20 Sep 2020

Home of the NFL Offseason

John Vogel’s Grading Scale Explained: Quarterbacks

I’ve received a ton of questions about my grading scale, how I scout players, and what I am looking for when I hit the tape. Twitter seems to be a little upset at John Vogel for some of the rankings that I dropped as I put together my 280 prospect big board after the NFL Combine. I’ve decided to release a series over the next couple of weeks explaining my process position-by-position to help enlighten my readers about what I watch for and do. Perhaps some of you will be able to learn a thing or two in this series.

Let’s start out by making one thing very clear: I am still learning myself. I am still tweaking things, talking to people more knowledgeable than myself, and soaking up everything that I can so that I can grow as a person, an analyst, and as a scout. However, this will give people an idea of where I am in terms of my knowledge as of now.

John Vogel’s Grading Scale Explained: Quarterbacks

Quarterback is one of my favorite positions to scout. Growing up, I envisioned myself becoming the next quarterback at the University of Tennessee. I vividly remember playing in the backyard, with “senior running back Marlin Lane to Vogel’s right,” working on my footwork, my release speed, and throwing at baseball helmets sitting on top of upside-down trash cans to practice accuracy. I had Joe Montana’s quarterbacking book in my personal library, a book I purchased at a used book store when I was twelve.

Obviously, a 5’6″ 135-pound kid isn’t going to play quarterback in high school, let alone in college. In Tennessee, homeschooled kids don’t play high school football either. After making a high school team, I was ruled ineligible by the local school board because of an “ineligible cover school.” I ended up teaching other kids how to throw a football instead after Church on Sundays, showing them to throw with their waist instead of their arm and finding that comfortable release angle.

Am I using this monologue to explain my qualifications to scout this position? Most certainly not. I’m not any more qualified than any other Twitter scout. Instead, I let my previous work showcase my ability to evaluate talent. 

Go look at the tweet before any of you say “What about 2017!?” The thread below it shows how I projected the three first round guys in 2017 after they were drafted. I was spot on, by the way.

So here I am now, writing about the sport that I so passionately love while evaluating other people’s talent so that the masses of fans can be informed on who their favorite team is drafting. Let’s get into this, shall we?

The base point system

As noted before in my introduction article, the quarterback position has a base point scale of 105. If a quarterback prospect was perfect and had no injury history, the perfect score would be 109. Remember, there are two potential bonus ratings in the grading system, the injury rating and the ceiling rating. If a quarterback prospect is perfect, in theory, his ceiling rating would be the minimum (+1). A perfect injury rating is (+3), leaving the grand total at 109.

The scale is divided into six parts that make up those 105 points;

Arm Talent (20 points)
Placement/Accuracy (25 points)
Pocket Presence/Footwork (20 points)
Mobility/Play Creation (20 points)
Football IQ/Field Vision (15 points)
Leadership/Personality (5 points)

Arm Talent

There really are multiple facets to my assessment of arm talent. Arm talent clearly starts with the basic principle of playing the quarterback position. Can he throw the ball?

Oftentimes, I find that people forget what the quarterback position is by getting too caught up in all of the aspects of the position. Natural arm talent is important, and it’s easy to look at a prospect on tape and determine if they can throw a football or not.

How strong is a prospect’s arm? Is his release smooth? Can the prospect throw with “touch,” and in between layers of the field? All of these things become factored into the 20 point grade at this level.

Placement/Accuracy

Placement and accuracy are the next important thing to note once you have determined the arm talent of the player. If the player can naturally throw the football, can he get the football to end up where it needs to be?

Placement is more about protecting receivers and preventing the football from being intercepted or defended by the coverage. A quarterback who places his football well is valuable in the sense that many of the prospects passes won’t have a chance of turnover and, in the process, his receivers are prevented from taking unnecessary contact while trying to make the catch. Think of a quarterback like Green Bay Packers veteran Aaron Rodgers. Yes, he’s an accurate quarterback, but his placement is what makes him a fantastic passing threat. Someone like the young Buffalo Bills quarterback, Josh Allen, who flashes the ability to be accurate oftentimes is off with his placement.

I think that there are two “styles” of accuracy, and you will see me reference those styles throughout my scouting reports. Some players that we see have “pinpoint” accuracy, the ability to place the ball very well within a small, circular area consistently. A pinpoint quarterback is someone like five-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady. His accuracy is uncanny. The other style is what I call “box” accuracy, a style where the quarterback is less accurate but can place the ball inside a larger catch radius. A perfect example of this style of accuracy is Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. He’s accurate enough, but he doesn’t consistently place the ball inside a smaller window as pinpoint accurate quarterbacks do.

This part of the evaluation is 25 points of the final grade.

Pocket Presence/Footwork

Pocket presence and pocket awareness become important traits to the quarterback position quickly. With good pocket presence and awareness, the prospect is able to position himself correctly to make the throw. With good, consistent footwork, the prospect can consistently make timing patterns a success.

Pocket presence is something that can be coached. Pocket awareness is more of a natural ability to feel what is around you. This is an important distinction.

Pocket presence is knowing how much time you have while staying in the pocket. There are certain quarterbacks who are able to use every second of the time that they have in the pocket in order to make a throw. It’s also the ability to withstand pressure and still deliver a good throw. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is one of those guys who has outstanding pocket presence and makes plays consistently because of his ability to work through pressure.

Pocket awareness is knowing where and when to move to buy extra time within the pocket. It’s that “eyes in the back of his head” trait that you hear coaches talk about. It’s a very natural thing, and can’t really be coached. Someone who was outstanding at this was Michael Vick back in the day. He had this incredible ability to know when he needed to go and he moved.

Footwork is more about the drop into the pocket from the snap. Primarily coming in three, five, and seven step drops, many throws are dependent on the timing of that drop, setting feet, and then throwing the ball to the receiver running a certain timed route. That adds another element to a quarterbacks game when he can master timing, and it starts with his footwork being consistent. Someone who was the best at this in recent memory is Peyton Manning. He had a knack for being so consistent with his footwork and always getting the ball where it needed to be at the same time every time.

This part of the evaluation is 20 points.

Mobility/Play Creation

This factor is starting to become more important across the NFL as the quarterback position has been slightly evolving over the last couple of decades. Ever since mobile quarterbacks like Roger Staubach, Ken Stabler, and into the days of Randall Cunningham, the NFL has been finding ways to make mobile quarterbacks a bigger part of the game. When Michael Vick was selected with the first overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft and later saw success in the NFL, the league started to shift to find these types of talents.

Now, we have players like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Kyler Murray in the league, players that we never would have expected to see success in the NFL just fifteen years ago. mobility is becoming a bigger part of the evaluation for NFL teams, and as a result, I made this a bigger part of my evaluation.

There are two parts to the “mobility” side of grading a quarterback; Play creation and running ability. Some quarterbacks are masters of extending plays from behind the line of scrimmage and finding an open receiver downfield. Patrick Mahomes is especially good at this.

Running ability is someone who runs well moving downfield to make a big gain on a play, as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has done for the last two NFL seasons. Its obviously a factor to scout for with NFL prospects, because it’s working in the NFL right now.

I think someone who masters both aspects of this side of the game is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Not only is he capable of extending the play and making magic happen with a throw outside of the pocket while on the move, but he is so good at running the football too.

20 points of the evaluation goes into this section of scouting this position.

Football IQ/Field Vision

A smart quarterback succeeds in the NFL with his vision and mental strength. There aren’t any times throughout history that you can point to a quarterback and say that “he couldn’t see open receivers down the field, but people loved him because he could throw the ball really well.”

Football IQ starts from the line of scrimmage. Does the prospect recognize defensive schemes and coverage’s? Can he check out of plays if needed? Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is one of those guys who is incredibly smart and can beat other teams from the line of scrimmage.

The next part of football IQ is post-snap recognition. Does the prospect adjust to disguised coverage’s? How well does he see underneath coverage? Does he move defenders with his eyes while not locking his vision onto his first read?

This is where field vision comes into play. A quarterback has to know what’s going on downfield and understand where are the safe places for him to throw the ball. This is where everything that we have talked about ties in together and it all makes sense. He knows where to place the ball because of the coverage, decides where he is going to throw the ball and how he is going to throw the ball.

This section is 15 points of the evaluation.

Leadership/Personality

Leadership is important for a quarterback to be able to command a huddle. The quarterback needs to hold everyone accountable, especially himself, because he’s the one that the coach is telling the play call. He’s the guy that everyone is getting their instructions from. The ball travels through his hands on just about every single play.

Personality has become a bigger thing over the last several years. Is he a hard worker? Does he want to play football? Is he going to be a locker room disruption? All of these questions are difficult for us on the outside to assess oftentimes, as we only see glimpses of how players handle themselves.

This section is 5 points of the evaluation.

In summary

The quarterback position is undoubtedly the most important position in football. The ball travels through his hands on every single play. As a result, it’s detrimental to an offense to have a capable quarterback on the field. Someone who can attack multiple levels of the field, protect the ball, and make sound, smart decisions all of the time.

Quarterback is the position that gets the most glory, but it’s also the position that get’s the most blame. It get’s the most attention in scouting circles because it is the position that they spend the most time looking at – because it’s the most important position on the field.

It’s hard to get this right. As with every other player and position, in the end it depends on the situation they end up playing in. Still, it’s fun to look at these prospects and project what their strengths and weaknesses are. Then, you look back years later and see how you did.

That’s what I love about this job.

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