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What makes a good quarterback? NFL Analysts, fans and experts still don’t know

Quarterbacks are overrated
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) rolls out of the pocket against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photos

What makes a good NFL quarterback? 

The age-old question is one of the most hotly-debated sports questions of all time with several different answers. Traits like accuracy, arm strength, pocket awareness, intelligence, leadership, and timing are all words thrown around when discussing the overall position. 

But with the emergence of analytics in the game of football, the mark of a “good” quarterback is changing based on what people want to hear. New stats like QBR and air yards per attempt are altering the perception of players as well. With all this data and money that has been passed to the signal-callers, it’s muddied up the waters over which players are good, bad, or just mediocre. 

In the end, it’s gotten to a point where even the experts don’t even know what is a good quarterback anymore, and what traits are needed at the position. You have analysts clinging to find players who can make “every throw” and have massive arm talent but even hall-of-fame quarterbacks like Troy Aikman have been quoted saying “arm strength is an overrated measure.”

In turn, that leaves fanbases completely lost on what they actually want for their signal-caller, or what even makes a great one.

Quarterbacks have become Overrated

You hear front offices talk all the time about maximizing value at key positions. The common theme for franchises is to pay for a top corner, left tackle, edge rusher, and quarterback. These four positions make up the wealthiest of the NFL over the last four decades. 

Along the way, the quarterback position has become the most valued position because of the responsibilities trusted on the player’s shoulder. To a point, there’s no argument that the quarterback is the most valuable position. 

But when does value become too costly? Below is a list of the top five highest guaranteed contracts in the NFL this season courtesy of ESPN.com, and the records of each team currently:

  1. Deshaun Watson – $230 million – Team Record: 2-5
  2. Russell Wilson – $165 million – Team Record: 2-5
  3. Kyler Murray – $160 million – Team Record: 3-4
  4. Aaron Rodgers – $150.6 million – Team Record: 3-4
  5. Josh Allen – $150 million – Team Record: 5-1

That’s just this current season. A 15-19 record through seven weeks isn’t exactly showing the strength of valuing the quarterback position above all else. 

That leads to the next point here: are wins a quarterback stat? 

It sounds ludicrous to even harpe on a question like this, but it matters when judging quarterbacks. If wins matter as part of being a quarterback, then the careers of Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Philip Rivers, and Donovan McNabb are seen as ardent failures when it could very well be that the team around them wasn’t good enough. 

If wins don’t matter when judging the greatness of a quarterback, then the likes of Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and even Ben Roethlisberger must be brought up with the notion that the teams they were on were significantly more talented, and the key reason for their Super Bowl success. 

See the dilemma? If we judge quarterbacks based on wins, then every quarterback in the modern game is going to be overrated based on where they are paid. Even if we were to meet at the middle and say that wins shouldn’t count as a quarterback stat, but do count when talking about the greatness of a player, it ignores the very real case of roster building being a major factor in team success. 

Consider that for the last 12 seasons, an overwhelming majority of Super Bowl winners came from the team without the best quarterback in that game or season for that matter. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at it:

Year SB Champ Best QB That Year Best in SB Winning QB
2010 Packers Tom Brady Ben Roethlisberger Aaron Rodgers
2011 Giants Aaron Rodgers Tom Brady Eli Manning
2012 Ravens Peyton Manning Colin Kaepernick Joe Flacco
2013 Seahawks Peyton Manning Peyton Manning Russell Wilson
2014 Patriots Aaron Rodgers Tom Brady Tom Brady
2015 Denver Cam Newton Cam Newton Peyton Manning
2016 Patriots Matt Ryan Matt Ryan Tom Brady
2017 Eagles Carson Wentz Tom Brady Nick Foles
2018 Patriots Patrick Mahomes Jared Goff Tom Brady
2019 Chiefs Lamar Jackson Patrick Mahomes Patrick Mahomes
2020 Bucs Aaron Rodgers Patrick Mahomes Tom Brady
2021 Rams Aaron Rodgers Joe Burrow Matt Stafford

In just three cases over the last 12 years, the team with the best quarterback going into the contest won the Super Bowl. Of course, there are outliers, but the outliers are not where you actually think. 

The outlier isn’t that the worst quarterback won the title, the outlier is the best quarterback walking into that game came out victorious. 

The players around each quarterback matter far more than the actual signal-caller when we actually realize the true marks of winning football games. With that being the case, it’s clear that the quarterback position is extremely overpaid and overrated compared to what actually matters in this league. 

Zach Wilson Affect

How long is fair to determine if a quarterback will be, or is good in the NFL? 

For the New York Jets, that question will hover around their own leader, Zach Wilson over the next few years. The Jets drafted Wilson with the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Coming out of BYU, Wilson tested brilliantly in arm strength, mobility, and pocket awareness but struggled with timing and accuracy. 

After dealing with injuries in his rookie year, the Jets are now at 5-2 and Wilson is 4-0 as a starter this year while averaging under 200 yards per game, has thrown just one touchdown, and has an average QBR rating. 

Yet the true impact has come from his mobility and pocket awareness. While the Jets were plagued with a stagnant Joe Flacco, Wilson has escaped major pressure over the last few weeks that ultimately cut down on big turnovers and kept New York in games. 

With other quarterbacks, Wilson’s mobility would be a major highlight as a reason the Jets have won four in a row. For the Jets fans though, there’s plenty to be concerned about. It shows how little is known about the quarterback position where even former players are talking about it

New York Jets fans want a better passer of the football, but completely negates the fact that most pocket passers don’t have the mobility to make the most of a decimated offensive line. Mobile throwers aren’t always the most accurate either. 

So what does the Jet fanbase want? Do they want their young quarterback to grow into a polished passer, or do they want perfection right away? 

In the end, it’s clear they don’t know. Josh Allen is compared a lot to young quarterbacks who struggle in their first year but take massive steps toward improvement. It’s common to hear Twitter analysts say that Josh Allen’s meteoric rise is an outlier and not common. 

That also ignores the fact that Buffalo added a top-5 wideout in Stefon Diggs along with allowing Allen to grow. The Bills were patient with their development with Allen and it paid off. 

What makes the Jets wanting to be patient with their young, unpolished quarterback any different?

The Daniel Jones conundrum

Just how important is a coaching staff to a quarterback? To a team? The 2022-23 New York Giants are a very good example of the impact being very high.

That also rings true throughout NFL history. Behind every major dynasty, a coach and a quarterback are leading the charge: The 60s Packers had Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi, the 80s had Montana and Walsh, etc. 

But what comes first the head coach or his signal-caller? Tom Brady has won a Super Bowl outside of New England while Bill Belichick has yet to win a playoff game. Yet when comparing the roster of the Bucs and the Patriots, it’s not that close.

With Daniel Jones, he was given four years to show he can be a franchise-caliber player (Zach Wilson is only getting two) and is finally producing and winning like the Giant fanbase has come to hope for.

New York is 6-1. By all accounts, Jones has outplayed good quarterbacks like Rodgers, Jackson, and others throughout the season. Yet you have analysts nit-picking what he’s done based on passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Does this mean that Jones is suddenly a good quarterback? Was he a good quarterback before Brian Daboll became head coach?

Are you confused by all these questions?

Good. That’s the point of this. Not a single person understands what a “good” quarterback is anymore because the rules change with each particular player.

There are those in the middle ground trying to find simple ways to make distinctions, but in the end, with the way signal-callers are paid now, the outcome has never been clearer:

We have no idea what makes a good quarterback and our ability to find out in the vacuum of statistics is lost. 

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