Ex-NFL Exec Explains How Patriots, Bill Belichick Scout Quarterbacks

Bill Belichick has strict standards at quarterback


April 22, 2021

To be a fit for the New England Patriots, a quarterback must adhere to a set of standards.

Former Patriots executive Michael Lombardi, who has worked with Bill Belichick since 1991, detailed those benchmarks on his podcast, “The GM Shuffle,” on Wednesday. The Patriots have Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala on their quarterback depth chart and should be looking for a QB of the future in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“I was thinking of this, and I went back to what we tried to do in Cleveland originally was we tried to give — and did this in every place I’ve been that I had actual say on what we were doing, certainly with Belichick was really where it all began,” Lombardi said. “But we tried to define exactly what we were looking for at the position. So, quarterback, and I’m going to read this to you:

“‘Quarterback, we wanted somebody who was at least 6027 (6-foot-2 7/8-inch), weighed 220 (pounds), could run 4.81 (-second 40-yard dash), had a (Wonderlic) test score of 25 and we understood that his decline would start at 31 (years old) and probably his career would end at 35 (years old).’

“Now, those numbers are obsolete. This was written back in 1991. So, we know that age is different. However, that being said, here’s the verbiage of what the advice was to the scouts on what they had to look for in a quarterback:

“‘We will never take a quarterback with a low test score who plays at a poor level of competition and is not capable of leading the team. Those three areas are vital to us when we’re looking for a quarterback. Without mentioning size and speed, the scout must first answer the mental and leadership question completely before you give a high grade. If the quarterback is inaccurate, this will hurt his chances of getting a high grade on our draft board. The ability to throw the ball in the right spot is paramount to the success of the quarterback. Just looking at the test score is not going to answer the problem. Be prepared to face a lot of questioning if you grade a quarterback high with a low test score. The level of comp is a tough call, but it really applies to the quarterback position. It would be difficult for a small-school quarterback to get a good grade unless he played well in the postseason.’

“So, that’s a little bit of the background. Here’s the reminders that we tried to give the scouts before they went in:

“‘The quarterback must be the hardest working player on the team. You’ve got to answer the question: Does he watch tape? Does he watch it alone with the coach? Or does he watch it with the gameplay? How much time does he spend, and how long does he need to get the gameplay? You must attend a game in person to get a feel for the player. The rhythm of the game is critical. Is he thick-skinned, can he handle the pressure of the position positive and negative? How many times does he come back and lead his team to a win? How often does he play with the lead? How often does he play from behind? When do turnover occur? Can he secure the ball? What are his cold-weather ball habits? What is his eye level like during the game? Can he see down the field? Is he quick-minded — not always book smart — we want quick-minded quarterbacks.

“‘Does he change plays at the line of scrimmage or is everything coming off the cardboard box? What was his production in college, and who was his production against? Can he throw touchdown passes, and where on the field do they go? Any touchdown inside the 5 doesn’t count. What is the main coverage he faces each week, and what percentage of completion of those passes does he throw them again? Critical play of the game, who has the ball in his hands?

“‘What is his third-down quarterback rating? Can he make plays on all downs? What was his high school won-loss record? Was he the best athlete in high school? Does he have incredible eye-hand coordination? Could he go play golf or some other sports?’ 

“Tony Romo, right? 

“‘Can he come back and be effective after a big hit? Really critical, got to watch this. What’s his body language like after being hit? How often is he in the facility? How many days a week? Is he a gym rat? What kind of ball — old, new, used, same — does he throw in practice and the game? Quarterbacks have a favorite ball, and that’s scary.’

“So, those are the reminders. That’s what we wanted in Cleveland. Now, you say test score, OK? Well, I think, to me, test score is not always indicative of how smart he is. Joe Montana was a third-round pick probably because he had a 16 test score. His test score wasn’t great. Joe Montana was a smart player. So, you can’t just look at the test score and say this guy is smarter, this guy is dumber.”

The Patriots have not always stuck to these benchmarks, but they’ve come close with the quarterback they’ve drafted. Rohan Davey, Zac Robinson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Danny Etling and Jarrett Stidham didn’t quite hit the height standard, and Tom Brady, Cliff Kingsbury, Robinson and Stidham didn’t meet the weight threshold. Davey, Kevin O’Connell and Jacoby Brissett scored below a 25 on the Wonderlic. Brady, Matt Cassel and Ryan Mallett ran slower than a 4.81-second 40-yard dash.

None of the quarterbacks drafted by the Patriots have met every single standard, but their average height, weight and Wonderlic are in line with what Lombardi described. The Patriots have been willing to take slower quarterbacks, however.

Because there was no traditional NFL Scouting Combine this season, many quarterbacks won’t take the Wonderlic test before the 2021 NFL Draft. Only the quarterbacks who attended the combine medical recheck in Indianapolis earlier this month took the cognitive test.

The top quarterbacks who could be available to New England are Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Trey Lance. Kellen Mond, Kyle Trask and Davis Mills are in the second tier of quarterback prospects.

Based purely on height, weight and speed, only Arkansas QB Feleipe Franks meets every Patriots standard at 6-foot-7, 234 pounds with a 4.61-second 40-yard dash. Jones is too short, light and slow, Fields (6026) is barely too short, Lance didn’t run a 40-yard dash, Mond is too light and short, Trask is too slow and Mills is too light and slow. Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman likely would hit the height, weight, speed standards but he also didn’t run a 40-yard dash.

Scouting a quarterback clearly is about much more than just height, weight, speed and test scores, however.

Lance is a small-school quarterback coming out of FCS North Dakota State, but he played well in the Bisons’ postseason run in 2019.

The question, “Was he the best athlete in high school?” is a notable one for Trask, who actually didn’t start at quarterback until college. He was the backup behind future Houston and Miami QB D’Eriq King at Manvel High School.

Some of the intangibles are impossible to know without honest evaluations from college coaches and teammates.

In order to take Jones, Fields or Lance, the Patriots would probably have to trade up from No. 15 overall. Mond, Trask and Mills are likely to be available in the second round. Franks is viewed as a late-round prospect.

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