In my initial post I said that I wanted to share some tips that I have figured out about how to watch and evaluate prospects, and this idea is in that light. I often times think about what makes one QB special and one QB just good or productive. What makes one MLB a Hall of Famer and a Champion while one might just make a Pro Bowl. Well I have started to put together my own idea of what makes a QB elite or special, as well as other positions. I will try to have a different position up every day until I finish the Watch List, and in that post I will talk about one or more characteristics that aren’t typical (such as arm strength or accuracy for QB’s, or agility and vision for RB’s) but that I think are critical in the evaluation of the player and how they will translate to the NFL. Hopefully it makes for a good read, and I’ve never written these down specifically, so it will be good for me to get them out of my head so I can read over them.

So without further adieu, here is the first position I will go over: Quarterback.

Whenever you talk about Quarterbacks the first few things you go over are their size, arm strength and accuracy. Are they 6’2″, 6’3″ or bigger? Or are they more undersized. Do they have adequate arm strength, a rocket, or do a lot of their passes lack zip? Do they locate the ball well, do they have great accuracy, or are they inconsistent with their ball placement? Those are the most obvious things that scouts and anyone else watching a Quarterback look at. Over the past few years it seems that a Quarterback’s intangibles have become increasingly important also. Matt Ryan had “off the chart” intangibles, meaning he was a great leader, was very smart, and did a good job of reading defenses. Mark Sanchez had great intangibles, Joe Flacco had good intangibles, and all have had some measure of success. But I think that there is more to a QB’s success than simply having good size, arm strength, accuracy and intangibles. That is a great start in my opinion, but I think there is more to being a good/great QB in the NFL.

One thing I think that a great QB has to have is toughness. This is something that I have underestimated in the past, but I think it is something that plays into leadership. What I mean by toughness is that a QB will be willing to take a hit in order to deliver an accurate throw. You certainly can’t say this about all QB’s, and it is my opinion that QB’s who don’t wilt in the face of pressure and are willing to risk a big hit to step into a throw project better to the NFL than those who don’t. This isn’t exactly rocket science, but it is something that is overlooked by a lot of media pundits in my estimation. Certainly there are QB’s who have had a lot of success who don’t like stepping into throws and getting clobbered shortly after they are delivered, but I think that being willing to take a hit to help out your receiver with a good throw earns you a lot of respect from the rest of your teammates, and particularly the offensive line. That shows them that even if they make a mistake and allow pressure to get to their QB he can still deliver an accurate throw, and isn’t afraid of getting hit.

I also think that how a QB reacts in the face of pressure is incredibly important. I have overlooked this in the past as well, but I have learned from some of my mistakes in evaluation and that is why I think this is so important. There are plenty of QB’s who have been drafted high but struggled mightily on the NFL level because they react so poorly to pressure. The first one that comes to mind for me is Joey Harrington. He has been a NFL journeyman in part because of his below-average arm strength, but I think one of the most serious issues with the way he plays football is how he reacts to pressure. He doesn’t step into his throws in the face of pressure, his footwork quickly deteriorates, and his decision making gets much worse. On the other hand, Matt Ryan was one of the most efficient passers in the entire league when opposing teams blitzed against him. Great QB’s take advantage of teams when they decide to bring pressure, but good or average ones are victimized by it. That is why I think that how a QB reacts in the face of pressure is so important. If they just throw up a bad pass off their back foot to avoid taking a hit that is an indication that they don’t react to pressure well, and I think that is a significant hindrance at the NFL level where so many teams have intricate blitzing schemes.

And finally even though Intangibles are becoming more and more important in evaluations of QB’s, I still think they warrant mentioning here. A QB’s intelligence, ability to read a defense and leadership capability are incredibly crucial. Getting a great leader at QB can help turn around a franchise that has been in the doldrums whether it has been there for a few years or well over a decade. There are many examples of this but the two that stick out the most in my mind are Brett Favre and Matt Ryan. Favre was not making any headway on the Atlanta Falcons depth chart, but Ron Wolf trusted his evaluation of him and traded a 1st round draft selection for him. He saw a player who was a great leader, and helped them win games against teams that were better than his Southern Mississippi squad, including an upset of Alabama during his senior year. When he arrived in Green Bay he helped revitalize a franchise that had been struggling to muster a winning season, much less a playoff appearance or a trip to the Super Bowl. But he brought a Super Bowl to the city, and that helps prove my point of how much good a strong leader can do for a struggling organization. Matt Ryan provided a similar lift to the Atlanta Falcons when they selected him #3 overall in the 2008 draft. Certainly he wasn’t the only reason that the Falcons have produced 2 winning seasons in a row for the first time in franchise history, but he was a significant cog without a doubt. He provided leadership that the team sorely needed, and gave the Falcons a new leader to rally around so they could move on from the Mike Vick fiasco. The value that a great leader like Favre or Ryan presents can’t be understated, and that is why Wolf moved quickly and decisively to acquire Favre when he became available, even at the then “steep” price of a 1st round selection. And that is the reason why Thomas Dimitroff spent the #3 overall selection on a QB who he thought could lead the franchise in a new direction.

So there you have it. 3 characteristics that I think have a significant impact on whether a college QB ever becomes a good or great QB in the NFL: Their toughness or their willingness to take a hit, their ability to handle pressure and their intangibles, most notably their leadership.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate you reading through this. Hopefully you found it interesting. Feel free to leave a comment and I will make sure to respond to it as soon as I see it.

–Tom Melton