There are six degrees of separation, so to speak, among NFL quarterbacks. These are traits that can be used to help rate a quarterback. They are as follows:
- Football Intelligence
- Grace Under Pressure
- Pocket Presence
- Arm Strength
- Arm Talent
Football is a complete team game and nothing can be accomplished on the field without a little teamwork. For that reason, a quarterback should not be judged based solely on statistics, as it takes a person catching the ball, or Super Bowls, and that takes a whole team to win.
Therefore, a quarterback such as Archie Manning, who was on a truly horrible New Orleans Saints team, can be successful despite the team around him.
A quarterback must excel in a combination of the traits mentioned above to be successful in the NFL. Although a prospect akin to JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf can rise through the levels of competition based purely on his distinction in one or two of these attributes, a proficiency of at least three qualities is required to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.
To be considered an all-time great, a quarterback must master almost all of them.
These are the top quarterbacks who possess the greatest of each trait:
Arm talent is a genetic gift. Either you have it or you don’t, and some of the greatest quarterbacks did not have great arm talent. That is why it is placed so low on this list.
Arm talent is a compilation of the RPM's placed on the ball, a quick delivery and the ease with which a quarterback throws the football.
Vick embodies arm talent and it is illustrated every time he flicks his wrist and sends the ball 70 yards in a tight spiral. He has a very fluid, deceptive motion, and he consistently throws one of the tightest spirals in the game.
Honorable Mention: Dan Marino, Joe Namath, John Elway
Arm strength is exactly what it sounds like: The capability to throw the ball really, really far.
The ability to chuck the deep ball or squeeze a ball into the tiniest of windows has always been one of the exhilarating aspects of the position. It is really no surprise that the attribute is often grossly overrated.
There have been a slew of quarterbacks with nearly indistinguishably strong arms. But even at the age of 40, Old Man Favre still had one of the strongest throws in the league. This is a true testament to the howitzer that is his right arm.
Honorable Mention: John Elway, Jay Cutler, JaMarcus Russell
This is one trait that gets almost no attention until one of the elite quarterbacks steps forward to avoid a sack. Then the color commentator begins to wax poetic on the quarterback’s knack for getting out of trouble.
Pocket presence is hard to see in all but the most elite quarterbacks. Watching Terrelle Pryor in this video is a great example of what not to do.
When it comes to pocket mobility, no quarterback has ever been so nimble footed and aware as Dan Marino. By taking a simple step forward at the last possible second, he was able to leave an edge rusher grasping at air. The ability to be elusive within the pocket can be the difference between a sack and a big play.
When it came to pocket presence, Dan the Man was a virtuoso.
Honorable Mention: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Fouts
When the game is on the line and it is a “do or die” situation, it takes a special person to not crush under the pressure. A quarterback who can excel in that environment is even more rare.
Fourth quarter comebacks and game winning drives are a good way to quantify a quarterback’s Grace Under Pressure, but they ignore quarterbacks who haven’t been placed in that condition repeatedly.
No one exemplified the “ice in the veins” quality as fully as Joe Cool. It is his nickname for crying out loud.
He may not have had as many fourth quarter comebacks as Elway, but don’t penalize him for being on a better team. When it was crunch time, you could always count on Montana.
Honorable Mention: Tom Brady, John Elway, Dan Marino
Smarts and the ability to process a lot of information in a very small amount of time, less than three seconds, is paramount to a quarterback’s success.
Not only does a quarterback need to read a defense and immediately understand their weaknesses, but he must also be able to match that to the play that the offense is running.
If the quarterback can quickly isolate an advantage, then he can use it to march his team up and down the field.
Peyton Manning’s place here shouldn’t need much explanation. If you aren’t aware of the ultra-cerebral Manning and how broadcasters fawn over his football intelligence, then you haven’t watched football in the past decade and a half. Besides practically calling his own plays, he could probably coach the offense by himself.
Honorable Mention: Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Steve Young
Accuracy is obviously the most important quality a quarterback can have. If you can’t place the ball where you where you want to, then none of the other traits matter.
Some scouts try to split accuracy and throwing mechanics into two different aspects. This is a mistake. Too many quarterbacks with unusual throwing motions have been successful (see: Phillip Rivers, Kurt Warner, or Peyton Manning).
Drew Brees, however, is a shining example of what comes from perfect mechanics. He is the most fundamentally sound passer to ever start in the NFL. He throws with a wide base, resets his feet every time and is machine-consistent every time he cocks his arm back.
Breesus doesn’t have the rocket arm, but you put him 30 yards away from a target, and he can place the ball within a three-inch area. That is accuracy. If you don’t believe me, then check Drew Brees’s stats in the second half of Superbowl XLIV. Or better yet, just watch this clip of him outcompeting an Olympic archer on Sports Science.
Honorable Mention: Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, Sonny Jurgensen