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 began by talking about processing and poise, and their importance for a franchise passer. Then we looked at accuracy, touch, and arm strength. Today we’re looking at some more traits that scouts analyze in a potential franchise passer: mobility, leadership, and clutch.
There are a variety of aspects to a quarterback’s mobility that we talk about when evaluating them. First and most important, is their pocket movement. One of the things that made Peyton Manning so great at the position was his ability to climb the pocket, sidestep defenders, and buy himself time to make the throws needed. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say he was a “mobile” quarterback, but in that area he was excellent, and good pocket movement is essential.
While his ability to move in the pocket was great, when plays totally broke down, Manning’s best case scenario was that he could get rid of the ball fast enough to at least avoid a sack. He lacked that kind of truly evasive ability that many quarterbacks have in today’s game. Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes are great examples of this. Not only are they able to win at the line of scrimmage and climb the pocket with ease, but they can evade pressure, roll out and take a deep shot that absolutely guts a defense when their protection breaks down.
This sort of scrambling pocket passer has become more the standard of the modern NFL quarterback. They are the perfect marriage of athleticism and pocket passer. Ideally, they avoid the big hits that a running quarterback inevitably takes, while still providing an additional layer to their game for defenses to have to account for.
The last are the absolutely dynamic athletes who are game changers with their rushing ability. There aren’t many who fall in this category, but they certainly are exciting to watch. Lamar Jackson is the prime example here, but most aren’t nearly on his level. Cam Newton would be another good example, as well as a bit of a cautionary tale. The primary issue with quarterbacks who are such electric runners is that because at the college level they have been such dominant runners, they sometimes have not developed as much as passers. This can hamper their production as pros until that aspect of their game catches up, if it ever does.
Running quarterbacks are a major projection because running ability alone is not enough at the NFL level, and a player needs to have the kind of work ethic and coaching staff of a Lamar Jackson to make that work. For this reason, not every team is willing to take a shot on a player of this kind.
Some level of mobility is critical to be a successful NFL quarterback. However, as we have discussed, there are many different flavors of mobile quarterback, and a lot of what a team looks for will depend on the player’s strengths, as well as the kind of offense they want to run.
Quarterbacks are the natural leaders of an offense. They have the toughest job, and they are the highest valued player on the field. However, the great ones always possess the ability to help steady the team through any adversity. They are leaders in practice, in character, in the film room, and on game day. How that leadership manifests itself can vary by player, but it shouldn’t be hard to identify.
Some are vocal leaders who are going to rally the team and be the loudest voice in the room. They’ll hold their teammates accountable and be the “field general” type player that everyone follows into battle. Others are more lead-by-example type players who let their work ethic speak for itself. They might not ever be the one to chew someone out on the sideline for a screwup, or jump their case in a meeting room for under-performing, but they’ll earn the respect of their team by working harder than everyone else and making sure they take care of their business. Scouts look for evidence of this in discussions with coaches and teammates, as well by way of awards and honors such as being named a team captain.
For a team like the Colts, this part of the evaluation will likely lean heavily on the work of Brian Decker, the Colts’ director of player development. Decker handles interviews with every player the Colts consider, using a system he created to evaluate potential Green Beret candidates to determine if they have the mental makeup necessary to succeed. The Colts have a profile for the kind of leaders they want to add to their roster, and they will no doubt have very specific expectations for their future quarterback.
There are some players who are at their best when the pressure is on. This is true at every position, but especially important at quarterback. To win championships at the NFL level, you have to play up to the big moments. When your team is down by a score in prime time, with playoff advancement on the line, can you lead a 2-minute drive to win the game?
Some players simply do this better than others, but in a true franchise passer, you want a player who has ice water in their veins when everything is falling apart, because that is when they need their quarterback at his best to lead them back. Andrew Luck had an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion with the game on the line and lift the team with him. That kind of ability impacts how opposing coaches game plan against you. It is another advantage to your offense, and just as critically, gives you a mental edge on opponents in a game where any way you can get ahead of the competition matters.
Scouts look back on how quarterbacks have played in their biggest games with the most on the line. They look at how they’ve handled adversity both in individual games and in a season. Clutch is one of those things that is tough to quantify. It is one of those, “I know it when I see it,” kind of abilities for a quarterback. Players who have it don’t last long on the draft board, and if there is someone available in the Colts’ range with it, they just might end up wearing the horseshoe.