Soul and Science, Expanded

NFL Network recently tested several of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft using the MotusQB technology. (We’ve linked to all the videos on our site for you.) We were excited by the great work of this team, including the analysis from Trent Dilfer and Jon Brenkus. We’re data geeks so mark us more on the “science” side of “Soul and Science” but we think there’s value in both.

 There was a lot of great data highlighted in the series, but we wanted to talk about two particular pieces of data and offer a bit of context. First, Josh Allen was highlighted for his arm strength. This is no surprise to those that saw him play or some of the deep ball porn he showed in workouts, but the data put an exclamation point on things. Allen’s fingertip speed of 75.99 mph is the second highest we’ve ever recorded with the MotusQB. (The previous high was 84 mph! That stat was by a current NCAA quarterback who we’re pretty sure we’ll see in the draft in a couple years. )

We understand that fingertip speed is a “new stat” for most so let’s give some context. None of the other Quarterbacks tested by Soul and Science got into the 70 mph range, one we seldom see. We only had one NFL quarterback last year get into the 70s, though to be clear, we don’t have all quarterbacks in this set, just the ones using the device. 

In fact, there were only a few throws in the 60s, making Allen the clear fingertip king. Fingertip speed isn’t the be-all, end-all, but Allen’s numbers are above and beyond mere variance. In our dataset which includes hundreds of high-level high school, college, and pro quarterbacks, the average for comparable quarterbacks is around 56 mph.

Another interesting data point that was highlighted during the series was that Sam Darnold had a varying arm slot. The MotusQB is very sensitive to this, so seeing a 10-plus degree change seemed significant. However, there was no indication that there was a major performance change despite the variance in arm slot. Darnold got the ball out fast with normal force. Remember, he was going through several drills designed by Dilfer to test his arm in different ways. Darnold proved that he could move the ball around and still get it out with good force. 

Looking deeper into Motus’ database, we found that arm slot is quite a bit more variable for quarterbacks than for pitchers. Just among the Soul and Science quarterbacks, there was almost a 40 degree variance in arm slot, looking at the hundreds of throws they made during the shoot. Quarterbacks aren’t performing the same skill and they’re forced to do it in different ways. A pitcher is throwing, undefended, to a stationary target. A quarterback is being chased, blocked, and tracking multiple targets downfield. It’s no wonder that there’s variance so even in a practice situation, this kind of arm slot change is not only irrelevant to results, it might be good practice! 

We were excited to work with the Soul and Science team on this great project. As we head into Thursday’s NFL draft, we expect all of these quarterbacks will be heading to an NFL career. We wish all of them luck and are here to help them with the data.