleticism at the QB position: It’s certainly a tool to work with, but it’s not vitally important. As I said before, a QB must be mobile enough to move around the pocket, roll out, and maybe scramble for a first down or two when the defense gives him the opportunity. Intelligence and awareness plays into this as it allows a QB to escape at the right times. An athletic QB adds another dimension that the defense must gameplan for so it’s absolutely an advantage, but it’s a secondary characteristic for a successful QB. The QB must be able to throw the ball first and running is a solid bonus. If a QB can’t make a strong accurate throw on 3rd down then he will never be good enough to drive a team to wins. With that said, if used correctly it can be a major asset to a team because it provides a number of tactical advantages when a QB can run. The defense must play less man coverage so the 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense can keep their eyes on the QB in case he runs. If they do play man coverage, the defense must leave a man to spy the QB and that means they either have one less guy in coverage or one less guy to rush – an obvious advantage. When the defense plays zone, a scrambling QB can cause stress on defenders and making them leave their zones to play the run and will therefore lead to larger holes in the coverage. A mobile QB will have the ability to extend plays, which will also lead to ever further failures in coverage (see: Ben Roethlisberger).

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