While possessing a strong arm isn't a requirement for the top quarterbacks in the NFL, it is a nice quality to have.
Scouts have romanticized arm strength in the past (see Ryan Leaf, Jeff George) to the point where they've overlooked the overall packages of less-than-stellar arms like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Don't be fooled: Being a successful NFL quarterback is all about putting everything together.
But honestly, one can't help but marvel at some of the league's most powerful signal-callers.
On that note, today's article is going to focus on five quarterbacks who possess the strongest arms in the NFL. In the end, I will come to an objective conclusion about who has the strongest of the group.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler possesses one of the strongest arms that I have ever seen. Even scouting him from an early age at Vanderbilt, it became clear that the former first-round pick could make every single throw on the football field with ease. His ability to throw from the right hash to the left sideline on a 20-yard out never ceases to amaze.
As you can see in the video embedded above, Cutler makes these throws without even having to step into it. I know these aren't the fundamentals that scouts look for in a young quarterback, but with an arm as strong as Cutler's, it really doesn't matter a whole heck of a lot. While his footwork can cause accuracy issues, the ball velocity is still there.
The following is a report, conducted by USA Today columnist Tom Weir, on Cutler leading up to the 2006 NFL draft.
Cutler can bench press 405 pounds, and at the NFL Scouting Combine he put together a string of 23 bench repetitions of 225 pounds. In his four seasons, Vanderbilt coaches say, he missed only one practice, and he has bulked up by about 40 pounds since his freshman season.
Cutler's strength was one of the most important attributes that scouts looked at leading up to the draft. Common sense indicates that if a quarterback can bench over 400 pounds, he shouldn't have much of an issue slinging the ball around the field.
While Cutler ranked just 19th in the NFL this past season in yards per attempt and 27th in yards per completion (via Pro Football Focus), that was in large part due to former offensive coordinator Mike Tice and his less-than-stellar downfield passing scheme. A total of 28.6 percent of Cutler's passes traveled more than 15 yards, which was good for second in the league behind Colin Kaepernick (via Advanced NFL Stats).
What a player does in terms of statistics relies heavily on the targets he has in the passing game and the scheme that his coaches run. Outside of Brandon Marshall, Cutler was really handcuffed here.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
At 6'5" and 240 pounds, Big Ben is two inches taller and about the same weight as Denver Broncos' linebacker Von Miller. He could have easily played linebacker in the NFL if he didn't have such a strong skill set at quarterback.
This is something you rarely see at football's highest level. A better comparison to Big Ben would be Peyton Manning, who was long considered the prototypical passing quarterback. Of course, being this size doesn't necessarily equate to having a strong arm.
With that in mind, this former first-round pick has to have one of the strongest arms in the league. Roethlisberger led the NFL in yards per attempt as a second-year player back in 2004. Equally as impressive, he averaged a ridiculous 14.2 yards per completion that season (via Pro Football Reference). His numbers have been on the gradual decline ever since, but that has to do with a change in offensive scheme from Ken Whisenhunt in 2006 to Bruce Arians in 2007.
In addition, Roethlisberger ranked 24th in percentage of deep passes thrown (15-plus yards) this past season. That placed him among Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan in that category, yet another example that statistics don't tell the entire story (via Advanced NFL Stats).
Tony Pauline of Scout.com had the following to say about Roethlisberger during his final season at Miami (Ohio):
Big armed pocket passer with the abilities to make plays in or out of the pocket. Poised under pressure, looks off the safety and takes what the defense gives him. Possesses a terrific pump fake, drives his long passes down the field and smartly places his deep throws in front of the target, letting receivers run to the ball. Gets outside the pocket, makes plays on the move and loses nothing on his throws displaying zip on the short passes or driving the deep tosses while on the run.
Pauline couldn't have been more on the money about this Super Bowl-winning quarterback. It doesn't matter if he is asked to throw on the run or sit in the pocket, Big Ben can make every throw on the field look like he is flicking a flea from his cat's collar. It's a pretty amazing thing to behold, to be honest.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Every single scout understood that Kaepernick had one of the strongest arms in the 2011 NFL draft. Heck, there were some that came to the conclusion that he had one of the strongest arms to enter the league in quite some time.
It doesn't matter if Kaepernick is throwing from the right hash to the left sideline or dropping back and throwing off-balance, he can make every throw on the field. A prime example of this was Kaepernick's initial NFL start against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football this past season. He threw a 15-yard out to Mario Manningham from the right hash and hit the receiver in stride.
As anyone who has ever scouted quarterbacks understands, that is one of the most difficult throws to make on a football field. However, Kaepernick made it look easy.
If at all possible, it seems that improved mechanics have even increased his velocity since coming into the NFL. In fact, one of the major knocks on Kaepernick as a young quarterback is that he doesn't put enough finesse on the ball on intermediate routes.
That is justifiable criticism and something he does need to work on. As it relates to arm strength, Kaepernick just makes it look so easy. He can drive the ball down the field 50 yards on a rope and catch the receiver in stride. We saw this over the course of his career at Nevada, and it took hold in his first 10 NFL starts in San Francisco.
Contrary to popular opinion, a shorter release and stride does not disable a quarterback's ability to put velocity on the ball. While Kaepernick has nearly the same throwing motion as in college, he doesn't possess the same extended windup. This enables the young quarterback to throw the ball more on a loop with a higher trajectory down the field.
Nearly 30 percent of Kaepernick's passes traveled a minimum of 15 yards this past season, which ranked first in the NFL (via Advanced NFL Stats). The second-year stud also ranked first in the league in adjusted yards per pass at 8.6 and first among qualified quarterbacks at 8.3 yards per attempt. These numbers increased in the postseason to 9.85 per completion and 9.98 per attempt (via Pro Football Reference).
Needless to say, Kaepernick isn't just a running quarterback. His arm strength and ability to get the ball downfield is one of his greatest assets this early in his career.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Not only does Flacco have one of the strongest arms in the NFL, he throws one of the prettiest deep passes in the league. As a prototypical 6'6" quarterback, the Super Bowl MVP has the size to drive the ball down the field. With that said, it is his mechanics and release that enables him to zip it on a line through defenders.
We saw this on full display against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. While Tom Brady was struggling, to an extent, with the wind, Flacco didn't seem to have any issue with it blowing at his face. Rather, the veteran quarterback seemed to thrive in that type of environment.
Even before Flacco made the jump from Delaware to the National Football League, he was showing off his rocket arm to the small school. This following video is from the 2007 season.
You don't have to throw the ball 70 yards downfield like we saw with Roethlisberger earlier in order to show arm strength. Equally as important when it comes to scouting quarterbacks is how they handle the intermediate routes—the ball 15 to 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. The video embedded above is a prime example of how Flacco can dart the ball in there anywhere on the field.
I know that some of you may question me utilizing a tape from seven years ago, but it is important to see just how strong of an arm Flacco possessed, even before he transitioned to the NFL.
During the 2012 regular season, Flacco had 148 passes travel 15 yards or more down the field. He was only intercepted a total of two times on those attempts, according to Chase Stuart over at Football Perspective. Stuart also indicated the following:
You would expect 8-12 interceptions on so many deep throws. Considering that Flacco threw only two, and has a history of not throwing interceptions on deep passes, perhaps there's something there.
Not only does Flacco throw the ball deep nearly as much as every other quarterback in the NFL (26.5 percent—third in the NFL behind Kaepernick and Cutler, via Advanced NFL Stats), he is successful when doing so. In the playoffs, 31 percent of his passes traveled at least 15 yards down the field. Needless to say, with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in those playoffs, Flacco was damn near perfect.
While Flacco may struggle with accuracy on intermediate routes, he is as near as you can get to perfection on the deep ball. He didn't throw a single interception, regular season or playoffs, on passes that traveled at least 20 yards down the field.
Think about that for a second: How does a quarterback succeed on those types of passes? He must possess a cannon for an arm.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Even with the issues we have seen as they relate to Stafford's recent mechanics—and there is a whole bunch wrong with them—he still possesses one of the five strongest arms in the NFL.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that he can throw the ball up there and hope for Calvin Johnson to outfight defensive backs for it. Most quarterbacks in the NFL would pull a Ronnie Lott and give their pinkie for that type of explosive player on the outside.
Still, Stafford needs to get it there.
Again, scouting what a quarterback can do in the game is much different than on a practice field. As it relates to Stafford, he understands when to utilize velocity down the field and when to go with some touch on the intermediate routes. As you can see in the video embedded above, Stafford can hit the 15-yard out from one hash to the other sideline with ease.
The former No. 1 overall pick also has the ability to hit the comeback route on a line and make throws with pressure in his face. You will not see a whole lot of tape on him heaving it 70 yards down the field, but that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. In short, that's not what arm strength is all about on the football field on Sundays.
In my humble opinion, Jay Cutler has the strongest arm in the entire league. But that doesn't come without caution: He is like that 1967 Mustang you spend $20,000 on that breaks down on the way home from the dealership.
Cutler has all the looks of an elite NFL quarterback. He possesses the size and arm strength that scouts drool over and has one of the strongest arms I have ever seen. That being said, he has yet to put it all together.
This doesn't take away from what he does down the field. As you can see in the video embedded at the start of this article, Cutler can make every throw on the field look easy.
While these other four quarterbacks are right up there with Cutler, they do stand a step behind him. At the end of the day, we can look at all the advanced statistics we want, continue to Google keywords, check out metrics from some of the top sites and even come up with our own algorithm.
That's fine and dandy, but tape and game film is what allows us to draw out own conclusions. For me, Cutler sits atop everyone else in this one single category.
I fully understand that some of you expected to see Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or even Drew Brees on this list. While all three of those quarterbacks are better than anyone listed above, they don't possess the arm strength that I reviewed in detail here.
After all, there is a reason why four of these five quarterbacks were selected in the first half of the initial round, while Rodgers, Brees and Brady were all selected later. Of course, the scouts who made those decisions are probably shining shoes somewhere in midtown Manhattan by now.
In one aspect of the game, Cutler is above every other quarterback in the NFL. It doesn't get much simpler than that.