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A Scout’s Take: What goes into evaluating the quarterback position

Greg Gabriel takes us inside an NFL club’s process of evaluating the most important position in sports.

NCAA FOOTBALL 2009 - Athletes Prepare for Combine and Draf Photo by Bob Leverone/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

When an NFL club is in the market to Draft a quarterback, the entire evaluation process is much more in-depth than many fans would believe. Yes, except for the remainder of the Bowl games, the College Football season is over, but when it comes to the entire evaluation process, clubs still have much work to do. In fact, it may not be until April that they finally make a decision on how to stack the quarterbacks on their Draft Board and who they may want to Draft.

With quarterbacks, it is very important to watch several games. In fact, watching a whole season in chronological order can work the best for many. Not only do we want to see games from the current season but also the previous year or maybe even the previous two years.

When I was the Scouting Director for the Chicago Bears, our scouts had to write up every quarterback in their area that they felt was a legitimate NFL prospect, starting with the first year they earned play time. Obviously, they didn't go as in-depth in the early part of their careers, but we wanted to have a running report on the top quarterbacks so we could see how they improved and developed.

Not only did we want several reports on the player, but we wanted to know and have an understanding of the system that the quarterback played in. It's imperative to know what he is being asked to do so that we have a better understanding of evaluating his play.

With most players, not just quarterbacks, clubs want several different opinions. In the end, there might be reports from as many as seven or eight different people who saw the player during his career. It is also wise to have a decision maker see the player in person at a game at least a couple of times during his final season. Why? It allows us to see how the player reacts and interacts with his coaches and teammates in both good and poor games.

There was a top QB prospect I went to see play live twice in his final year. In both games, he seldom had any interaction with coaches or teammates. After a series, he would come off the field and stand or sit at the end of the bench by himself rather than be in communication with people. That bothered me because it didn't show us what kind of leader he was. It was almost like he was a loner when he came off the field. In following his career, it took him a few years before he had any kind of success, and there is no doubt it was because he needed to learn how to become a leader. This player is still in the League, and when watching him now, he is much more involved on the sideline than he ever was in college.

Once the college season is over, a large bulk of the evaluation process with quarterbacks just begins. If the player happens to be invited to play at an All-Star game, that gives us the first opportunity to sit down and meet with the player and get to know him.

At All-Star games, clubs are afforded much more time to talk to a player than they are at the Combine. It's still not as much time as needed to get into in-depth discussions, but it's a start. With quarterbacks, the Combine is almost useless outside of the medical and physical testing (if the player takes part).

At Indy, the player may have as many as 20 interviews set up, which, of course, can be exhausting by itself, as well as the medical and physical testing (40, 3-cone, 20-yard shuttle, etc.). The media makes a big deal about the throwing session, but like I just wrote, it's useless. The player makes three throws to players he never has worked with then goes to the back of the line and waits five or six minutes to throw again. It's ridiculous, in my opinion. We get NOTHING out of it. If I were an agent, I'd never let a quarterback throw at the Combine. It's not going to help him in the slightest.

Another area where clubs will begin to do research on many quarterback prospects is by doing a complete statistical analysis of the player. We don't just look at his raw stats but break down and do a statistical review of all his throws in certain game situations. How many big plays does he come up with on first, second and third down? Is he better when throwing to his left or right? Is he more successful throwing against man or zone? And, of course, how efficient is he in big games? Some try to say that wins and losses are not a stat when evaluating quarterbacks; I beg to disagree, as great players come up big in big games.

When we are in late January up until the Draft, the coaches begin to get involved with the scouting process. Up until then, it has only been scouts and decision-makers who have written reports and seen the player. With quarterbacks, how the quarterback coach and coordinator feel about the player is very important, as they are the people who will be dealing with him the most if the player gets drafted by their team. The coaches must be sold on the player and want to work with him. A club cannot ever draft a player the coaches don't want, as it will never work. That situation will be headed for divorce quickly.

With quarterbacks, coaches begin to get involved at the Combine and at Pro Days. In the short interviews at Indy, the coach can get a feel for the player's personality and intelligence, but much work still needs to be done.

In March, during the Pro Day circuit, we often see the workouts of the top QB prospects televised. If I can give you any advice, do not put any stock into a quarterback's Pro Day.

More than any other position, Pro Days for quarterbacks can be useless. At other positions like the Oline or DLine, the NFL coaches are very involved with the workout. At a QB Pro Day, the NFL coaches have no involvement. It is a "show" put on by the player's quarterback guru and geared to show only the player's strengths. The workout is scripted weeks in advance and rehearsed several times. It's geared to make the player look great but hide and weaknesses he may have.

What is important is having a private workout with the quarterbacks. At a Pro Day, a coach or GM is lucky if he gets to spend 10 minutes with the player. At a private workout, the coaches and decision-makers get hours with the prospect. It could be five or six hours in total, maybe longer.

The first thing we do is sit down in a meeting room and just talk. Find out about his upbringing, what he enjoyed about high school, why he picked the college he went to, etc. Then we talk about his family life, what were his parents like, and whether were they supportive. Did they help in his growth as a player? Yes, these are little things but they are very important in getting to thoroughly know the player.

After we finish the "interview" process, we get more involved with football. We may ask the player to draw up on the board some of his favorite plays from the college and "walk" us through the play, telling us what the philosophy of the play is and what each player is supposed to do during the play. This gives us an understanding of how well he actually knew his offense. Trust me, there have been players who have talent, but when it comes to understanding what the play is about, he can't give the answers.

Once we get through going over his offense, the OC may draw up a few of our plays and have the player take notes. Again, the philosophy of the play is discussed, and how the play should go, including the progression, is thoroughly discussed. After the coach goes over three or four plays, he will ask the player to come up and repeat what he was just taught. He has to draw up the play and explain to the coach the progression and what every player does. This gives us an idea of how quickly the player can learn and retain.

Following classroom work, it's time to go out on the field. While a Pro Day has been scripted and rehearsed, at a private workout, the player has no idea what is coming next. The throwing part of the workout may include throwing to several receivers using the club's route tree and seeing how the player can take to the field what he had just been taught in the classroom. Again, it's seeing how quickly the player learns and retains and how he then can take it to the field and apply what he learned.

In both 2020 and 2021, there were no private workouts allowed because of COVID-19; in fact, in 2020, there were very few Pro Days before the world got shut down. Because of that clubs were going into the Draft with less information than they usually have. If you remember, it was the 2021 Draft when Zach Wilson and Trey Lance went two and three. Yes, they had Pro Days, but nothing else. There is not a doubt in my mind that had private workouts been allowed, those players would have gone much later than when they were taken.

A club may have a private workout with three or four of their top QB prospects during late March and early April. After that, they will more than likely bring in the player for one of their 30 visits. Again, it is to get to know the player very well.

Once visits are concluded, then the final stacking of the Board is done. It is then that a club finally decides what QB they really want. It's also during that time that they may decide that in order to get a certain player, they may have to make a trade to get him.

Reality is how we see many of the quarterbacks ranked now by analysts isn't close to what the real rankings will be in three to four months. Also, it's important to know that while one club may prefer a certain QB another club may rank the players entirely differently. That's why we have surprises like Mitch Trubisky being the first quarterback off the board in the 2017 draft.

While what I have written is long, it's still just a brief description of how we go through the decision-making process when drafting a quarterback. I could write double this, but I hope it gave you an idea of how thorough the process really is.