Evaluating a quarterback prospect is perhaps the single most difficult job for NFL personnel men to accurately complete. For every home run evaluation like a Peyton Manning, there's a horrifying whiff along the lines of Ryan Leaf. Tens of millions of dollars are invested into unproven commodities at football's most important position, and if you miss on a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft, the financial ramifications added to the poor production are likely to keep your team in the basement for the foreseeable future.
It's no wonder that NFL teams put an abundance of resources into checking every minute fact about quarterback prospects. The Buffalo Bills aren't any different this year, taking up close and personal looks at several prospects, leaving no stone unturned.
Every possible angle from which a player can be evaluated at this position is covered. Arm strength; touch; accuracy; footwork; windup; throwing motion; velocity; pocket presence; poise under pressure - I could go on, but you're already aware of the buzzwords. Then there's that ever-undefinable term, "intangibles," that serves in an attempt to separate average prospects from potentially great ones. Just how important are intangibles in a quarterback evaluation?
This is where this turns into something of an opinion piece, because let's face it - no two people evaluate prospects in precisely the same fashion. Particularly when it comes to NFL General Managers, each man will believe that he understands exactly what it takes to succeed at the position in the NFL, and many times, he'll believe he's found "his man" for the job.
There is, however, one inescapable fact here - you've got to possess a great deal of physical talent to be an above average (or, dare we say it, great) quarterback in the NFL. A player can have shortcomings. Peyton Manning has happy feet in the pocket to this day. Drew Brees isn't getting any taller. Ben Roethlisberger hangs onto the ball about as long as Rob Johnson used to. The throwing motions of Philip Rivers and Vince Young are anything but ideal.
Even with faults, these are players that are outstanding in several key areas. Nobody can diagnose a defense and make the right read the way Manning does - he's elite in the film room - and nobody is as accurate. Brees is similar, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a more fiery competitor at his position. Roethlisberger's ability to elude pressure and make plays on the move is second to none. Even with shortcomings, these are ridiculously talented players; I doubt anyone would argue that.
So when a player comes into the league carrying questions about basic playing abilities, those should be far more concerning than the intangible issues. Tim Tebow's working on his throwing motion; this is a man that does possess very good arm strength and solid touch, but he'll need time to fix his mechanical issues while learning an NFL playbook. This is a guy that positively drips intangibles, and he's still two years away from being comfortable commanding an NFL huddle. It's the same story swapping out Tebow's mechanics for Colt McCoy's arm strength.
Talent, far more than intangibles, is the main priority in evaluating quarterbacks.
But obviously, talent is anything but the whole story. The aforementioned Leaf is perhaps the most singularly talented quarterback of the past two decades. Scouts drooled over JaMarcus Russell's ridiculous arm strength, over J.P. Losman's athletic abilities and deep ball, and over Michael Vick's unprecedented playing style. Obviously, things didn't work out so well for those players. That's why intangibles are so critical to an evaluation. Does a player have the work ethic and desire to overcome his shortcomings? Does a player always strive to get better, particularly when his supreme talents are known to him? Will money change his on- and off-field behaviors? These are incredibly important questions.
Still, intangibles can be overblown. Matt Leinart's leadership capabilities were supposed to make up for his lack of arm strength. Some scouts thought that Ken Dorsey could overcome his own physical shortcomings and become a solid NFL starter. Remember Craig Krenzel? How about Troy Smith? Intangibles can get a player drafted a bit higher than they should be; that might be precisely what will happen with Tebow this year.
If you're asking me, only one "intangible" - a trait that can't be measured - truly matters in evaluating a quarterback. That's competitiveness. Not leadership abilities. Not work ethic, not what they're like in the locker room, not how they're perceived by teammates anywhere but on the field. NFL players don't need to be BFFs to come together on game days. If you find a guy that's a competitor, the rest will take care of itself. Philip Rivers is a competitor - he wins a lot of games with an in-your-face style of leadership that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Vince Young is a competitor - people question his work ethic and leadership abilities, but on game days, his Tennessee teammates rally around him to the tune of a 26-13 record as a starter. Brees, Manning, Roethlisberger - all of these players are ultimate competitors.
Competitive nature takes care of the rest. Players rally around competitors; that's a form of leadership. Competitors get the job done on game days despite their shortcomings; that's clutch play and, again, a form of leadership. Competitors come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but if a player oozes competitiveness - and let's not forget, that competitive nature needs to be paired with a sizable amount of talent - that player has a fantastic chance of succeeding in this league. Competitors win. Winning is all that matters, and takes care of everything else.
Talent and competitiveness. Leadership, locker room likability, film room work ethic - these are all secondary traits in my opinion. If a quarterback prospect has a significant amount of talent and the competitive streak to rally his troops and overcome his shortcomings, I believe 9 times out of 10 that that player will turn into something very positive for your franchise.