Zachs Draft Corner: Quarterback Scouting Primer


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Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.

Scouting is hard. Scouting quarterbacks is really hard. If it were so easy, there wouldn't be such a high rate of first round busts and teams that need quarterbacks. Tom Brady wouldn't last until the sixth round, and Brandon Weeden wouldn't be taken in the first.

The key to scouting quarterbacks, as with most positions, is ultimately a pretty simple concept. You want to look at their traits and figure out what the player cando at the next level,as well as the consistency at which they can do those things. It is best if you can point to examples where the player shows somewhere on tape the plays that the traits project they can do, but there are instances where the system and what the player was asked to do calls for a bit more projection. The safe prospects have tape that shows exactly what their traits project them to do, can do a lot of different things, perform those actions consistently. The risky prospects are merely projected to be able to do something because of a particular trait, do not show a variety of different things on the field, and only show the variety in flashes.

You can always project improvement in various areas, and that could lead to a much better player than you could have hoped for.However, if a player doesn't even show flashes of doing something, it is extremely rare that they will magically gain the ability to do that at the professional level. It is always easier to teach someone to be consistent with a skill than it is for them to learn the skill altogether.

Here are the traits that are important to look at in quarterbacks, what those traits enable players to do at the pro level, and which quarterbacks in the 2019 draft class have best shown these traits.

Accuracy

The biggest fallacy one can make with judging accuracy is to look at a quarterback’s completion percentage, sort in descending order, and just copy that ranking to say who is most accurate. Completion percentage doesn't equal accuracy. It is always a good thing if the pass ends in a completion, but it might not be the best possible result for the play.

This may seem like a simplification of the concept, but to me, accuracy is the ability for a quarterback to place the ball in the most optimal position to get the best potential result from the play. If a quarterback throws behind a receiver running free across the middle, the receiver might catch the ball, but yards can be left on the field. If a quarterback tries to throw to the receiver in stride but there is a safety waiting there to lay a big hit on the receiver, he might complete the pass, but he could also break his receiver's ribs in the meantime.

Similarly, if the quarterback throws the ball to a tightly covered receiver, but places the ball in a location where only the receiver can make a play on the ball, it very well may end up in an incompletion, but the accuracy of the pass cannot be denied. It was a safe throw with low risk and a potentially high reward because the quarterback has the accuracy to place the ball exactly where he wants it.

Take, for instance, this throw from Dwayne Haskins. It may seem like a simple throw to a receiver running a shallow cross. The key, though, is the ball placement. If Haskins throws behind the receiver at all, the receiver will have to slow his stride to catch the ball. He may catch it, but he’s immediately tackled for a three-yard gain. Instead, he puts the ball in exactly the perfect place such that the receiver does not have to break his stride in order to catch the ball. The placement also is in an easy location for the receiver to tuck and run with the ball. A matter of inches on the placement of this pass turns a three-yard gain or an incompletion into a gain of well over twenty yards.

This throw from Brett Rypien also shows what an accurate pass can accomplish. Initially, you see that Rypien throws behind the receiver slightly on the intermediate post route. However, if Rypien leads the receiver here, the safety is in great position to lay a big hit on the defenseless receiver, leading to, at worst, a fumble, and at best, a very angry and hurt receiver. By throwing slightly behind the receiver, Rypien actually turns his guy around, allowing the receiver’s back to shield himself from the big hit from the safety. However, if Rypien throws much further behind the receiver, it’s an incomplete pass or an easy interception for the defender trailing the receiver. This is an absolutely perfect throw for the situation.

Then there is deep accuracy. Rypien again throws a perfect pass here. If he leaves the ball up to a jump ball, there are two defenders there able to make a play on the ball or the receiver. If Rypien throws the ball more towards the middle of the field as opposed to the back corner, the breaking safety can make a play on the ball. If Rypien does not rainbow this ball in over top of the defenders, again, it’s at least an incompletion. The only way this pass ends in a completion is if Rypien makes this exact throw.

To me, this trait also takes into account touch. Can the quarterback loft the ball over a defender and into the arms of a receiver? On intermediate throws, Kyler Murray doesn’t seem to be able to. Too often, Murray throws line drive passes in the short-to-intermediate range. If he puts a little more loft on this pass, maybe it is incomplete, but that result is better than an interception. Instead, he allows the underneath defender to make a play on the ball, leading to a turnover.

Accuracy is, to me, the most important trait for a quarterback. It doesn’t matter how hard you can throw the ball, if you can’t put the ball where you want it, and understand the best place to put the ball, then the player will not succeed. If you have an accurate quarterback, the playbook can become much more complex and the skill position players can be a little less skilled while achieving the same result. There’s a reason why Tom Brady can make Chris Hogan look like a great receiver, while the Texans needed a DeAndre Hopkins to bail out their various quarterbacks.

Top 5

1. Brett Rypien, Boise State University

2. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State University

3. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss

4. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn University

5. Will Grier, West Virginia University

Arm Strength

For arm strength, some people might include how hard the quarterback can throw the ball, but I'm going to keep that aspect out of this (more on this concept later).To me, arm strength is the old adage of "he can make all of the NFL throws." Does the quarterback have the arm strength required to throw a deep out? Can the quarterback reach the endzone on a desperation pass from midfield? In essence, can the team reliably implement multiple deep passing concepts into their playbook if they draft this quarterback?

This is what happens when you have a quarterback that does not have the requisite arm strength to make it in the NFL as a legitimate starter. The receiver here has a half step on the cornerback, a few inches in height, and plenty of room on the outside to make a catch. If Clayton Thorson is able to get more distance on this throw, he would be able to get the ball towards the sideline and high enough so that only his guy can make a play on the ball. Instead, with a full step and no pressure, Thorson is only able to throw the ball 44 yards downfield. The receiver has to slow down, and the defender almost comes away with an interception.

Now contrast that with this pass from Drew Lock. In a crowded pocket, he can only take a small step forwards. Making the situation worse, he has backside pressure of a guy hanging onto his back leg. In essence, Lock uses only his arm to heave the ball almost 60 yards downfield to hit his receiver perfectly in stride.

Arm strength may not be as important as accuracy, but it’s close. With a quarterback that has an arm like Lock, safeties and cornerbacks can’t crowd the box, or else they risk giving up a big play. This opens up the belly of the defense, giving the quarterbacks a little more wiggle room on the throws that require a little more accuracy.

Top 5

1. Drew Lock, University of Missouri

2. Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo

3. Kyler Murray, University of Oklahoma

4. Kyle Shurmer, Purdue University

5. Gardner Minshew, Washington State University

Time to Arrival

This one is my own personal trait that combines aspects of arm strength, release, and eye discipline. This trait can be boiled down to how long it takes the ball to get to the receiver from the moment the quarterback commits to throwing the ball to that receiver. In other words, how long does the defense have to react to the quarterback making the decision to throw the ball to a particular receiver? Throwing the ball hard is not necessary for a quarterback to be good in this aspect, and neither is a quick release. The best quarterbacks have all three, but as Meat Loaf would say, two outta three ain’t bad.

Take three 49er quarterbacks, past and present, as an example. Colin Kaepernick would score well in this area, because he had the ability to throw laser beams. Despite his longer windup and merely above average eye discipline, once the ball left his hand, it would get onto the receiver quickly. Jimmy Garoppolo would score amazingly well in this area because, despite him having just good arm strength, his release is so amazingly quick and his eye discipline is so great that defenders are not left with much time to react to the pass. On the other end of the spectrum, we have 49er legend Brian Hoyer. Hoyer had decent arm strength, but his infamous "ball pats" that would give away his intended target and drastically increase the "time to arrival." Once he gave the ball a double pat, the defense could read his eyes and collapse on the receiver in his gaze, leading to interceptions and broken up passes.

For an example of what not to do, we have Jake Browning. Once he shifts his feet, his eyes are locked on the receiver at the top of the screen who is no longer moving. Browning stares at this receiver for a full second before even starting his throwing motion. Browning then brings the ball all the way down to his hip because he keeps the ball at his chest instead of a ready throwing position. Browning also doesn’t have the arm strength to drill a pass in to a receiver. With knocks on all three phases of “Time to Arrival,” the defender easily breaks up the pass.

This is an example of where one trait being very bad, even if only on a single play, can lead to a terrible result for the offense. From the snap, Rypien stares down his intended receiver on the out route. This lets the defender break on the receiver shortly thereafter, getting in between Rypien and his intended receiver and grabbing an easy interception.

Contrast these with Tyree Jackson’s throw on this curl route. His eyes stay on the left side of the field until he’s about ready to throw the ball. He shifts his head to the right side of the field to verify the route is open. From the time he shifts his vision, there is less than a half second until he starts his throwing motion. Since his body isn’t even facing that direction, you could argue just moving his head has not given the necessary indication he is to throw the ball. Jackson keeps the ball high through his windup and puts plenty of mustard on the pass. The corner and the safety are both closer to the receiver than on Browning’s throw, but Jackson’s better “Time to Arrival” makes this an easy completion.

This trait also takes into account quarterbacks being able to look off safeties and the defense to open up throwing lanes. There is no better example of this than Jordan Ta’amu on this throw. Notice the Louisiana safety, who starts the play on the right hash. Ta’amu immediately looks left after the snap, drawing the safety to the opposite hash and leaving one-on-one coverage on the right-side 9 route. Ta’amu times the play perfectly, shifting his stance and immediately going into his throwing motion to hit the receiver right as he’s crossing the goal line. The receiver beats the single coverage, and the safety was caught too far out of position to even attempt to make a play on the ball. Couple this with Ta’amu’s above average arm strength and maybe the quickest release in this draft class, and Ta’amu makes it to the top of this ranking.

Reducing the “Time to Arrival,” especially when coupling this with accuracy, enables an offensive coordinator to run quicker, more precise routes and into tighter coverage. This quality is a must for consistently successful quarterbacks.

Top 5

1. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss

2. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State University

3. Kyler Murray, University of Oklahoma

4. Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo

5. Drew Lock, University of Missouri

Arm Talent

Arm talent is different from arm strength. This shows the quarterback's ability to make throws while being off balance, from different arm angles, and when playing from outside of the script of the play. Examples of this in the pros are Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes. I don’t know how many times these three make highlight plays because they find a way to scramble away from pressure, throw the ball on the run while off balance, at all sorts of crazy arm angles, and the ball magically finds its way to the exact spot it needs to be. This can be extremely frustrating for opposing defenses. This trait can take quarterbacks from being good to being legendary.

Say what you will about Murray’s lack of athleticism or processing skills, his arm talent is fascinating. Against the best defense in the nation, Murray evades pressure and throws the ball on the run to a receiver 50 yards downfield and hits him in stride behind the defense. Inside pressure, outside pressure, it’s all there, but Murray finds a way to just make a play.

There are two things that can hurt a quarterback’s arm talent. One is if they simply don’t have the arm strength to make the off-balance throws. In addition to not having the mobility to escape the pressure, Finley tries throwing this pass off-balance from his back foot. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t have the arm strength to muscle the ball to the receiver on the out route. He floats the ball and leaves it quite a few yards short.

The other is the quarterback’s accuracy when throwing off-balance. On this play, Trace McSorley does the first part of scrambling to evade pressure very well. He finds his way into an open area, and finds an open receiver. Sadly for him, his accuracy is terrible, and he throws way high and outside. The ball gets tipped into the air, his receiver gets crushed, and the linebacker comes away with the easy interception.

While you don’t necessarily plan the offensive gameplan around a quarterback’s arm talent, it can hide a ton of deficiencies for other players. Aaron Rodgers has almost single-handedly pushed Green Bay to the playoffs for an entire decade because his arm talent makes up for sub-par talent everywhere else. This isn’t a must-have for a quarterback, but it sure is nice to have.

Top 5

1. Kyler Murray, University of Oklahoma

2. Drew Lock, University of Missouri

3. Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo

4. Gardner Minshew, Washington State University

5. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State University

Mobility

Mobility is not simply the Michael Vick-esque ability for some quarterbacks to juke defenders and run for 50 yards. It’s certainly part of it, but it’s not everything. I define mobility as a quarterback's ability to move to a position to make a play. This could mean rolling out when there is internal pressure and making running plays with your legs, sure. It also means the ability for a quarterback to evade pressure in the pocket, climb the pocket, and make a clean and effective throw within the pocket. Peyton Manning was one of the most mobile quarterbacks of all-time under my criteria, as his ability to navigate the pocket was unmatched.

This play shows what I mean about a quarterback’s ability to navigate the pocket. Jarrett Stidham senses the backside pressure and steps up in the pocket just enough to evade the pressure and buy himself some extra time. Further, he doesn’t step up too far, leaving himself enough room to step into the throw and get the throw off cleanly without worrying about defensive tackles being in his face. Other quarterbacks might not sense the pressure, step up too far, or roll out of the pocket to a sub-optimal position to make a play. This little step up doesn’t seem like much, but many quarterbacks have trouble with even this level of navigating through the pocket, and it is a trait that is more about feel than anything else. It’s very tough to teach this ability.

This is the more traditional version of mobility, where the quarterback rolls out to make a play. Notice how Will Grier keeps the ball high and his eyes downfield to make a play in the air as opposed to resorting to a run immediately. He evades the pressure and rolls right, inching closer and closer to the line of scrimmage to force the defender to choose between him and the running back leaking out into space. Once the defender crashes towards the line of scrimmage, Grier lofts the ball over top of the defender to a wide open receiver. While the throw was nice, it was Grier’s mobility that allowed the play to develop.

Of course, the ability to pull the ball down and outrun the entire defense is a nice trait to have, too.

Mobility enables a quarterback to buy extra time either inside or outside the pocket in order to make the best play possible. While rollouts can be built into gameplans, mobility in and of itself helps make the offensive line look better by navigating through any defenders that break through. This ability to keep plays alive when they would otherwise fail can greatly increase the effectiveness of an offensive game plan and sway the game in a pretty large way.

Top 5

1. Kyler Murray, University of Oklahoma

2. Trace McSorley, Penn State University

3. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn University

4. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State University

5. Will Grier, West Virginia University

Processing

This final trait can be the most difficult to project. The questions to ask here is whether the quarterback can the read the defense, manipulate the defense, and make the right decision for the play on a consistent basis. This can also be the trait that makes or breaks quarterbacks at the next level. A quarterback can have all of the physical tools needed to play the position, but if they are constantly misreading the defense and making throws to the wrong receiver, they won’t last.

There are two things to watch in this GIF. First, watch Haskins work through his progression all of the way to his fourth read that ultimately makes the catch. The more important part of this, though, is linebacker #35 on the defense. He is in a middle zone coverage, moving from side to side with Haskins’s eyes. When Haskins is looking at #14 running the go route, the linebacker cheats to the left side of the field. As Haskins progresses to the center and then to the right side of the field, the linebacker changes direction and moves back towards the right side of the field. This opens up a big hole in the middle of the field that is filled by the receiver on the intermediate crossing route. Haskins’s “Time to Arrival” is fantastic here, shifting his stance at the last minute and throwing with a quick release to give the underneath coverage minimal time to adjust. This play is expert-level manipulation by Haskins in order to get a clear window to make a big-time throw.

Contrast that play with this throw by Kyler Murray. I understand that, on second-and-2, you might want to take a shot downfield. However, there is a cornerback with inside leverage and a step on the receiver, and Murray, without any pressure, throws the ball deep and towards the middle of the field. This is an easy interception. Meanwhile, you can see two receivers crashing towards the right sideline that are wide open. This play shows that Murray either made a poor decision to overlook the open receivers or doesn’t have consistent accuracy to throw the ball when there isn’t pressure. Either way, it’s not a good look.

You can think you know what goes on in a player’s head, but ultimately, there is only one person that knows that for sure, and it’s the quarterback himself. Given the importance of this trait, this is ultimately why the success rate of quarterbacks is so variable. All you can hope for is that the instances of a quarterback working through his progression and making the right decision on a play is the norm as opposed to the exception.

Top 5

1. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State University

2. Brett Rypien, Boise State University

3. Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo

4. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern University

5. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss

There is a reason why, at the beginning of this article, I mentioned that it is important to focus on what a player cando. In deciding whether to draft a player, there are a few questions that need to be answered. The first question is “Can our coaches effectively implement a system where this player can play a role?” The second question is “Can this system that plays to the player’s strengths win NFL games?” If NFL games could be won with a passing game that doesn’t go past 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, Clayton Thorson could be QB1. However, that’s just not possible, so while there is a clear system that plays to his strengths, that system can’t win NFL games. That’s why Chad Pennington had limited team success despite existing in a system that played to his strengths. If you put some of these quarterbacks in a system based on their strengths, there is a better chance of the quarterback having a successful NFL career. It may not be certain, but it gives them the best chance. I can be certain that if you try to put Dwayne Haskins in a deep-passing offense or Kyler Murray in a precision-based offense, they will fail miserably.

Overall Top 10

1. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State University

2. Drew Lock, University of Missouri

3. Brett Rypien, Boise State University

4. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss

5. Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo

6. Kyler Murray, University of Oklahoma

7. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn University

8. Will Grier, West Virginia University

9. Daniel Jones, Duke University

10. Gardner Minshew, Washington State University

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