(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, begins a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)
OVERVIEW: It's the most important position in all of football. A team without a capable quarterback is at a major disadvantage. It’s no surprise that recent Super Bowl contenders have typically featured elite quarterbacks and the play of signal callers has continued to evolve and improve in recent seasons. Five-thousand passing yards has become a legitimate barrier to reach in a given season; Tom Brady eclipsed it in 2011.
DESIRED TRAITS: A multitude of factors go into finding a successful NFL quarterback, but no two play a more integral role in on-field success than decision-making and accuracy. Many confuse talented quarterbacks with those that can the throw the ball the longest distance (Kyle Boller infamously boasted a strong arm before being drafted in 2003) and, to a degree, athleticism, a trend that has formed more recently.
However, a quarterback who is unable to comprehend the play call, decipher the defense opposing him, efficiently make the right decision and deliver a pass accurately will not succeed. It should come as little surprise that Brady has consistently completed roughly 65 percent of his passes in recent seasons and has never thrown more than 14 interceptions in a given year.
Decision-making also relates to the ability of a quarterback to operate within the pocket. That involves understanding and sensing pressure, being able to step up into the pocket (perhaps no one does this better than Brady) rather than break outside of it and maintain mechanics under duress. Mechanics and footwork tie into each other, and are an important part of a quarterback’s success. These are two areas that coaching can truly impact; Bill Belichick was heavily involved with the tutelage of the quarterbacks during the Patriots' first Super Bowl-winning season in 2001, as the team dealt with the sudden death of quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein early in training camp.
From an intangibles standpoint, a quarterback must be confident and assiduous. He must understand every nuance of the playbook and work as hard as any of his teammates, something Brady has long been known for. Quarterbacks must be able to fight off adversity, something they’ll face in a variety of ways throughout a game, be it from an oncoming pass rusher or working against the clock.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Quarterbacks' contributions on special teams are rare, save the occasional backup who serves as a holder.
PATRIOTS TAKE: With Brady at the helm, the Patriots boast arguably the top player in all of football. Even as he continues into his 30s, Brady has seemingly improved over time, remaining as sharp as ever in recent seasons. He has the drive and competitiveness to remain elite for at least a few more seasons.
Behind him, the Patriots have a pair of younger prospects in Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett who many believe capable of developing into NFL starters. Hoyer appears to have the makeup of a starter and Mallett has impressive raw skills. Neither holds meaningful regular-season experience, but the Patriots seem to have confidence in each. Matt Cassel proved in 2008 that a lack of experience does not correlate with an inability to succeed.