Quarterback mechanics are misunderstood. By and large, the quarterbacks who get ripped for having poor mechanics are those who occasionally have egregious errors, but those who consistently have subtle miscues can fly under the radar. It’s easy to identify glaring mistakes in mechanics because everyone has a general idea of what throwing a football should look like, so major mistakes rarely go unnoticed. However, it is the more subtle errors that tend to lead to more questionable placement on a play-to-play basis.
The difference between occasionally miserable mechanics and consistently flawed mechanics is similar to what @BeauxJaxson has said about “inaccuracy” and “inconsistent accuracy.” In short, the idea is that some quarterbacks can have incredible ball placement, but be inconsistent with it, a la Cam Newton. Conversely, other quarterbacks consistently put the ball in a catchable spot, though it often restricts yards-after-catch opportunities and forces acrobatic catches because the placement is not ideal, much like Kirk Cousins. Mechanics have the same dynamic.
DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes have both caught some flak this draft season because of their alleged poor mechanics. Mahomes has been more of a victim of this label than Kizer, but both of the young passers have been questioned for their mechanics. It’s true that both of them have head-scratching errors in their mechanics, but for the most part, they maintain sound mechanics on a play-to-play basis.
This is a glaring miss by Mahomes. Had Mahomes hit the throw in stride, the receiver could have beat the safety lurking over the middle (#13) and possibly taken this play to the house. Instead, because Mahomes failed to execute proper mechanics, he missed the throw and botched the chance of a good play.
Here is a closer look, this time in half-speed. After carrying out the fake pass to the perimeter, Mahomes failed to reset his feet down the field as sharply as he needed to. Mahomes needed to get his back foot to his midline and plant his front foot slightly to his left, so as to rotate his hips and generate torque. Mahomes rushed his process and failed to swing his feet over, resulting in him not being able to bring his hips around the way he needed to. With the plant step being so close to his midline, Mahomes’ hips finish swinging around (not correctly, in this case) before his upper body is ready to deliver the ball, leading to Mahomes’ release point being unusually high and late.
This is not a consistent issue for Mahomes. Rather, he has moments where he gets lazy and believes that he can make the throw with just his arm. Part of that may root in the system allowing him to play so loose, but his hyper-confidence also has a role. Nonetheless, the issue is more that Mahomes needs to do a better job of maintaining the mechanics he already has, as opposed to overhauling his mechanics.
This is the version of Mahomes that is more commonly seen on a play-to-play basis. His feet are by no means perfect; in fact, he plays with his hips too opened up. Where Mahomes make up for everything, though, is right when he decides to throw.
As Mahomes begins to act on his decision to throw, he brings his front shoulder around to his target, then violently swings his hips/torso as he brings his arm up to throw. It does not look conventional, but it’s perfectly functional, and it works for Mahomes.
In all honesty, Kizer’s throwing mechanics were not what cost him the play, but they were ugly and should not be repeated. The real issue on this play was that Kizer waited too long on a reading that was obstructed from the snap, but that is for another time.
Mechanically, Kizer’s mistake was short-arming his release. Just as the ball is about to come forward, Kizer flinches in what looks like a half-hearted effort to abort the throw. Kizer fails to follow through with his motion and control the ball all the way through the release. Instead, he rears his arm back and allows the ball to be released early. Anytime a quarterback deters from his natural release point (like in this case), the chance of an inaccurate throw is much higher.
Kizer has a minor tendency to do this, often on shorter throws, but not on any particular route or any specific scenario. Sometimes it pops up, though he is frequently clean in regards to his mechanics.
Few throws from any of this year’s quarterback prospects can top this one. The rhythm, the arm talent, the placement- it’s all there on full display. This is what Kizer’s mechanics tend to look like, and these are the results they tend to breed.
Notice how Kizer redirects his shoulders when he begins to throw. Almost identical to the Mahomes clip from above, Kizer gears his front shoulder toward his target and then violently swings his torso around to create impressive torque. Kizer was able to swing his hips around so smoothly because his plant foot gained proper forward depth, as well as proper width. With a clean follow through as the cherry-on-top, Kizer executed flawless mechanics to complete a beautiful throw.
Before this gets out of hand, it should be established that Mitch Trubisky is not a bad quarterback prospect. He is a quality prospect who should turn out as a passable starting quarterback in the NFL. That being said, his post-drop footwork is consistently problematic, especially when throwing to his left or when throwing vertically.
Thankfully this throw was early in the game, and Trubisky was able to make a handful of throws, later on, to help boost North Carolina to victory, but this is a painful miss. Trubisky put too much air under this ball.
Trubisky’s first fault is progressively leaning back as he looks for a receiver and prepares to throw. By forcing that much weight on his back foot, Trubisky is forcing himself to exert unnecessary effort to bring his body forward, which is one of many ways that a quarterback can disrupt the synchronization of his throwing motion. Rearing back also makes it near impossible for Trubisky to properly use his plant foot. In the clip above, his plant foot is dangling in the air for a second, then is barely planted in the ground when Trubisky goes to throw.
The second error Trubisky makes is not following through with his motion. Trubisky does not follow through his motion and does not get any snap at the end of his rotation, leaving him to loft the ball rather than truly throw it. Trubisky restricted any chance of properly driving the ball and putting this throw on a line.
This is a recurring issue for Trubisky. That is not to say he does this every time he goes vertically, but it shows up multiple times in each game, and it’s a tough theme to ignore.
Trubisky struggles to open properly to his left. His footwork looses its form, and he fails to generate proper torque to cleanly get the ball off.
Again, Trubisky is leaning away from the throw. It looks a little different here than it does when he is looking to throw deep, but the issue remains the same. Once Trubisky completes his initial drop, his front leg begins to drift out wide. Trubisky never gains control of his front leg or counteracts the direction that his body is leaning, so Trubisky’s only natural movement when going to throw is to further drift his body away from the throw as he goes to plant.
On this play and others like it, Trubisky’s plant foot hits the ground too tight to his midline because he needed to plant quickly to try to reestablish himself and prevent from leaning too far away from the throw. The sped up plant step ends up cutting Trubisky’s rotation short, leaving his release to trail behind the rest of his body for just a tick longer than it should have. As a result, Trubisky’s synchronization was disrupted, and his release point was shifted from what is a more natural position for Trubisky.
I feel the need to reiterate that Trubisky is not a bad quarterback. Rather, he has repeated issues (like the two examples above) that litter his film catalog. Trubisky very well could break these poor habits, especially considering he is a player with little playing experience, but it would be ill-advised to bank on him doing so.
Which is Cause for More Concern?
Mechanical breakdowns, no matter how rare or consistent they are, are never good. Most inaccurate passes can be traced back to a mechanical error, and part of that is due to the speed of the NFL (and football, in general) being such a fast sport that sometimes the quarterback does not have time to set up the way he would like to. With that in mind, it’s easier to rationalize being comfortable with a player who has occasional breakdowns in tight situations, instead of a player who has minor flaws on every play that can be exaggerated when under pressure.
In other words, every quarterback is going to have mechanical issues from time to time. Understanding the time and place in which these errors occur, and the frequency at which they occur is critical to identifying which quarterbacks truly need to work on their mechanics.