NFL quarterbacks ranked from the best perceived leaders to the worst

By Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers
February 03, 2016

In their new book This is Your Brain on Sports, L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers challenge conventional wisdom, uncover the hidden influences in sports and use reams of data to investigate questions that tug at every fan.

In one chapter, the authors set out to explore a long-standing myth: Are quarterbacks really the most attractive players on the gridiron? They asked 100 respondents (a mix of males and females) to rate the attractiveness of each quarterback who opened the 2014 season as their team's starter. Each photo was cropped at the neck so no team uniform was visible. They wanted respondents to be unaware that they were looking at NFL players, much less quarterbacks. As a point of comparison, other position groups were added into the mix (starting with wide receivers and defensive backs).

The search—which yielded surprising results—led to another interesting discovery. After rating the attractiveness of each player, respondents were asked to rate the strength of his leadership skills. Quarterbacks consistently rated as the strongest leaders, even though none of the raters knew the faces belonged to QBs. Could a simple head shot really convey enough information for raters effectively to differentiate players by position? 

For further confirmation, the authors refined the test, asking respondents to rate the photos on a 1-10 scale (10 being the highest) in five categories: leadership, intelligence, confidence, poise and social skill. The five ratings were combined into an overall score of perceived leadership quality. The results are listed below, with the quarterbacks ranked from the best perceived leaders to the worst.

How does the five-trait average of perceived leadership qualities in quarterbacks (the number listed below the quarterback's name) correlate to NFL success? With the exception of a few outliers, it passes the eyeball test. The more a QB looks like a leader, it seems, the more successful his track record tends to be.

(Note: The below is a ranking of the 32 starting QBs heading into the 2014 season so teams may differ from current roster situations.)

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