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NFL Combine: The First and Most Important Thing I look For in a Quarterback

The NFL Combine is underway, and the draft is approaching fast. Which quarterbacks will shine?

Lucas Oil Stadium by Josh Hallet is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

NFL Combine: The First and Most Important Thing I look For in a Quarterback

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

I’m going to do some role playing here.

I am an NFL scout; and my team who I scout for are in desperate need for a quarterback. So I am given one primary objective from our General Manager: Go find us our future quarterback.

So, I have my notes, my tape, tablet, an assistant scout, criteria, questionnaires, or whatever a scout carries with him to the combine. In conjunction with the research I have done and the tape I’ve watched on each quarterback prospect, I am using my good ol’ eye test to see if the quarterback has the one thing I think is the most important thing he can have; and it’s really quite simple: Accuracy.

Is he accurate? Can he make throws? Complete passes consistently? Ladies and gentlemen, this is the NUMBER ONE thing I look for in a quarterback. Can he complete passes?


Yes, it’s not the only thing I look at, but it is for sure the first thing I look at when scouting quarterbacks. It seems obvious, right? Like, “Yeah dude, of course he needs to make throws and complete passes…he’s a quarterback; that’s his job.” But it seems that in this day in age, in the game of football, accuracy is often times surprisingly overlooked, and we tend to harp on other attributes to a quarterback’s game. We tend to be in awe of arm strength and BIG throws and BIG quarterbacks. Because size really matters right? Stop. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson are both under 6-feet tall, and they both could arguably be top-5 quarterbacks in the NFL today. You see, in football, size DOES matter at every single position on a football roster…

Except at quarterback…and maybe kicker…but that’s about it.

Kyler Murray didn’t even have to workout at the combine to convince people he could he the #1 overall pick. Murray simply stepped on a scale and had his height measured like he was a damn welterweight, and won the combine that day. And that’s all she wrote I guess, because everyone and their dog seems to think Murray will be the first pick in the draft because he was 5’10 instead of 5’9, and 207lbs instead of 199lbs.

We also tend to get giddy when we see a quarterback escape a blitz and run for 80 yards downfield.  We sometimes get hung up in mechanics – this guy has a ¾ slot release, this guy throws over the top, etc. Quite frankly, I don’t care how you get it there, if you can get it there…that’s a good start for me.

Remember Rick Barry?

Do you all remember Rick Barry’s free throw shot? Barry played in the NBA in the 1970s and is in the NBA Hall of Fame. He shot his free throws with both hands, underhanded, and looked like a total grandpa doing it. Do you see that and think to yourself, “Wow, well I’m gonna pass on that.” You would have passed on a career 89.3% free throw shooter, who actually led the NBA in free throw percentage the last three seasons of his career. In the 1978-79 NBA season, Barry’s free throw percentage was 94.7%. You know what the league average free throw percentage was that season? 76.6%. You know how many NBA players have a 94.7% or greater free throw percentage today? ZERO.

Again, I don’t care how you get it there, you just…get it there. Substance over form. Make the basket…complete the pass.

I don’t care how strong your arm is or how far you can throw. Does Tom Brady have a strong arm? Can he throw a really good deep ball? No, not really, but he’s only the greatest quarterback to ever walk our planet. Brady is the epitome of precision. Brady is accurate.

I don’t care how fast of a runner you are or how good of a runner you are. You want to take a look at all the notable “running” quarterbacks in recent league history?

Colin Kaepernick: Doesn’t have a job.

Robert Griffin III: He’s still in the league? Yeah, he’s a backup quarterback for the Ravens.

Tim Tebow: He’s currently playing baseball.

Cam Newton: Used to run a lot and then got away from that real quick when he kept getting banged up. Despite being currently injured, Christian McCaffery may have saved Newton’s career.

Marcus Mariota: Patrick Mahomes threw as many touchdown passes this season as Marcus Mariota has thrown in his past THREE seasons combined. The Tennessee Titans are currently the biggest quarterback-needy team no one is talking about.

Johnny Manziel: Can’t even stay in what is probably the most forgiving football league in the world. Yeah, the Canadian Football League.

Vince Young = Rushed for 200 yards and 3 TDs in the 2006 Rose Bowl and NFL scouts salivated. Young, despite throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, went to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season with the Titans. After that, he battled injuries, completely fell off the map, and retired just after six seasons in the league. He finished with 46 touchdowns and 51 interceptions for his career.

The Truth About Running Quarterbacks

In recent league history, I would say the only quarterbacks who were considered “running quarterbacks” who had at least moderate success in the league were Michael Vick and Russell Wilson. And calling Wilson a running quarterback might even be a stretch. Also, Wilson is the ONLY quarterback out of that aforementioned group of running quarterbacks who have a Super Bowl ring. Running quarterbacks do not pan out well in this league.

A Look Back at the 2018 Quarterback Draft Class

Just take a look at last year’s quarterback draft class – Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, and Lamar Jackson. These guys were the quarterbacks taken in the first round last year, and it was a very interesting class, because they were all very different from each other and seemed to each have a very prominent skill to their game – something that made them stand out.

Josh Allen

What was he known for?: Allen was a big guy with a big arm who could run well.

Rookie Season: 5-6 record as a starter, 52.8% completion rate, 2,074 yards passing, 10 TDs, 12 INTs, 67.9 Rating

Completion rate as a starter in college: 56.2%

Sam Darnold

What was he known for?: Darnold was smart and had really good footwork – probably the best footwork out of the group.

Rookie Season: 4-9 record as a starter, 57.7% completion rate, 2,865 yards passing, 17 TDs, 15 INTs, 77.6 Rating

Completion rate as a starter in college: 64.9%

Josh Rosen

What was he known for?: Rosen was outspoken, very smart – great football IQ that everyone raved about.

Rookie Season: 3-10 record as a starter, 55.2% completion rate, 2,278 yards passing, 11 TDs, 14 INTs, 66.7 Rating

Completion rate as a starter in college: 60.9%

Lamar Jackson

What was he known for?: Jackson was a Heisman Trophy winner who ran really well and was tremendously athletic. He was often compared to Robert Griffin III (ha!) and Michael Vick.

Rookie Season: 6-1 record as a starter, made it to the playoffs with the help of an exceptional defense, and completely wet the bed against the Chargers, 58.2% completion rate, 1,201 yards passing, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 84.5 Rating

Completion rate as a starter in college: 57%

And Then There Was Baker Mayfield

What was he known for?: Mayfield was also a Heisman Trophy winner who was outspoken, had an attitude…but was accurate.

Rookie Season: 6-7 record as a starter, 63.8% completion percentage, 3,725 yards passing, 27 TDs, 14 INTs, 93.7 Rating. Mayfield helped completely turn his team around, and ended the franchise’s three-decade quarterback drought.

Completion rate as a starter in college: 68.5%

Which Guy Do You Take?

In summary, Josh Allen was the Arm Strength Guy, Josh Rosen was the IQ Guy, Sam Darnold was the Footwork Guy, and Lamar Jackson was the Running Guy. But Baker Mayfield was the Accuracy Guy in this draft. He was the guy who was the best at completing passes.

Twice in college, Baker had a completion percentage in excess of 70%. He also had the highest completion percentage out of any other NFL rookie quarterback this year. Lamar Jackson was the only one out of the bunch who made the playoffs, but if I were to ask you which of these rookie quarterbacks had the best season, would you not say Baker?

Why Baker Was The First Overall Pick?

Now I’m sure there have been drafts in the past where quarterbacks way down in the 5th and 6th rounds who had insanely high completion percentages in college entered the NFL never getting a single snap on the field. But especially when it comes to first-round type talent, if I’m a scout, I care the most about how accurate you are with your throws more than anything. I look at accuracy before I even get to arm strength, footwork, reading defenses, IQ, mobility, speed, mechanics, etc. Can you complete passes? That is the absolute first and most important thing I look at. If a quarterback is accurate and can make throws in the pocket, or even make throws on the run so long as they are accurate, he will be at least a somewhat successful NFL career. I can promise you that.

If you were ever wondering why Baker Mayfield was the very first pick in the draft, it was because of his accuracy. I remember it was about this time last year when I said to myself, “The Browns are finally getting smart.” So as we get closer to the draft, I will be looking forward to seeing which teams will salivate…or wipe their drool and get smart.

Matt lives in Newnan, Georgia but was born and raised in Upstate New York. He is a fan of the New York Yankees, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Boston Celtics. At the collegiate level, he is a Notre Dame and Syracuse fan (yeah he can root for both, and what?!) He must, however, find a soccer team to root for. So him out there. All suggestions are welcome. You can catch Matt on the Turf mostly covering NFL, NBA, MLB, College Football and Basketball, and Horse Racing (that is not a typo, he practically grew up on a racetrack). It's nothing's strictly sports.

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