The evaluation of NFL quarterback prospects is a complex and nuanced exercise that often eludes even the most experienced talent evaluators. There is some inherent risk in all talent acquisition, but the complexities of the quarterback position, combined with its relative importance on a team, the risk is never hire than spending a top pick, or big time money on a quarterback.
Over the next few weeks we will work through several traits that are especially important to look for as we evaluate potential draft picks or free agent signings at the quarterback position. The first thing we will look at is scheme dependent but will play a role in how quickly a quarterback can adapt to the responsibilities of the position at the NFL level.
Does He Do "NFL Things?"
There are certain things that a quality NFL quarterback must be able to do. Whether its presnap things like identifying the "Mike" linebacker, adjusting routes for the wide receivers, or setting protection schemes, or post snap things like taking proper footwork from under center to execute a play action fake, or reading through his progression as he drops from under center to set the proper timing of the play, there many things that an NFL quarterback must accomplish on each and every snap.
In the modern college game, many quarterbacks never call a play in a huddle, adjust protections or routes, or even take snaps from under center. While in and of themselves, these actions are simple enough to learn, when combined with all of the other things a new NFL quarterback has to deal with, they create an even steeper learning curve.
Imagine being a young quarterback who is having to learn the first full field progressions you've ever made, getting familiar with inverted cover 2, or cover 3 match for the first time, and learning a 100 page thick playbook. These tasks are a steep enough challenge, but when you add having to learn to identify a defensive front, take the proper footwork to execute a play action fake, get used to turning your back to the defense (which happens to be playing coverages you've never seen before) and reading those new coverages on the move, it's easy to see how it becomes even more difficult to acclimate to the NFL game.
Some NFL teams have taken steps to ease the transition for their young quarterbacks by adjusting their schemes to do the things that the quarterbacks are more comfortable doing, but considering the Cowboys' consistency and continuity in now eight seasons running the same offensive system, it is likely they would attempt to continue with a similar offensive structure.
This aspect of a players game is not necessarily a deal-breaker in an evaluation, but it is important, and should be used to break ties or separate prospects with similar grades.