Toughness at the quarterback position is not only a virtue but an intangible metric that prospects are graded on. RSP writer David Igono’s examination of for LSU passer Max Johnson reveals why toughness can’t be a thrower’s leading trait.
Some peple say the most important thing a fighter can have is heart. Frankie’d say: Show me a fighter who was nothing but heart and I’ll show you a man waiting for a beating.
– Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris, Million-Dollar Baby
The never-ending search for determination and grit from quarterbacks creates a cottage industry of narratives. These tales obscure what’s essential to quarterbacking: Efficient processing of decisions at the position.
For a position as complex and dynamic as quarterback, toughness as a leading trait is usually a foil for deficiencies in other areas. Max Johnson may develop into a competent signal caller but it’s less likely to happen if he continues to choose playing tough ahead of playing fast.
Johnson, who is leaving LSU and entering the transfer portal must get stronger, improve his arm strength, and deliver with anticipation. These deficiencies lead to a reluctance to let the ball fly until he is comfortable with the leverage that his target has on the coverage.
This would be sensible if the leverage that Johnson needs to see allows him to anticipate that target coming open. Instead, Johnson is compensating for this lack of anticipation by waiting as long as possible for comformation that the route is open and he’s paying the price in the pocket.
Johnson gets hit too much as a quarterback at a premier school.
Johnson has the matchup and time to release the ball and let his receiver make a vertical play. Instead he waits until he sees the receiver stack the defensive back. That additional pause allows for the pressure to get home and alter the accuracy of the target.
There is a clear distinction between bravery and unnecessary exposure to danger. Johnson’s toughness isn’t in question, yet his ability to anticipate opportunities downfield might be.
Johnson is capable of diagnosing coverage but his physical capacity to execute the offense is lacking. In the following clip, Johnson’s body lets him down despite an effective read.
His arm strength is lacking. He doesn’t transfer enough power from his legs and core and results in a throw lacking the velocity required for a vertical route at the boundary.
What should have been a 19-yard gain for the offense is a pass break-up for the defensive back.
We see a similar scenario below in the redzone. If Johnson trusts his eyes sooner this is a touchdown:
At the very least, quarterbacks have to be competitively average at a lot of skills. They must have a baseline of mobility. They must dissect coverage. And they must show composure and poise.
No matter the offense or the down-and-distance situation, quarterbacks must make throws that force a defense to respect what he’s capable of doing. This contributes to the effectiveness of other plays.
If you’re a fighter with a weak right hand — so weak that it’s not worth respecting its potential power — the opponent will allow you to hit with that punch if it means it puts him into position to do what he wants. It also means he doesn’t have to account for it when he’s on defense or offense.
Johnson’s game allows opponents to dictate more often than he does. He is delivery lacks quickness and and compactness. Moreover, he’s a lefty, and a lefty with an elongated throwing motion is a hinderance to optimal processing speed.
Still, it’s not a career-killer for Johnson. He just has to trust what he sees. The ensuing clip illustrates that Johnson can make intermediate throws in traffic with authority when he’s confident and immediate with his decisions.
Johnson took a lot of punishment this year and toughness is a desirable trait for quarterbacks. We’re eager to anoint prospects as worthwhile players becuase they take punishment valiantly.
We have to be careful to not fashion a narrative around this behavior. Otherwise, we’re prone to making subjective assumptions about a player’s worth. Withstanding punishment is admirable but it’s more productive to avoid punishment and manage pressure.
Johnson has enough tools to land at a new school and be effective. His future depends on his ability to improve the speed and confidence he has with reading coverage.
The more reps a passer can have, the more likely it is for him to become acclimated to what defenses throw at him. Johnson won’t have those reps if he’s not figuring out how to avoid punishment due to indecisive play.
If he gets stronger and processes faster, he’ll have a fighting chance to follow his father, Brad, to the NFL.
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