Quarterback Hot Potato

The NFL is fast. Maybe not as fast as the slap hands game or a perhaps a ninja, but it’s fast. Most of us know the speed of play increases from high school to college, and from college to the NFL. I mean, it makes sense since you’re continually whittling down the pool of athletes until you get to the cream of the crop.


Forget the probable 17th origin of that phrase, I’ll take 1987’s Macho Man interview any day.

I was reading a few NFL game recaps and kept seeing how Tom Brady has a fast release, while reading other QB’s, like Teddy Bridgewater, hold the ball for too long. But nothing fully illustrated how fast is a fast release or how long is too long to hold the ball. So my curious nature got the best of me and I went looking.

Before we get into specifics, let’s get some quick/brief background info on the elite talent that makes up the NFL.


There are about 1,093,234 high school football players. From that pool, about 6.5% (or 71,291) will actually play college football. Those numbers include students going into Division I (2.5%), II (1.7%), and III (2.3%).

Of those 71,291 NCAA football players, about 15,842 are draft eligible. So how many eligible football players move on to the NFL? Well, there are 256 draft slots. That means about 1.6% of college athletes make it to the NFL.

Source: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/football

And yes, there are undrafted athletes that get signed by NFL teams. About 600 undrafted players competed for jobs in 2012, and about 98 made a roster spot.

Source: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/22170318/undrafted-free-agents-making-big-impact-in-nfl

That puts the number around 354 spots/year. So going from a pool of over 1 million high school students to 354 makes the odds about 3 in 10,000 (or a success rate around 0.035%).

Your odds of being injured by a toilet this year? 1 in 10,000.


Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Coming after quarterbacks are elite pass rushers. And despite being mobile mountains with helmets on, defensive linemen are no slouches. They may be 250 to over 300lbs, but they’re fast.

How fast?

Well, the 40 yard dash time for an average male (depending on level of fitness and age) can be from about 5.5 seconds to 7 seconds. Here’s how NFL linemen compare:

  • 315lb Muhammad Wilkerson ran the 40 in 4.96 seconds
  • 288lb JJ Watt in 4.84s
  • 250lb Khalil Mack in 4.65s
  • 266lb Jadeveon Clowney in 4.53s.

Looking at times from the 2005-2014 NFL Combines, the average 40 time for a Defensive Tackle is 5.09s, and the average 40 time for a Defensive End is 4.84s.

Source: http://espn.go.com/nfl/draft/combine/_/id/31/year/2014

If you’re interested in a somewhat amusing video for comparison, here is NFL Network’s Rich Eisen running the 40 yard dash in 2010 in a time of 6.01 seconds…and overlayed against Combine athletes 245lb Tim Tebow (4.72s), 190lb Jacoby Ford (4.28s), and 354lb Terrence Cody (5.62s) who incidentally has the slowest 40yd dash time on record for a drafted DT.


For an NFL QB, they have 4-5 human boulders rushing at them at 16-17 mph from all sides. That’s arguably more dangerous than the one Indiana Jones had to deal with.

indiana jones

Which begs the question: how do 1,000 year old booby traps still work perfectly?

So with that speeding mass of humanity bearing down on them, QB’s need to get the ball out as fast as possible.

How fast?

Generally three seconds is too long. A QB’s aim to have the ball out of their hands in less than 2.5 seconds. That’s 2.5 seconds to take the snap, drop back while going through a progression of 2-5 receivers, make a decision on where to throw the ball, go through the throwing motion, and releasing the ball.

Go on, count that out. That’s one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mi…and the ball needs to be out.

To put it into perspective, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense struggled at the beginning of this season. Wilson was taking just over 3 seconds on average to release the ball. But, when his release quickened up to just over 2.7 seconds, the Seahawks offense started exploding.

Source: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2595198-russell-wilson-must-sustain-and-improve-on-current-form-for-seattle-seahawks

A look at top tier QB’s will show that quick releases play a significant role in success. For instance, Tom Brady has one of the fastest releases, about 2.3 seconds for many of his passes. Manning, through much of his career, has held the ball for only around 2.1-2.4 seconds.

The NFL has enacted more and more rules to open up the passing game (and inhibit defenders), and as a result, rushing the passer has become one of the sole ways to slow an offense down. So, to counter the more emphasized pass rush, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that QB time to throw has steadily decreased over the last several years. Combined with receivers getting cleaner releases off the line of scrimmage, that has helped lead to improved passing success for offenses.


So the next time you hear that the NFL is fast or that a QB is holding the ball for too long, just remember that the line between success and failure can come down to 0.25-0.5 seconds.

And that is how fast is fast.


Go ahead, count your Mississippi’s again. I’ll wa- Too late. Sacked.





Macho Man meme: http://memegenerator.net/instance/48252795
Toilet picture: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/toilet-1526495;
40yd dash source: https://youtu.be/2i28MU8-lcw
Boulder picture: https://pixabay.com/en/indiana-jones-adventure-1027203/;
Waiting picture: https://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2015/10/03/20/52/man-970350_640.jpg



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