Updated: Apr 12
I hope you never use those words again after you read this article.
Most of you already know this, but the NFL is a completely different league than the NCAA. Every single QB in the draft is leaving whichever system they played in to enter a completely new system at the professional level. Sure, pro-style or west-coast offenses exist in college and some schools use them and some don't. Yes, some programs clearly prepare quarterbacks more than others. But all 32 starters in the NFL had to learn a new system when they got to their team. Why do we assume that some of these upcoming rookies can't do that?
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning played in a system in college. Then they played in a different system when they got to the NFL. They adapted. They were great.
When I hear an analyst say someone is a "System QB" I hear "he isn't capable of adapting to the NFL." That feels a little personal, if I am being honest. "Other QBs from his school have failed so he is likely to fail". Has every Michigan QB since Tom Brady been successful? Every quarterback is different. It is really hard to make it in the NFL. Let's not hinder their chances by labeling them with a nonsense slogan.
What is a "System QB" anyway?
The talking heads like to throw this term around to deflate their view of potential for various reasons. A good example right now is CJ Stroud. Before Justin Fields, there was a handful of OSU QBs that didn't adapt well to the NFL - at least not as well as they had previously done in the B1G TEN. The Ohio State "system" earned a bad connotation after different analysts had been burned hyping up Buckeyes before the draft. So when Justin Fields came around, he actually lost some stock because of the Ohio State "system". Now that we see Justin Fields can be good in the NFL, that "system" stigma has less weight. People don't know what to think about CJ Stroud. Is he a "system" QB or an exception like Fields? The truth is they are two completely different QBs who will be in completely different systems in the NFL
If a "System QB" was a real thing, wouldn't we see a lot of QBs coming from the same schools or coaches? A handful of schools saw 2-3 formal signal callers start in the NFL this past season, but 20 different guys that started at least one game were the only NFL starting QBs from their college this year. You could argue that there were at least 30 different "systems" represented at the starting QB position in the 2022 NFL season. No school has a perfect system. No school has a system that cannot possibly translate to the NFL. ALL GOOD QUARTERBACKS CAN ADAPT TO A NEW SYSTEM.
But, there really are some systems that don't translate.
False. Stop it. Get that out of your head. And before you bring up Wing-T programs, those quarterbacks are running backs - completely different conversation.
It is often said that some of the highest pass rate teams in the country are simply "college systems". To me, that's just an ample sample size of tape. What's wrong with that? Some excel in those systems and some do not. The ones that excel shouldn't be excluded from NFL consideration simply because their system doesn't always yield show-stopping professionals.
Between 2006-2008, Graham Harrell threw for over 15,000 yards and 134 TDs for the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Everyone, including me, was amazed. He got to the NFL and struggled. Oh, the Texas Tech "system" from the late great Coach Mike Leach "doesn't work" in the NFL. Fast forward a few years and we have Patrick Mahomes coming out of Texas Tech...playing in the system Mike Leach coached Kliff Kingsbury under, who had taken over as Head Coach at Texas Tech.
Mike Leach then went on to Washington State where he ran a similar "system" that "didn't work" in the NFL. Yet, somehow, his "system" yielded multiple NFL starting quarterbacks that came out of Washington State.
NFL scouts don't care about labels. They are paying attention to the stats and tape that they believe matter. However, front offices do care about public perception. When teams, like the Colts, have a high pick - they feel the pressure of getting the guy that's good enough to be drafted in that spot as well as the guy the people want to see.
Where you play college ball matters, but it doesn't limit what you can do with your NFL opportunities. I am in the middle of my annual pre-draft QB series. I typed up my honorable mentions the other day and my 10th-6th rankings will come out tomorrow. I cannot wait to share my excitement about Clayton Tune - quarterback from Houston.
All good quarterbacks can adapt to a new system. I enjoy trying to find the best quarterbacks from college football. Not necessarily the best teams or programs. Not necessarily the most athletic or flashy players. I just like trying to find the best quarterbacks according to the stats and the tape. If that sounds like a good plan to you, sign up for our free newsletter - a lot of content coming in the next few weeks.