When scouts analyze the transition of a quarterback from college to the NFL, they very rarely mention the physical mechanics that take part in making that transition. The primary reason for this is because a majority of college starters have already trimmed their throwing motion since they first picked up a football.
What’s interesting to notice though, is how some quarterbacks seem to regress or move away from a throwing motion when they first entered the league. As pass-heavy offenses evolve, the release time for the ball grows faster and faster, which might require different mechanics that a team’s quarterback will have to grow towards.
Today I’ll be breaking down the different mechanics that a typical NFL team scout would look into when scouting a college prospect.
Arm strength is, at the same time, one of the most important things a quarterback needs, but also could be looked over if another part of their game is solid. Let me break that down.
For the majority of prospects coming out of college, arm strength is one of the most noticeable things in the film. The majority of scouts hold the same philosophy where you can’t really teach strength, but you can teach game knowledge. A recent example of this is Josh Allen, where he was a raw strong-armed prospect coming out of college. Since then, he’s been refined to use his arm strength when most necessary. The reason I mention that arm strength could potentially be looked over is if a college prospect has insane accuracy and puts the ball in the right place every time. The reason that this very rarely happens is that most college games can’t showcase a player’s accuracy enough to overlook their arm strength. One of the largest transitions a QB has to make in the NFL is the ability to fit the ball in a smaller window between the receiver and the defensive back. If a college prospect showcases an incredible ability to do that, then arm strength may not be as great of a factor.
A college prospect that has performed well enough to find himself on an NFL roster is a player that has probably had their throwing motion rooted in them since high school. While a college coach may make some small tweaks here and there, most of them don’t do much to alter the throwing motion or mechanics of their quarterback in fear of ruining what “worked” (look to Tim Tebow’s time in Florida as an example).
The problem with this though, along with fitting the ball into tighter spaces, is that the release time in the NFL is shorter than in college systems. While you may have an “amazing’ college offensive line, the NFL offensive lines will definitely not hold as long. Each second matters, there is no wasted movement, and having a longer than average release time will hurt your chances of having a successful future in the NFL.
Like I said in the introduction, throwing motions still evolve, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it evolves to be “better.” To play at a high level, you need to revisit all of your fundamentals and master them. Some QBs in the NFL entered the league playing well and have lost sense of their basic mechanics, and it lowered their level of play. Not to sound pessimistic, but the tendency to grow to worse mechanics is often more common than adapting with age. This tendency includes even the greats. Peyton Manning was known for dialing up some of the most potent offenses during his time, but his last year in the league, although ending with a ring, was still abysmal.
The leadup to this came with Manning’s injuries that literally required him to tune up his mechanics. The ideal QB throwing motion is to use your legs and arm to gain the maximum strength you can put into the ball. Starting with the neck injury, Manning had to re-learn his throwing motion to use more of his lower body to propel the ball. During his time with the Broncos, Manning suffered more injuries with his foot and his quad, which completely decimated his ability to drive the ball down the field.
On the brighter side, the throwing motion is one of the most technical aspects of the game due to its ability to evolve as the player ages. On a lighter note, Tom Brady has done wonders changing up his throwing motion. Not to sound biased, but I would say that Tom Brady has one of the prettiest throwing motions in the NFL as of today.
His motion has all the fundamentals that any QB coach would teach their students. The arm coming up at a proper angle, the hip twisting to put more power into the throw, the other arm acting as a support for throwing, and, finally, the foot being planted into the ground, which is where a lot of the power into the throw comes from.
Not to sound repetitive, but from what I’m watching now, I’m both interested and scared for the QBs who break the norm for the “proper” throwing motion. Take Mahomes for example. He’s been “anti-fundamentals” for the longest time, and while I love watching him throw it on the run for 70-yards plus, I’m worried how he’ll adapt when he starts to lose that zip from using his arm only. Not driving that foot into the ground forces him to use a lot of that arm, and if that rotator cuff takes a hit, it’ll be interesting to see how Mahomes changes his game up.
Factoring into the throwing motion of a QB, the footwork and mobility aspect of the game always takes its toll on the QB as they age. Watching Lamar’s combine tape, the casters said that Lamar hardly spent any time under center at college, which is definitely an important skill to have at the NFL level. Mobility does not equal “fast” or being able to take off for a run if need be. Much like how a running back can make do with barely any gaps in the offensive line, a quarterback needs great footwork to navigate when the pocket closes up.
Personally, I’ve always loved the mental aspect when it comes to the quarterback position, but I would say that both sides of the game are very detailed. There’s a reason that the position is one of the highest-paid in the league, and also a reason why it’s hard to find the next “franchise quarterback.” There are levels to the game, and even physically, it’s still a chess match.