Questions about football scouting(quarterbacks)

It’s an all too common story in the NFL. Hotshot college QB gets drafted in the first round, has no help on a bad team, and is out of the league in five years, judged a failure. Were the scouts wrong? Sure, scouts are often wrong, or something happens to a quarterback between the time they are drafted and the time they leave the league: injuries, drug problems, gambling problems(Schlichter). Or sometimes they are just a head case(Ryan Leaf).

But other times they just toil for a few years with a bad team and the team just… cuts them. Sometimes the QB in question isn’t even 25 yet. Then they draft a new QB, who also usually fails, unless the team got a lot better in the interim. Meanwhile, a playoff team has lost their star QB to an injury, and a 7th round choice takes over and succeeds wonderfully. Then that 7th rounder gets a big contract with another team and looks like a 7th rounder again.

So here are my questions:

  1. What goes into the decision to decide a QB is a lost cause even though he clearly doesn’t have any help and using a 1st round pick on another QB just puts another kid in an impossible situation? Do the scouts weigh in on whether he can play and just needs support, or does the front office just decide it’s time to make a change for other reasons(like fans turning on the QB or a new coach deciding he wants HIS favorite guy to run the offense)?

  2. When a low-regarded backup QB succeeds with a playoff caliber team, does the front office ask the scouts if the guy is ACTUALLY better than when they scouted him in college, or do they just sign him because he has great stats and assume he’ll help their team too?

  3. When a highly regarded, still very young 1st rounder gets cut by his original team, what goes into the decision by another team to pick him up? Seems like almost all of those young QBs do get signed by someone else, and some even go on to be very good QBs. Others end up being career backups, and others just get cut again. What separates a Vinny Testaverde or Jim Plunkett from a Matt Leinart or Brady Quinn? The college experience and the physical tools all seem to be at a very high level.

  4. Has a playoff caliber team ever lost a quarterback and the backup NOT done well? Seems like any NFL-caliber QB can succeed on a team where receivers get open, linemen give him good protection, and there’s a running game to take pressure off the passing game. The only examples I can think of are the Colts when they lost Manning and the Dolphins when Scott Mitchell replaced Marino. But those seem to be exceptions that prove the rule, since Manning and Marino were capable of carrying a whole offense on their backs and their loss rendered the offense punchless. Whereas if you replace Jim Kelly with Frank Reich or Bob Griese with Earl Morrall, the dropoff is far less noticeable.

As to the first three, the answer is almost entirely “it depends”. Number four is easy, though - Brett Hundley and the Green Bay Packers, last season. Before Rodgers went down, GB was a top favorite to make the Super Bowl. Without him, they couldn’t manage a .500 season, even spotted a 4-1 record. Rodgers does lend himself to being an exception as well - it was surprising how toothless the offense ways without him.

That surprises me because I always assumed Rodgers was great because of his teammates.

He’s had some very good receivers over the years (Driver, Nelson, and now Adams), and often pretty good offensive lines, but he’s rarely had more than a passable running game behind him, and in the two years that he suffered broken collarbones, the Packers’ records were 8-7-1 and 7-9.

They’ve certainly built the offense around Rodgers’s skills, but they’re clearly no better than a .500 team without him. Also, in 2016, with them having to start a WR as their running back for half the season, they still went 10-6, and got to the conference championship game.

The Texans last season also went downhill after Watson got hurt.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good QB. It can mean the difference between a mediocre team with no chance of making the playoffs and a Super Bowl contender.

Sometimes a quarterback just doesn’t fit into a coach’s system. Sometimes he turns out to be a talented, but one-dimensional player whose limitations become apparent in the bigger, faster, NFL.

On the other hand, a mid-talented quarterback who isn’t that good but doesn’t make mistakes can stay in the league for years as a career #2.

See Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. Admitteldy, injuries were a big factor in Griffin’s decline, as well, but those injuries came about, in part, from what might well have been a one-dimensional play style.

And, many times, a failed high-first-round QB finds himself on a team that winds up going through a major housecleaning (new coach, new GM, etc.). There’s undoubtedly some pressure (from the fans, as well as the owner) to move on from past mistakes, as well as wanting a QB that’s perceived to be a better fit with the new offense.

Even with all of the data now available, scouting for NFL prospects, particularly for quarterbacks, is still a terribly inexact science. Even if a player is labeled as a can’t-miss prospect, he almost undoubtedly isn’t a flawless player, and teams seem to often convince themselves that a prospect’s flaws aren’t as big as they may actually be.

Complicating matters in scouting college quarterbacks is the fact that relatively few of them are playing in offensive schemes that map well to NFL offenses, and teams have to make assumptions as to how a prospect QB’s skills will translate to their team’s offenses.

In this case, the chicken came before the eggs. Driver I think was a very good WR, made great by 2 great QBs. Nelson probably is just a guy with any other QB, will be interesting to see if he’s even replacement level with Carr. Adams might be James Jones and Greg Jennings all over again.

Possibly so. I probably have a higher opinion of Nelson than you do, or, at least, I have a higher opinion of him as of a few seasons ago. He had great speed and good hands when he was younger, but age, and the injury he’d suffered a couple of years ago, have taken their toll, and while I was sad to see the Packers let him go this year, I understood why.

But, yes, I suspect that pretty much all of the starting receivers that Rodgers has had have been good-to-very-good, but not necessarily great, and made even better by having him throwing to them. Driver and Nelson, in particular, were beloved by Packer fans, and reliable receivers, but, between the three of them, there are only five Pro Bowl appearances (Driver 3, Nelson and Adams one each), and no All-Pro teams.

Other than Rodgers, the only Packer from the past decade whom I think has a shot at the Hall of Fame is Charles Woodson, and he played most of his career in Oakland.

I have more faith in Adams - he still produced last year with Hundley, albeit at a bit lower level.

But if you think Rodgers is only good because of his teammates, you might want to watch him play at some point. There’s a reason a guy with only a single SB ring is regularly compared to Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Peyton Fucking Manning.

A little story about this inexact science:
I’m a Washington fan and was a big fan of Jake Locker, but more as a runner and an athlete than as a passer. His completion percentage was low and watching him in college it didn’t seem like it was all about the people around him, it seemed like his throws just weren’t quite right.

I was playing golf in Hawaii after he got drafted and ended up golfing with one of the scouts from the Titans. He was talking about how great of an athlete Jake was and I asked him “but what about his completion percentage, doesn’t that worry you a bit?”. His response was basically something like “nah, this guys a great athlete and didn’t have anyone around him, he’ll be fine.”

Interesting story about Locker, thank you for sharing it!

Another factor, which showed up with Locker, as well as (probably) JaMarcus Russell, was that, once they got to the NFL, they realized that they weren’t really terribly interested in playing pro football. Locker walked away from the game explicitly due to this; Russell still has, as far as I can tell, never officially retired, but his lack of interest in the game, as well as his lack of willingness to put in the work needed, were fairly widely known, and were likely big factors that kept anyone from signing him after he left the Raiders.

That lack of interest in the game is another intangible that scouts may not pick up on, or (in the case of Russell) might turn a blind eye to, due to falling in love with the guy’s physical talents.

Someone explain to me what happened with Matt Flynn. He wasn’t really a touted NFL prospect - he was taken in the 7th round of the 2008 draft to back up Aaron Rodgers. In the last game of the 2011 season, Flynn started because the Packers wanted to rest Rodgers for the playoffs. Flynn, who had started in only one other game in his career up to this point, then proceeded to throw for 480 yards and six TDs in a shootout with Detroit. Since he was in the final year of his rookie contract, he entered free agency and proceeded to sign a 3-year/$20.5 million contract with Seattle to be, presumably, their starter.

That was based on ONE end-of-the-season performance. He didn’t have any sort of first round pedigree or anything. For all intents and purposes, Seattle signed him to be their guy. In the end, Flynn (almost predictably) lost the QB preseason battle with newly drafted Russell Wilson (3rd round, 75th overall) and floated around with a few other teams until his retirement in 2015.

I’ve presented this theory before: Some quarterbacks (and other players) are highly successful at the college level because they have a skill for finding a weak spot in the opposing team’s play and exploiting it.

Then they get to the pro level. And on their first play, they line up, take the ball, look around for the weak spot - and don’t find it. At the professional level, every player on the field is an expert. Even the guys who are third string back-ups are incredibly skilled.

If your record was based on being better than the other guys on the field, you’re not going to succeed in the NFL. You have to be able to play against people who are as good at their job as you are at yours.

Pretty simple, I think. Seattle was desperate for a quarterback after dumping Matt Hasselbeck in a contract dispute before the 2011 season, and seeing their anointed replacement for him, Tavaris Jackson, not produce as well as hoped.

They signed Flynn before the 2012 draft (i.e., before obtaining Wilson), so at that point, their QB cupboard was pretty bare. And, yes, paying big money for Flynn as a starter was probably a reach, but I imagine that they hoped that four years as a Packer, and learning from Rodgers, made Flynn better than the typical backup. (And, yes, Flynn looked great in that Lions game, too. :slight_smile: )

Also, there was, through the ‘90s and into the 2000s, a history of Packers’ backups going to other teams and having at least some success as starters, including Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, and Ty Detmer, as well as Hasselbeck.

Haha, Matt Hasselbeck has been struck by lightning twice.

His wife was struck once. I learned something new today!

Well, twice as of 2006, when that Deadspin article was written. By now, it could be four or five times! :smiley:

If they don’t count “We want the ball and we’re gonna win” as one, you can add that to the list.

Pick 6 on the first play of overtime after making a braggadocious comment sounds like something Brett Favre would do, not his opponent.

One thing to keep in mind, is despite the vast sums of money involved in it, football is a remarkably non-scientific sport.

For example, there have been multiple studies that show that going for it on fourth down is statistically speaking, the right decision most of the time. Yet teams almost never go for it on fourth down in the NFL- probably because the conventional wisdom/lore/voodoo knowledge says you punt on fourth down in nearly every circumstance except when you can kick a field goal.

Stuff like baseball’s sabermetrics statistical analysis is only in its infancy for pro football, and due to the less… friendly nature of football play to statistical analysis, will probably be viewed with a great deal of skepticism.

So as a result, what you get is a bunch of conventional wisdom/lore/voodoo knowledge that says that a quarterback with a certain set of physical characteristics and a certain set of on-field statistics should be great, when in fact, they’re mediocre to ok in the NFL. A lot of times this is because college teams tweak things to take advantage of their players’ strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, in ways they don’t in the NFL. Part of this is because college teams have serious limitations on transfers and new players in ways that the pros don’t- if you have a Tim Tebow, you make hay while the sun shines, so to speak, and tweak your offense around him and his strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a pro team and you draft a Vince Young, you shit-can him and pick up a better qb through a trade or off waivers. Or you just bench him and let him be your backup.

I also think the pro quarterback position is more about the mental capability and less about the sheer athleticism of the player, so more physically gifted and less mentally gifted players may do very well in college (think Vince Young), but not well in the pros, and vice-versa.

I think there’s a different perspective at work. There are decisions that are good for the game and decisions that are good for your career.

You’re a coach. You have a choice between a conventional play that has a 10% chance of success and an unconventional play that has a 20% chance of success. Which one should you choose? From the perspective of what’s good for this game, the choice is obvious.

But here’s another statistic: if you fail on a conventional play, the blame will be shared throughout the team. If you fail on an unconventional play, the blame will be put on you personally. And that personal blame is more likely to cause you to lose your job than the shared blame. Now which play do you choose?