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How To Scout A Quarterback (Part 3): Velocity & Injuries

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The third part of this series, with more stats and tidbits that Pro NFL Scouts look for in scouting quarterbacks

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Part Three of this series in Quarterback scouting.

If you missed them, Part One can be found here detailing the “Parcells Rules” when it comes to the 2017 class of Quarterback prospects and looking at them in an updated context with the new CBA.

None of these QB’s hit each of the rules, but DeShaun Watson was the closest and the only one with a win total that hit Parcells’ requirement.

Last week in Part Two of the series, I entailed the physical attributes and key stats that scouts look for, including TD/INT ratio, size and number of starts.

The only Quarterback to hit each of these physical and statistical attributes was Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech.

This week, we’ll be covering velocity and ranking injury risk how the pros would on their own big boards.

Let’s start with the first of these two topics:

Velocity:

As it should with every Quarterback grade, something needs to be mentioned about ball velocity.

This year, the topic has taken on a much greater interest because nearly every quarterback who is draft-eligible this year actually threw at the NFL combine, a rarity amongst the last few classes.

And the topic is also getting more attention after some surprising results made the rounds on Twitter thanks to this tweet from Dane Brugler:

For those who don’t know, for many scouts around 55 MPH at the NFL Combine is considered the “cut-off” point for NFL-level quarterbacking.

The main idea is that if under 55 MPH, the ball may travel too slowly to its target allowing defensive backs to catch up.

But...even that statistic has been questioned, as not every Quarterback who was drafted threw at the NFL Combine. Not to mention how recent the data from the NFL Combine itself goes back that it’s been tracked for public knowledge. (As for Pro Days, their goal is to make their Quarterbacks look good so like with 40 times, they’re considered more dubious while the Combine is scientific).

Also, there are NFL Quarterbacks who are much older in the league (Tom Brady to name one) and they don’t have the greatest velocity so it’s not a hard and fast rule. But it’s quite close to it.

After all, there’s a big difference between a 38-year old Tom Brady and a 21-year old Tom Brady when it comes to the mental side of the game and the speed of the NFL. Very few of the young quarterbacks who have had 54 or less have achieved significant long-term NFL success, so it’s considered a “pass-fail” measure for a potential red flag amongst evaluators similar to a 3:1 TD-to-INT college ratio.

But let’s dig a little deeper: how does this lack of velocity affect Quarterbacks?

In a word, turnovers.

You just need to look at Peyton Manning’s final three seasons with the Denver Broncos:

2013—55 TD, 10 INT, 5.5 TD/INT ratio (incredible on so many pass attempts)

2014—39 TD, 15 INT, 2.6 TD/INT ratio

2015—9 TD, 17 INT .52 TD/INT ratio

Yeah, guess which season his arm lost its pop?

Part of the reason arm strength is important is that a few MPH can be a few yards which can be the difference between a completion, a breakup or an interception.

The other area that seeing that 55 MPH is context for what you see on film and also in a QB prospect’s decision-making.

A quarterback can throw the football at light-speed on film, or with a fluttering ball that looks like it’s traveling through molasses. They can also hurl the rock incredibly fast but nowhere near the target, while some might not have that capability but the ball gets exactly where it needs to be in time.

Quarterbacking is a science, and velocity is one piece of the puzzle that’s more meant to point out a red flag on tape and in stats and showcase some flaws.

So what does this mean for the quarterbacks of the 2017 draft class? Let’s take a look at the top performers with the context of their TD/INT ratios from last week next to them:

60 MPH: Mahomes, 3.2 TD/INT

59 MPH: Webb, 2.44 TD/INT

56 MPH: Kizer, 2.41 TD/INT

55 MPH: Trubisky, 5 TD/INT, Evans, 5.4 TD/INT

(Threshold)

53 MPH: Peterman, 2.76 TD/INT, Kaaya, 2.875 TD/INT

49 MPH: Watson, 2.81 TD/INT

-Joshua Dobbs & CJ Beathard did not throw.

  • So here we can see a fascinating divide in the Quarterbacks, as the only QB’s who hit the 3:1 TD-to-INT ratio were all at 55 MPH and above. This shows part of the significance of velocity. And it’s another good mark for Mahomes.
  • Patrick Mahomes’ incredible 60 MPH and low turnover ratio demonstrate that he makes better decisions with the football than one might expect from a “gunslinger” stereotype. He has the arm strength to fit balls into tight windows but isn’t overly confident to where he turns the ball over enough to worry NFL scouts.
  • That said, two of those QB’s had only one season starting (Trubisky and Evans) but they still protected the ball well and part of that is due to making good decisions and accurate, high-velocity throws.
  • As for Webb and Kizer, both had quite low TD-to-INT ratios despite having high velocities. What might this indicate?

Well, it could be a red flag mentally about their decision-making, or perhaps a lack of command and touch. Indeed a lot of the questions for Deshone Kizer revolve around questionable decisions and costly interceptions, and Webb is no different. That said, his final season in which he hit a 3.2 TD-INT ration does reflect positively on his growth.

  • Neither Webb nor Kizer hit the 63% accuracy mark as well, which could show scouts to go back to the tape and check for balls sailing overhead or underthrows on deep passes that DB’s could pick off. All of these are reasons why velocity needs CONTEXT.
  • Peterman and Kaaya, both coming in under, also failed to hit their turnover margins, and it’s possible that they don’t have the velocity and decision-making to be more than strong backups at the next level.

Now, the big question.

What does this mean for one Deshaun Watson?

He threw well under the 55 MPH threshold, after all. And he didn’t hit the TD-to-INT ratio and threw a LOT of picks while he was at Clemson.

Some draft experts (and likely even some scouts) have been known to cross players off their board for going under 55 MPH (and indeed, there’s pretty high correlation for unsuccessful quarterbacks and quarterbacks who throw below the threshold)

But there’s still perspective to be gained: up until more recently, many of the top QB prospects didn’t throw at the Combine at all and while it’s a measure of turnovers, ball speed can NOT compensate for throwing with touch, accuracy and anticipation.

What I think it does mean for Watson is this:

You can expect him to turn the ball over at the next level more than you might like.

There’s not another way around it.

But...

I don’t think that this alone dooms him as a prospect. It just means that he’s going to have to throw with more touch, anticipation and placement to keep the ball away from defensive backs, especially on deep throws.

Some scouts will definitely disagree, but I’d argue that we’ve seen older quarterbacks have success due to their mental acumen. The problem is the amount of pressure this would put on Watson from an early stage while he’s still developing if a team expects him to be their savior at quarterback.

And while a Tom Brady might have years of experience and knowledge of his system, Watson’s going to have to reach that level of excellence in his game VERY QUICKLY in order to thrive, so there will definitely be some growing pains.

He might be too big a risk to many with this new information.

But here’s perhaps the best thing he has going for him: remember earlier we were talking about Peyton Manning’s 2015 season with the terrible TD-to-INT ratio?

Guess who won the Super Bowl that year?

Peyton Manning.

Guess who’s been to the last two National Championships, winning one?

Deshaun Watson.

That fact that Watson was able to perform and play Quarterback against tough competition is a big plus for him, but the NFL is a different animal.

Time will tell but I don’t think the red flag of Watson’s low velocity completely rules him out as a top Quarterback prospect.

What it just means is that he will have to work even harder more quickly to adapt to life in the National Football League to see success at the next level. Fortunately, his work ethic and character gives him a chance for this. The rest will be up to fate.

Now, let’s move on to the second part of today’s article: how do teams rank players with injury and off-field concerns?

Injuries & Character Flags

NFL teams DO actually have a color-coded grading scale for players, more than just the term “red flags”. And they do it on the same spectrum. Here’s the breakdown for what each color means:

  • Players with no minor injury or off-field history are labeled as green.
  • For off-field incidents, they rank players from Orange to Black (black being more severe)
  • For injury concerns, they rank players by color coding them from Blue to Light Blue (depending on the number and severity of the injury and missed games)
  • For players with both injury AND off-field concerns: the scale goes from Brown to Dark Red to Red, with red indicating a player with multiple major injury issues and multiple off-field incidents. Basically, the undraftable grade.

Below is an example of what this would could look like:

What this does, in part, is categorize prospects in part based on risk.

Character does count in the National Football League, as does availability, and based on my experience, most teams will have a color assigned to each player on their draft board.

Now, some teams will differ in how seriously they treat these flags.

The Arizona Cardinals, for instance, took Robert Nkemdiche this past draft and likely categorized him as Light Orange with several instances but they corrected their mistake (hence his marijuana bust and fall from the window being this incident).

And that’s not even counting Tyrann Mathieu, who was a Black and undraftable for many teams. But the 49ers did the same with Aldon Smith and....well...yeah.

Character counts.

A team might also overlook injury history when taking a prospect, which is bound to happen with John Ross’s 40 yard dash being a 4.22 despite having 2 ACL tears. Some players bounce back in the NFL while others remain brittle.

Below are a few quick bullet points about this year’s QB class from an injury and character perspective.

  • Originally I listed Patrick Mahomes as a Green flag, but upon learning more about his suffering multiple shoulder injuries (including his throwing shoulder) in addition to surgery on his left wrist, he slips to a Dark Blue. The fact that his combine re-check on his wrist went well and that it was his non-throwing wrist will help, although if teams believe that his shoulder injuries will exacerbate it might be a concern. Personally, I think that having less designed runs in the NFL might help avoid this but it’s still worth noting.
  • Jerod Evans tore an ACL freshman year.
  • Deshaun Watson missed time freshman year due to a broken bone in his hand and a torn ACL (which he incredibly played on) but then played through the next two seasons injury free, likely giving him a Blue color for most teams. Jerod Evans, who likewise had a similar significant injury freshman year, would also be given this color coding.
  • CJ Beathard missed time with injuries and would likely be given a Light Blue grade despite minor injuries and a game or two missed...because of hernia surgery and overall him having what seems to be a bad back.
  • This would also be the case for Davis Webb, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury after 8 games and also has had surgery on his shoulder. He’s likely to get a Dark Blue grade similar to Mahomes (who stole his job incidentally due to that ankle injury) but it’s notable that, unlike Webb, Mahomes missed no time at all.
  • The quarterback who stands out here would be Chad Kelly, who has had multiple off-field incidents even after his transfer to Ole Miss and also has had two major injuries, having torn his right ACL twice. Kelly will, by the NFL grading scale I was given, be handed a RED FLAG by most teams and I will expect that he goes undrafted, unless the Bills decide to spend a late Day 3 pick on him in part due to his bloodlines.
  • The Quarterbacks who don’t have as many injury concerns include Brad Kaaya, Mitch Trubisky (who sat for three years) and Josh Dobbs, although they do have a few bumps and bruises, with some concussions for Kaaya and Dobbs, reportedly. Kaaya missed a game while Dobbs played through it.

Next time I’ll definitely be showing the grades for a QB’s “Level of Competition”, and I’m excited to share the numbers I’ve been collecting with you all.

Any thoughts about velocity or injuries? Feel like Watson’s a must or is he going to bust? Share your thoughts below in the comments section!

-You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter.

UPDATED: Added information for Mahomes, Davis Webb’s season-ending ankle injury and Josh Dobbs.