Alen Dumonjic


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Evaluating the QB Position

Monday, January 28, 2013

The quarterback position is the hardest to evaluate. General Managers are always seeking to hit on an elite, franchise passer because it has become increasingly apparent that an average quarterback is a false economy.

The issue with searching for an elite quarterback is that there simply aren’t many, if any, available each year and most of the men evaluating aren’t qualified to evaluate, so says Bill Walsh. Walsh claimed that not everyone is able to evaluate quarterbacks and even fewer are able to coach them.

Walsh was right, like he usually was, and to help those who are trying to identify a stud signal-caller, he wrote a book about finding the right one. It’s titled “Finding the Winning Edge,” a 544-page masterpiece that details the key qualities of a quarterback, among many other things, that one should seek when evaluating them. On page 169, Walsh listed seven qualities (below), which I’ve briefly summarized as well as offered an example of a player who supports the quality.

Functional Intelligence – The ability to quickly understand what’s going on in the game being played. Example: Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Ability to Learn – The ability to develop techniques needed to play quarterback. There is no set timetable for this to happen, although Walsh suggests that the talents should be acquired “within a reasonable period of time”. Example: Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.

Willingness to Improve – Willing to take in coaching and understand it. Example: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts.

Good Work Ethic – Spending time honing your craft through practice repetitions, which Walsh says is the most effective way to approach this. Example: Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos.

Proper Throwing Motion – Mastering the mechanics of throwing, which include not dropping the ball below the waist and ensuring the ball is thrown above the shoulder. Example: Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.

Emotional Stability – The ability to handle stress. Example: Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens.

Leadership Abilities – To lead by example. Example: Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.

Walsh spoke of these traits and applied them easily, it seems. He liked Joe Montana when most of the league didn’t, and he brought Steve Young’s career back to life after rescuing him from the historically bad Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the majority of general managers haven’t had the same success – why is that?

It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific reason why a quarterback failed. There are a myriad of reasons, starting with the signal-caller himself.  Quarterbacks come into the NFL and struggle to develop the details of their craft, most notably their footwork and mechanics.

A quarterback’s footwork is vital to his ability to throw the ball. He must have his lead leg bent at the knee and pointing at his target, he must rotate his hips to generate power from the ground up and he must follow through with his arm after throwing the football. These minute details are repeated constantly – especially by me – because they are absolutely vital to throwing not only successfully but efficiently. However, not all quarterbacks get it and as a result, end up paying for it by losing their starting jobs or careers.

Although quarterbacks have their own faults, evaluators have some of their own too. They tend to identify a quarterback and surround him with coaches that don’t understand the qualities of the passer. This is a philosophical mistake by the evaluator, whose coaches will attempt to fit the player into their scheme opposed to fit their scheme around the player.  Doing this will almost always lead to failure and likely multiple coaches in his career, leading to the passer gradually getting worse and worse.

Neutral evaluators from afar, such as the Rotoworld Draft Crew and draftniks worldwide, have a difficult time understanding schematic fits, which is all they (we) can understand because they don’t built around the players. The reason is because there’s no specific scheme that they can work from, consequently making the evaluation broad and more prone to failure. In these circumstances, the evaluator can point out the flaws of a quarterback without considering how they can be improved and who can improve them by way of a correct scheme.

There are a handful of quarterbacks in the upcoming 2013 draft class that are not complete prospects. One may lack great pocket presence while another lacks mobility, and a third lacks proper footwork. Some of these characteristics can be improved upon (footwork) while others cannot for the most part (mobility and pocket presence). However, one can mask these deficiencies within well-constructed schemes that are built around the positives of the player and that must be considered.

One example of a quarterback that’s not a fit for every team but has some tools that can be built upon is North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon.

Glennon comes out of an offense that is vertically based, relying on his strong arm to get the ball downfield. This led to questionable throws from the signal-caller, many of which are a consequence of his poor footwork. As noted, footwork is an area that can be improved upon, but Glennon’s lack of great mobility is not.

He’s unlikely to be a boot action, West Coast Offense passer along the likes of the Houston Texans’ Matt Schaub in that case. However, there’s a chance that he is a pure pocket passer that can stretch the field and make all the necessary throws like Joe Flacco once he improves the details of his game.  Therefore, a potential fit for the young quarterback is the Cleveland Browns, a team who recently hired an offensive staff (head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner) that has a history of attacking the field vertically.

A quarterback’s physical characteristics are indicators for what kind of scheme he’s a fit in. Now all that’s left is the hard part: evaluating the personality for the seven qualities that Walsh listed – something draftniks and most personnel men cannot do.  

Alen Dumonjic has also contributed to The Boston Globe, The Sideline View, and The Score. He can be found on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen.
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