Unlike running backs and wide receivers, rookie quarterbacks are a tougher nut to crack. There’s been some successful cases, but seldom are rookie quarterbacks immediately successful in Fantasy terms.
Even projecting over the long term is a tall order. This is the most important position in football, but your Fantasy team might not see the immediate benefits. With so many requirements to being a successful quarterback, it’s difficult to even know who is going to succeed.
JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Jim Druckenmiller, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Christian Ponder, Vince Young, JP Losman. Remember any of those guys? This is just a shortlist of highly touted and highly drafted quarterbacks that crashed and burned. It’s one of the most difficult positions in all of sports, and even harder to evaluate. A lot of what determines early success is the situation the rookie quarterback is thrown into.
Frankly, if it were easy for anyone to evaluate rookie quarterbacks for NFL teams, this would be a very different sport. It’s a fine art, and each passer has wildly different talents. Even still, a quarterback can have all the skills, and still not be successful.
It’s unfortunate for NFL teams, and Fantasy players are just as unlucky. I consider even the best rookie quarterbacks to be matchup dependent. With the right situation, they can be good bye week filler, a flyer for DFS, or 2QB leagues. But the rookie quarterback is unlikely to carry your team to greatness. The scouting conducted for this position is for future use, giving your team an idea of the potential a quarterback may reach, and is really best utilized in Dynasty formats.
Scouting Rookie Quarterbacks
Helping the Young Quarterback Succeed
The play of a quarterback is directly correlated to their Fantasy scores. If they make good decisions and make accurate and precise throws, they will score more for your team. If their passes look more like ducks flying and the ball often finds its way into defenders’ arms, they likely aren’t scoring you points either. It goes beyond individual play too. The quarterback dictates how well the offense is doing, and if he’s struggling, the offense is probably struggling too.
It’s almost a death sentence to be a young quarterback that has no help. David Carr was ruined by bad offensive line play. Alex Smith had nobody to throw to and switched offensive coordinators about a thousand times until he went to Kansas City. But when you pull up the film on a quarterback, there’s some things you can find that will be helpful down the road. Particularly for the talented young guys that might not have much for talent around them.
Being a scrambler, or even a runner, can make a difference when there is no offensive line help. The threat of leaving the pocket will keep defenders honest, and might make a defense think twice before they blitz or drop everyone into coverage. Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton were viable starters in most Fantasy formats as rookies because they were able to make plays with their feet and their arm.
Running quarterbacks also have their risks as well. Injuries can be devastating to a young quarterback’s development. In the case of RG3, it has literally shut down his career. Being a rookie quarterback that is mobile also runs the risk of being a one trick pony. When they can make plays with their feet, it can become addictive to just take off and run, instead of waiting for the play to develop.
Reading the Defense
Want to see who is really ready for NFL style defenses? It’s not an easy thing to find, but a quarterback who is able to make quick reads before and after the snap is invaluable for NFL and Fantasy players alike. It is one of the most difficult traits to look for in all of sports. Mostly due to half of the things being called out before the play are bluffs or intentionally deceiving. But watching film allows you, the viewer, to see if the quarterback actually knew what he was doing.
Watch some vintage Peyton Manning before the snap. Sure, half of the Omahas are useless and it seems like he’s saying gibberish.
But watch where he points, and the things he notices. Does the offense change formations? Is he using motion to bait the defense into showing if they are in man or zone defense? When there is a linebacker on the line of scrimmage showing a blitz, can he adjust the offensive line to account for the extra defender. These are just some of the tricks that you or I can pick up just by watching before the snap.
After the snap decisions are much easier to decipher. Is the safety crossing the middle, right where their receiver is going to be? In the read option, can they decide to keep the ball and go for a long run? Good decisions after the snap are easy to see in hindsight. Good for us amateurs, maybe not someone who plays professionally.
Now, go watch some tape on the recently drafted rookies. Clearly Manning was one of the best ever before the snap, but the skills still translate to the younger generations. College quarterbacks are asked to make some reads and adjustments. At the very least, they will make post snap decisions regarding who to throw to. Success in the NFL will require rookie quarterbacks to start seeing more of the field.
Accuracy and Arm Strength
Something else to look for on the tape is precision and accuracy. Watch Tom Brady and Drew Brees on the cusp of 40 and still tearing up the league. Why exactly? Definitely not because they can still heave the ball down field, but because they are deadly accurate. Russell Wilson is successfully transitioning to becoming a top passer in the NFL simply because he is able to make accurate passes on all levels.
There is certainly one characteristic that most every expert under the sun will agree is the most overrated. Arm strength is utterly useless unless there is accuracy and being able to read NFL defenses. JaMarcus Russell could throw the football further than Uncle Rico, but he was horrid at most everything else Oakland asked him to do.
It’d be impossible to list all of the things that a good rookie quarterback would be able to do. Other things like selling play-action, having good footwork on 3, 5, and 7 step drops, and being able to play under center as well as from the shotgun are vital for the success of a quarterback. But these are more passive skills that might not be directly scoring more Fantasy points.
Combine Scores and Wonderlics
The scouting combine is an interesting place to evaluate quarterbacks, to put it kindly. There’s a lot of tests that they do, but not many of them are actually throwing the ball down the field. If a rookie quarterback is going to be a dual threat along the lines of Michael Vick or Russell Wilson, my previous writeup on scouting running backs will be of great help.
The rules of scouting these types are very similar, but with the added pressure of needing to throw the ball. For instance, burst and agility will be paramount, so look to the split times of the 40 yard dash, as well as the 3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle.
There aren’t any “scored’ throwing events at the combine, but there is footage of the events that involve throwing, and it’s good to see who looks fluid in their throws. Robotic or uncomfortable releases will need to be corrected in the NFL. Generally speaking, the guys that are doing the most throwing at the combine are the ones that have something to prove. In all honesty, it’s probably not where you are going to find a new QB1 for the next season. Pro days are where you will see a quarterback throwing the ball around, often in a very controlled situation.
We are going to take a moment to talk about the “intangible” tests as well. Some teams love to give psychological tests to see how a player performs under stress. And don’t get me started on the Wonderlic test. Every year the confidential results are somehow “leaked.” Standardized tests are a questionable source of determining intelligence, and definitely not the best way to find the next great quarterback. It might be a bit of a red flag for someone to score poorly on the Wonderlic, but I wouldn’t pass on talent in your Fantasy leagues just because they didn’t do well on a written test.
Concluding and Utilizing
So who do I like this year? It’s tough, because the guys I see as promising will likely not be very good rookie quarterbacks. Particularly for your Fantasy team. Mitchell Trubisky could become something special, but definitely needs some coaching. I’m not sure if he’s going to get the help he needs in Chicago, but having Jordan Howard around might help too. Deshaun Watson is likely to produce right away for Houston, he’s surrounded with talent, and can make plays on his feet. He might be a deep sleeper for your Fantasy team.
Patrick Mahomes has a big arm, put up big numbers in college, but has inconsistent decision making and really needs some fundamental work. Sounds like another quarterback from the state of Texas from a few years ago. Mahomes has the blessing of sitting behind Alex Smith for a year, and learning from quarterback whisperer Andy Reid. Don’t even consider him in redraft leagues, but with time he might become the best of the bunch.
With your best Fantasy interests in mind, I’d strongly consider passing on rookie quarterbacks in your drafts this August. Consider the scouting you do to be for future use or for dynasty leagues.
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