Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room examines a play from Mississippi State Nick Fitzgerald’s film to explain why winning from the pocket is a vital part of NFL quarterbacking.
If you’re a 6’5, 230-pound monster of an athlete who stiff-arms defensive ends to the turf and outruns safeties in the open field, you can be a starting quarterback in college football. You may tear up the NFL Combine with your raw physical tools and earn a bump in media buzz. You may even earn playing time and help your team win if the offense is desperate enough to repurpose its offense to your athletic might.
However, if you want to earn a career as an NFL quarterback you must win from the pocket in the NFL.
This scramble to the left sideline by Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is an excellent example of why what’s “good enough” for the college game isn’t always the case for the NFL. Fitzgerald earns a first down on this play but instead of taking 2-3 dozen steps on this run, he could have move two steps to his left and led his receiver for 2-3 dozen more yards than he gained as a runner.
This is a common issue with quarterbacks with underdeveloped pocket skills. It doesn’t matter if they’re accurate when they choose to throw the ball — we often mistake accuracy from the pocket as “pocket skills.” It’s one skill but it doesn’t encompass all of them.
The most important skills from the pocket are the ability to anticipate how your routes will play out against the defense, which means identifying where the open space will be and then efficiently manipulating the defense to keep that space open.
Athletes at the quarterback position — no matter how tantalizing their physical skills, how many games they won in college football, or how “aw-shucks” their personalities may be — cannot win this way on a grand scale in the NFL.
What’s fascinating to me about this statement above is that theoretically, I believe quarterbacks like Tebow could win in the NFL on a grand scale if pro organizations opted to make them replaceable and less costly. However, it would also change the way organizations would value personnel and the unintentional effect of this model would the vast majority of wide receivers and tight ends who would not want to play for a team of this type.
It’s not the way I’d want to build an offense, but I think it could be done. Since we’re dealing with a different reality, a quarterback like Fitzgerald has a lot to learn if he wants an NFL career at this position — at least if this play is indicative of his game.
For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 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 each. You can pre-order the 2019 RSP now (available for download April 1).