Analyzing Quarterbacks -- An Extension of MHR University

QB can be both one of the simplest and hardest positions to scout.  It is simple because there are only a handful of grades to hand out and you get hundreds of reps to clearly see them, since the QB is the center of attention.  It can be hard though, because it is sometimes impossible to see what truly makes a QB great -  the intangibles.  While it is true that the character and attitude of every position counts, nowhere is it more significant than at the single-most important position on the football field:  at QB.

It matters how they talk, how they walk (pigeon-toed is acceptable!), what they say about themselves and what they say about their teammates.  But as stars of their teams, there is usually no shortage of material to assess when trying to come to conclusions on their character and attitude.

With that in mind, MHR Scouting Services would like to take a "passing" look at some of the physical traits and qualities to analyze and judge when watching QBs.  They can be one of the funnest positions to scout, regardless of difficulty, so let's get right into it!

Dropback

He should maintain his balance and his back should be straight with his eyes down field.  Watch his feet closely - is the footwork smooth and effortless?  Slow and clumsy?  He should get back to his "set" position quickly, because the sooner he is set, the sooner he can make a throw.

Setup

How quickly do his feet get into the setup position?  For Most QBs they should be shoulder-width apart with the back foot ready to plant and drive off of, and the front foot ready to anchor and provide stability.  The phrase "throwing off his back foot" actually refers to a QB who isn't set up to throw, and so usually has all his weight on one foot or the other, front or back.  Accuracy takes a serious dive in this situation.

Release

Not to be confused with "Delivery" below, this should be used to refer to the speed and positioning of the player's arm in the throwing motion.  The quicker the better, and watch the location of the ball in relation to the body.  The ball shouldn't be too high or low at the top of the throwing motion, nor should it be too close or far away from the body.  [This is a good place for an aside dealing with the introduction to this piece.  Release is a good example of something not grading out highly, yet not seeming to affect the overall performance of the QB.  History is littered with "sidearm" and "high-throwing" QBs who have earned their teams championships.  This is a case of knowing how to "weight" the results for importance, something we will look at in future installments.]

Accuracy

This is the position, velocity and catchability of the ball.   For position, look for balls that don't require the receiver to drop to his knees or lay out to the side.  If the receiver is in traffic, look for positioning and velocity to either thread a tight space or go high or outside where only his player has a chance at it.  For velocity, look for choice on throws, and for catchability, look for instances of throwing over the proper shoulder - especially for running backs in the flat, who both need to be led a little and must get it on the proper side of their body.  Poor accuracy usually starts in the lower body, starting with setup position, and entailing flexibility through the hips and strength from the core.  It is all about control.

Poise

How does the player stand in the pocket?  He should stand tall, head up, eyes scanning quickly but surely.  His progressions should be steady, his feet should be in an "at-ready" state, where they could set at a moment's notice, usually with the QB "bouncing" slightly on the balls of his feet.  Watch out for QBs whose feet move side to side, or "happy feet."  That is a player thinking about running, not passing.

Decision Making

This one is pretty clear, but requires an extra look or two.  Watch for throws into coverage when open receivers were available, failures to check down and mistrust of the pocket.  Young QBs make a LOT of bad decisions when they move to the NFL.  The best separate themselves from the pack by quickly eliminating those types of mistakes.

Field Vision

The bane of field vision is the "stare-down" or "lock-on".  Quarterbacks' eyes should be steadily scanning, not staring down one side of the field unless every route is being run there.  Even in situations where the QB anticipates effective coverage based on the routes in the area, he should still condition himself to check that route off before moving onto the next one.  A good pre-snap read is fine and dandy, but a QB who stares down a  receiver for any reason is only holding his growth back.

Delivery

Unlike "release" above, this term should refer only to the type of ball the player throws.  Is it a speedball?  Does he throw ducks?  Is it soft but slow?  The best deliveries can adjust to conditions, but tend to have ample velocity (doesn't leave receivers hanging) and has a good, tight spiral.  These are the most catchable balls.

Timing

This is a measure of the effectiveness of timed routes.  In these scenarios the QB reads the defense and throws the ball to a location, not to a player.  Watch for the ball to arrive on time, just as a receiver is cutting inside or outside.  The receiver shouldn't have to search for the ball; the first place he looks for it should be right where it is, just like they practiced it.  Peyton Manning is probably the best QB to analyze for this, but for lesser QBs I don't tend to put much weight on this grade, as it can be very difficult to assign kudos and blame correctly to the receiver/QB.

Ball Handling

This is most noticeable on receiving shotgun snaps and in executing the play action, where it is critical.  More than just a measure of how well the QB can properly disguise the ball, it is also a measure of how well he can get his eyes back upfield and find the receiver while hiding the ball.

Follow-Through

This is basic ergonomics.  The throwing arm should follow through in the direction of the ball's travel and cross the body, and weight should shift from the back leg to the front leg smoothly and effortlessly through the release.

Rush Avoidance

This is a measure of the ability to actually sidestep a defender.  The QB should be cognizant of protecting the ball.

Scrambling

This is taking rush avoidance to the next level.  A QB that can get out of the pocket, dodge defenders and still look downfield is a rare find.  A QB that can do all of that and still be a threat to run downfield is rarer still - Elway rare.  The closest QB to that ability right now is probably Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

Pocket-Presence

Not so much a measure of ability to avoid pressure, but the ability to move around within the pocket as it flexes and strains under the pass rush.  The most important ability here is the wherewithal to step up through the middle of the pocket and into oncoming defenders as the pocket collapses to the outside.  Pockets are generally designed to flex in this way, a recognition of the attrition that occurs between conflicting lines of 300-lb warriors.

Rollout Right/Rollout Left

This ability is sort of the "anti-QB" ability, and tends to be reserved to the best playmakers at the position.  It requires a QB to be physically gifted enough to be able to throw accurately without setting his feet, or even throwing across his body.  It requires a player flexible throughout his core, with tremendous arm strength and excellent balance and footwork.  It is a tough combination to find in one player.

Arm Strength

Exactly what it sounds like.  This is the great equalizer that allows a QB to succeed where others might fail.  It is like the wild-card in the deck or the ace in the hole.  QBs are trained and drilled to do all of the above to be successful, but in the event that any of the above skills should fail them, arm strength is the "do-over" that just might let them pull off the play.  QB makes a bad read and throws into double coverage?  Arm strength can give a ball the zip it needs to beat the coverage.  QB steps to the wrong part of the pocket and is engulfed by the pressure?  Arm strength will allow him to get the ball out anyways.  Bad pre-snap read and the entire jailbreak defense has the QB on his heels falling backward?  Arm strength allows the QB to deliver an accurate pass regardless.  It is a tremendous quality to have, but without the ability to execute the basics above, it is quite literally a loaded weapon.

Velocity

This is primarily a measure of the combination of arm-strength and delivery.  A QB should be able to get a good spiral on the ball to increase velocity, and velocity in turn results in higher accuracy.  Even noodle-arms need to have good velocity.

Touch 

One of the toughest abilities for a player to master, it flies in the face of everything else a player is taught.  A touch ball is one that can get over the top of underneath coverage yet fall short of the deep coverage, whether the throw is 5 yards or 15.  It is a tactical throw that calls upon a player's mastery of his own strength and vision.  No player has this out of the gate; it is a learned skill, but usually players who lack arm strength tend to target this throw in particular, to give them an edge they otherwise lack.  The purest touch-throw in the NFL is the fade to the corner of the end zone (where the back of the end zone represents the deep "defender").  Many young QBs insist on throwing this pass off their back foot, which helps takes a little off the throw at the cost of accuracy.  Brett Favre still threw the fade like this when he was a gray, old man, having come to rely on throwing it that way.  We can do better than that.  Watch a guy like Tom Brady or Kurt Warner throw the corner fade, and see how they step into it.  THAT is mastery.

Effectiveness

Take a little time to tally the results of passes to the left/right/middle, and passes that are short/medium/long.  Watch out for QBs who are consistently limited to one type or location for their throws, and if you see this, get to the bottom of it.  Poor field vision or arm strength are QB problems; consistent drops are target problems.

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