A missing link in the QB draft evaluation process.
If you follow the draft closely, have brushed up on throwing mechanics on a YouTube podcast, or have experience playing/coaching the QB position, you know what people are talking about when they refer to ideal throwing mechanics. You know what ideal mechanics look like. You know the places to look for wasted motion (time) and wasted torque (velocity). You know that every QB is taught to throw the football with the same ideal principles in mind. If you’ve gone a long way down the rabbit hole, you also know that, of the 32 starting QB’s in the league, they all have their own set of mechanics individual to themselves. While QB’s are all taught the same principles they all end up throwing the ball with slight differences. The goal is repeatable accuracy with NFL caliber velocity. From your base, to weight transfer, to hip rotation, to core rotation, to shoulder drive, to arm whip, to wrist flick, everything is taught to be synced up to garner every ounce of torque possible. Synced up, so that it can be repeated every single play to create accuracy. This has been taught then measured and graded into QB draft grades for decades. It is important without a shadow of a doubt. It is corollary to a QBs future success. Proper mechanics are ideal in optimal circumstances.
Optimal presents a problem though.
If this were baseball and our QBs were standing on a stationary mound throwing at a stationary box, optimal would hold water. If every play presented the throwing conditions of 7 vs air, the only way mechanics should be graded would be in reference to ideal. We know, however, that a QBs life on the field is torn between optimal conditions and total chaos and chaos is becoming more common by the year. This is due to a list of factors that range from declining OL blocking technique coming out of the college zone/spread concepts and the spread influx on the NFL landscape. Chaos is quickly becoming the new normal.
Yet, we continue to grade QBs the way that we have for decades. Do they have ideal throwing mechanics? Check the box, yes or no. Examine what tweaks need to be made to make them ideal. If no, can we fix them to make them ideal or will we turn them into Christian Hackenberg? You can grade that by watching a pro-day workout and pro-day workouts are essentially useless in the scouting process. (They are there to whiteboard and interview the prospects.) Ideal mechanics are talked about as if they are the end all be all of throwing a football, yet they are only the tip of the iceberg when grading a QBs mechanics. 90% of an icebergs mass is below the waterline. (I add that in so that if you take nothing from this article, at least you learned something.I’m a walking Snapple top! Daniel Tosh)
What is the monster hidden below the waterline?
Consider this a subset of grand thesis on how we should be evaluating QB talent in the current NFL landscape. There two underlying traits with very positive success correlation that are simply not talked about. There are ideal mechanics vs adaptable mechanics. There is accuracy/touch vs ball placement instinct. Adaptable mechanics are, in their simplest definition, the ability to throw accurately with velocity amidst chaos. They are the ability to throw off your back-foot, flat-footed, on the run right or left, across your body, with varying arm angles. The ability to scrap portions of ideal mechanics while still keeping the desired results when chaos demands it. If that screams Patrick Mahomes to you, you understand why this is important. Overlooking adaptable mechanics is the reason that, allowed a team to give up on Brett Favre. Ignoring adaptable mechanics allowed Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes to slide down the draft board. They saw mechanics that were all wrong, and ignored the fact that it worked.
Let’s estimate that 50% of all offensive throwing plays go completely on script. The proper play is called or audibled to, the pocket is clean, a route in the progression gains enough separation to be considered open. That presents an easy opportunity for an easy to complete throw. Depending on a QBs accuracy, velocity and ability to read the field this play will succeed 40-49% of the time. There are another 50% that bring about a certain degree of chaos. Half of the passing plays have a pocket that doesn’t allow the QB to step up, forces that move a QB off platform, have WRs who fail to gain adequate separation or the OL completely melts down. What a QB can do in those situations is bigger defining trait than the prior 50%. If your accuracy is modest and you can only achieve 40% on script but are highly adaptable and can handle chaos at a 50% success rate, then you my friend are at 65% completion rate QB. If you are perfect in ideal mechanics and complete 49% of the easy 50% but fall to pieces when asked to adapt, you will struggle to complete 60% of your throws. It’s that simple, and it’s overlooked.
On top of that, we know that broken (dead) plays that end up in success tend to be chunk plays. Deshaun Watson lives on them. Russell Wilson lives on them. Wentz created a bunch of them in 2017 and, due to ghosts in his head because of his knee injury, did not create them in 2018. 2017 Wentz was a monster, 2018 Wentz was confusingly unsuccessful. His elite success was due to his creativity and adaptability. If you have ideal mechanics you will shred teams when you have an advantage. If you have adaptable mechanics you will cause success when your team is overmatched. The first manages the game, the second steals the game. Coaches love the former because they believe they can scheme a game to a win. They believe they have the playbook and all that they need is execution for their team to win. They want the known 50%. (Which they assume is closer to 75%) Very few coaches are superior enough, or have the roster talent, to make that a successful reality versus their competition or weekly scheme matchup. Even Andy Reid, who is a marvelous OC on a team dripping with offensive talent, wanted to exploit the uncharted 50% as much as possible.
Another aspect that needs attention is that adaptable mechanics are graded on a spectrum. No QB (other than Mason Rudolph) grades as a complete zero in adaptable mechanics. Even Josh Allen can throw moving to his right. He can’t do anything else and I urge you to watch him throwing on the move to his left, across his body (can’t open his hips) if you are in the mood for a good laugh. Poor WR has to try to catch a brick thrown at him 60mph. You can hear an audible thud as it hits the WR’s chest. Despite it hitting the WR, it was not accurate. Mahomes has set the new high water mark in adaptable mechanics, surpassing Aaron Rodgers. A QB can be far weaker than Mahomes in this trait and still grade as a positive but the grade needs to be included in the evaluation. Ideal mechanics and adaptable mechanics both matter greatly to the success of an offense, but which do you think is easier to teach? Is it easier to reign in a wild-creative QB to increase their success rate on a simple throw, or is it easier to teach a QB with ideal mechanics to throw in situations where those mechanics must be altered or will not work? It is far easier to clean up the simple throws than to morph ideal mechanics into adaptable mechanics. Have you ever seen a fast pitch softball pitcher throw a ball over-hand? Some can do it, some really struggle with it. This is the same concept. QB’s build their mechanics through repetition. You throw the ball the same way every single time. Then when you are forced to do something different the results highly vary. We train QB’s to be stationary pitchers, when they need to be trained to be mobile platform-altering shortstops. Good luck changing that.
However, there are two mechanical traits that open up the possibility of adaptable mechanics even if they are not showing on tape. If a QB has great hip rotation and wrist flick they can increase their adaptability easier. The reason for this is that no matter the throwing situation, your hip rotation and wrist flick can be present. If you can’t step into a throw you can still turn your hips and flick your wrist. If a QB can generate all the torque they need on a throw with those two pieces of their mechanics they have a chance to develop the rest. This is the case with Aaron Rodgers. He is the only QB that I know of that has dramatically improved his adaptable mechanics since entering the league. (He had a high adaptable mechanics grade at Cal but he became the best in the league mimicking Favre.)
Do you want to separate yourself from the dinosaur QB evaluators who look for tall statues with repeatable stationary mechanics? Next time you evaluate a QB prospect, ignore their completion percentage and watch for plays that go on script and ones that go off script. Evaluate them as separate entities and you will soon realize what adaptable mechanics are, and how vital they are to the success of a QB.
The game has changed. Talking about a QBs mechanics isn’t enough anymore. You need to start talking about ideal mechanics and adaptable mechanics.