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What do scouts look for in NFL quarterback prospects?

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Ex-NFL scout Matt Williamson begins a position-by-position detailing the most important traits studied at each position

NFL: Preseason-New York Jets at New York Giants Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first in a series of what NFL teams look for in each respective position. Of course we had to begin with quarterback.

When a team invests an early draft pick in a quarterback, they absolutely must dedicate pretty much all of the rest of their roster building to that player. It takes a village to raise a quarterback.

The team must identify what their new quarterback does best and how to best make his transition to the NFL as smooth as possible. That is of the utmost importance and even if the quarterback has all the discussed traits below, if his team and environment isn’t conducive to that specific player, the chance of failure skyrockets.

Many consider arm strength to be very overrated when evaluating quarterbacks. In some regards, that is true. If a passer doesn’t have a huge arm, he can make up for it with anticipation. However, there is a minimum needed without question and also without question, there are times in a game when powering a ball into a tight spot has extreme value. Arm strength matters.

Size matters as well, but it isn’t one of the top three traits. We have seen all shapes and sizes of quarterbacks have success in this league. In fact, shorter quarterbacks are showing now more than ever that they can play at this level. Maybe they should have been given a chance long ago. Doug Flutie agrees. That being said, even guys like Russell Wilson struggle to see the field at times because they are simply short for the position. Also in terms of size, it is frightening when a slightly built player like Lamar Jackson so often puts himself in harm’s way. Having body armor is important.

Decision making, field vision and football intelligence are all also extremely important. But we have also seen some of the best quarterbacks in history make poor decisions with the football but make up for it with other extreme quarterbacking skills. Brett Favre comes to mind. Field vision and football intelligence are also wonderful attributes, but great coaching and offensive scheme can be a crutch for quarterbacks that are not at the top of the list in these categories.

Three Most Important Traits

3. Mobility

The ability to run with the football is great. Guys like Josh Allen made many huge plays as a runner last year while they learned the nuances of playing this extremely difficult position. To some degree, athleticism and running ability can allow for a young quarterback to keep his head above water while learning the position. But far more important than being a ball carrier, “Mobility” is the subtle movements that great quarterbacks display within the confines of the pocket. Dan Marino and Peyton Manning were two of the slowest football players we have seen in the last several decades, but they moved brilliantly within the pocket while maintaining a distinct passing posture. We could take this a step forward and just label this trait “Footwork”. Joe Montana had the sweetest of feet, whether is was just the timing of rhythm of his drop and getting the ball out on time or on a designed rollout. It was like ballet for Montana. There are all sorts of types of athletic ability, but what is most important at this position is having controlled, light feet that best keeps the quarterback in position to destroy a defense with his arm.

2. Poise

Poise can mean a lot of things and is very much in tune with a quarterback’s mental makeup. In a huge game when under extreme pressure, does a quarterback play his best or does he wilt? When huge men are crashing in around him, does he maintain an even keel, keep his eyes downfield and deliver a strike when everyone in the stadium knows he is going to take a huge hit? There is also poise off the field, which to some degree, is interchangeable with leadership as well as competitiveness. How does the face of your franchise handle his business? Do his peers look up to him both on and off the field? When the going gets tough, do they look his way? Is winning at all costs the most important thing to this player? We are trying to win Super Bowls here you realize, right?

1. Accuracy

If a quarterback can do all the things mentioned above, but can’t put the ball where he wants, a lot of his other skills go for naught. Some describe accuracy as if you are looking at a door. Can a quarterback hit the door? Great, but can he consistently hit the doorknob? And best of all, can a quarterback prospect repeatedly hit the keyhole much like Drew Brees, probably the most accurate quarterback in history. Now, the trick is, can this quarterback remain consistent with his ball placement once he gets moved off his spot or he has to alter his feet or arm angle? Accuracy is not the same as completion percentage. It is where a quarterback puts the football as well as factoring in the difficulty of the throw. Also, accuracy very rarely ever improves at the NFL level. If a passer only has “Hit the door” accuracy, you are probably better off playing against him than with him. With today’s NFL rules in the passing game, defending a quarterback with consistent “Keyhole” accuracy is nearly indefensible.

Next Up: Running Backs


Matt Williamson is a former NFL scout and college recruiter. He currently hosts the Locked on NFL podcast.