Projecting success among quarterbacks in the NFL, Wooten said, “is as difficult as it seems.” But, he added, such incidents “are the kinds of things that you draw on.”
Intangible, hard-to-quantify attributes provide, perhaps, the biggest distinction between quarterbacks destined for busts in Canton, Ohio, and those who end up as busts. The rise of the accuracy-challenged Tim Tebow for the Denver Broncos this season perfectly illustrates the imperfect science of projecting quarterback success in the NFL.
Team executives say there remains no more difficult task, even with the development of sophisticated player evaluation tools. The NFL’s draft history proves it. John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Michael Vick and Manning share a trait with JaMarcus Russell, David Carr, Tim Couch, Vinny Testaverde and Steve Bartkowski: all were No. 1 overall draft picks. All had impressive skills. Not all lived up to expectations. Some were disasters.
“You study it, you ask questions,” former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans executive Charley Casserly said. “You try to do physical and psychological analyses. At the end of the day, you don’t know. I would challenge anyone who tells you they know. They don’t.”
The pursuit of excellence
The Redskins are expected to seek their next franchise quarterback in the 2012 draft. They and the rest of the league know that successful NFL quarterbacks require excellence in realms a stop watch can’t evaluate, against complex defenses that in many cases look nothing like what they saw in college. They need to learn, lead, direct, react quickly and stay cool regardless of circumstance. Unlike virtually every other position on the field, poise and restraint are considered more valuable than aggressiveness.
Experts say teams err in their quarterback evaluations when they fail to give proper weight to such factors, overemphasize a particular physical limitation or simply overreach in their desperation to find someone to play the most important position on the field.
“Probably half the teams in the league don’t have a good starting quarterback,” said Tom Donahoe, a former general manager and president for the Buffalo Bills and director of football operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “When you’re in a situation where you don’t have one, you’re desperate. You’re going to reach for a quarterback. Some of the guys picked in the top 10, they shouldn’t be picked in the top ten. You see it every year.”