Scouting a quarterback is admittedly the hardest position to scout in football, and maybe in all of sports. When looking at a quarterback, there is so much that you cannot evaluate on film or even by interviewing coaches and friends.
Quarterbacks must have an ability to lead and must be able to stay calm under pressure. This is the difference between Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning. Manning came into the league mature, eager to study and with a natural ability to lead. Leaf came in as a lazy, immature and inconsistent personality. This was not something that could be seen on film, nor was it seen in pre-draft interviews.
While it may be impossible to scout personalities and character, we are able to look at what makes a great quarterback in terms of mechanics and ability. Here are some of the key points to scouting a quarterback.
Arm Strength- Many people get too caught up in how far a person can throw the ball. Never in a game has a quarterback taken a clean drop, stepped up and threw the ball 80 yards without pads on. Arm strength to me is a term to indicate the ability to throw a tight spiral on a 25-yard out and the ability to fit the ball into a tight spot. If a quarterback can throw the ball 50 yards in the air, he has a strong enough arm for me if he can hit the deep out on a line and throw with authority over the middle. What you do not want is a quarterback whose deep ball flutters and out routes sail. You want the post/flag and deep out routes to be throw hard and tight, not lofted like you’ll see most high school and college passes. It is impressive to see JaMarcus Russell throw the ball as far as he does, but it is unnecessary.
Scouting points: Watch a quarterback throw a few routes and you can tell a lot about his arm strength. When a quarterback throws a deep out (20-25 yards and then a break to the sideline), watch the ball to see if it is thrown on a line (with little arc) or if it is lofted. We want this route thrown hard and without loft. The comeback route (10 yards and then break back to the line of scrimmage) should be thrown like a fastball. The ball should arrive as the receiver breaks back to the quarterback and should be in the air for approximately one second. The longer the ball is in the air, the less arm strength a player has. The fade route (or fly) should be thrown with arc, but you can watch the rotation of the ball here. We want a tight spiral, not a ball that is moving on the ends. Lastly, watch the quarterback throw any intermediate crossing routes. We want this route thrown hard and straight to reduce the time the ball is in the air. The pass should be thrown quickly and in a very tight spiral.
Accuracy- Accuracy is the key to quarterback. People underestimate this talent, but it does not matter how far you can throw the ball if you cannot hit your target. Accuracy will win out over arm strength in the long run. Being able to throw the ball in a spot that only your receiver can get to, and being able to lead (place the ball in front of the runner) the receiver are the keys. Accuracy can be judged by watching not only the quarterback, but his receivers. Does the receiver have to change directions to catch the ball? Does he have to stop or speed up quickly? Is the ball placed out and in-front of the receiver? These three things make up accuracy.
Scouting points: As mentioned above, watching not only the passer, but the receiver is the key here. Try to review each pass/route combination a few times on film to get a good idea of where the receiver should be and where the ball is thrown to. At times quarterbacks will intentionally under-throw receivers around the goal-line, so do not obsess over a ball thrown to the player’s back hip. Accuracy is defined by the passer’s ability to put the ball where only his receiver can make a play on the ball. You will also want to watch to see how well the player throws on the move, to both his strong (hand side) and weak sides. Being able to accurately throw on the run is key to being a success in the NFL.
Touch- Touch is something that will be mentioned quite often, but is a direct result of accuracy. Touch is the ability to place the ball with finesse. You’ll see this a lot on screen passes, red-zone fades and corner routes.
Scouting points: Look for a quarterback’s ability to drop the ball between a corner and a safety, or a linebacker and a safety in Cover Two. On screen passes, watch to see if the ball is easily caught or if the ball is thrown in forcefully.
Mobility/Pocket Awareness- Mobility has been re-defined in the current era of football as a quarterback that is a threat to run. While this is true, mobility is also a passer’s ability to move out of and up into the pocket. Mobility also covers the player’s ability to feel the pass rush and make adjustments with his feet. Some of the more mobile quarterbacks in the NFL are elite runners like Michael Vick and Vince Young, but other players that are not as quick have excellent mobility. Tom Brady would lose most races among quarterbacks, but he is rarely sacked because of his ability to move around in the pocket and feel the pass rush. This is called pocket awareness. Pocket awareness cannot be learned, it is a natural ability a player has or develops over time through experience. It is not something that can always be evaluated well on film of college play. Most college offensive lines have a weakness, therefore pass rushers may be consistently coming from one direction.
Scouting points: Evaluating mobility is quite simple: does the player move well in and out of the pocket, or is he a statue? You can watch a quarterback to see how many sacks he takes when there is a clear exit route present. Pocket awareness can be seen by watching for how many sacks a quarterback takes when he could have stepped up or out of danger. Blindside sacks and sacks from behind (when the QB steps up) are examples of pocket sacks. While mobility is a very good thing, it can also hurt a quarterback if he is too eager to run.
Vision- Vision is defined by the player’s ability to see the field. You want a quarterback to not only see his receivers, but to be able to see the defenders without giving away where he is looking. You’ll hear the terms tunnel vision and locking on a lot, these refer to a quarterback not looking off his receivers and starting onto a route. We want our quarterbacks to be able to see the field while taking their three or five-step drops. By the final step, the quarterback should have made his first two reads. Vision can be affected by a player’s height. Shorter quarterbacks will struggle to see over their offensive linemen and will not be able to see the defenders and their receivers from a drop-back position. This is why we see so many quarterbacks roll out, to get a clear line of sight to their receivers.
Scouting points: This is a hard spot to evaluate, unless you know the routes and coverages being ran. If you can acquire film from the end zone perspective, you can watch to see where the passer is looking while he takes his drop and where he is looking before the ball is released. One trick is to watch the free safety. In most college coverages he will be mirroring the quarterback’s eyes. Try to watch the quarterback to see how long he looks at a receiver. You will see his eyes move, don’t always watch his head or shoulders. In most cases the passer should only be glancing at the receiver. An old saying is that the quarterback should not look at the receivers, but at the defenders.
Release- In recent days we’ve heard a lot about the low release points of Philip Rivers and Vince Young, both Pro Bowl players in their first years. Release is a very important characteristic, but there is a lot that goes into this. Release is affected by height. If a 6’0 quarterback throws with a 3/4 motion (the ball lower than his ear and closer to his shoulder), the ball is more likely to be batted down at the line of scrimmage. When a passer is taller, the release point does not become as important. Generally, you do like to see a passer throw with the ball at ear-chin height and in an over-the-top motion. More and more passers are dropping to a side-arm, or 3/4 motion now. This can be dangerous, but again you must take into account the passer’s height. One drill I like to use when working out a player is to measure his hand when the ball is released. By doing this you can compare release height among different throwing motions.
Scouting points: Count how many passes are batted down during the games you see of the player being evaluated. On average, one to three passes per game will be batted down because of the route or a good play by the defender. More than this should cause alarm. Should you have a chance, you can measure the height of the release point and chart this with other passers being evaluated. One great point to watch for is where the passer holds the ball during his drop. You want the ball chin/ear level at all times.
This is by no means a complete list of what to scout while evaluating a quarterback, but this intro should give you a good idea of things to look for on film. Other things to take into account are balance, hand size and the player’s ability to recognize coverages. Most quarterbacks will also be given a standard IQ test, like the popular Wonderlic test, to evaluate their ability to think logically and retain information.