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A Look at Franchise Quarterback Traits: Processing and Poise

Wild Card Playoffs - New York Jets v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Al Pereira/New York Jets/Getty Images

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’re going to go through these in sections over a few days and to get started today we’re going to talk about processing and poise.


Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

There are certain traits that are non-negotiable for a franchise quarterback, without which it simply isn’t possible to succeed at the position. One of those is having the ability to process a lot of information very quickly. This is totally separate from intelligence, either football or otherwise. It isn’t about the ability to understand information, it is about the ability to work through information fast.

In today’s NFL, quarterbacks come under center with a play called as well as potentially having several other audible options on the table. The quarterback needs to be able to quickly identify what is going on in the defense so they can make adjustments in the event of a blitz, know what the coverage will be doing, and locate match-up advantages for the play that is upcoming.

Their receivers will have multiple route possibilities that are contingent upon what the defense does, which means that not only does the quarterback need to correctly read the defense, but they need to know all the routes the receivers might potentially run as well as the keys that will dictate which ones they do run. If they don’t know these things and identify them properly, it results in incompletions or interceptions.

If the team gets a bad look in terms of the defense they’re facing, the quarterback needs to be able to recognize that and change the play accordingly. All of this has to take place within the span of 10-15 seconds before the ball is snapped.

Once the ball is snapped, the quarterback needs to be able to continue to read the defense’s movements in the secondary as well as identifying incoming pass rushers. They’ll need to be able to identify what routes are open for a potential pass based on how the defense lines up initially.

Finally, they need to be able to work through their progressions, moving through their various passing options based on what the defense does post-snap and how covered the receivers are, and then they need to make an on-time and accurate throw based on that information.

There is a reason that so few quarterbacks fit the mold of a franchise passer. The amount of information that has to be processed and then acted upon is immense and some guys simply don’t have the ability to do it as quickly as they need to in order to be effective.

While this is a critical trait for an NFL quarterback, it would be silly to say that a player coming out of college should be polished in this aspect. This is perhaps the area for the greatest amount of growth for a young quarterback, and it is part of why a player like Patrick Mahomes benefited from sitting a year. With all the information being processed in an offense like Andy Reid’s, going into his first season as a starter with all the terminology and the ins and outs of the offense already firmly understood no doubt helped speed up his on-field processing.

Having the ability to quickly and correctly process what is happening on the field and then acting on that information with anticipation of how things are going to unfold is what makes franchise a quarterback great.

This is an area of weakness for Jacoby Brissett and it isn’t a new one. Here’s a quote from a scouting report written on Brissett for Inside the Pylon ahead of the draft back in 2016:

“Brissett can make full-field reads, and there are countless examples of him getting to his third or fourth, and even fifth, read on a given play. But it is a slow and deliberate process at times. This was good enough to compete in the ACC, but he must speed this up in the NFL. Another area that could greatly aid his transition would be the increased ability to deliver throws on time, and with better anticipation. Brissett right now is more of a “see it, throw it” type of passer, lacking the vision to throw receivers open. If he can add this ability to his repertoire, it would greatly improve his chances of reaching his ceiling in the NFL.”

These are still areas Brissett struggles. If it were his first year in the league that might not be a huge issue. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

What this means though, is that the Colts want a player who can quickly see the field and be able to make the right decision with the ball. It sounds simple, but finding someone who can actually do that at the highest levels is a whole different challenge.


NFL: AFC Wild Card-Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Jeremiah talked about this trait on the quarterback prototypes episode of the Move the Sticks podcast and basically what he described was a player that is not rattled in the midst of the chaos of a football game. This is a tough trait to quantify, but you certainly know when you see players who have it.

When you think of great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, there are hundreds of examples of them climbing the pocket with eyes downfield, sidestepping pressure, and delivering a strike as the pass rush closes in. That calm, focused delivery under pressure exemplifies poise.

If you watched the Texans in the wild card round, you saw another example of it from Deshaun Watson. After playing a relatively poor game to begin, he shook it off and took charge to lead the team back. In overtime with the game on the line, Watson evaded what absolutely should have been a sack by somehow keeping his feet after taking two big hits, spinning out, and finding his man downfield to set them up to win the game.

Andrew Luck consistently was able to evade pressure even amidst collapsing pockets and terrible pass protection. Whether it was scrambling to buy time, or simply hanging in there and taking a big hit to make a huge play, Luck was always focused and able to do it effectively. That kind of poise and calm under center is not something you can really teach, and it is a big part of what makes a franchise quarterback.

By my own definition, poise also encompasses the ability of a player to shake off their own mistakes as well as other tough game circumstances. Football is emotional and players are some of the most competitive people on the planet. When a quarterback makes a bad throw or gives up a fumble, the only thing worse than that mistake is letting it get inside their head and cause more mistakes, or tentative play. The best quarterbacks have the ability to leave those in the past and operate with a clean mental slate.

Great quarterbacks don’t fall apart because of mistakes, don’t panic under pressure, and are able to anchor an offense with their poise. They are able to stand in, see the field, and make the correct decisions to put their team in a place to win. The Colts will undoubtedly rate these qualities highly in terms of the players they consider.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about accuracy, touch, and arm strength.