NFL Combine for Fantasy Football: Quarterback

NFL Combine for Fantasy Football: Quarterback

The end is near! Finally, the quarterback (QB) position. I kicked off this series by covering which drills to pay attention to at the running back (RB) position. Next, I looked at wide receivers (WR). In the last post, I covered tight ends (TE).

This piece looks at what we can learn from 2013 to 2018’s 52 combine quarterbacks that have earned an approximate value (AV) greater than or equal to 0. I pulled the combine stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com, where they’ve tracked every participant’s numbers since 2000.

Further Research

The quarterback position is almost unquestionably the single most important for talent evaluators to get “right” in all of professional sports. The future success and/or failure of coaching staffs, front office workers, and ownership groups relies heavily on finding a “franchise” quarterback.

After pulling the NFL Combine data, I wanted to ensure I wasn’t missing anything. I came across this tweet from well-respected Rotoworld football writer Evan Silva, which got me thinking:

Can I track accuracy? If it can’t be taught (as Coach Leach suggests), then we should probably weigh a player’s previous in-game performance alongside his athletic build and NFL combine performance. So I visited Sports-Reference.com’s college football site, and recorded the NCAA career completion percentage for all of the QBs in the sample.

I also found throwing velocity data from Dan Shonka of OurLads.com. I decided I wanted to know if there’s any relationship between a QB’s velocity and his potential future success, so I added that in to the sample, as well.

The Data

QB correlations

Once again, Draft Round looks like a solid indicator of potential performance. Bear in mind, quarterback is perhaps the most over-drafted offensive skill position due to scarcity. A healthy percentage of teams are constantly searching for their quarterback savior. When they think they’ve found him, they draft him early. The quarterback runs the show.

Important Drills

Looking at the NFL Combine drills first, it’s interesting that the 3 Cone drill and Shuttle Run show the strongest relationship between a good score and future NFL success. Quickness and agility likely represents a QB’s ability to move inside and outside of the pocket, keep plays alive, and find open receivers down field.

The top 3 Cone drill performers in the sample include Johnny Manziel, Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes. This is an impressive list of four quality multi-season starters (and one player who appears to have had off-field issues derail his career).

Some of the top performers in the sample in the Shuttle Run are the aforementioned Manziel, Mahomes, Mariota and Wentz, as well as Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles.

Drills Continued

The 40 Yard Dash does appear to matter. The fastest straight line speed QBs in the sample include Mariota, Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, Watson, Trubisky, and Carr.

While I’m less confident this is as important as the previously discussed drills (as the data suggests), there’s no question that QBs with rushing upside are important. Seasoned fantasy players understand this well – standard scoring awards 2.5x more points per rushing yard than passing yard. Straight line speed is definitely a factor in what a quarterback can do once he gets beyond the line of scrimmage and into open space, in that respect.

The Broad Jump as a measure of lower body strength and explosiveness is worth weighing, albeit less than each of the previous drills. The top 20 QBs in the sample posted a score of 116 or higher, so that’s your magic number to watch for at the position. Geno Smith, Mariota, Watson, Wentz and Trubisky are amongst those top performers in the drill.

Do you care how high your quarterback’s Vertical Jump is? I don’t. The data (relatively speaking) doesn’t, either.

QB Specific Traits: Accuracy & Velocity

If accuracy can’t be taught, does prior performance matter? It appears the answer is a resounding yes. The NCAA completion percentage’s correlation with future NFL success represents the second strongest (non draft round) relationship I’ve seen at all four positions. The watermark is above 62.7%. Dak Prescott’s 62.8% career rate at Mississippi State represents the dividing line between the”best” and “worst” QBs for this trait.

The 20 most accurate college QBs in this sample include Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Bridgewater, Trubisky, Geno Smith, Watson, Mariota, Carr, Jameis Winston, Bortles, Sam Darnold and Wentz. These last few years have had some of the most highly touted QB prospects in years, and many of them are at the very top of this list.

Dan Shonka’s scouting resume allows me to feel pretty good about the precision of his velocity measurements over the years. A strong velocity is over 55 mph – that’s the line that divides the upper half of the sample from the lower half. The category rounds out the top four QB traits I think make sense to weigh most heavily: accuracy, throwing power, quickness and agility.

The fastest ball throwers in the sample include Josh Allen, Mayfield, Jared Goff, Josh Rosen, Wentz, Mariota and Bortles.

The QB names you may have noticed I’ve repeated the most (Mariota, Wentz, Trubisky)? They typically end up being drafted not just in the first round, but quite frequently at or near the very top of the board. That’s the position scarcity phenomenon I referenced earlier.

Final Scouting Thoughts

We can look at statistical results and numbers all we want – we can’t completely discount the value of looking at how player’s perform on film. Talent evaluation is equal parts art and science. At least, I think it is. I don’t really know. But seriously – there’s so many factors for teams to weigh, at all positions.

Teams assess many, many things when they’re considering adding players. Personality, intelligence, athletic ability and prior performance all matter, to a degree. I think this is what makes the idea of a “perfect prospect” totally elusive. Many are overlooked – undrafted players routinely contribute to NFL teams at a high level.

Despite this, the goal is always to make the best decision you can with the information in front of you. A sustainable, repeatable process that is precise (because no one is truly accurate at this stuff) is important to establish.

As a fantasy player, you ought to do the same thing. That’s what I’ve tried to do, here. The question I set out to answer, for all positions, was this: which drills at each of these offensive skill positions relate the most with potential future NFL success? I think I have a handle on this for the skill positions in 2019. If you read through this, I hope you think you do, too.

Conclusions

The most important NFL Combine drills for QBs appear to be the 3 Cone Drill and Shuttle Run. While slightly less important, the 40 Yard Dash and Broad Jump aren’t smart to overlook.

Beyond the NFL Combine, accuracy and velocity appear far more tightly correlated with future NFL success. If a QB can’t hit his target at least 62.7% of the time, you can start to be concerned.

Thanks for reading!