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Evaluating the quarterback position: Arm talent a critical, and obvious, trait to assess

We continue looking at traits to analyze when studying quarterbacks

NFL: New York Giants-OTA Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Summer school rolls on here at Big Blue View, as we do our best to shine light on various aspects of the game we all love and obsess over. Continuing our look at evaluating the quarterback position, we move from processing speed to arm talent. Throughout the entire draft process there might be no more nebulous term than “arm talent?” Every quarterback profile uses that phrase in one way or another, but what exactly goes into that trait and how does one identify it in a prospect?

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about a quarterback’s pure ability to throw the football is arm strength. Certainly the YouTube/highlight era we live in makes this easy, with the ability call up in a matter of seconds some impressive throws from quarterback throughout the college and pro game. But football graveyards are littered with tombstones highlighting quarterbacks who could dial up the velocity on throws...but little else.

So there is more to arm talent than velocity alone. When evaluating quarterbacks and their arm talent, pure velocity is but one component. You also need to study other aspects to passing such as touch, feel, placement and trajectory. A simple way to frame the question is this: How well can the player move the football from Point A to Point B given the situation in front of him? Not every problem is an nail and not every arm is a hammer. The quarterback needs to balance the situation and demonstrate that he can make the right throw in the moment.

Last draft cycle, Kyler Murray from Oklahoma was a prime example of arm talent. Consider this quick clip that combines some of the elements necessary: Velocity, touch, feel, placement, and you see it to all levels of the field. These throws are prime examples of what Murray can do with his arm:

You were probably expecting his long touchdown pass against Alabama in the playoffs. Fear not gentle reader, we will get to that play. But on these two plays Murray flashes impressive arm talent. On the first play he works through multiple reads before throwing a seam route into the end zone, which he delivers with a perfect mix of velocity and placement, dropping the throw in over the defender but before the back line of the end zone. On the second, Murray uncorks a deep ball that covers 40+ yards on the fly, but drops it in while rolling to the right and places it perfectly along the right sideline.

Touch and trajectory are also big components of arm talent. Returning to the “Point A to Point B” framing of the issue, there are instances when the ability to throw a football through a brick wall is not the right answer to a question. If the brick wall in instance is a talented safety, trying to throw the football through him just leads to an interception. Instead, the quarterback’s ability to apply touch and understand trajectory is tested.

Murray was again a standout in this area, and his understanding of touch and feel is impressive, and on display on throws like this:

The corner route is among the toughest to throw in football because a quarterback you face in essence three defenders, as Murray does here: The cornerback, the safety and the boundary. You need to show precision with the throw to get it over the CB, outside of the S, but drop it in so the receiver can complete the play before falling out of bounds. Murray’s precision and touch here against Iowa State is perfect.

Here is another example of a quarterback balancing touch, velocity and trajectory, and it comes from Brett Rypien from Boise State. Look at this throw on an intermediate seam route against Troy:

Rypien’s throw here is perfect. He appropriately balances touch with velocity, dropping this in over the trailing defender but well before any other defensive back could make a break on the route.

Now we can turn to the velocity question.

One of the standard benchmarks for evaluating arm strength is the “deep out pattern.” Typically, NFL scouts want to see if the quarterback in question can drive the football into the receiver on a deep out route, at about a depth of 20 yards. This throw of Rypien’s checks that box in my opinion:

In their game against UConn the Broncos face a third-and-13 just inside Huskies territory, on the 46-yard line. Rypien takes the shotgun snap and uses a crisp three-step drop, hitches and uncorks the deep out route from the left hashmark to the right sideline. He lets this pass go from the Boise State 47-yard line, and drives it down to the UConn 25-yard line where he hits his receiver perfectly just before he steps out of bounds. This throw comes on a near-line, with great velocity and spin to it, covering at least 28 yards, but Pythagoras tells us this throw covers a greater distance.

The question to balance on the velocity issue is how much it matters. I have often viewed velocity as more a pure threshold question. Can the player get enough velocity on throws to survive life in the NFL, or not? Anything over and above that gets into an area of diminishing returns. After all, when most NFL offenses operate within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, having a pure cannon for an arm might impact such a small percentage of plays, that it should not be used to justify reaching for a player early in the draft when other traits are not commensurate with the player’s arm strength.

There is also the matter of velocity being a double-edged sword. If a quarterback has been able to rely on pure arm strength to survive throughout his college years and during his development as a passer, it can serve as a crutch of sorts, and even hamstring his development in other areas such as processing speed. Josh Allen (and more recently Drew Lock) are examples of this. This quick video breaks this down when it comes to Lock:

In the end, the velocity component might be a matter of weight. It is a necessary box to check, but one should not place too much emphasis on the pure RPMs a QB can dial up. Velocity is just one factor but the ultimate issue is how the QB gets the ball from Point A to Point B, and do not forget the other components to that puzzle.