What to look for most in QBs at combine workouts? You can't see it, says Fouts

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Clark Judge

Quarterback Joe Burrow won’t throw at this week’s NFL scouting combine, but so what? We know what he can do, and we know where he’s going in this year’s draft.

But what about the other quarterbacks in Indianapolis? Well, now, that’s a different story.

They’ll be measured by coaches, GMs and, yes, a national TV audience as they go through a progression of on-the-field drills, and their futures in the draft … and the NFL … could depend on how or what they do.

You'll see them evaluated for accuracy, mobility, mechanics, timing, anticipation, arm strength … I don’t think I need to draw you a picture. But it’s what you won’t see this week that matters most in a quarterback, said Hall-of-Famer Dan Fouts.

And that’s leadership.

“Without question,” the former Chargers’ quarterback said. “There’s leadership, and then there’s the depth of that leadership. There are times when you see a guy at the combine and you know his reputation and you’ve heard all about him. But then you see him walk into a room, sit down and answer all sorts of questions and not blink. You see all those things and go, ‘Wow.’

“When we do production meetings (at CBS Sports), we see guys from all different positions, and you can sort of tell the solid citizens. It’s an interesting study in personality. There are a lot of different ways to lead and a lot of different ways to measure leadership.”

Fouts should know. He was tough, courageous, charismatic and successful.

In short, he was a leader.

I covered him the last four years of his career, and what I learned then I didn’t forget: Teammates believed in him, and opponents respected him. He wasn’t the most accurate … or the most mobile … or the strongest-armed quarterback in the business. But he was one of its most fearless.

As long as he was in a huddle, victory was possible … no matter the odds.

Fast-forward to today, and it’s what makes Tom Brady so successful. When he was measured at the 2000 combine there was nothing remarkable about him other than his 40-yard dash. It wasn’t just slow. It was Heinz Ketchup slow, with Brady checking in at 5.28 seconds.

So he lasted until the bottom of the sixth round of the draft when New England took a flyer on him with the 199th overall choice. The rest you know.

Years later, I asked former 49ers’ coach Steve Mariucci how the 49ers – who drafted two quarterbacks that year – missed on Brady. He was from San Mateo. The 49ers had him in for a workout. And he desperately wanted to play for them.

So what happened? Mariucci’s answer was succinct: Brady didn’t score highly in workouts, and, like everyone but New England, the 49ers failed to account for the intangibles. In essence, he reiterated what Fouts said: If the 49ers knew what kind of a leader Brady was, they might have chosen him -- not Hofstra’s Gio Carmazzi -- as their quarterback of the future.

Which, of course, begs the question: How do you know what’s inside a quarterback?

“I’ve always believed the best test of leadership is third-and-long,” said Fouts. “Leadership is part of the position. But there’s leadership, and then there’s leadership with depth. And that comes from courage, heart and determination. And from stubbornness and perfectionism. All those ingredients go into what makes a leader on the field.

“It also comes from how do you handle failures? When you throw your third interception, you’re down by 10 and can still win the game, how do you handle that? You look around at (your teammates), and know each of those guys is hurting. But they’re hanging in there. So a lot of it comes down to heart.

“Look, you’re naturally a leader because you get the ball first and tell the guys what to do. But there are all those other things that go into it.”

Such as? Here’s Fouts’ list:

n Ball placement – “There’s accuracy and then there’s ball placement,” he said, “but I think they’re basically the same thing. In a game, a guy completes a pass 10 times in a row, and we say he’s accurate. But if there are no yards after catch, that’s ball placement. For me, ball placement means the receiver doesn’t have to reach high or reach wide or stretch for a pass, and I think that’s really important.”

n Anticipation – “This goes along with ball placement because you can overcome a lack of arm strength,” Fouts said. “In other words, you know where a guy is going and where the hole in the zone is. For me, personally, that’s part timing, reading and anticipating. So there are all kinds of things that go into it. But I mention anticipation because in a game, how much time do you have to throw? And if you don’t have a lot of time, then anticipation makes up for it.”

n Athleticism – “Athleticism can make up for it, too,” he said, “so that you can move within the pocket and get out of it if you have to. Nowadays, who knows how high that is rated because of what we’re seeing with (Patrick) Mahomes and (Lamar) Jackson and others? But I think it’s important, along with anticipation.”

And what does Fouts value least? Arm strength. He didn’t have a particularly strong arm, but he had an uncanny sense of ball placement. In fact, once when Monday Night Football filmed a Chargers’ practice prior to its next telecast, crews had Fouts stay after practice and throw a simple sideline pattern to Hall-of-Fame receiver Charlie Joiner.

There was nothing extraordinary about the route … other than this: Fouts was blindfolded before he took the snap. No problem. He retreated five steps, turned to his right and threw to a position eight yards down the field where he found Joiner dozens of times before.

The pass was on target, with Joiner cradling the pass just before he stepped out of bounds.

“I didn’t have a gun,” Fouts said. “But I learned anticipation and timing through the (Don) Coryell system and how important it was to get (the ball) out and get it to the receiver.”

And he learned well. In 1993, he was a first-ballot choice to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

Comments (1)
brian wolf
brian wolf

One of the best QBs ever ... Fouts was a great passer with a quick release and toughness ... a true, drop back from center, thrower, who loved to backpedal, a method he learned from Johnny Unitas ... Was up and down in the postseason but loved to throw the ball vertically, downfield. Today's game is horizontal ...


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