Judging How Strong New NFL QB Starter Will Be
Every year in the NFL there are several teams who, frustrated with their quarterbacking the year before, go a whole new way at quarterback. Whether they start a free agent, a young quarterback who has previously been warming their bench, or a rookie that they drafted they are starting over with a new face under center. Handicappers need to quickly be able to assess whether a quarterback has a good chance of looking strong out of the gate or whether they are likely to struggle early on. The more accurate you can be with that assessment the bigger your edge early in the NFL season. Here are six factors to consider to help determine how strong a new quarterback will be:
What's his background? – You can never tell for sure if a guy is going to be any good as a quarterback until you see him play, but you can get a good sense of the possibilities by looking at what he has done in the past. If he is an NFL veteran then you want to look at what he has done in the league in the past. How much has he played? How well did he do? Was he helped or hurt by the level of talent around him? Did the system match his skills? If the player is right out of college then you need to look at what he went through there. A guy who played in a pro style offense is likely to have an easier transition than one who played in a spread. A guy who played in front of a massive crowd and on national television every week should have an easier time dealing with the demands of the NFL and fame than a guy who played in a minor conference in front of empty bleachers.
Was he the planned starter? – If a new quarterback was the chosen starter early in the offseason then he has had several months to work with the coaches and his teammates to get comfortable and learn the playbook. If he is just a last minute choice, though – either because of an injury or because the team tried to find another solution and failed – then he isn't likely to be as prepared, and the players around him aren't going to be as confident in him.
What tools does he have around him? – The more effective and competent the players around a quarterback are, the easier it is going to be for him to shine. The most important factor is the offensive line. If a quarterback isn't able to relax and look for open receivers because he is running for his life and picking himself up off the ground then he isn't going to be at his best. He also needs wide receivers that can get open, a tight end who can rescue him when he is in trouble, and a running game that can take the pressure off his packing. No player is likely to have all of those things to an ideal extent, but the more good things they have working in their favor the better off they are going to be.
How mature is he? – Starting in the NFL for the first time is a massive challenge, and it can crush a lot of players. Guys who aren't mature enough to handle it – Matt Leinart and Ryan Leaf come to mind – aren't easy to trust early on. On the other hand, guys like Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford who seem like they are veterans before they have even taken a snap stand a good chance of making a smooth transition.
How much does he need to change his game? – There are some things that players can do in college that will lead them to be stars that just won't work in the NFL. A player isn't going to get to take a lot of snaps in the shotgun in the pros, for example, and they certainly aren't going to get to run the spread. There are often also changes in footwork, release point, and the way players protect the ball that need to be done, and a lot of players have to learn to stay in the pocket more often and resist the urge to run at the first sign of trouble. The more things that a player needs to change the harder it is going to be for them, and the steeper the learning curve is likely to be.
Is he making progress? – There are a lot of bumps on the road every time there is a new starter in the NFL. That's normal and to be expected. What you want to see, though, is a player who is improving each time you see him. It might not show up on the stat sheet, but you want to see him look a bit more comfortable in the pocket, more composed in the huddle, and more relaxed on the sideline.
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