Monday March 30, 2009
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FROM WES BUNTING:
One of the toughest evaluations an NFL team and scouting department can make is assessing and ranking a draft’s quarterback class. With more and more money being thrust at the position every year, it’s becoming critical for a franchise to make the right decision regarding its quarterback. The Detroit Lions currently find themselves debating weather to take a quarterback with the first overall pick and play the risk/reward game or choose a safer prospect with far less potential who may wash out in the NFL.
When evaluating the quarterback position, terms such as “arm strength,” “physical skill set” and “has the ability to make all the throws” are frequently used to describe the type of physical attributes a prospect possesses. However, if quarterback success was derived solely from physical attributes, players like Andre Ware and Jeff George would both be headed to the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, finding NFL signal callers is becoming more about accuracy, intelligence and intangibles than it is overall physical skills.
When developing my own grading scale for quarterbacks, I based much of my evaluation around the theories of Marc Trestman, head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, who said there are four “qualities” a quarterback needs to have a shot at being successful in the NFL.
1. The quarterback needs to have the ability to make all the throws required to attack a defense on every play. This includes the arm strength to throw the deep out, the feel to drop a deep ball into a receiver’s hands down the field, the touch to hit a running back out of the backfield, etc.
2. Quarterbacks need to be able to make quick and decisive decisions under pressure. You not only want an intelligent quarterback in the pocket but also a quarterback who has the instincts to feel pressure and create a play when things break down.
3. The quarterback needs to be mobile in some capacity and have an ability to avoid the rush in one of three ways:
A. The ability to side-step pressure in the pocket.
B. The ability to get outside the pocket and accurately deliver the ball on the move.
C. The ability to scramble and gain yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
4. The quarterback must be tough and be able to stare down the barrel of the shotgun, take a hit, get up and do it again. It takes a special type of player who can take a shot, dust himself off and rally his team on the next play, but the quarterback needs that type of quality.
Notice, there isn’t a prerequisite of a rocket arm or elite athletic ability for a quarterback to be successful in the NFL. Quarterback success is all about decision making, accuracy and timing in the pass game. Therefore, when identifying a possible number or statistic to aid in the evaluation of a college quarterback, nothing may be more helpful than considering his completion percentage. It boggles my mind to see a quarterback drafted high based on his pure physical skill set, especially when he never completed a high percentage of passes in his college career. What makes you think a QB who never completed 60 percent of his passes in college will be able to complete 60 percent of his passes in the NFL?
To add some substance to my thoughts, I want to look at every quarterback drafted in the first round from 1997-2004 who didn’t complete 60 percent of his passes during his final college season to show the alarming rate of failure.
Jim Druckenmiller, Virginia Tech (Completion Percentage: 54 percent)
Ryan Leaf, Washington State (Completion Percentage: 55 percent)
Akili Smith, Oregon (Completion Percentage: 58 percent)
Cade McNown, UCLA (Completion Percentage: 58 percent)
Michael Vick, Virginia Tech (Completion Percentage: 54 percent)
Joey Harrington, Oregon (Completion Percentage: 59 percent)
Patrick Ramsey, Tulane (Completion Percentage: 57 percent
Kyle Boller, California (Completion Percentage: 53 percent)
Rex Grossman, Florida (Completion Percentage: 57 percent)
J.P. Losman, Tulane (Completion Percentage: 59 percent)
As you can see above, there has been a minimal amount of success by first-round quarterbacks who didn’t complete 60 percent of their passes during their final year of college football. Now, with an eye toward the 2009 draft class, we take a look at the draft’s three possible first-round quarterbacks and break down what their completion percentage means in relation to their possible success at the next level.
1. Mark Sanchez, USC (6-2, 227), Completion Percentage: 65.8 percent)
I consider Sanchez the top quarterback prospect in this year’s draft, mostly due to his timing and accuracy in the pass game. Sanchez does a great job recognizing defenses and quickly going through his progressions as a passer. He has the arm strength, touch and confidence to make all the throws, and his ability to throw receivers open on all levels of the field is what really sets him apart. Sanchez’s completion percentage is a direct result of his accuracy and decision making from the pocket, and I expect him to carry these traits over to the NFL as he develops into a quality starter.
2. Matthew Stafford, Georgia (6-2, 225) (Completion Percentage: 61.4 percent)
There’s no question that Stafford has the arm strength and physical tools needed to develop into a quality NFL passer. The main concern is his inability to be consistent in the face of pressure. Stafford isn’t the quickest decision-maker and at times struggles going through his progressions at NFL speed. He also has a tendency to trust his arm strength too much, which causes him to throw off his back foot and become spotty with his accuracy. I still feel Stafford has the makings of an NFL passer, but his completion rate will always been on the fence around 60 percent until he learns to make quicker decisions and stop forcing the ball into traffic.
NFL scouts and officials are intrigued by Freeman’s elite size, arm strength and physical skill set. However, his subpar completion percentage is something I think will follow him throughout his NFL career. Freeman has never been a real accurate passer from the pocket and is slow to recognize coverage and anticipate throws. Those are three traits that don’t bode well for his overall development and should be red flags to teams interested in drafting him.
Summing up, with the consistent evolution of the passing game in the NFL, the quarterback is now being asked to play a bigger role. Therefore, with the success of more and more plays hinging on a quarterback’s decision making, accuracy and timing, it’s becoming paramount to find someone who can make the right decisions from the pocket and be effective in the face of pressure. Consequently, a quarterback’s completion percentage, which helps indicate his accuracy and decision-making, is a much better gauge in finding NFL-quality starters than simply evaluating a quarterback’s physical and athletic skill set.