Prayag Verma | Thursday, November 07, 2013 | No comments

A quarterback starting the Super Bowl is, on average, the eighty-fourth player drafted. This is based largely on his college career. So why are some quarterbacks more successful as professionals than they were in college?

A quarterback has the ball for about ninety seconds each game, during which time the best quarterbacks make seven successful passes per ten attempts. The worst quarterbacks make five successful passes per ten attempts. Those two extra passes are mostly a result of faster thinking, and the faster thinking is mostly a result of better studying.

How fast does an expert quarterback think?

He has less than one second to solve his first problem: How many opponents are trying to stop him from throwing the pass? Three or four is normal. More than that is a “blitz,” a metaphor of war taken from the German tactic of overwhelming force called blitzkrieg. If the quarterback sees a blitz, or if the line of teammates protecting him has been breached, he must make a quick pass, take evasive action, or sacrifice himself to keep the ball.

If he judges he will survive, he moves on to his next problem: where and when to throw. Potential receivers are spread across the 160-foot-wide field running planned, assigned routes. Each route includes an agreed upon moment when the receiver will turn and look for the ball. The quarterback must gauge each receiver’s prospects. Who is in pursuit? Who can interfere? His decision is based not only on position but also on speed and direction. The fastest receivers run nineteen miles per hour — faster than an Olympic sprinter starting the 100 meters. The quarterback can throw the ball at fifty miles per hour. He must predict what each receiver’s situation will be when the ball arrives. He must think about this while moving and avoiding collisions, and with an obstructed field of vision. If he takes a fraction of a second too long, his options collapse. Opponents converge. Receivers exhaust their routes. On most plays he has fewer than three seconds to make a decision and act.

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