Every year, a few teams head to the NFL Draft looking for a new quarterback to be the cornerstone of the future. The following year, the same few teams are still on the hunt because they don’t know what they’re looking for. A big arm, a fluid throwing motion, gaudy statistics in college, an athlete in general. Teams enter the hunt with an idea of what their ideal quarterback should look luck, but in reality every quarterback is different. Rarely can a quarterback be plugged into a system and succeed, but instead the system must be built around the quarterback. Tom Brady is different from Peyton Manning, who is different from Ben Roethlisberger, who is different from Aaron Rodgers. They’re all winners and have done it in their own way.
To be the best
Brady dissects defenses with short, accurate passes stemmed from quick analysis of the defense. Manning has a devastating arm and can organize the offensive players prior to the snap to take advantage of match-ups. Roethlisberger is a big guy who is hard to take down and he uses his cannon to unleash big plays down the field. Rodgers is athletic who can make something out of nothing with his legs and can hit a dime anywhere he wants.
Different players, all with success. So should teams go about finding their quarterback in the NFL Draft? Interestingly enough, there are some common threads between NFL standouts. By looking at the quarterbacks who have been drafted since 1996, we can see who has played above all their peers. With the power of Pro-Football-Reference, we can determine which players have exceeded the league average in three of four measures: yards/attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, and completion percentage. The quarterbacks that remain are considered either elite, or on the cusp (ranging from Brady to Romo).
First, while height may be scoffed at, there’s a reason why taller quarterbacks are more successful- high release points to get the ball over linemen. Typically, the height of a player will allow for higher release points, but different throwing motions can either compensate for, or hurt, the quarterback’s ability. A point of 6’1 or taller is a solid height for a quarterback. Additionally, quarterbacks must be of a certain weight if they wish to prevent injury from opposing defender- preferably between 210-245 lbs.
With the physical aspect of the position in sight, we must look at the on-field production. It is preferable for the quarterbacks to have had three or more seasons of starting experience, and it would be even better for them to have improved each year. In addition, they must have completed at least 60% of their passes if they are to have above average accuracy in the NFL (if they can’t be accurate in college, how are they expected to be accurate in the NFL?). Finally, they must post a 2:1 TD:INT ratio as a senior and have shown an increase in the ratio during their time as a starter. Interceptions can be a result of numerous factors (bad tips by the receiver), but the quarterback must show an improvement in decision making during his time in college.
Take out the surrounding talent
The next two measures are more difficult to quantify. First, they must not be a product of the talent that surrounds them, which is an issue that has hurt many a USC quarterback. Be wary of quarterbacks playing on teams with perceived elite receiving talent. Matt Leinart inherited a team with two future first round picks and three future second round picks, and they continued to pick-up top talent players during his time. He was set up to succeed. That’s why it’s important to note that a quarterback isn’t the product of the talent around him.
Additionally, he must show that he is the reason for the team being better. Leinart took the #4 team in the country and kept it around that position. Other players (Luck, Andrew; Griffin III, Robert) inherit middling teams and take them to new heights. Those are the quarterbacks who deserve more attention and those are the quarterbacks who should be drafted higher. Quarterbacks who take teams to the next level, and who aren’t products of their surrounding talent.
What is “It”?
Finally, they must show the “it” factor. How can this be measured? Look at the quarterback in big games. How do they perform against top 25 ranked teams? How do they play in bowl games? Players that step up and excel when they’re on the big stage are more likely to find some level of success in the NFL. Cam Newton is on one end of the spectrum. Blaine Gabbert is on the other.
Last season, this method picked out Christian Ponder, T.J. Yates, Ricky Stanzi, Greg McElroy, Andy Dalton, and Cam Newton as starting quality prospects through the NFL Draft. Quarterbacks like Mallett, Locker, Kaepernick, and Gabbert were levels at which sitting for a couple seasons would do wonders. Of those rated as starters, Ponder, Yates, Dalton, and Newton all players and look to do well in the future. Stanzi has been pushed in Kansas City and McElroy, according to Jets fans, is deserving of real attention.
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