Listening to the Whispers: Changes to 2015 RSP — Quarterbacks


Last week, I made changes to my scoring criteria for the RSP. This week, I share them with you.

Appreciating the Subtleties of Life

I’m learning to listen to the whispers before the voices become shouts. I believe there’s enormous power in becoming a dedicated observer of subtlety. This is especially true when it comes to your physical and emotional being.

10 years ago, I was an assistant director at a private company that was in the call center business. I was responsible for setting and maintaining quality standards for our 50-plus call centers around the United States.  I worked in a historic building that was once a mill during the Civil War. With the exception of the C-Suite, my office constructed of brick and exposed ductwork with  a gorgeous view of a deck along a river where hawks would perch on the deck rail with a fresh catch from the river was the envy to all in corporate.

I was 35 years old and I was unhappy.

For years leading up to that moment I wasn’t listening to the whispers — especially those expressing of dread on Sundays about the upcoming Mondays. So it became time for my psyche to pump up the volume.

One winter morning around my 35th birthday I was driving to work and when I began to experience this irrational sense of dread the closer I got to the office. It wasn’t a panic attack –I wasn’t short of breath or feeling any symptoms of anxiety. It was a strong flash of intuition — a feeling of absolute certainty that I could not be in the office that day.

However, I’m almost as stubborn as I am intuitive. I’ve never been one to miss a day of work — I once worked two weeks with mono (before it was properly diagnosed)– so I parked, walked into the office, and hoped that the feeling would fade away.

It didn’t. I sat at my desk for 15 minutes, unable to start my day because I was having the kind of feeling that you hope you don’t get when you’re an experienced traveler sitting at the gate at the airport and everything in your being is telling you not to board that plane.

I got off that plane.

I called my boss, told him I wasn’t feeling well, and was leaving for the day. I went home, holed up in my bedroom, and watched a movie — Spike Lee’s 25th Hour

If you haven’t seen the movie, Ed Norton plays a convicted New York City drug dealer who is 24 hours from beginning his prison sentence and he’s tying up the lose ends of his life on the outside as he says goodbye to his friends and loved ones — played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, and Bryan Cox. Despite the fact that Norton’s character Monty Brogan deserves his conviction, there’s a subtle message in the film that makes you question whether the impending punishment fits the crime. I think the fact that Lee casted Norton as the lead makes this an even more telling statement about U.S. drug laws.

I could say a lot more about this movie, but it’s the ending that really got to me. I won’t spoil it, but hard-earned redemption is a key theme. While watching that movie over and over that day I knew that I needed to change my life within the next 12 months.

I initiated many changes and other changes happened as blowback to my decisions. Some of those changes were among the most difficult I’ve had to go through as an adult. But you’re not living fully if you’re not changing or evolving on some level.

One of the easier changes in hindsight was creating the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. I developed a scoring methodology and database for the RSP in 2005 and I began studying film for the 2006 NFL Draft. One thing you learn about when you’re living a life that you don’t want to lead is the value of persistence — if you manage day in and day out in a reality that you dislike, you should discover that the persistence to stick with something that you like is worth the long journey.

Fast-forward 10 years, and I am happy. Corporate America is my past, football is my present, and the RSP is looking a lot like my future. There’s a lot more I could share about the craft and business of starting an online publication devoted to scouting football talent, but that’s for another time. I’d rather write  about the whispers I’ve been listening to as a talent evaluator and applying to the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

Some of these changes I considered making as far back as 5-6 years ago, but I wanted to wait a few years before officially implementing them. In other words, I wanted those whispers gain enough volume to sound like a voice at  a substantial volume, but not a shout.

All checklists still score on a 100-point scale, but I have made alterations to the criteria and scoring in several places. Today’s post is about changes to my quarterback evaluations. I’ll also have posts about my changes my evaluation process for receivers, tight ends, and running backs.

Quarterbacks: More Detail and Pass/Fail


I have added/altered over 10 criteria points and three pass/fail components to my quarterback evaluations for 2015 season (and beyond). Let’s go through them one at a time:

  1. Added: Touch – This is a lot like vision for a running back. There are multiple components to the concept of touch, but the simplest explanation I can deliver today is that touch is an accurate decision-making process of how to target a receiver. Does the quarterback place enough arc on the ball when called for? Does he know when he needs to fire the ball on a line drive? And when he has an options of where to place the ball, does he make the optimal decision to help his receiver and the outcome of the play?
  2. Added: Anticipation – A quality prospect must display a sense of timing when it comes to his targets. Good anticipation is not only important to distance throws where he must lead the receiver to run under the ball and maintain stride/separation on the defender. Short routes such as screens, swing routes, and intermediate patterns like wheel routes require a fine sense of timing as well. There are plays where the line between what constitutes touch and anticipation blurs, but this is also true of vision and agility with running backs. If you can separate the components then you can have an easier time pinpointing where certain problems exist and how troublesome they are for a player.
  3. Deleted: High Completion Rate – Bill Parcells’ criteria for scouting quarterbacks got a lot of airplay 3-5 years ago. One of his points was a high completion percentage for college quarterbacks. I get what Parcells was trying to do — set a filter so he didn’t have to spend too much time looking at passers that were unlikely to qualify as potential draft picks for his teams. You can’t look at everyone. However, I see this as a correlation is causation argument that I don’t want to incorporate into my evaluations. I’m not on a team with a travel budget or managing a schedule of evaluators and I don’t need to exclude whom I’m studying in this way. While I expect that passers with lower completion rates are unlikely to earn starting jobs in the NFL due to a number of reasons I’ll see with other criteria points in my evaluations, I’d prefer to remain open-minded to the rare cases where there may be exceptions to the rule.
  4. Added: Accuracy Moving Right/Left (Intermediate Targets): My original evaluations included these points for short targets, but I’m also adding them for the intermediate range of the field. I split the point totals in half for the short-range categories to include these. I considered deep targets, but decided that there are maybe 5-7 plays a season where a quarterback is asked to roll and throw deep on the move.  Until it becomes a staple of offensive football, I’m not including it.
  5. Deleted: Good Drop Depth – This is the outcome of drop back mechanics. In its place I added criteria that creates a good drop.
  6. Added: Drop Spacing – The amount of space with each step is appropriate and helpful to accurately execute the varieties of drop backs from center, pistol, or shotgun.
  7. Added: Drop Pacing – The quickness and sharpness of the quarterback’s steps while executing a drop.
  8. Added: Proper Weight Transfer With Delivery – I’m sure my colleagues who are quarterback coaches and trainers could deliver a novel on how this works, but I’m looking for players that show the basic ability to drive the ball with some economy of motion. Even good prospects need refinement in this area, but I at least want to see the basics in action. It demonstrates how much a player has addressed fundamentals.
  9. Added: Consistently on The Same Page as Receivers – When quarterbacks and receivers have issues communicating route adjustments, the quarterback owns some of the problem. It’s not a section where I mark off a lot of points, but it’s worth noting — especially when I see those same receivers on the same page with a new quarterback and that quarterback having issues with a new set of receivers. Good communication is vital for a quarterback.
  10. Added: Doesn’t Freeze Under Pressure – When defenders reach the pocket a quarterback cannot lose his concentration on the task of finding the open man. He can address the pressure, but he still must maintain his focus down field. It’s a lot like juggling. You don’t stop moving the left hand because of what you need to address with the right hand. Quarterbacks who freeze under pressure, drop their eyes from the coverage and in some extreme cases, hunch over and prepare for contact well before it reaches them. Sometimes this happens so early in the play that the quarterback had time to make another decision to avoid the contact.
  11. Added: Pass/Fail to Freeze Under Pressure – I have not seen a successful pro quarterback who consistently froze under pressure as a collegian. There may be exceptions, but after 10 years of studying quarterbacks I have not see it yet. If a quarterback does not earn a “Yes” in this category, he’ll fail the evaluation. I’m still working on how I’ll use this for my rankings, but the simple answer is that all the players that pass a pass/fail element will be ranked above the ones that fail it.
  12. Added: Doesn’t Overreact to Pressure – Some quarterbacks try to break the pocket or turn from pressure when there’s room to make a more efficient adjustment.
  13. Added: Pass/Fail to Overreact to Pressure – While there are NFL quarterbacks that on occasion overreact to pressure and still have successful seasons as NFL starters — Matt Ryan and Michael Vick display this issue with varying degrees of reaction and frequency. However, Vick had unheard of athleticism and Ryan only has this issue with a very specific situation involving interior pressure — most successful quarterbacks do not have this habit at the college level.
  14. Added: Pass/Fail to Senses Pressure – If I’m adding pass/fail to how quarterbacks react to pressure it only makes sense to add this pass/fail element to the ability to sense pressure as it reaches the pocket. Failing to feel pressure in the pocket is much akin to an aspiring musician with a poor ear.

More on Pass/Fail

I considered giving zeros to the overall score of an evaluation where a quarterback fails one of these elements, but decided it was too punitive a measure. I may choose this option one day, but for now I feel best about subtracting the points for that particular criteria and marking the overall evaluation as failed. It means a quarterback could score a 95, but if he overreact to pressure I’m failing him.

Those of you reading the 2015 RSP in April will see a report that shows which quarterbacks failed the pressure sections and why. Because I’m still keeping the overall scores, you can also see their potential if the passer addresses this issue (as doubtful as it may be) or joins a team with a great offensive line and quick-passing system that masks this issue (also rare).

How This Changes My Evaluations

More details give my evaluations great depth and clarity. It also broadens the distribution of points. I actually like a wide distribution of points because I believe there is no single template, formula, or track that makes a good player. There are varying archetypes of players on a football field — often classified within the same position. Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Steve Young, and John Elway represent four different quarterback archetypes.

As an evaluator, you have to be open to the ranges of players that can be successful. Sometimes those players have flaws that migth not work as well in some systems but can be masked well in others. Creating an evaluation that gets too narrowly focused on finding that “secret formula” that will unlock the mysteries of the quarterback prospect universe can make contribute to a classic case of overfitting.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.


6 responses to “Listening to the Whispers: Changes to 2015 RSP — Quarterbacks”

  1. In your evaluation process it looks like you are building toward something like necessary and sufficient conditions to be an NFL quarterback. Coming up with the criteria for what skills would be sufficient to make a successful quarterback seems like it would very difficult given the different types of passers who have had success. Are you looking at creating a set of disqualifying conditions that would give you some confidence in declaring a prospect will not succeed as a pro quarterback?

  2. […] Listening to the Whispers: Changes To RSP Quarterbacks and Running Backs — Matt Waldman — As someone who edited him for a number of years, I think one of Matt’s best traits is his ability to tell stories. Even though there wasn’t much actual change in his running back evaluations, the story alone was worth the click. Also: I have lately become obsessed with creating better systems in my life. When the best time is to shower, or whether I should eat before or after I do a little morning workout. The way Matt is double-checking his evaluations reminded me a lot of me double-checking my own self-evaluations. […]

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