In a little less than a month's time, NFL teams will be guessing once again on supposed franchise quarterbacks.
There are multiple teams that need a starting quarterback and more often than not, they rely on the draft to fulfill that need. Unfortunately, it really is a need and as one well knows, need is arguably the worst talent evaluator.
It leads to quarterbacks being selected earlier than they should be. All the discussion about being a realistic, level-headed general manager that ensures he's valued prospects correctly goes out the window as soon as the clock starts ticking in late April.
At that time, the weaknesses, per se, of a quarterback are mitigated. General managers say their coaches can "fix" the issues and that the teammates of the signal-caller are partly to blame for the mistakes made.
That's where they go wrong. There are specific traits that can be isolated when studying a quarterback that show how good or not of a prospect he really is. Accuracy, anticipation, footwork, pocket presence, athleticism, decision making, mental toughness are seven traits that are must-haves.
If there's one trait that cannot be significantly improved on, it is accuracy.
Throwing a football accurately is something that a quarterback simply can or can't do. There have been many quarterbacks over the years who have come out of college and struggled with accuracy, yet coaches and general managers convinced themselves that they can improve it.
It never significantly improved and it never will.
Players such as Jake Locker, who never completed more than 58 percent of his passes in college despite working in a pro-style offense, have struggled to throw accurately in the NFL. The same can be said for Jay Cutler, for example.
However, it can't be said for Tom Brady. Brady is one of the league's most accurate passers every year and was one at Michigan. Since coming to the NFL, he's improved his footwork, which has helped him with ball placement.
One of Brady's most impressive throws over the years was a 99-yard touchdown to Wes Welker against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Brady had ideal trajectory on the ball when he threw it and placed it right into the hands of Welker, who was able to run away from the defense for a touchdown.
When a quarterback transitions from college to the NFL, there are a myriad of things they have to adapt to. One of them is throwing through open windows opposed to open receivers.
Because of the faster speed of game in the pros, quarterbacks have to throw passes with the anticipation of a receiver running to the football and catching it. Throwing to one area of the field is a difficult task for some, as it takes perfect timing.
Passers that have struggled in this area of the game have typically struggled in general. They don't
have the vision to see the entire field, so they leave plenty of throws on the field over the course of the game.
Examples of those who struggle with it include the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton and the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez.
Whether one is playing quarterback or cornerback, there's no aspect of their game that's more important than footwork.
Football players are built from the ground up, especially quarterbacks. They have to be able to throw with proper footwork. If they don't, the football won't go to the intended target regardless of how accurate or strong of an arm one has.
When it comes to the league's best footwork, there's none than the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. Brees is the most consistent mechanically of his peers, which is why he's able to throw with great precision on every play.
Nearly two years ago, I broke down Brees' mechanics on a throw he made to wide receiver Marques Colston. It can be found here and the accompanying video is below.
How many times have you seen Peyton Manning look like he was going to get sacked and then he suddenly climbs the pocket? It's amazing how often he does it; he shows tremendous pocket presence in that sense.
He can feel the pressure when it's coming from the side or behind him, so he moves up in the pocket. Many starting quarterbacks are able to handle that back-side pressure but the ones that handle what I call front-side pressure are very few.
Front-side pressure is the ability to sidestep A- and B-gap rushers. They pose the biggest threats
to quarterbacks because they force passers to move from their favorite spot.
Ideally, a quarterback wants to stand in the middle of the pocket and sling the ball around. However, when he's faced with pressure up the middle, then he doesn't have the freedom to do that.
Athleticism is not always synonymous with pocket presence. As a matter of fact, it's not at all in most cases.
But for some, it is. Some coaches and scouts consider it a vital aspect of the makeup of a passer. If the passer is mobile, the pocket is able to be moved more frequently and he's a bigger threat to run when defensive backs turn their backs to him.
The video below is a perfect example. Robert Griffin III is faced with a blitz and is forced to abandon the pocket. In most cases, a non-athletic quarterback may only pick up a couple of yards but not Griffin III. He picks up nearly two dozen.
One might ask: why is this an important trait to look for when there are multiple successful passers
each year that are statues in the pocket? Because the league is currently playing a significant amount of man coverage and the best way to take advantage of it is with a dual-threat quarterback.
The quickest way to lose a game and the trust of a coach is to turn the ball over.
When a passer turns the ball over, it decreases the chances of his team winning the game tremendously. It's why coaches make an effort to teach their passers to throw the ball away instead of into coverage.
Decision making is not always about turnovers, though. Sometimes it's as simple as deciding to check the ball down instead of trying to go for the big play. Making a simple checkdown to the outlet receiver sometimes leads to bigger and better plays.
Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts' No. 1 pick from last year, did this to perfection on a game-winning throw against the Detroit Lions last season. Instead of heaving it into coverage, Luck climbed the pocket to avoid the rush and threw the ball to his outlet receiver.
The receiver, Donnie Avery, caught the pass as he ran a shallow crossing route and turned up the field before scoring a touchdown.
Mental toughness. It's the one trait that can't be evaluated unless you're sitting in an interview room and picking the brain of the prospect. Even then, you're unsure of what you have exactly.
We've seen passers overcome great adversity in the past and we've seen them fail miserably. It's a significant aspect of quarterbacking that comes out when in the final moments of games.
Two minutes are left, the team is down by a touchdown and the quarterback has to drive the offense down the field. If he steps up to the occasion, it says something about his talent. Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan has done this numerous times. As have Manning, Brady and others.
And there are those who haven't.
The seven traits above are the most important in a quarterback. They go a long way in finding out which prospect is a "franchise" quarterback and which isn't. In most cases, there isn't a franchise quarterback available.
They only come around so often, even though every year, quarterbacks are projected to be exactly that.
General managers should take the advice of their scouts when it comes to scouting for franchise quarterbacks. It's OK to check-down and find a serviceable passer you can build around instead of going for the big play.
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