Commentary

Sport Science QB combine challenge

Updated: April 13, 2011, 3:39 PM ET
By Annabel Stephan | Special to ESPN.com

Ryan Mallett, Sport ScienceKatrina MarcinowskiArkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett tests his release time and accuracy during a Sport Science test.

The NFL scouting combine is in its 29th year of evaluating talent, but even the most impressive workouts don't always translate to success on the field. Conversely, some of the league's most talented players once posted cringe-worthy combine performances. Look no further than Tom Brady's 40-yard dash and three Super Bowl titles for evidence of that.

Since it's seemingly impossible to measure the intangibles that contribute to the success of a quarterback with simple drills and tests, Sport Science and ESPN's Year of the Quarterback created our own quarterback combine to put some of the top prospects in this year's draft to the test and determine whether they possess not only the physical skills needed for the NFL but also the proper mentality and confidence necessary to lead a team.

The Sport Science combine begins in a similar fashion to the NFL combine, as measurements and jump heights are taken. But afterward, the quarterbacks begin a six-part journey through the most precise, unconventional challenge they have ever faced:

1. Mind Games

The ideal quarterback has the intelligence to understand complex defenses and game situations. In this test, the quarterback is wired up and given the simple physical challenge of waving his hand in front of a light while simultaneously answering a variety of football-related questions, such as, "What two NFL teams have a horse as a mascot?" (That would be the Broncos and the Colts, for those of you playing at home). The scientist can then evaluate his reaction time to both the light and the questions, matched with the number of correct answers. Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor was confident in his reaction time, noting, "It's very important, especially with the leap from college to the NFL. You have to throw to somebody open, you have to react quicker [and] anticipate things more than you do in college."

2. Voice Test

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett says that the most important quarterback characteristics are "leadership, maturity and being able to step into that huddle and just take command." Mallett was able to size up his own leadership skills with this test, where cutting edge voice analysis is used to evaluate a quarterback's ability to project during cadence and snap count while instilling calm and confidence within his team.

3. Acceleration Test

One of the qualities that prospects strive to improve most in the weeks prior to the combine is their speed and explosiveness off of the line of scrimmage. The NFL combine tests these skills by timing runs and measuring vertical jumps and broad jumps. If a quarterback is not a pure thrower, his success in this test is supremely important. Sport Science administers an unconventional acceleration test, setting up sensors every few yards to determine at exactly what point in a run the quarterback reaches his fastest time.

4. Mechanics Test

Accuracy and footwork are tested at both combines by a series of drops and throwing drills. The twist at Sport Science is that in lieu of receivers, the quarterback must aim at one of three sporadically illuminating rings. This drill tests the basics: reaction time, release time, arm speed and accuracy. Since the quarterback is wearing an eye-tracker, his reaction time can be calculated down to the second. When Nevada's Colin Kaepernick was put to the challenge, he locked onto his target in only 19 hundredths of a second and threw in only 375 milliseconds, making the total time from target recognition to release only 57 hundredths of a second while maintaining 90 percent accuracy. Sport Science host John Brenkus noted that Kaepernick's time and accuracy are "two of the reasons that he had a better completion percentage in his senior year than Peyton Manning."

5. Touch Test

In this obstacle, the quarterback must feather a pass over two rushing defenders into a specific target. Florida State QB Christian Ponder had an ideal trajectory of roughly 52 degrees and a velocity of 24 mph with approximately 76 percent accuracy. Ponder reveled in the challenge, saying, "As a quarterback at the NFL level, you very rarely just sit back in the pocket. You're always moving around, buying time ... you've got to move and throw on the run and receivers aren't just going to stand there. It's a very applicable drill to what we really do in a game."

6. Ultimate QB Test

This drill was created to put all of a quarterback's skills on the line and Delaware QB Pat Devlin was up for the challenge. After being wired up with FAB (Functional Assessment of Biomechanics) sensors, he then needed to drop back into a circle of infrared timing gates, each lighting up randomly. As the rusher approached him, the virtual pocket collapsed, and the timing gates illuminated to indicate which direction he had to scramble to safety. Once clear of the pocket, he was tasked with throwing a pass through a moving target. Upon completion, Devlin commented, "It's tough ... Kind of taught me not to make throws back across your body. Overall, it was very real."


It's impossible to choose a quarterback and say without hesitation that he will succeed in the NFL. Reflecting on the infamous "should we draft Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf" debate, it's intriguing to think that this type of scientific combine could potentially save teams from drafting future underwhelming quarterbacks. Only time will tell how influential these results will be on teams looking to draft the next face of their franchise.

To find out how well this year's crop of quarterbacks fared, tune in to Sport Science: The QB Combine on April 14 at 7 p.m. ET.

Annabel Stephan works in ESPN Content Development and is a contributor to "Year of the Quarterback."