Last night’s NFL opening game between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens featured one of the all-time performances by an NFL quarterback – in the history of the sport! Never before had anyone passed for seven touchdowns in a game in the modern era (’70 AFL-NFL merger) and now the legendary Peyton Manning has rewritten yet another standard in the book of records.
I’ve been on the opposite end of #18’s wrath in the past. Our two playoff defeats in back to back years to the Indianapolis Colts all but transformed how we went about building the roster in Denver during the mid 2000’s. I tend to watch games a bit differently than most my friends and family. My focus on the outcome relates more directly to the various individual battles going on throughout and how those athletes executed their responsibilities. I then attempt to relate my observations to those players looming on the horizon through the annual NFL draft, the future prospects in professional football.
As I watched Manning I marveled at his poise, his quick release, and uncanny accuracy in the face of incoming pressure. He seemingly ALWAYS knew instinctively where to put the ball and where his outlet opportunities were when the primary targets were covered. His command and control has long been the cornerstone of his success, and in the second half of the season opener he was in an absolute zone.
Manning might very well be the BEST quarterback in the National Football League at the moment, especially for what he’s asked to do in the Denver offense. My mantra for the position has always been “poise and confidence” and Peyton Manning personifies both with his play.
Now that I’ve said that, watching him is almost painful from an evaluative standpoint. He is upright, almost stiff in his movement. His constant pattering of the feet and patting of the ball is like someone taking their nails down the side of a chalkboard from a pure scouting perspective. His arm strength, though never really at an elite level, is now something akin to throwing water balloons at a wall. The tiny windows of opportunity downfield seem to get smaller and smaller. If asked to run a forty yard dash, Manning might not break 6 seconds flat and that’s if he didn’t pull a quad or hamstring in the process.
He plays with two fused vertebrae and looks as if he’s eternally suffering from “crick in the neck” syndrome. Tight spirals ripping through the air? Not off this arm. To top things off, you’ve now got a man pushing “middle-aged” playing a youngster’s game. Almost everything that we dissect and criticize young quarterbacks for entering the draft we let slide with Peyton Manning.
Poise and Confidence
What separates good from great? Arm strength, foot speed, physical build? Nothing in the annual NFL Combine’s myriad of skill drills correlates directly to success at the position of quarterback. Perhaps every other position has some predictability, but not QB. Having the required prerequisites in your skill set toolbox can certainly help build the poise and confidence necessary to succeed in the NFL. But the best in the business isn’t beating anyone with these tools and yet we rip apart young players for not having a complete set themselves.
Every GM would love the physical prototype to lineup under center and lead his club’s offense. But if any one position on the field allows for a Baskin Robbins type flavor differential in abilities it’s your signal caller.
What matters most?
As we all move forward with our annual evaluations of the college talent pool, let’s keep in mind what’s succeeding at the moment. Measurables are easy to compare and contrast when attempting to predict future potential. But the intangibles are what truly separate the good from great in the National Football League, especially at quarterback. Production is important, but poise is paramount and confidence critical, whether at 21 or 37 years of age.
Would you trade for a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady led super season in exchange for a rookie phenom with all the boxes checked off . . . and ultimately no playoffs or championships? I know the answer without having to ask.