So many analysts use fancy terminology but so few fans understand the usage of words. In Scouting 1, John Vogel breaks down the meaning of accuracy vs. placement.

While watching a football game or listening to someone talk about quarterbacks, two terms often come up on the subject: accuracy and placement. Many people throw these terms around loosely, even confusing the two terms for the same thing. In Scouting 1, I want to clear this up for you immediately.

With football scouting, many people want to tell fans about what they see on the field but are limited simply by the English language. It’s easy to sound like a professional with fancy terminology and catchy keywords while describing football players. It’s harder to explain what those words mean. That’s my goal with my Scouting series, as I try to break down some of the nuances to scouting to help better fans understand the game.

What inspired this article series was, to be frank, Twitter. Every year, analysts across all websites flock to smaller, lesser-known quarterback prospects looking to hype up the next big thing in the NFL before anyone else knows about them. When they don’t play like a first-round prospect, many analysts crush them as “busts.”

Because accuracy and placement are vital parts of the position, I thought it would be a great idea to talk about the difference between the two and how we scout them. Let’s get into Scouting 1: Accuracy Vs. Placement.

Scouting 1: The most scrutanized position on the field

Being a quarterback is both a blessing and a curse to a young prospect. When things go right, they will receive most of the credit. Championship runs are often lauded by the quarterback, the leader of the offense, the facilitator of the football. They receive the awards, and they become household names.

Joe Burrow hoists the National Championship trophy following the LSU Tigers victory in the College Football Playoff over the Clemson Tigers in 2019.

When things go wrong, however, it’s a curse to be a quarterback. They are often blamed for the bad, and their team’s patience in developing in a win-now-centric sport forces them to grow at a lightning pace. For young quarterbacks, this isn’t easy to accomplish. Jumping from the high school to college game speed is a challenge for many young prospects, but the jump from college to the NFL is even crazier.

Over the last couple of decades, it’s been proven that it is nearly impossible to win a Super Bowl without a franchise quarterback. Only Trent Dilfer and Nick Foles fall outside of this category of Super Bowl winners. Dilfer quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens in a 2000 Super Bowl win over the New York Giants. Foles was the backup to franchise quarterback Carson Wentz for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.

Therefore, the search for competent quarterback prospects in college is always going and always in the spotlight.

Understanding accuracy and placement

Accuracy and placement, as mentioned before, are oftentimes confused for each other. While they are related to the same aspect of the quarterbacks game, they are different. Let’s define accuracy and placement.

Peyton Manning is “the” example of an accurate quarterback.

Accuracy is the consistency with which the quarterback can complete the football. Generally measured by completion percentage, an accurate quarterback consistently makes good, catchable throws to his receivers by making good decisions. A perfect example of an “accurate” quarterback is a legend and fresh Hall Of Fame Player Peyton Manning, who spent his career playing for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, winning two Super Bowls.

If that is accuracy, then what is placement?

Placement is the ability to throw the football to a certain spot, away from defenders, and oftentimes into tight windows. A quarterback with good placement understands how the defense is playing and throws the ball to avoid defenders and generate the best available catch opportunity for his receiver.

Scouting 1: Expanding on accuracy

Accuracy is measured in two ways, terms that I use to define the style of accuracy. I believe that there are “box-accurate” quarterbacks and “pinpoint-accurate” quarterbacks.

Box accurate quarterbacks are players who can consistently get the football to a receiver in a generic box. As the image below demonstrates, there is a general box around the target of the receiver. The receiver has a catch radius in which he can make a comfortable catch of the football. Anywhere in the box displayed would be considered an accurate throw.

However, the pinpoint accuracy, specified by the red circle, shows a much smaller window where the receiver can most comfortably catch the football. Some quarterbacks are more accurate than others and are more consistently on point with the delivery and placement of their throws.

This is where placement and accuracy are related. A quarterback with much better placement will more likely be a pinpoint accurate quarterback and have complete control of their throw.

How to understand and look for placement

Placement comes into play when looking at certain routes and how receivers open up. Defenders react to routes mostly in the same way. A quarterback understands how the route is designed to open the receiver and throws the football where the defender can’t make a play on the football. That’s placement. It’s the ability to use accuracy to his advantage and throw the football away from the defender where only the receiver can make the catch.

How do you find this while watching tape? In future Scouting articles, we will talk about the finer details of route running, which will open up more into the “placement” side of things. Right now, we’re simply trying to understand the difference between placement and accuracy better. So let’s run through a couple of examples of placement.

Placement on a crossing route

The first example that I have is a crossing route. I thought the illustration was perfect because the quarterback, the receiver, and the defender are all in the frame. The defender has reacted to the receiver running a crossing route and is playing over the top. Right now, the receiver has the defender beat. The quarterback has to put this football in front of the receiver and allow him to keep running and keep the defender behind him.

It’s worth noting that the box isn’t exactly accurate in the depiction. It’s simply giving you an idea of what would be considered good placement with the receiver.

As you watch the receiver cross the formation, make sure that you look at his strides to gauge the placement. If he has to slow down to make the catch, it wasn’t a well-placed ball. The quarterback threw it behind him.

Placement on a go route

The other example that I want to use is a go/fade concept down the sideline. This is a much more difficult throw to place well without the defender making a play.

The receiver will lean into the defender (as shown) to try and create more space for the quarterback to throw along the sideline. The quarterback wants to throw this ball over the receiver’s shoulder and into the space that the receiver has created. By the time he has the ball in his hands, he’s out of his lean and securing the ball with the space having been absorbed.

Again, watch the receiver as he tracks the ball. If he has to slow down, it wasn’t a well-placed throw. The entire goal of the go is to hit the receiver in stride.

Scouting 1: Conclusion to Accuracy Vs. Placement

To conclude Scouting 1, we’ve got some homework to give out.

Here’s an example of bad placement. This is now the Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jalen Reagor while he played college ball at TCU. Both balls are underthrown.

Now, watch one of the legends do this: Tom Brady to Mike Evans.

So many quarterbacks flash great accuracy and placement in college, but the key to an NFL quarterback is doing it consistently. It’s something that so few quarterbacks can really do.

One of the biggest mistakes that analysts make when evaluating quarterbacks is that they grade the flashes. Do yourself a favor: Don’t get caught up in the flashes.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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