Unlocking the “It Factor”: Emotional Intelligence

By Shawn Zobel

In the scouting profession, there is a term that is designated to players that seem to have an indescribable trait that words can’t explain. This trait is displayed with a player’s clutch ability to stay cool and collected, lead a team, and win games in the most high-pressure situations that the player will ever face in his career. Scouts usually refer to this magical trait as the “It Factor.” Having scouted players opting for professional football for seven full seasons now, I’ve finally come up with an accurate way of assessing this key trait: Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

TGC Terry BradshawAt the NFL Scouting Combine, the NFL uses the Wonderlic test as a way of testing players’ basic intelligence. Those from the Ivy League schools usually score high, while those that failed to qualify academically out of high school predictably do not score high. However, the Wonderlic has drastically failed to measure that “It Factor” that players have: Brett Favre scored a 22 on the Wonderlic while Ryan Leaf scored a 27; JaMarcus Russell scored a 24 while Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored a 15. Other than offering teams an ability to see how high a person’s IQ is, this test has almost become a moot point for the NFL to use as a part of the evaluation process. The theory in the league is that smarter quarterbacks can master the playbook, and at worst, be effective backups, however few players have that “It Factor,” the EQ, to lead a team.

Emotional Intelligence is defined as having the “ability to control your own emotions,” the “ability to recognize and diagnose the emotions of others,” and the “ability to respond appropriately to emotional cues.” Among the successful quarterbacks in the NFL who have the shown the ability to control their own emotions, to recognize the emotions of their teammates, to respond appropriately with their emotions when needed: Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Namath, Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, John Elway. All of these players have displayed the Emotional Intelligence needed to lead their team, and all have won Super Bowls.

TGC Ryan FitzpatrickThis trait is not a physical one, otherwise players like Leaf and Russell wouldn’t be considered two of the biggest busts in NFL history. It’s a mental / emotional trait, however not one that comes with raw intelligence, otherwise Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the class of the league after scoring a 48 on the Wonderlic, the highest a quarterback has ever scored. This is a trait that measures a player’s ability to understand the situation, keep his emotions in check, recognize the emotions of his teammates, and put forth the ability to lead his team to victories. It is said that a person with high EQ understands themselves, their goals, their intentions, and their behaviors. These people also understand others feelings as well.

How do you put a value on a player’s heart? No statistic can measure how much drive, determination, and passion a player has. There isn’t a way in scouting to know whether or not a player will be the first to the facilities and the last to leave. This is a trait that a person is born with. When you have high Emotional Intelligence, you see it in others. Those that don’t have it simply don’t have an explanation for why others succeed and why they struggle. The majority of successful leaders are born with high Emotional Intelligence; it’s generally not something that can be developed, otherwise anyone could do it. At the quarterback position specifically, there is a higher bust rate of No. 1 overall picks than at any other position. Most, if not all of these No. 1 picks have the physical tools to be elite stars, and some even may have scored well on the Wonderlic; however, the key questions to ask are these: how well do they handle their emotions; what type of awareness do they possess; do they build strong relationships with others; can you count on them to get the job done.

TGC Brett Favre

To the NFL teams scouting quarterbacks to find the next player that is going to lead your team to a Super Bowl victory: it is time to begin looking at different ways to evaluate the position. Any successful quarterback has the strong arm and accuracy to get the job done, and most, if not all of them are smart players. However, what separates the elite quarterbacks from the good ones is Emotional Intelligence. It’s that “It Factor” that you can’t measure and can’t put a statistic. For the team that makes the decision to draft a player, they have to be able to see this rare trait in players. Those teams that can find the “It Factor” will succeed in the long run. It’s time to begin evaluating players based on the drive, passion, motivation, work ethic, perseverance, and leadership that they bring to the table, not whether they have a great broad jump and 20-yard shuttle. It’s time to evaluate a player’s Emotional Intelligence in order to accurately and successfully draft players for the future. It’s all about EQ.

Shawn Zobel is a college scout with experience working for two NFL teams, one Big Ten football team, working for NFL Network, and winning a state championship as a high school football coach. His opinions and analysis are used nationally with interviews on ESPN radio among several other media outlets.  

You can tweet Shawn  at @ShawnZobel_DHQ


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