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Article:What NFL Scouts Are Going to Screw Up on Saturday

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Player profile Joe Flacco
Ralph Waldo Emerson, or as I like to call him, R-Dub, once wrote "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." In modern parlance, this roughly translates to "learn from your mistakes, dumbass." Aside from wanting to sound clever (or, more likely, pretentious), I bring this up because NFL scouts are busy making the same mistake they make every year in the days leading up to the NFL Draft: Getting seduced by quarterbacks who fit, what they view as, the ideal mold of a quarterback; Tall, strapping, strong jawed, barrel-chested players with unusually strong arms. The scouts lay awake at night dreaming of these young, chiseled athletes completing seventy yard touchdown bombs, while joyous owners exultantly sing their praises and buxom blonds fall helpless at their feet.

The sad reality is that the most ridiculous part of that dream is the quarterbacks completing seventy yard touchdown passes. A few owners will undoubtedly sing the praises of their scouting staff (though exultantly might be a stretch) and I'm sure a few scouts manage to parlay their NFL careers into the occasional buxom blond, but few, if any, seventy yard touchdown passes will be thrown in any given NFL season. In fact, this past year, in 512 games, quarterbacks completed only eighteen passes of 70 yards or longer (a rate of about one every 29 games). Even if we conveniently overlook the fact that most of these passes were the result of long runs after the catch, it still equates to the average NFL team completing one 70 yard bomb every other season. Yet, for some reason, NFL scouts continue to put a premium on arm strength and a big body even though those traits rank somewhere between chiseled jaw line and singing voice on the list of important modern quarterback skills.

As the game has transitioned from a smash-mouth, physical match up into a high octane passing contest, the skills required of quarterbacks have changed as well. In the seventies, a quarterback was expected to hand the ball off to a running back fifty times a game, take hits in the pocket, throw the occasional deep pass, look tough and grow a beard. Today, modern quarterbacks need to know how to read defenses, throw the ball thirty times a game, and complete a high percentage of passes to keep drives alive. Rather then arm strength and toughness, the most important skills are:

  • Accuracy
  • Pocket Presence
  • Field Vision
  • Intelligence
  • Courage
  • Leadership

Everything else is just a bonus. It certainly helps when the quarterback is 6' 6", runs a 4.4 forty yard dash and can throw a frozen rope forty yards down field (I have to be honest, I really just wanted to write, frozen rope), but those skills are not requirements. Just ask Rich Gannon or Chad Pennington. My pregnant wife can throw a football significantly farther then Chad Pennington can (never underestimate the strength of a pregnant woman. I don't know where it comes from; I'm a little afraid to ask. Just kidding, honey.), yet Pennington has had a successful career and numerous playoff appearances, while "can't miss" prospects, with phenomenal size, speed and strength (Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Alex Smith, do I really need to continue?) have single handedly killed franchises.

But, something strange happens to scouts when they see a quarterback take his shirt off. All of a sudden, they care more about how the quarterback looks in a wet T-shirt contest -- "Johnny, do you see Flacco's abs under that baby-T?" -- then how accurately they throw the football. For example, let's review this year's post-combine press coverage.

After watching all the quarterbacks work out, Peter King gushed about Joe Flacco. "Now, Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco threw like Randy Johnson here Sunday. By throwing better than any passer in the workouts, Flacco certainly helped himself." Similarly, senior NFL writer John Clayton said "Joe Flacco of Delaware continued to show the strongest arm in the draft, nudging even closer to first-round status." No mention of accuracy, touch, or vision. But because Flacco threw harder them everybody else, he apparently threw "better" then everybody else. (In other news, King and Clayton think Johan Santana has an outside chance at being a low first round draft pick.)

Perhaps most mind boggling, is the newfound love affair with trendy sleeper Josh Johnson. Following his workout, SI writer Don Banks wrote, "NFL scouts love his accuracy, his athletic gifts, and his toughness. He didn't have an impressive workout throwing the ball on Sunday, floating several deep passes, but he did run fast (4.55) and jumped 33.5 inches to lead all quarterbacks." Wait a second...they love the accuracy of the guy who did not have an impressive day throwing the football???!!? Kicking it up a notch, one NFL scout had this to say about Johnson "He threw a bit of a wobbly ball at times, but he was accurate in spurts. His ball, I don't know why it floats, but it comes out floating a little. He didn't look great, but he's still an intriguing guy." Really? Intriguing? Because he couldn't hit the beach if he was aiming for the ocean?

Meanwhile, Colt Brennan, who shredded defenses and put up mind boggling numbers three years in a row, completed 18 of his 18 passes at the Combine, yet, the only thing people talked about was that he weighed 186 pounds. No mention of his quick release. Nothing about his freakish accuracy. No word about his perfect touch on the ball. All scouts could see was a guy who weighed 190 pounds soaking wet.

This pedantic preoccupation with an "NFL body" boggles my mind. Would you rather draft a quarterback who needs to work on his footwork, improve his mobility in the pocket, learn how to read defenses and fix his mechanics to improve his sub-par accuracy or draft a quarterback who needs to gain weight?

According to Bill Walsh, "the most important attributes for a quarterback are accuracy, courage and intelligence." And Colt Brennan has these in spades. He completed over 70 percent of his passes in college (yes, you read that right. SEVENTY PERCENT) and was the unquestioned leader of an undefeated Hawaii team; His teammates voted him the captain of their Senior Bowl team; He speaks with uncommon candor and infectious enthusiasm; He possess unparalleled field vision and pocket presence; He has one of the most accurate throwing arms since Dan Marino and Jeff George. Yet, because he doesn't have prototypical size and speed, he is not taken seriously.

So, enjoy the hype on draft day, Matt Ryan; Enjoy the praise from scouts and front office people, Chad Henne; Enjoy the praise from the media, John David Booty. Just don't blame me for laughing in three years when Colt Brennan's an NFL star and Joe Flacco is working at Frank's House of Pancakes.

"Another cup of coffee, sir?"

Sure. As long as you don't throw it to me.


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