From Boom to Bust: Finding the Right Quarterback

Could Derek Carr be "the one"?

Which skills and traits did the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL have coming out of college, and which ones are the most important to predicting success in the NFL? The Daily Norseman goes in depth to come up with an answer.

The Vikings find themselves with a top ten pick in yet another draft, and also in dire need of competition at the quarterback position once again. Despite drafting Christian Ponder 12th overall a mere three years ago, it seems likely that if the right guy is there, the Vikings will draft another 1st round quarterback in this year's upcoming draft. But what should they look for in a quarterback this time around to make sure they get it right? Are there any common traits successful quarterbacks in the NFL exhibit?

Well, if you're like me, you've already begun to search out scouting reports on some of the top prospects in the 2014 draft, and you've certainly come across a lot of positives and negatives about each one. But which positives and negatives actually matter? When a scout says, "This quarterback has all the intangibles" or "this quarterback is incredibly athletic" is that actually a meaningful analysis, and do those traits really impact how successful the quarterback will be in the NFL? I don't consider myself to be much of an NFL draft scout and I don't trust my own eye in scouting quarterbacks, so in order to answer these questions; I decided to let history be the guide.

First, I created a list of quarterbacks to research to determine what traits they might have had in common coming out of college, both good and bad. I attempted to answer the following question: Were there certain traits that all successful quarterbacks possessed coming out of the draft, and were there any negative traits that can generally be dismissed as not being that important? As it turns out, the answer is yes to both questions.

In compiling a list of quarterbacks to study, I decided to take a look at all of the most successful quarterbacks that have entered the league within the last 15 years, regardless of the round in which they were drafted (or if they were drafted at all). I think most fans can agree that we need a quarterback that can lead the Vikings to the playoffs, and ultimately to the Super Bowl. And most quarterbacks that can achieve consistent playoff appearances or consistent efficiency metrics tend to have the best chance of winning a Super Bowl. So in order to be qualified as "successful" for this study, a quarterback must have either won a Super Bowl, have appeared in at least 10 playoff games, or be ranked in the top 32 of career "adjusted net yards per attempt" (ANY/A) statistic compared to the entire history of the NFL (ANY/A is the statistic that most closely correlates to winning and losing for quarterbacks). That drew me to an elite list of 26 successful quarterbacks, listed below and sorted by ANY/A.

Successful Quarterbacks Entering NFL Since 1998

Name

Career ANY/A

Super Bowl Wins

Playoff Games

Year Drafted

Aaron Rodgers

7.59

1

9

2005 (1st)

Peyton Manning

7.24

1

22

1998 (1st)

Russell Wilson

7.05

1

5

2012 (3rd)

Philip Rivers

7.02

0

9

2004 (1st)

Tony Romo

6.96

0

4

2004 (UDFA)

Tom Brady

6.95

3

26

2000 (6th)

Drew Brees

6.85

1

11

2001 (2nd)

Kurt Warner

6.71

1

13

1998 (UDFA)

Matt Schaub

6.53

0

2

2004 (3rd)

Ben Roethlisberger

6.43

2

14

2004 (1st)

Robert Griffen III

6.4

0

1

2012 (1st)

Matt Ryan

6.4

0

5

2008 (1st)

Jeff Garcia

6.24

0

6

1999 (UDFA)

Cam Newton

6.2

0

1

2011 (1st)

Chad Pennington

6.08

0

6

2000 (1st)

Carson Palmer

5.98

0

2

2004 (1st)

Matthew Stafford

5.94

0

1

2009 (1st)

Daunte Culpepper

5.91

0

4

1999 (1st)

Andy Dalton

5.89

0

3

2011 (2nd)

Donovan McNabb

5.89

0

16

1999 (1st)

Andrew Luck

5.85

0

3

2012 (1st)

Jay Cutler

5.84

0

2

2006 (1st)

Eli Manning

5.79

2

11

2004 (1st)

David Garrard

5.79

0

2

2002 (4th)

Joe Flacco

5.69

1

13

2008 (1st)

Matt Hasselbeck

5.56

0

11

1998 (6th)

As you can see the adjusted net yards per attempt stat does not correlate perfectly to playoff appearances, although it's close and every quarterback on the list has started at least 1 playoff game. Also, aside from Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, the majority of the Super Bowl wins are in the top half of the list. Of the 26 quarterbacks on the list, 16 of them (62%) were 1st round draft picks. I truly believe that if the Vikings draft a quarterback that turns out to be as successful as any of the above 26 quarterbacks, that it would have to qualify as a good draft pick, regardless of the round the player is drafted.

In any case, from there I scoured the internet for pre-draft scouting reports of all 26 quarterbacks, and unfortunately I drew blanks on 6 of them that were drafted prior to the year 2000 (Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, David Garrard and Matt Hasselbeck). So for the remaining 20 quarterbacks that I could actually find pre-draft scouting reports online, I tracked which attributes were listed as "positive traits" and which attributes were listed as "negative traits" in the various reports. After boiling down the data I began to see which traits occurred most frequently and there were seven attributes that stood out as being the most common as they applied to more than half of the 20 quarterbacks on the list. So, here is a list of the seven most common "positive traits" that successful NFL quarterbacks on the list above possessed coming out of college:

  1. Good Pocket Awareness and mobile around the pocket with an ability to "step up" in the pocket (15 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  2. Smart and made good decisions with the football showing patience (14 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  3. Good Arm Strength or "Prototypical NFL Arm Strength" (13 of 19 QBs possessed this trait)
  4. Good Attitude, leader and fierce competitor (13 of 19 QBs possessed this trait)
  5. Has good vision, can see the field and read defenses (11 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  6. Good accuracy (11 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)
  7. Can throw on the run (11 of 20 QBs possessed this trait)

Some other positive traits that appeared for several of the Quarterbacks on the list (but less than half) were: good size/stature, good ability to scramble and avoid the rush, quick release, good touch passes and good ball placement and timing. But again, those traits were not common for the majority of the quarterbacks on the list with each one being common for only 8 or 9 quarterbacks, total. So in short if we can find a quarterback in the draft that exhibits most (if not all) of the seven traits above, then they will have a lot in common with the 20 most successful quarterbacks drafted over the past 15 years when they were college prospects. And therefore, they should have much better odds of panning out as a draft selection just as these prospects did before them.

But are these traits really that important though, and are these seven the be-all end all? Well, if you trust Ron Jaworski's ability to evaluate quarterbacks, he would agree with most of the list above. In his ESPN Insider article from a few years ago, he revealed his 10 quarterback traits that he believes any prospect must have if they want to be successful in the NFL, and there is a lot of overlap with the list above. Jaworski's 10 traits were: leadership, arm strength, accuracy, toughness, touch, mechanics, pocket awareness, size, mobility and character. By my count six of Jaworski's traits match the list of 7 above: pocket awareness, good arm strength, character/leadership, accuracy and mobility. The rest (toughness, touch, mechanics and size) were common on some of the 20 quarterback scouting reports I looked at as mentioned before, but were not common for the majority.

In addition, Howie Long and John Czarnecki put together a list of 6 important traits quarterbacks need to have in order to be successful over at dummies.com. Their 6 traits were: arm strength, competitiveness, intelligence, mobility, release, height/weight, and vision. Again, there's a lot of overlap with their list and mine. And lastly, Steve Wyche over at NFL.com wrote an article about this very topic several years back where he surveyed many current players and coaches who identified the following traits as being the most important: "Decision-making skills and accuracy rank at the top. Poise, leadership and guile rated highly. Rarely was arm strength or physical size mentioned." And again, many of those are the same that I've identified. So in short, yes, these seven traits appear to be the most important to predicting future success in the NFL, because not only were they the traits found in the pre-draft scouting reports of the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL, but they have been confirmed as such by some of the leading NFL analysts as well.

But what about the negative traits you might be asking? Well, I found that there was little to no consensus in the negative traits. There was only one negative trait that was somewhat common among these quarterbacks: "lacks foot quickness, mobility and isn't athletic." That trait was common among 8 of the 20 quarterback scouting reports, and obviously it didn't hinder any of them towards being successful. No other negative trait was common for more than 5 quarterback scouting reports, making most of the negative qualities irrelevant. Interestingly enough, some of the seven traits appeared as negatives on some of the scouting reports, with "lack of arm strength" being a negative for 5 of the 20 successful quarterbacks, and "lack of accuracy" being a negative for 4 of the 20 quarterbacks. So, some of these quarterbacks are clearly able to overcome a negative rating on these seven important traits. It's worth pointing out that none of the 20 quarterbacks listed had trait 4 or 5 listed as a negative, perhaps suggesting that if a college prospect has trouble reading defenses, or has a bad attitude or lacks leadership that it might severely limit their ability to be successful in the NFL.

In any case where does all of this leave us in regards to the quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft? Which ones are most likely to succeed? Well, in looking at the top 10 QBs from the latest cumulative draft rankings, they all possessed some of the traits above, but none of them possessed all seven (and of the 20 most successful, none of them possessed all 7 coming out of college either). In order to determine with traits were more important, I assigned a point system to each one relative to their frequency in the scouting reports. Below is the point scale.

QB Traits Point Scale
Trait #1, Good Pocket Awareness: 7 points
Trait #2, Good decision making: 6 Points
Trait #3, Good arm strength: 5 Points
Trait #4, Leader and good attitude: 5 Points
Trait #5, Can read defenses: 4 Points
Trait #6, Good accuracy: 4 Points
Trait #7, Can throw on the run: 4 Points
Total: 35 Points Possible

If a quarterback had one of the traits listed above as a positive, they earned that many points. However, if it was listed as a negative part of their game, then I subtracted that many points from their total. If one of these traits simply wasn't listed as a positive or a negative, then it didn't count for or against them. Listed below are the seven quarterbacks that scored double digit points based on this rating metric.

1. Derek Carr, Fresno State - score 28 out of 35

In what might come as a surprise, Derek Carr is the best prospect when it comes to successful quarterback traits. Derek Carr notches six out of seven traits, tied for the most of any prospect. He's only missing one positive trait: good pocket awareness. However, the good news is, it wasn't listed as a negative on his scouting reports either. So if history is a guide, Derek Carr should be a very good prospect. Interestingly enough, the most common negative trait among successful NFL quarterbacks is also one that Carr shares: lack of mobility. If there was one quarterback in this draft class that would appear to exhibit the most common traits of successful NFL quarterbacks, Derek Carr is it.

2. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois - score 27 out of 35

In what might come as another shocker, Garoppolo comes in as the 2nd best quarterback prospect. He not only has 5 out of the 7 traits above, but has the top 5 traits; giving him hands down the most valuable traits in common with the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL of any of the college prospects. Even better, the two missing traits (accuracy and ability to throw on the run) were not listed as negatives for him. That said, he's not a perfect prospect, and there are plenty of concerns about Garoppolo like questions about his level of competition in college, and the fact that he played in a spread offense which might hinder his ability to adjust to a pro-style offense. He also lacks deep ball accuracy, has small hands and has a somewhat awkward delivery. But the fact that he exhibits poise in the pocket, is able to read defenses and make smart decisions with the football, displays generally good arm strength, and is a good leader and competitor gives him the most similar traits to the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL. So, Jimmy Garappolo would be an excellent prospect in this draft and even better, most ranking sources and mock drafts have him going in the 2nd or 3rd round.

3. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville - score 26 out of 35

Teddy Bridgewater has been hyped as one of the best quarterback prospects in the draft, although with an underwhelming combine and Pro Day performance he has fallen a bit in many rankings. And here he sits in 3rd place in the QB traits metric. Like Garoppolo, he also has 5 out of the 7 traits on the list above, but he has different positives. He's got everything on the list except: Good Arm Strength and Good Accuracy, and this was on display at his recent Pro Day too. Never-the-less, they aren't listed as negatives which is good and he hits on the majority of the positive traits, so Bridgewater should still be an elite quarterback prospect in the draft.

4. Aaron Murray, Georgia - score 25 out of 35

In what might come as a major shocker, Aaron Murray finds his way into the top 4 of quarterback prospects. Not only that, but he has 6 out of the 7 traits of successful NFL quarterbacks, tied with Derek Carr. The only trait he's missing is good arm strength, and the reason he falls this low is because it's also listed as a negative for him. If not for that, he might be the best prospect in the draft. But don't get too excited, because there is also the issue of his torn ACL and question marks about his ability to recover from such a devastating injury. Even if he didn't have the ACL injury he would still have question marks about his size, durability and deep ball accuracy. Never-the-less, getting a generally accurate, pocket passer who is a leader, can make smart decisions and read defenses, and who can throw on the run makes him one of the better prospects by these metrics. Obviously, these metrics are blind to the ACL injury, and there is almost no way an NFL team drafts him in the 1st round because of it. But his potential is through the roof and if he can overcome the injury, he could become a very good quarterback. He could also make for a very sneaky draft pick by the Vikings with miracle trainer Eric Sugarman on staff and his extensive experience rehabbing torn ACL injuries.

5. Blake Bortles, Central Florida - score 19 out of 35

Like Garoppolo and Bridgewater above, Bortles also has 5 out of the 7 traits on the list above, but he's missing a few of the more important traits: Good decision making and good arm strength, and arm strength is actually rated as a negative for him as well, which drops him a bit. He's being hyped as the number 1 quarterback in the draft right now after an impressive combine and pro day, and possessing 5 out of 7 traits of successful NFL quarterbacks is excellent. But he falls to 5th place in these metrics because of how important those two missing traits are. Never-the-less, he'll still make for a great prospect as an accurate passer that can read defenses with an ability to throw on the run. His natural leadership ability and prototypical size gives him potential and a high ceiling as well.

6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU - score 17 out of 35

Zach Mettenberger doesn't have many positive traits, only three out of the seven, but none of the seven are listed as a negative either. His strengths are his pocket awareness, arm strength and leadership. He'll need to show that he can read defenses and make good decisions while at the same time delivering an accurate ball, but if he can develop those skills he certainly has some promise as a prospect. There are some concerns about his maturity level and injury history though, so it's not likely that he'll be drafted in the 1st round.

7. Logan Thomas, Virgina Tech - score 10 out of 35

The last surprise on the list, Logan Thomas, has only a few of the seven traits, but just barely makes the list as none of the seven are listed as a negative. He exhibits good arm strength and is a competitive and natural leader. He also has prototypical size, thus making him something of a developmental prospect, but with a lot of room to grow. He will likely be drafted in the mid-rounds, but according to these metrics he has a lot of room for potential development.

Some of you may be wondering about the elephant in the room: Where is Johnny Manziel, isn't he a top 3 quarterback in this draft? Well, not if you ask Merril Hoge! All joking aside, Manziel has been one of the most discussed prospects in the draft and he's become something of a lightning rod for discussion around here (not unlike Manti Teo and Tim Tebow in previous drafts). The fact is, Manziel has some very good traits, and some very bad traits. His proponents will be quick to hype up the positives and dismiss the negatives, while his detractors will do exactly the opposite. According to my research, the following are listed as positives for Manziel: good pocket awareness, competitive leader and ability to throw on the run. Those in and of themselves would be enough to get on the list above. However, his negatives include: lacks pocket awareness and has maturity issues. In other words, the very things he gets points for in some scouting reports are the very things he loses points for in others. His overall score ended up being 4 out of 35. But hey, that's better than Tajh Boyd and David Fales who both came out in the negative, so he has that going for him...which is nice. Manziel is a tough prospect to analyze and for every glowing scouting report I find, I find another that paints him as the quintessential bust. And the fact that he has so many negative scouting reports raises red flags for me. He just doesn't have enough positive traits listed in the various scouting reports to overcome his weaknesses. So, I think the Vikings would be wise to simply avoid Johnny Manziel altogether.

So, how does Christian Ponder stack up to this kind of metric? Well, he possessed only two of the seven traits above. This scouting report assigns numbers 4 and 6 to Ponder as positive traits, but none of the others. Even more disappointing though, numbers 2 and 3 were listed as negatives for Ponder! Running Ponder through the metric gives him an overall score of -2 out of 35, ranking him below Tajh Boyd as a prospect. Knowing what we know now after seeing him play in the NFL for 3 years it's clear he wasn't a very good draft selection. For example, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck had 6 of the 7 traits while Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton had 5. So if these seven traits hold any importance to predicting quarterback success, then Ponder should not have been drafted at #12 in the 2011 draft in the first place. He showed a few minor signs of potential, but not enough to make him a sure-fire 1st round selection.

So will the Vikings draft one of these seven quarterbacks? Or maybe a better question is actually: should the Vikings draft one of these seven quarterbacks? If the mock drafts and cumulative rankings are to be believed, then the Vikings would have their pick of the top two quarterbacks on this list as none are predicted to be chosen with the first 7 picks, and in fact, both are projected to be available in the 2nd round. With Matt Cassel as the presumed starter for 2014, whoever they draft will not be expected to come in and start right away. As I mentioned above, this could make Aaron Murray (ranked 4th above) a huge sleeper pick for a Vikings organization that has a history of turning around players with ACL injuries as he would be afforded time to rehab. Additionally it could make a prospect like Garappolo or Carr very appealing as a high 2nd round selection, since both of them grade out extremely well in this type of metric, but wouldn't have to be rushed into starting right away.

One thing to remember in all of this is that simply having these seven traits is not automatically a recipe for success. These are just the characteristics that successful quarterbacks in the NFL possessed in the past. Drafting a quarterback will always be a risky endeavor and there is no such thing as a "sure-fire, can't miss" prospect. But I believe that the seven quarterbacks listed here are prospects with minimal risk, and they seem to exhibit exactly the kinds of skills that the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL today exhibited when they were college prospects. It's also possible that the Vikings go after a quarterback that exhibits entirely different skills, and look to find traits that match what Norv Turner wants in an Air Coryell quarterback. While there is a lot of overlap in the seven traits above and the Air Coryell system, Norv likely wants a quarterback with a strong ability to read defenses, and someone with accuracy, good timing, touch and ball placement that can also lead receivers. Air Coryell quarterbacks also need to have a strong arm with a good deep ball. If we're looking for a college prospect that hits on most of those traits, look no further than Derek Carr or possibly Aaron Murray. Both have 5 out of the 8 Air Coryell traits. Good 2nd choice options include Teddy Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo and possibly AJ McCarron as they each have 4 of the 8 Air Coryell traits. If we're looking for the three best options for the Vikings both in terms of who is most likely to succeed in the NFL and who will fit Norv Turner's offense, in my opinion it should be Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater or Jimmy Garoppolo, and in that order. But I wouldn't be opposed to Aaron Murray or AJ McCarron as 2nd Tier options.

I have no idea what the Vikings will do, but I can't wait for the draft. And I can't wait to analyze the heck out whichever quarterback they decide to draft come May. Until then, let the speculation continue!

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