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A Look at Franchise Quarterback Traits: Accuracy, Touch, and Arm Strength

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of talk about the Colts’ need to upgrade the quarterback position over the course of the last several months. A major question that needs to be answered before the Colts can draft a quarterback is just what kind of player should their new franchise passer be?

What traits are teams looking for in a quarterback and which ones are most important for the Colts? Here are some of the most important things scouts and teams are looking for at the quarterback position.

We have talked about processing and poise, and their importance for a franchise passer. Today we’re looking at accuracy, touch, and arm strength.

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It doesn’t matter how well you can process information or how calmly you stand in the pocket if you can’t get the ball where you need it to be. That makes accuracy one of the most important and essential parts of the equation at quarterback.

The windows that NFL quarterbacks throw into are small, and even when your offense is functioning smoothly, you won’t get wide open receivers running downfield on every play. That means that the quarterback needs to be able to place the ball in the right spot so that the receiver can make the catch and get the most out of the play.

Other things factor in as well. Many quarterbacks can make accurate throws from a clean pocket, but their fundamentals take a hit when they get forced to move or when they are getting consistent pressure. Being able to maintain composure and make accurate off-platform throws can be what takes a quarterback from good to great.

Think about Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, or Russell Wilson. They are able to make great, accurate throws out of the pocket and on the move. That ability really puts a strain on defenses and allows for the kind of big play potential that wins games.

Ultimately, the ability to accurately deliver the ball is the most important physical component of being a franchise quarterback. Good fundamentals are a key component to accuracy, and while a player can certainly become more accurate at the NFL level, for the most part if they are an inaccurate passer as a college player, that is unlikely to change.

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When we talk about touch, what we typically mean is the passer’s ability to make throws that can vary in velocity and trajectory depending on the need of the play. This seems like a very obvious thing, but some quarterbacks struggle with throwing a fastball on every play, which simply isn’t sustainable.

Screen passes and short dump offs require accuracy and adequate velocity, but need to be catchable. Likewise, throwing a laser downfield might be really cool to see if your quarterback has the arm for it, but perhaps given the position of defenders, what is needed is a ball with more loft to take the cornerback out of the play. Some quarterbacks simply cannot make these adjustments, and that inability significantly limits them.

Touch goes hand-in-hand with accuracy, and truly great quarterbacks can throw that laser when needed, or drop a rainbow right over the receiver’s shoulder where only they can get it.

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Arm Strength

All arms are not created equal where quarterbacks are concerned. While accuracy is a huge part of being an NFL passer, one area that often gets heavily scrutinized is arm strength. In other words, the quarterback’s ability to actually make the throws, both downfield, and to the outside with good power and velocity. A tight spiral is often lumped in this same conversation under arm strength.

There have been many quarterbacks who have succeeded at the NFL level with less than stellar arm strength. Chief among them: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Ever heard of them?

Arm strength is often used as a knock against players who can’t drive the ball deep with ease, or zip the ball to the outside on out-breaking routes with a lot of heat. Those things can certainly be problematic. You can’t let balls float on you, and guys who have to put everything they have behind the ball to hit those deep routes are likely to see a drop in accuracy in those areas.

The reality is that there is certainly a floor for how strong a player’s arm needs to be. They need the ball to have some snap, and be able to beat coverage to the receiver. They can’t have receivers pulling up to wait on a deep pass downfield. If the quarterback doesn’t have adequate arm strength, it will absolutely limit what the offense can be, and that can be a problem.

However, of the three traits listed here, Arm strength is far and away the least important, which is not to say unimportant. In general at the NFL level, a quarterback with average arm strength and very good accuracy and touch is preferable to a player who has the arm to make every throw but has average ball placement and touch. The counter to that though, is that you cannot teach arm strength, while touch and accuracy can sometimes improve with coaching.

Next we’ll take a look at mobility, leadership, and clutch factor.