While it may seem impossible to limit necessary positional traits to just three, there is a case to be made for how important these traits really are. Of course, they are constantly changing as the game evolves. That evolution will lead to some surprises on the list below but rest assured, as any good scout does, I attempt to back my opinion with evidence and facts. This isn’t to say that a lack of these traits can’t be overcome. However, good to rare compensating factors are a requirement if you don’t have them.
Athletic Ability- I’d argue that AA is bordering on absolute necessity for the QB position. The game has changed. No longer are we only asking QB’s to sit back and just dice up the defense. AA makes you versatile, it makes you unpredictable, and it creates opportunity when there is none in the pass game. From a front office perspective, a young, athletic QB buys you time. They can develop as a passer and win games in the process (see Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson).
Accuracy- Accuracy is, and always has been, the single most important trait a QB possesses. Consistently placed footballs cannot be understated. Most offenses can’t overcome a missed gimme. As the game has evolved, easy throws are more frequent (see Kyler Murray in AZ). Inability to consistently place the football makes for inefficient offenses like what we are seeing in PHI with Carson Wentz.
Decision Making- Turnovers are one of the biggest predictors of W/L in the NFL. Win the turnover battle, increase your odds substantially that you’ll win the game. Evidence of the direct correlation between turnover margin and wins can be found here. It’s that simple, make good decisions as a QB and win more games.
Route Running- Beyond almost anything else, RR is the single most important factor in creating separation and making yourself a viable target on a play-to-play basis. While speed, acceleration, and change of direction are coveted traits for the WR position, it’s route running that you can’t live without. It allows you to set up defenders and find open space. Most importantly, it allows for proper timing and trust with your QB.
Hands- Pretty simple, if you can’t consistently catch the football, you can’t play WR at a high level in the NFL. There is no compensating factor for a lack of hands, no matter how much of an athletic freak you are.
Instincts- full disclosure, I am partial toward instincts at the WR position. Any number of traits could be listed here, it’s a bit of a pick your flavor. In my opinion, instincts are a must. It’s a bit all encompassing but I’ll do my best to highlight some of the intricacies here. Instincts can be evaluated in how a player attacks vs a particular leverage, how they work to find soft spots in zone coverage, how they maneuver their body in relation to the defender prior to a contested catch. It’s the innate things a WR does to gain an advantage on a particular play.
Hands- This particular trait was my inspiration for this post. Why do some elite testers like Eric Ebron, Evan Engram, and David Njoku fail to live up to the hype while guys taken in the later rounds like Mark Andrews, George Kittle, and Austin Hooper have found success? The obvious answer is the ability to consistently catch the football. The latter group clearly have the requisite AA to play the position but what they also have is trust from their QB’s and coaches because of their ability to consistently secure the football. Hand dexterity, much like speed, is something that truly cannot be taught (or developed at this level).
Separation or Contested Catch Ability- One or both traits are essential to have true value as a pass catching TE in the NFL. TE’s primarily do their work in the MOF (middle of field) where they are required to either find space or learn to consistently secure the tough grab. Separation can be created with speed, agility, size, or RR. The more traits you have, the more separation you’re likely going to create. If you can’t separate, you’d better be able to utilize your size/frame to gain advantageous positioning and/or absorb a big blow.
Blocking Effort/Toughness- One of the hardest things to find is a competent blocking TE. To be brutally honest, the bar is very low. That isn’t to say there aren’t great blocking TE’s (watch George Kittle with SF or T.J. Hockenson at Iowa). It is to say, however, that players like Kittle are the exception, not the rule. What TE’s are asked to do requires a truly rare player. They are consistently forced to block DE’s and 3-4 OLB’s that even the best offensive lineman struggle to contain. They are asked to create movement in the run game and stall a pass rush vs someone that anchors against guys 50lbs heavier than them for a living. An impossible task. Which is why effort and toughness are so important. Losing your assignment is almost inevitable but losing with dignity requires requisite effort and toughness.
Vision- You can’t hit what you can’t see. As in, you can’t hit a crease or attack a defensive vulnerability if you do not see it. Vision is essential for a RB. Don’t believe me? Go re-watch some Trent Richardson tape. Creases are small and gaps are tight at the NFL level. Nothing destroys a coaches confidence in a RB more than seeing missed opportunities in Monday mornings film session.
Balance- I would dare to say that every great RB has this trait in common. To have great balance requires that you have skills in many of the RB traits necessary for success. It requires great footwork, pad level, hip flexibility, strength, and instincts. To be able to feel approaching contact and adjust accordingly. To be able to alter path with efficiency. To stay square while adjusting your lower half. Balance is truly an essential trait. Look no further than the best RB in the game right now, Nick Chubb (watch Kareem Hunt while you’re at it).
Pass Blocking- If you can’t pass block, you can’t stay on the field. It’s as simple as that. It is a passing league, RB’s must be able to sort, find assignment, engage, sustain, and finish blocks.
Adjust Ability (Lead Blocker)- A fullback that can’t alter path has no value on a 53 man roster. It is an absolute requirement that the FB can alter course as the play develops. Plays infrequently go exactly to plan, understanding how to position your body to win blocks is a must but that does you no good if you can’t also adjust and execute.
Vision- Much like RB, the FB must be able to locate assignment and identify the best path forward.
Athletic Ability/Versatility- The game has changed. Versatility is a requirement. With AA comes versatility. Todays FB doesn’t look like those 20 years ago because they aren’t asked to do the same thing. Just look at the best FB in the game, Kyle Juszczyk. The ultimate swiss-army knife. Asked to lead block, run the ball, and release into patterns. To be able to align in a variety of positions and provide a mismatch option in the pass game. He is one of the main reasons SF can be so multiple. And to think how many people scoffed at the 4 yr 21M contract he signed in 2017. I’d say it was a worthy investment.
Balance- Athleticism at OL is nothing without balance. Defenders ability to manipulate lean and force lineman to their heals or toes is the art of a quality rush. A lineman’s ability to withstand the rush and maintain a proper base is essential to handling good speed or power. Without balance, you can’t sink to anchor or redirect on a counter. It is the most important trait for a quality offensive lineman.
Foot Quickness- A close second to balance is foot quickness. It’s critical in both phases. Particularly as more teams move away from a straight power scheme and toward more zone schemes. The ability to reach, cutoff the backside, or climb to the second level are directly reliant on good foot quickness. Foot quickness also assists in creating power/movement in the run game. In the pass game, foot quickness is required for proper depth to cut off speed, to redirect and mirror counter moves, or to engage in space on screens.
Latch- While foot quickness helps you engage and balance helps with sustain, latch helps you finish and win blocks. Strong grip and proper hand placement allows lineman to control and steer defenders in both phases. In the run game, a strong latch puts lineman on the offensive. It allows for total control and they potential for huge lanes. In the pass game, it’s the great equalizer vs speed or power. Get a proper latch and eliminate a defenders progress. Of note, a latch without moving your feet is a guaranteed hold.