Defining Why Quarterback Is the Most Difficult Position to Play in Football

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Defining Why Quarterback Is the Most Difficult Position to Play in Football
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

There's no denying that quarterback is easily the toughest position to play in the NFL. There isn't a position that comes with more pressure, demand or expectations than the guy playing under center each week. He's the face of the franchise and he'll ultimately determine how good or bad your team is going to be during any particular season.

There are literally hundreds of reasons why playing quarterback is so much different than playing other positions, which ultimately separates it as the most difficult position to play. We're going to look at just four separate aspects of being an NFL quarterback, which barely touches the surface of their responsibilities and requirements. 

 

1. Preparation

Each quarterback isn't just responsible for knowing how to do his job. He has to know the responsibilities of every player out on the field with him. Whether it's blocking assignments from the offensive lineman and running backs, option routes and hot reads from the tight ends or receivers, defensive keys and tendencies, quarterbacks have to be able to hold their teammates accountable, and they can only do that if they're in tune with what each player is supposed to be doing. 

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of many quarterbacks in the NFL who goes above and beyond in his preparation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The team itself has certain study requirements. During the week, the Packers have team meetings from 7:30 to 10 a.m., then practice, and then meetings again in to the afternoon. 

But that's not nearly enough for Rodgers. He dives in on his own, as do most players, but it has been suggested he puts in even more of his personal time. He won't say how much - "I don't want to give out my routine because it's personal and it works for me" - but the study time shows up in his game.

You can see in the picture above that Aaron Rodgers is communicating something with wide receiver Jordy Nelson before the snap. Obviously, Rodgers sees something he likes from the defense and wants to take advantage. 

What we saw on this play was a 41-yard touchdown pass to Nelson. It's just one small example of Rodgers seeing something on the field, processing it, communicating it and having that physically translate to a positive result on the field. 

Most fans and outsiders don't have any idea how many things are actually going on during a game in regard to the chess matches coaches play with personnel, formations and play-calling. What is noticed is a positive or negative result on Sundays, but that's just the final piece to a weeklong preparation and study.

 

2. Mental Acuity

You can't play quarterback in the NFL if you aren't sharp, focused and intensely devoted to the mental side of the game. Well, at least you can't be a "successful" quarterback. There are just too many things a quarterback is responsible for out on the field for his mental acuity to not be required as one of his better traits. 

One of the best examples we've seen in recent memory in this aspect is current Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Any time you watch Manning work during his pre-snap communication with his fellow offensive players, you're seeing the result of great preparation and a special ability to process information quickly and calmly. 

USA TODAY Sports

It's for this reason that it's always difficult during the pre-draft process for talent evaluators to get an accurate read on one of the most important skills a quarterback must possess, mental acuity.

Can this player process a lot of information quickly, accurately and have that translate physically out on the field? Those things are often difficult to see on game film and require a good amount of time spent personally with the player on a white board talking football.

Many people don't have that kind of access, but it's the most important thing a player can show in addition to the physical skills necessary to play the position. Considering how important a quarterback is to the overall success of an NFL franchise, finding young prospects with the mental acuity to play the position is the single most important thing NFL teams have to do for long-term, sustained success.

 

3. Physical Skills

Kellen Moore, Tim Tebow and Collin Klein all have something in common. They were great college quarterbacks whose physical skill sets don't translate well to the NFL game. That doesn't mean they won't be successful at some point in their continuing careers, but each had tremendous success in college with little fanfare for their NFL careers (except for a few late-game heroics from Tebow). 

Quarterbacks must have the arm strength to make every NFL throw, the accuracy to place the ball away from some of the best "athletes" in the world playing cornerback, and finally, the athletic ability to avoid physically dominant pass-rushers who get paid millions of dollars for the sole purpose of taking quarterbacks down, hard. 

They must also possess the intestinal fortitude to stand tall in the pocket and deliver an accurate dart across the middle of the field when a 6'5", 265-pound man is bearing down on them with a clear path.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

If you don't consistently stand tall in the pocket and deliver an accurate throw, make the right snap decisions on every play, show the proper demeanor on the sideline or publicly come across like a confident leader of men, then you'll have a big problem in today's NFL, especially with the last aspect of why playing quarterback is the most difficult position.

 

4. The Media

As technology has grown and the world has become smaller, social media and the Internet have changed the game in more ways than one. Just about anything a player says to the media can be twisted, turned and taken out of context in this "sound bite" culture that prays on mis-speaks and controversy. 

Who's always front and center for the team and talking with the media? The quarterback. 

Michael Heiman/Getty Images

A players' ability to properly handle the media is becoming an increasingly larger requirement, sadly. The public loves to hear about a controversy, and there are many people who make a good living promoting and championing a controversy in any way they can.

While players and coaches love to tell you that it's "outside noise" and "we don't worry about that stuff," truth is, people will still ask about it until they get an answer that champions more heated discussions, or the public stops caring to hear about the latest development about a player's headband.

Frankly, it's embarrassing that it even has to be typed, but it's the reality of the times.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Players of all positions, but quarterbacks especially, have to find the right balance between being confident but respectful, politically correct but not boring, and getting frustrated when things are bad but not look immature or insecure.

It's not easy, and learning and developing these skills take time and training, which is time they can't use perfecting the craft they're being interviewed about in the first place. 

We ask players to be honest and candid when they speak, and when they actually are, they're often vilified for it because someone, somewhere disagrees with their opinion. 

A quarterback's dedication to his preparation, focused mental acuity, development of physical skills and ability to handle the media are four reasons it's the most difficult position to play in the NFL.

It's why they get the contracts and headlines they get. 

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