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Football’s Quixotic quarterback quests – ‘The Q Factor’

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Quarterback is king in the NFL.

Strong quarterback play has always been an important part of success on the football field. But in today’s pass-prominent game, a high level of performance from the QB has become even more vital. One could make the argument – and plenty do – that the quarterback is the most important single player in professional team sports. You need a good one, if not a great one.

But how do you find one?

Brian Billick is a former NFL head coach with a Super Bowl ring and a current gig as an analyst for the NFL Network – certainly someone with some insight into the importance of having a great QB and what goes into developing such greatness. His new book – co-authored with James Dale – is “The Q Factor: The Elusive Search for the Next Great NFL Quarterback” (Twelve Books, $28), an in-depth exploration of what goes into finding and developing QB excellence.

Using the QB-heavy draft of 2018 as a jumping-off point – five passers were selected in the first round – Billick delves into the specifics of quarterback greatness and some of the tools evaluators can use to determine if the guy they see now can become what they need him to be later. With plenty of attention to detail and some great macro and micro perspectives, Billick deconstructs the path to greatness and how a little improvement in determining that path can go a long way.

There have been a handful of legendary quarterback drafts over the past 40 years. Classes like 1983 (that featured all-timers like John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly) or the more recent 2004 (offering likely Hall of Famers like Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers – the latter two still active) have provided a massive influx of talent to the position.

It’s early, obviously, but there are plenty of folks looking to add 2018 to that list. Five passers – Baker Mayfield (Cleveland); Sam Darnold (NY Jets); Josh Allen (Buffalo); Josh Rosen (Arizona); and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore) – were selected in the first round, the highest number since that legendary 1983 draft.

What Billick does in “The Q Factor” is dig into the process, offering a combination of in-the-moment analysis and hindsight to explore the relative successes and failures of these five players, from their movement through the draft process through their first couple of years in the league. Unsurprisingly – at least to anyone who has ever paid attention to the NFL – these five guys, despite sharing a first-round pedigree, take VERY different paths.

He offers up an extrapolation of the analysis that goes into choosing a quarterback. He’s unafraid of the data – after all, there’s a lot that the numbers can tell you about a young prospect – but he also places a good deal of emphasis on other, more instinctive approaches. Billick breaks down that marriage, sharing his thoughts on how to balance the two approaches in a way that maximizes potential success.

Because that’s the thing: In the end, it’s essentially a coin flip. For real – the success rate with regard to selecting a quarterback in the first round is about 50/50. And we’re not talking about a superstar – success here is defined as a guy who becomes a consistent starter in the league. Considering the value of a QB in today’s NFL, finding a way to push those odds into your favor by even a few percentage points would be a massive advantage.

Billick shares his takes on each of these passers from the time of the draft process, and to his credit, he’s honest about them – even where he turned out to be wrong. He digs into the various factors that go into making a great QB, whether they be physical aspects like arm strength and foot speed or more intangible factors like leadership and maturity. He explores how too much credence is given to some numbers and not enough to others, as well as how superb physical tools can cause general managers to overlook red flags.

(I won’t spoil his initial takes here, but here’s an unsurprising tidbit: Billick somehow didn’t anticipate that Lamar Jackson would be league MVP in his second season. Weird, right?)

From there, he walks us through the subsequent NFL seasons of each player, showing us how attitudes and understandings grow as we can watch a quarterback actually take to an NFL field and show us what he can do. It’s an interesting peek at how the feelings of evaluators evolve as players put forward their strengths and weaknesses, rendered all the more interesting by the wild journeys undertaken by these specific QBs.

“The Q Factor” is an insider’s look at the process of finding a franchise quarterback, perhaps the most important job of a team executive in today’s NFL. An elite QB can utterly change an organization’s trajectory, turning it from an also-ran to a Super Bowl champion. And while there will always be overlooked gems (Tom Brady, anyone?), the truth is that it will always make sense to look at the cream that rises to the top. It’s up to Billick and his ilk to determine if that cream is sweet or soon to curdle.

Football fans – particularly those interested in the inner workings of the talent evaluation and development process – will likely find this book fascinating. Whether your team already has its franchise passer or is still looking for the next big thing, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in “The Q Factor.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 07 October 2020 07:49


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