There may be no tougher job for NFL scouts than confidently predicting whether a quarterback will make a successful transition from college.
The evaluation can be particularly difficult late in the pre-draft process, when teams have completed their game-tape studies and are presented with additional time for deep dives into all things non-physical. Such as a player's competitiveness or love of the game.
Two weeks ago, former UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. made what he considered to be an innocuous comment about Josh Rosen, his three-year starter at quarterback. Following up on an NFL Network appearance in which he said the Browns should draft Sam Darnold, and not Rosen, first overall, Mora told The MMQB that Rosen "needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn't get bored. He's a millennial. He wants to know why. Millennials, once they know why, they're good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he's a really good kid."
Mora didn't realize he had said anything remotely controversial until the comments went viral. Amidst all the ensuing commotion, one NFL offensive coordinator provided me with a reasoned response to Mora's remarks:
"The 'why' is not a bad thing. I always tell the guys to ask me why we are doing something because I definitely will have an answer for you," said the coordinator. "But (with Rosen), I question if he loves football. Is he passionate about the game? Does this guy eat, sleep, breathe football? Is he always thinking about ball? I guarantee there are not 10 minutes during any day that go by that Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Carson Wentz don't think something football. In this case I wonder: Could this guy live without football?"
Being consumed with the game is not a guarantee of success. Alumni rosters are littered with names of the well-intentioned. But Mora's comments did get me thinking about one simple -- yet complex -- question:
When evaluating quarterbacks, which personality traits are deemed most important to NFL franchises?
For answers, I contacted a handful of NFL coordinators and head coaches with backgrounds on offense. Each spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of being less than two weeks away from the 2018 NFL Draft. Their comments were about quarterbacks in general and not necessarily the prospects in this year's draft -- although there are questions about each of them, whether it's Baker Mayfield's brashness or Lamar Jackson's decision to break with NFL norms and go without an agent.
So, what are the most crucial qualities to look for in a prospective NFL field general?
Offensive Coordinator 1: "One of the first things I look for is competitiveness. That's a word that's brought up when you talk about Drew Brees and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. They hate to lose almost as much as they love to win. It was that way in high school and earlier. Losing hurt them. That's probably No. 1 for me. The kid has to hate to lose in everything that he does. He has to be driven to win."
Offensive Coordinator 2, via text: "1) Character. No shot if you don't have it. 2) Quick processor of information -- done with pre-draft techniques: tests, visits with the player. 3) What was the upbringing of the player like? Usually a somewhat-stable childhood is a good indicator. 4) Is he outgoing and a people person. I don't know many star QBs that are introverts. They may be in public, but not around teammates, coaches and staff. 5) Does he get serious when he talks football or is he just a goof-off. You want guys who are going to take the job seriously and already have a mindset of how important it is."
Offensive Coordinator 3: "You're looking for someone smart, tough-minded, confident, ultra-competitive, ability to raise up those around him, clutch/cool under pressure."
NFL clubs pride themselves on having as much information as possible when making draft decisions, but there is no real science to measuring intangibles. Times change, people change, circumstances change.
NFL head coach: "Exposure matters -- every time you meet with a prospect, it's an interview. College visits. Senior Bowl. Combine. Pro days. Official team visits. Intern drive from airport. Talk to coaches, teammates, trainers, equipment managers, secretaries."
Offensive Coordinator 3: "As [my mentor] always told me, 'If you can find someone that can evaluate quarterbacks consistently well, pay them anything they want.' "
A player wanting to be challenged intellectually was fine with each of the coaches I spoke with, as long as the QB's thirst for knowledge outside of football did not negatively impact his ability to perform on the field.
Offensive Coordinator 4: "I don't know if Jim was saying 'we didn't stimulate him enough' or maybe 'he's so smart he gets bored and wanders off.' Certainly it's not a glowing endorsement. But passion for the game is important. I don't know if it means being consumed 365 days a year at the beginning, but it's certainly close. With the real, real elite ones, it's about the game and understanding all the intricacies of playing the position and what it entails, the leadership qualities that it entails. The elites take it very seriously. They understand that they are really the CEO -- that they, the coach, the GM and the owner are tied together and they're about one thing, and that's winning championships. There's a responsibility and they take it very seriously."
At times, the coaches spoke about quarterbacks as if they were robots, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame has its share of quarterbacks who enjoyed late nights in the bar as much as they did Sunday afternoons in the end zone. Joe Namath (who played in the 1960s and '70s), Kenny Stabler (who played in the '70s and '80s) and Brett Favre (who played in the '90s and 2000s) are a few who loved to have a, um, good time on and off the field.
But those are considered outliers. Coaches point to someone like Johnny Manziel as a case study for the difficulties associated with the evaluation process.
He was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy while at Texas A&M and went on to be drafted 22nd overall by the Browns in 2014. But despite appearing to have the on-field ability to succeed, his self-admitted partying and drinking (not to mention domestic violence allegations) contributed to him lasting just two seasons before being cut by Cleveland.
He has not played in the league since but is hoping to make a comeback after, he says, cleaning up his life.
Offensive Coordinator 1: "The game has changed from the Stabler days and even the Favre days. The finances have changed, and players understand the importance of taking care of themselves to play longer. Also, defenses are much more sophisticated, which requires more study time. Coaches are asking more of them on the field, understanding the value in having a guy who can be a coach on the field. And when you talk about trying to project, you're not talking about a guy playing the position for one or two years -- you're talking about a guy you want leading your team for 10 to 12 years and winning championships. Certainly they're very hard to find, and that's why it's so important to get as close to right as possible when evaluating personality traits. But it's not a science."