Where Have All the Quarterbacks Gone?

Former pro scout Tom Marino shares his insight on the five key attributes that are critical to the success of an NFL quarterback. And he says that less than ten in today's game have the complete package. Learn more inside as he kicks off his series of features rating the NFL's quarterbacks.

Training camp kicks off shortly for all NFL clubs and although hope springs eternal in the minds of their loyal fans, in reality only a handful of teams have any real chance of advancing to the big game. Those that don't have much of a chance share one very critical factor -- the lack of a consistent, quality quarterback.

In 2007 as many as a hundred quarterbacks of all shapes, sizes, races, creeds, level of experience, from a myriad of universities will dot team rosters, but in my opinion less then ten have the position skills, experiences, and physical attributes to be considered winning quarterbacks at the professional level.

A highly respected baseball executive recently told me that most MLB pitching staffs include anywhere from two to four Triple-A players. And such is the case today with NFL signal-callers.

Over the next few days, it is my hope to give you -- the sophisticated football fan -- my views of not only what it takes to become a winning signal-caller, but who in fact are the top quarterbacks in the game today.

The prototype NFL quarterback would measure from 6' 3" to 6' 5" in height (the better to see you, my dear), weigh in the neighborhood of 225 to 245 pounds (to better able them to absorb the punishment and break secured tackles) and run in the neighborhood of 4.5 to 4.6 (to get away from the rush while also allowing them to make time in the pocket). And let us not forget -- have a 75- to 80-yard throwing range.

Sounds simple enough, but when one looks at the history of the top NFL performers at the quarterback position, few possess all of the before mentioned assets. Yeah, yeah, like you, I'm also familiar with the names John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Kelly and Brett Favre.  But trust me when I tell you, those four enormously gifted athletes and star player are more the exception rather then the rule when considering success at the quarterback position.

Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas in 1963 (AP)
Players like Joe Montana, Fran Tarkenton, Bob Griese, Bart Starr, Sonny Jurgensen, John Brodie, Jim McMahon, Joe Theismann, John Unitas, Bobby Lane, Lenny Dawson, Roger Staubach, Warren Moon, Steve Young, YA Title, and Dan Fouts were all elite quarterbacks during their playing careers, but none possessed more than one of the physical characteristics of the prototype player we described above.

Think about it, if it was all about superior physical skills and size wouldn't Ryan Leaf and not Peyton Manning be hocking every product known to mankind on the tube today?

So let's get to the question at hand.  What are the most important attributes for success at the quarterback position?

Well there are actually a number of critical factors, but after 34 years in the scouting business, I would say that the following five are most important.

The first of these is accuracy.  It might sound simplistic, but this one attribute is critical for the ultimate success at the position. Keeping drives alive and having the ability to stick the ball into a tight window is what football is all about.

The second most important position skill in my mind is actually a combination of two traits -- intelligence and playing instincts.  One's ability to process information quickly, understand route projections, read coverages (vision) and see the field are critical to a quarterback's development.

These first two qualities are followed closely by one's ability to get the ball out quickly or throwing release.  In this day of quick-hitting, high-powered offenses, it is essential not to get caught with the football. Superstars like Joe Namath and Dan Marino lacked mobility and overall foot speed, but seldom got caught with the football.

It isn't necessary to have the movement of a Michael Vick or a Steve Young, but success for quarterbacks with limited movement skills is highly unlikely. Even though many of the aforementioned players did not have what I would consider top run skills, virtually all had rush sense and feel for pressure.

The fifth and final critical factor is ones' mental toughness and the ability to perform when looking down the barrel of a gun. This particular attribute is very much an intangible and is difficult to measure or evaluate, but take this next statement to the bank: The great ones simply want the football in their hands with the game on the line.

The great British fictional writer Ian Fleming once said, "You only live twice, once when you are born, and once when you stare death in the face." He was likely referring to the mythical character of my youth, James Bond, but in my mind he just as easily could have been referring to the late game exploits of a Joe Montana, John Elway, Roger Staubach, or the late Johnny Unitas.

I know what you're thinking, this guy just listed his five most important critical factors for the quarterback position and yet he never mentioned arm strength! Listen, I understand and do realize its overall importance to the game, but to my way of thinking, the aforementioned five attributes are simply more significant to the development of a winning quarterback at the professional level. Case in point, few people have stronger arms in the game today than Ravens backup Kyle Boller or the Falcons beleaguered Michael Vick, but remember the game of football today is all about passing and not throwing.


Tom Marino is a veteran of 34 years in the player personnel field, most recently with the St. Louis Rams. He has worked in three professional leagues (NFL, USFL, and WFL), and among his many accomplishments, is credited with the discovery of Eric Swann, the first non-collegiate player since 1946 to be selected in the first round of the NFL college draft.


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