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.
This weeks trait is something that NFL quarterbacks truly cannot function with out.
I love this analogy because it's both outrageous, and accurate. Imagine, sitting in the middle of your favorite watering hole, a chess board on the table in front of you, and across that table, is grandmaster Maurice Ashley. That situation is difficult enough, even for the most advanced of chess players. Now imagine trying to think three or more moves in advance, against this master, all while the entire room is engulfed in fisticuffs. Chairs are crashing, glasses and bottles are smashing, bodies are flying, and before you know it, CHECK MATE!
If you're going to have ANY chance at success in that situation, you HAVE to have the poise to tune out the chaos, and focus on the game.
The same holds true for playing NFL quarterback, you have to be able to focus through the 70,000 screaming people, and the four 260-300 pound men whose sole focus is impose pain on you every time the ball is snapped, in order to think strategically, manipulate secondary defenders, and create opportunities down the field.
So how do we spot poise when studying prospects? It will show up in several areas.
1) Consistency in mechanics
The always wise Mike Tyson once said "Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth", and it hold true for quarterbacking as well. It's easy to have very clean mechanics in shorts and t-shirts, and there's no one trying to knock you on your rear. But when you're getting hit over and over, do those same mechanics hold up? This is an extension of poise because it proves the players ability to function at a high level in chaotic surroundings, and focus on the job he has to do.
2) Performance in Clutch Moments
There are no more chaotic moments for a quarterback in an NFL game than the final moments of a half or a game. A players' ability to function well in these moments, direct the traffic of his offense, interpret the defenses coverage, and make sound decisions with field position, clock management, and the score in mind, will set that quarterback apart from the crowd. A quarterback who can play with poise in those moments will give his team a great advantage, and an opportunity to win each and every game.
Unlike our last trait of "doing NFL things" which can be overcome by an offense that allows the quarterback to succeed as he learns, it is very difficult to overcome a lack of poise at the quarterback position, and players who don't show the ability to stand up in the pocket with chaos around them, dig their cleats in the ground, and make sound decisions will likely have little chance to succeed in the bar room chess game.