Busting an American/NFL myth on the CFL - the QB position

All, it's offseason and in discussing the great game of Canadian football with a friend down here in the US for the football junkies we are, and working to sway him to give the CFL a solid chance again this year and educating him about the greatness of the Canadian football game, he asked me openly about what it takes for success for a QB in the CFL.

It's hard enough to know the answer on that for any pro league for that matter.

Well I've been around as a fan of the CFL long enough since 2009 to form an educated opinion, and I'm sure the sparks will fly as for most any offseason discussion and debate in slow-time, but well let's grant at least that this is not the dead-horse expansion thread!

Common American Myth:
If a QB is good enough to start or play in the NFL, he has to be good enough to play and do well in the CFL.

Question from Friend, paraphrased:
'What NFL QB's who are solid or stated starters, which excludes those in a QB battle to be starters, would NOT fare well in the CFL?'

I come up with 12.5 of them who are otherwise mostly talented pro QBs of various winning capability in the NFL, but I don't see them succeeding in Canada with one less down to play on offence. And as an American indeed I answered him with Canadian/British spelling just for extra credit. :stuck_out_tongue: 12.5 is about half the solid or stated NFL starting QBs mind you.

Have a look at my answer with my list and comments, and fire away with your opinions!

In a spread offence in the CFL with only three downs to make it practically 9 yards that requires more often mobility than in the NFL, I can't see the following NFL QBs who are starters doing well in the CFL:

AFC Known Named Starters
Ben Roethlisberger -- All kinds of talent and very tough 4th quarter QB who is hard to beat in close games, but he has no consistent deep game and would not benefit from near as much solid protection as with Pittsburgh's usually tough offensive line with the CFL offensive lines. He needs all four downs.

Joe Flacco -- Same as Roethlisberger

Andy Dalton -- No consistent deep game in pro football unlike in college

Matt Schaub -- He might be on his way to clipboard duty and has never had any deep game but to throw it up for Andre Johnson, and I have not seen him operate much out of a spread formation

Geno Smith -- He was trained in the spread formation at West Virginia and excelled, but he sucks in any pro football; then again it's only been one season on a bad team

Ryan Tannehill -- No consistent deep game

EJ Manuel -- He does not play out of the spread formation and has no consistent deep game - see Christian Ponder also from Florida State from the same college offence below and a similar offence now

NFC Known Named Starters
Tony Romo -- I've never seen him succeed consistently out of the spread formation

Mike Glennon -- He does not play out of a spread formation

Jay Cutler -- No pocket mobility behind a weak offensive line in the NFL, so in the CFL he would be crunched about as much behind even weaker lines

Christian Ponder -- He does not play out of the spread formation and has no consistent deep game -- see EJ Manuel

Sam Bradford -- Ditto Jay Cutler

50/50 on Colin Kaepernick - He does not possess a consistently effective deep ball, but he does possess superior mobility, a very strong arm, and improvisational skills when on the move. If he improved his deep game to show flashes of performance like in the 400+ yards passing against Green Bay early in the season, he would be an outstanding CFL prospect I would think.

I left off the list Russell Wilson, who has a similar game as Kaepernick, because he seems to have a better deep ball than Kaepernick.

I'd say CFL QB's have different needs than NFL QB's. For example, being tall is less of an advantage in the CFL, with many shorter QB's being very successful. Being smart is probably less of an advantage in the CFL also, but he must be a quick thinker because CFL reads are done after the snap, not before like in the NFL.

The most essential asset of a CFL QB is the ability to sense the pass rush while keeping his eyes focused down field. This is what separates an average QB from a great one. Many QB's get flustered with the constant pressure from the 12 defenders and have "no time" to find open receivers. The great ones find the time.

Next is toughness. Regardless of how quick or fleet-of-foot he is, a CFL QB will take his share of hard hits each game. He needs the inner toughness to shrug off a contusion or sprain and stay in the game. This cannot be under-rated as there's been many very talented QB's who couldn't stick because of a "low" pain threshold.

Then it's accuracy. With only 2 downs to work with, a CFL QB must be very accurate with this throws, this is crucially important to extend drives. Good CFL QB's will need to pass at a 65% clip or better, anything less and the offence can sputter.

The next important asset is a good footwork, with the ability to seamlessly side-step the sacker and move in the pocket to find the passing lanes. Slow-footed QB's normally struggle in the CFL.

How important is arm strength on the huge CFL field? Not as much as some might think. There have been many very successful CFL QB's with weak to moderate arms. Having a rifle arm is an advantage but not essential, it's accuracy which counts.

Scrambling ability is also an advantage but again, not essential. Some of the best CFL QB's have been pocket passers with little ability to scramble...but with enough of the above attributes they can still be successful. :thup:

Interesting thread. Both posts are good food for thought when evaluating QBs. It seems to me that all that's been written is pretty much true, except to state more or less the obvious that it's the combination of many talents that separates the hall of famers from the pretenders. And while accuracy IS paramount of those abilities, arm strength and accuracy are what will keep you from getting picked off on that 60 yarder from the far hash mark to the far sideline as your feet get keep you from being sacked in the pocket. So it's the guys who can think on their feet after the snap, find the open guy far away across the field and deliver to a spot before the DB gets there are the ones we'll likely be mentioning long after they've retired. Most will never be able to do that consistently.

That said, who was/is the greatest CFL scrambler of all time? Presumably it will be someone will low interceptions, no?

I think it's more about how (or how quickly) a QB can adjust from American football to Canadian football more than anything.

If Ferragamo had a chance to be mentored into the league by a CFL veteran he probably would have been at the very least a competitive QB.

Doug Flutie smashed records in 1991, but people forget how bad he was in 1990. He wasn't ready and BC needed to bring Paopao out of retirement to take the reins. By the end of the season Flutie had enough playing time to adjust to the pace of the game and the expanse of the field, and the extra guys and all the motion, and the rest was history.

David Archer was the prototypical tall American pocket passer, the type of QB that stereotypes believe should NOT be successful in Canada. Sacramento was awful when he joined the league in 93 and although if I recall his yardage totals weren't bad, his interceptions were sky high. By 95 he was a deadly prolific QB feared by all opponents and became one of the most sought after free agents. He had time to learn the game. His American coaches had time to learn the game.

One has to remember that ALL of our QBs up here, be them Hall of Famers or training camp duds, grew up playing American football. Why is it that Ricky Ray (another classic drop back passer) was so successful right out of the box, yet Akili Smith (an athletic QB - skill set supposedly perfect for Canada) was ridiculed right out of the country?

I've heard the classic argument of NFL fans who look down on the CFL because of the talent level (even though the casual fan cannot tell the difference) when they say stuff like 'if Peyton Manning was in the CFL he'd dominate'. In my opinion, I think it is quite likely that he would - but not right away. How long would it take? A year? 2 years? 9 games?

Can a QB adjust to the Canadian game? Does he have the will to do it? Does he have the patience to do it? Does HIS TEAM have the patience and the resources to help him do it?

In my opinion there is no 'type of QB better suited to the CFL'. If there was, everyone would have the same type of QB. But we see a wide array of skill sets all succeeding in our league. So I believe that the perfect Canadian skill set is nothing more than a myth.

Paolo makes mention of the lack of a fourth down as a big adjustment for QBs coming to Canada, and well of course it is, but the way that I see it, 3 downs is a bit further down the list. 3 downs merely changes the offensive scheme from 'run to set up the pass' into 'pass to set up the run'. Significant in itself, it is not the biggest adjustment.

In my opinion, the 20 second clock is probably the biggest factor, at least when combined with the next 2 big factors.

Factor 2 is the unlimited backfield motion. In Canada, the QB has to direct a lot of traffic behind him while watching the defensive dominoes fall across a wide arc of vision in his pre snap reads. And get it all done in 20 seconds.

Factor 3 is the extra defensive back. He has to read more guys in Canada than he ever did down south, and again, he has to read them all in just 20 seconds.

Then I would probably cite the lack of a fourth down. When 2nd and 7 is more often than not a passing down, the QB ends up doing a lot more reading and throwing in Canada than he did back home, which magnifies any deficiencies that the QB may have in his reads.

And probably fifth in order of significant adjustments is the obvious wide field - AND wide hashmarks. This tiresome adage is trotted out in every discussion but it is still true. The out to the field side REALLY IS twice as far as it was back in college, and there's an extra DB licking his chops to jump it for 6 and kill your confidence.

So how do you know if an NFL QB will make a successful CFL QB? The only way that I know of is to put one under center of a CFL offense with capable coaches to help him learn, and see what happens.

The biggest myth imo is that the CFL is a "passing" league while the NFL is a "running" league.

This has changed dramatically. The NFL is now definitely a passing and scoring league.

In fact I think the CFL will see a trend back to more running. Look at the impact rushers have had in CFL lately. Cornish, Sheets, Gable, Logan etc.

As the league became more pass orientated, linebackers got smaller to keep up. So CFL is running more to take advantage.

Arm strength. No room for noodle-arms in a league where the sideline throw to the field WR is a helluva long ways away. The pace of the CFL demands a QB with the arm to push the ball both horizontally and vertically.

That's fantastic feedback and opinion from all including on top of Prairiedog's article on the matter.

Here's more food for thought, discussion, and debate with examples.

  1. Play Clock Differences - Great Points Made

Great points are made such that I had overlooked the 20-second clock in the CFL though actually the time elapsed is a bit longer between plays in the CFL considering the difference in rules on when the play clock starts. And then the importance of reads after the snap, as pointed out, is actually greater in the CFL.

  1. Unlimited Motion in Offensive Backfield in CFL - Great Points Made

More great points are made -- I had also overlooked the unlimited motion in the backfield. I wish increased motion in the backfield were something they would incorporate on a limited basis into American football. Have up to two backfield players to be able to move, horizontally or vertically only, with no need to set at the snap if off the line for up to two such players. The defence gets a 5-yard zone in the pros and unlimited zone in amateur football until the ball is in the air to jam and bump anyway.

  1. Extra DB Plus Other Differences In The Passing Game - Disagree

I have contention with this point as a hindrance for success for NFL QBs in the CFL for many reasons, and I do NOT see this difference as a significant factor in a QB's success in one league over the other.

For the starting NFL QBs I left OFF the 'no list,' I don't see the extra DB being near the challenge as the greater necessity for a strong, accurate arm especially for the deep ball given only three downs.

Add even many of those ON the 'no list' would have great skills to read the defences on all downs even if it were with a shorter play clock with greater emphasis on reads after the snap in the CFL.

I would counter also on the point of the extra DB that the CFL QB out of the spread formation has also
A) one extra receiver,
B) no bump zone beyond one yard of the LOS to interrupt pass routes, AND
C) if you were to count the average time for passing for a CFL QB from snap to having a pass rusher within a one-yard radius, that average time would be that much longer in the CFL so as to mitigate somewhat the shorter play clock and higher emphasis on reads after the snap.

When watching each snap in the CFL in particular the fourth quarter, it seems that on the team with a dominating offensive line, the QB has way more time to throw than he would in the NFL on average even if with a superior offensive line in the NFL also late in games.

  1. One Less Down - A Critical Difference Between Success and Failure In The CFL Even for Some Winning NFL QBs

For these same QBs off the 'no list' plus even a few ON my 'no list,' I would see these NFL QBs as being able to adapt to the CFL game at least with the skills for reading the defence.

However, where those ON the list would fail would be in my estimation their lack the rest of the physical tools for the 3-down game with unlimited backfield motion out of a spread offence.

For example let's consider in my opinion the best 2.5 of these QBs in terms of NFL wins on the 'no list' who are top starters and who have great reading skills before the snap if not also after the snap.

(Note that Kaepernick, unlike the other two as referenced below, is also deficient on his reads and progressions after the snap in the NFL)

Roethlisberger and Flacco, who together have several playoff wins and three Super Bowl wins to their credit, plus Kaepernick with several playoff wins already, all have made careers out of outstanding performances on 3rd and even 4th downs in close games backed otherwise with a solid running game and the best defences.

Do I see for example Roethlisberger or Flacco shifting such success to offensive schemes in a spread offence with 3 downs with even higher emphasis on the passing game, despite the increased amount of passing in the NFL, and without some of the best defences historically in football that in turn generated more possessions and/or defensive scoring for them? High odds no way I say. As noted already below, Kaepernick would be a 50/50 proposition.

Also with only three downs, in my estimation even superior reading skills and extra time to throw still would not be enough most of the time for these QBs to win close games in the CFL.

All three guys have strong arms as do most NFL QBs, and all three usually have solid routes and reads by receivers in most games that help them out especially in the fourth quarter.

But the difference for success in the CFL as opposed to success in the NFL for these three QBs and others on the 'no list,' again with Kaepernick a 50/50 proposition, is that do all these NFL QBs have for especially second down a good enough combination of also an accurate deep ball, fitness, and footwork? I say in at least a spread offence such as in the CFL no.

Great post, Paolo.

Don't have much to add, except that one aspect of the mobility issue in the CFL involves both the length of the field and the one-yard neutral zone at the LOS. Defenses have to line up a yard off the ball and be responsible for a wider field. As a result, their body types change, producing a different set of pressures on the CFL QB. A quarterback, in this league, has to be able to get the edge on lighter, swifter linebackers who have no problem covering sideline to sideline. You have to outrun not the 250 lbs. NFL LB prototype but a converted DB who can match or even exceed you step for step (not many QBs can outflank and outrun Chip Cox, for example).

RE:"not many QBs can outflank and outrun Chip Cox, for example)."
Probably only Doug Flutie could elude any NFL lineman and LB, NFL LB's equal to CFL DL's.

No doubt in my mind because of the field size and the distance to the sidelines from the hash, a QB playing in our league is much more talented than their American counterpart.

Um - no. CFL quarterbacks are not more talented. If they were most of them would not continue to play in this league for something less than $500,000 year if they had the talent to make multi-millions in their home country IMO.

I'm not saying they are not talented - they are - they are very talented. They are undoubtedly in the top 10 - 20% of of the all the quarterbacks who have come out of the 600+ college football programs in the USA. But the very top ones of those almost all get drafted into the NFL. If they are considered the most talented by scouts - meaning combination of good decision maker, strong accurate arm, great leadership skill set - all those things you measure quarterback talent by - they would be at least taking a shot at the NFL. Pretty much every quarterback in the CFL is someone who has come here after either not getting drafted or getting cut from an NFL team or being stuck on practice squad number 3 or 4 on the depth charts of NFL teams.

That is not meant as a criticism of CFL quarterbacks. Many of them are very good and talented and exciting to watch and a few have honed their skills and improved enough here to take a later in their career shot at the NFL - like Moon, Garcia or Flutie. But it is just simply not an accurate comment in my opinion to state CFL quarterbacks are more talented than NFL quarterbacks as ArgoT just claimed.

Also a different range of skill sets. Some CFL qb's might be able to read defences, Canadian or American rules, better than some NFL qb's but maybe don't have the slinger arm to put the ball in tight places on the small American field, as an example and that slinger arm is crucial on the small American field where space is tighter. Or maybe were at the wrong place at the wrong time trying out for the NFL or had an injury at the wrong time etc. Overall I agree NFL qb's have better slinger arms and probably are able to read defenses better and on average are probably taller than CFL qb's. But no question, the CFL is getting in many cases all-star or close to all-star, decorated, NCAA qb's who are very talented even if they aren't in the NFL. The NFL game is much more like the CFL has been, the NFL is looking for playmaker NFL qb's like Kapernick of SF who probably aren't the best in terms of reading defenses but have an excellent arm and can run. Those type of qb's at one time were not looked at seriously in the NFL, the ones who weren't real quick upstairs reading defenses. Things have changed in the NFL I would say.

There is little question that playing QB in the CFL is more difficult than in the NFL. Many coaches and players have confirmed this. With only 2 downs, every pass must count in the CFL, no second-chances or throw-aways like in the NFL. QB's get hit more often in the CFL and often have to throw on the run, which many NFL QB's are not adept at.

While the fundamentals of QB'ing are the same, there are different skill-sets needed in the CFL, as noted in the above posts.

It's really a foolish argument to believe because starting CFL QB's couldn't make it in the NFL, there not as good of players. As pointed out ther've been several ProBowl QB's who were first rejected by the NFL, made a name in the CFL and then went on to success down south. Nobody can say NFL rejects like Moon, Flutie or Garcia weren't good enough, any more than a R. Ray, Dickenson or Reilly were, without being given one opportunity to pass the ball in a real NFL game.

Here is a great article from the people who know:

[b]HOW TO MAKE A CFL QB...[/b]

CFL quarterbacks are made more often than they are found. Most times it takes years of practice, study and training.

“It’s probably about 85% mental because all the guys who come up here have the physical tools. It almost always comes down to whether they have the patience, the ability and willingness to adjust and the mental toughness to overcome when things go wrong,? says Toronto Argonauts head coach Jim Barker.

“The CFL is a more challenging game than the American,? says Matt Dunigan, CFL Hall of Fame QB with Edmonton, Toronto, Winnipeg, Birmingham and Hamilton from 1983 to 1996.

“It asks a quarterback to do more every play, of every series, of every game.?

“On second and 10 you just can’t throw it away and call another play on third down,? says Dunigan.

“You have to pull it down and make something happen within the scheme and NOT do something stupid.?

There is a huge philosophical abyss that rookie quarterbacks must overcome. The entire approach to the game changes from what many are used to in the NFL or U.S. colleges.

“You can’t be conservative as a quarterback up here,? says Bob O’Billovich, who has been scouting and coaching in the CFL since joining the Ottawa Rough Riders from Montana State as a defensive back and quarterback in 1963.

“There’s a whole different attitude to the position.?

A CFL quarterback has to be athletic enough to run for yardage and move the chains when plays break down, he has to be a decent passer — but more than strength, he needs to be accurate.

The best analogy when comparing NCAA or NFL quarterbacks to those in the CFL probably comes from Wally Buono, general manager with the B.C. Lions: “We teach our quarterbacks how to win; they teach their quarterbacks how not to lose.?

The CFL is a big-play league. If the NFL is three-downs and a cloud of dust; the CFL is one down and what took you so long.

[url=http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Columnists/Lankhof/2010/06/28/14550966.html]http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Columnists/La ... 50966.html[/url]

and more:


"The CFL game is different especially for the quarterback. When you get under centre in major college or the NFL, there's only one guy who can be in motion. Everything is pretty stationary and you can predetermine and make your decisions based on where people are placed on the field. When you snap the ball, you know where you are going with the ball. "In the CFL you have to do a lot of reads on the run. I don't care how long you've played quarterback, the issue is a lot of times guys come to our league and they have NEVER seen anything like this. "They get under centre, there's four guys in motion. There's four DBs running all over the place and the ball is snapped and now they're trying to figure out what the coverage is (zone or man-to-man). "A lot of guys get eliminated right there because they can't handle it."

[url=http://www.torontosun.com/sports/columnists/bill_lankhof/2010/06/27/14539736.html]http://www.torontosun.com/sports/column ... 39736.html[/url]

As far as comparing CFL QB talent to NFL QBs, beyond the different set of skills required for each type of gridiron, it is a mixed bag.

As I have outlined below with 12.5 NFL starters in my opinion, plus all the non-solid or undetermined NFL starters and with very few exceptions (i.e. perhaps Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn) plus a very high percentage of backups, MOST starting NFL QBs and a far higher percentage of NFL backup QBs on any given NFL Sunday would not fare well in the CFL.

Then you consider each season just how many of the CFL QBs are actually good, and since perhaps 2000 or so it would be a small few over the years who in my opinion could go or could have gone to the NFL or like Ricky Ray did for a short spell. Maybe there are a few others from those years this millennium before I began watching in 2009.

Ricky Ray and Anthony Calvillo I have no doubt could have excelled in the NFL even later in their careers in a spread offence, but the spread offence, with its sets used on all offences and overall as popular as ever in the NFL, still is not run dominantly by many NFL teams and those which do run it dominantly have top QBs (i.e. in no particular order Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers).

And then there is Adrian McPherson, who has not been in the NFL due to his lingering legal situation at hand since 2005, and having watched with amazement Bo Levi Mitchell operate out from under centre in short yardage and still throw effectively at times, I have to wonder about Mitchell's NFL potential too. Wow are they loaded now in Calgary.

An interesting story from Yahoo from last summer that is sort of on this topic.

[url=http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/blogs/cfl-55-yard-line/johnny-manziel-cfl-option-might-actually-better-other-200906069.html]http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/blogs/cfl-55 ... 06069.html[/url]

"However, while the CFL's far from an ideal option for Manziel, it might be a great route to the NFL for other NCAA-age players who run afoul of the American college athletics bureaucracy."

Why cant people see that the CFL should be developing Canadian QB,s ??

Far to many NCAA has been go through the CFLs 2nd and 3rd string revolving door! Their interest isn't the CFL or the Grey Cup, their interest is using the CFL as a step to the NFL. Why bring them here when we have plenty of 2nd and 3rd string CIS products?

Re:Busting an American/NFL myth on the CFL - the QB position

Archie Manning would have excelled in the CFL.

Anyone know the story on Eric Dzwilewski, the UCalgary Dinos QB? He's at the Edmonton regional combine. I hadn't realized he's an import from Boise, Idaho. How does an import QB make his way to a CIS school? I don't follow the CIS super closely so I'm not familiar with his story. Was he just recruited and not have NCAA offers?

Wow, great article. We're finally starting to see it. Folks are are starting to really realize just how ugly the NCAA does its business and how awful it treats its players.

but it would be very reasonable to suggest that even the worst CFL team could put up a solid fight against a mid-level NCAA team from a power conference, and a top CFL team might well be able to beat a top NCAA team.
Not sure I buy THIS quote from the article. Nice to say that a CFL team could show "fight" against an NCAA squad. Very sporting of him.