Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Dec 2013

Scouting Mystery Quarterbacks

I watch Matt Flynn so you don't have to! I also went back and looked at the Brian Hoyer tape, took a long look at Case Keenum, and did lots of film grinding to get a handle on all of this year's mystery quarterbacks.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 04 Dec 2013

17 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2014, 10:44pm by Cheap Pandora Beads

Comments

1
by jefeweiss :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 11:59am

I'm going to be kind of harsh on this article, mostly because I think it contains many things that I consider to be unsatistfactory about scouting quarterbacks.

First I would like to propose that the SATS test have some additional criteria added retroactively.

First, the SMATS test, where we add matinee idol good looks to the criteria required to succeed in the NFL, this could also be called the "eye test". This allows us further consideration of the careers of Brady Quinn and perhaps a resurgence of Mark Sanchez. This test alone would expand the field of quarterback scouting to correctly identify 1999 Tom Brady as a hot potential quarterback, as opposed to identifying 2013 Tom Brady, who everyone knows has the qualities needed to succeed under the less sophisticated SATS test.

Then maybe the SMARTS test, where we consider what draft round the quarterback is selected as a criteria for success in the NFL. This is also called the "sunk cost test." My personal feeling about this test is that it is particularly important for identifying backup quarterbacks, because that first rounder might not be good enough to start but he's good enough to be a backup or a team wouldn't have used a first round pick on him. QED.

Then maybe the SIMARTS test, where an important criteria for becoming a successful starting quarterback in the NFL is that you play behind a quarterback who is prone to injury. This test would not have successfully identified 2000 Tom Brady, but it hinted at the future success of Nick Foles.

Of course, some of this is in jest, but I think is as relevant to the way that quarterbacking in the NFL is currently judged as size, arm, trust and speed. I guess you have to start somewhere, but I feel confidant in stating that the science of scouting quarterbacks is currently somewhere between phrenology and reading entrails.

All other things being equal, it's helpful for any player to be bigger and faster and stronger than the other players on the football field. The problem is that some positions are more equal than others.

One of the key qualities in a quarterback may be the ability to make correct decisions on the fly without thinking, but how is that quantified? An instinctive grasp of spatial relations and the ability to adjust to a rapidly changing picture are also important, but it's tougher to measure that than to say "He's 6' 5" and 230 lbs and has great arm strength, like Ryan Leaf". The ability to take hits and not get your eggs scrambled is in some ways more key than others, but we can't exactly go around administering near concussions to potential quarterbacks and measuring the results.

13
by flowmotion (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:02am

Good stuff, filled out a bit more and it would be Tanier-level.

2
by mathesond :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 12:16pm

"we can't exactly go around administering near concussions to potential quarterbacks and measuring the results."

Sez you!

3
by Scott Crowder (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 1:12pm

Not too impressed with an analysis that declares height is an issue. Going back and looking at all the NFL QB's who've been drafted in its history nearly 10% were 6'0" or smaller. 22% of them threw over 1000 passes. 22% of taller QB's threw over 1000 passes, meaning height does not correlate with an ability to start in the NFL. However, 13% of smaller QB's were MVP's, HOFers, etc. Only 8% of taller QB's can make that claim. The data shows two things:

1: Smaller QB's are given less opportunities to play in the NFL.

2: Those given the opportunity have a higher rate of success and overall play better than taller QB's.

Just yesterday Brian Billick of all people claimed that the numbers just don't support drafting smaller QB's. The fact is, the only thing the numbers support is that smaller QB's are being held back by bias, not skill.

4
by Hurt Bones :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 2:04pm

Not to impressed with your analysis. The biggest problem is it doesn’t take chronological considerations in to account. Offensive lines have grown in height more than a 2 inch average since the mid sixties. The problem is how many of your 22% of 1000+ passes shorter QBs played in an era of shorter lines. This also affects your claim of better performance because it depends on when the QBs won their mvps or whatever etc. stands for. Hof selection is also biased toward older players.

8
by Scott Crowder (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:14pm

Most of the short QB's have come along since then. Very few short QB's have ever been drafted and if anything, I found the height bias was even worse back in the days of shorter lines. so the theory that these QB's that succeeded did so back when the lines were smaller is just one more myth.

9
by Hurt Bones :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:18pm

I'm glad you think Y.A. Tittle, Sonny Jurgensen, Fran Tarkenton and Len Dawson are myths.

5
by tuluse :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 3:19pm

You have to account for selection bias.

The only short QBs that get a chance are the ones that are really good at other things. So while tall QBs might overrated, it doesn't mean that short QBs are underrated.

6
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 3:25pm

You can't make that argument until you account for the increase in size of football players over the entire history of the NFL too.

7
by Scott Crowder (not verified) :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 5:12pm

Actually, I can because hardly any QB's 6'0 and under were drafted back in the old days. Seems the height bias was always in place.

10
by jonnyblazin :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 8:47pm

True, and there have been very few RBs drafted who weigh less than 170 lbs. There must be a weight bias too!

12
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/05/2013 - 12:28pm

If anything, QBs are growing in height faster than linemen. Linemen are plateauing, likely because the pool of athletic, 6'8", 300-lb men is not large, and basketball offers a compelling alternative for the same athletes.

That said, shotgun is much more popular than it was in the late 1970s, when linemen started getting huge. That's a boon to the runty QB.

11
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 12/04/2013 - 10:38pm

Apparently, the Packers have weighed in ""Flynn knows the scheme" as opposed to "Flynn is actually a viable NFL QB". meaning they don't think it will take much to beat tbe Falcons.
Doesn't sound like a winning plan to me.

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