Before the draft I remember hearing about how glorious of a draft pick Matt Stafford would be because he had such huge arm strength. This is the lustful fawning I hear about a lot of Quarterbacks in the game or prospective QBs. Every time I hear it I shake my head and wonder how a professional level football evaluator can overlook the traits far more important in an NFL QB. When I played QB in high school my coach loved me because I had a big arm(at least I did for my age at the time). If all else failed, we had our track star wide out run a post and I just threw the ball past the secondary and he went out and got it. I wasn't a good defense reader, I was slow to make decisions on field, and my accuracy was average. I was very mobile and had the big arm which got me through at that level. At any level above that I would have been a disaster because I lacked the most important aspects of a good QB.
Being a fan of the position, and having played it some, here are my top ten traits for a successful Quarterback.
1. Decision making: A Quarterback who can make the right decisions will shred a defense. When the holes are there he will find them. If they aren't, he'll get it to the guy with the best shot at yardage. Being able to determine what will succeed and what won't in the heat of the moment is the most important trait a QB can have. All traits listed hereafter are useless if you can't make the right calls as a field general.
Best NFL example: Payton Manning
2. Accuracy/Functional strength: Once you've picked your target, you must be able to get him the ball. Sometimes being very accurate will save you from a bad decision if you can thread the ball into that tight spot you probably should not have throw to (Brett Favre). High accuracy equates to high completion percentages which equates to high production per pass play.
Best NFL Example: Chad Pennington
3. Toughness: Brodie Croyle could be the best QB on our team but no one would know it because he can never finish a game. As a QB, you have seven guys lined up opposite you whose sole job in life is to end your day. You've got to be able to take hits and get back up and lead your guys. Toughness is especially important at QB because, while other positions may substitute liberally, QB requires consistency and stability. If you can't be there most of the time, you're not going to be there at all.
Best NFL Example: Ben Rothlisburger (or Brett Favre if you still consider him in the NFL)
4. Rhythm/ Cohesion: This is easily the most overlooked/underestimated quality an QB must posess, but it's huge. A QB has to have cohesion with his receivers on an individual level. Each guy has different route running, speed, height, and leaping ability. If I'm throwing a pass of the same yardage to Darrius Heyward Bey and Dwayne Bowe, My release timing will be hugely different due to their speed contrast. Height is also huge because it drastically effects where I can place the ball in relation to a defender. QB-WR cohesion is something that must be drilled and worked on. If you're familiar with guns, its like zeroing your rifle before you go to the range.
Best NFL example: Kurt Warner
5. Pocket presence/Field awareness: A QB with high awareness will rarely be caught off guard. Sometimes the LB gets around the corner, or your fullback misses a block. If you don't notice these things you're going to get hammered. Typically a QB's ability to complete a pass while on his back is in the neighborhood of zero.
Best NFL Example: Tom Brady
6. Clutch: As Kansas City fans we had our hears broken a number of times by a particular Broncos Quarterback who seemed to overcome any deficit. He did it by activating a sense or urgency while remaining cool in the moment. These two things seem contrarian but a clutch QB can do both. Most of us get erratic when acting with urgency. For a QB, this will dampen his decision making thus making him prone to error. The clutch QB makes good decision quick, fast, and in a hurry.
Best NFL Example: Peyton Manning
7. Leadership: Guys will play hard because they want to win.
Sometimes a squad looses hope when a game or season seems lost. Coaching end when you walk onto the field so it is then the QBs responsibility to cultivate a winner's attitude. Players are also more willing to trust, follow, and believe in someone who they find to be a competent leader.
Best NFL Example: Tom Brady
8. Mobility: Plays don't always develop the way they're supposed to on paper. This means a QB has to adjust of the flly and he will probably need to move around or leave the pocket to do so. Shifty QBs have the advantage of extending the life of a pass play by evading defenders. They also have the ability to salvage a broken play by running for positive yardage. A good mobile QB uses this trait as an asset, not a crutch. This trait becomes less valuable for guys with very fast read speed and release time (see Dan Marino).
Best NFL Example: Donnovan McNabb
9. Arm strength: The most over hyped trait of them all. Having a big arm can't hurt but it will not make or break an NFL QB. The averages for yardage per completion cluster around 12 YPC. This demonstrates that a QB that has serviceable strength will be able to consistently get the job done. When considering its advantages, absolute arm strength is more useful when a QB is forced to throw from an awkward position as it will allow him to get a ball deeper without a proper foot setting. Being able to throw 70 yards is nice but its icing on the cake.
Best NFL Example: Joe Flacco
10. Speed: Another trait that is nice to have but not make or break. The utility of speed for a QB comes into play mostly when he's had the leave the pocket and needs to sprint away from a defender. Being speedy can keep you safe.
Best NFL example: Vince Young
It was painful to list Manning so many times. I can't stand him but he's outrageously good.