Skills a Quarterback Needs to Succeed in American Football
When scouts or coaches examine a quarterback’s potential to play in the NFL, they run down a checklist of physical, mental, and personality traits that affect a quarterback’s success on the field. The following list gives the main criteria necessary to excel. If a quarterback has five of these seven traits, he undoubtedly ranks among the top 15 players at his position:
Arm strength: Velocity is important when throwing a football because it allows a quarterback to complete a pass before a single defensive player can recover (react to the pass) and possibly deflect or intercept the ball. The more arm strength a quarterback has, the better his ability to throw the ball at a high speed.
Competitiveness: A player’s competitiveness is made up of many subjective and intangible qualities. A quarterback should have the desire to be the team’s offensive leader and, ideally, overall leader. No one should work harder in practice than he does.
The quarterback’s performance affects the entire offensive team. If he doesn’t throw accurately, the receivers will never catch a pass. If he doesn’t move quickly, the linemen won’t be able to protect him. He also should have the courage to take a hard hit from a defensive player. During games, quarterbacks must cope with constant harassment from the defense. They must stand in the pocket and hold onto the ball until the last split second, knowing that they’re going to be tackled the instant they release the ball.
Intelligence: Many NFL teams have a 3-inch-thick playbook that includes at least 50 running plays and as many as 200 passing plays. The quarterback has to know them all. He has to know not only what he’s supposed to do in every one of those plays but also what the other skilled players (running backs, receivers, and tight ends) are required to do. On some teams, the quarterback is also responsible for informing the offensive linemen of their blocking schemes.
Mobility: A quarterback’s mobility is as important as his intelligence and his arm. He must move quickly to avoid being tackled by defensive players. Therefore, he must move backward (called retreating) from the center as quickly as possible in order to set himself up to throw the ball. When a quarterback has excellent mobility, you hear him described as having quick feet. This term means that he moves quickly and effortlessly behind the line of scrimmage with the football.
Release: If a quarterback doesn’t have exceptional arm strength, he’d better have a quick release. After the quarterback raises the ball in his hand, usually near his head or slightly above and behind it, he releases, or rapidly brings his arm forward and lets the ball loose.
Quarterbacks with great releases generally are born with the ability. Average quarterbacks can improve and refine their releases, but their releases will never be great. A quarterback either has this coordinated motion between his arm, elbow, and wrist, or he doesn’t. Throwing a football isn’t a natural arm movement like slinging your arm to roll a bowling ball.
Height: A quarterback wants to be tall enough to see over his linemen — whose average height in the NFL is 6’5 to 6’7 — and look down the field, beyond the line of scrimmage, to find his receivers and see where the defensive backs are positioned.
Weight: A quarterback can expect a lot of physical contact, especially when attempting to pass. Defenders relentlessly pursue the quarterback to hit him, tackling him for a sack (a loss of yards behind the line of scrimmage) before he can throw a pass or making contact after he releases a pass.
Vision: A quarterback doesn’t necessarily need keen peripheral vision, but it doesn’t hurt. A quarterback must quickly scan the field when he comes to the line of scrimmage prior to the snap of the ball. He must survey the defense, checking its alignments and in particular the depth of the defensive backs — how far they are off the receivers, off the line of scrimmage, and so on. After the ball is snapped, the quarterback must continue to scan the field as he moves backward.