QB Draft Series 2018: Addressing the Elephant in the QB Room

A few weeks ago, two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks for nothing more than the crime of being black. Everybody involved quickly realized that what had occurred was an incident of implicit racial bias.

Many people have asked me why I “have to bring race into everything”. Ignoring the elephant in the room does not make it go away. I know that many people will read this, ignore the links, ignore the evidence, and call me names for even suggesting any of this. That will not make any of this less true, nor does it mean it should be ignored.

Racism and America is one of those iconic duos. It’s why even collections of kids cartoons have to come with an explanation of their racism. It’s why the MLB has a Jackie Robinson Day. It’s why Title VII and numerous state laws exist prohibiting racism and why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has so many cases. I could give thousands of examples here.

The NFL has its own racist history. From 1934-1946, no black players played in the league, in part because owners and coaches claim they just weren’t good enough despite them having proved themselves previously (sound familiar?). The history of black QBs in the NFL is largely one of a lack of opportunities. Many NFL teams did not have a black QB start for them until the late 90s or early 2000s, and the Giants’ saw their first black starter at QB ever just last season when Geno Smith started a game for them. Also, though it’s not about blacks, there’s still a team named the Redskins. That’s not even hidden.

I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid situations. These are two guys who are unquestionably NFL starters, but are being blackballed for speaking out against race discrimination by people who are not part of the NFL. To the extent that people are saying they’re not good enough for the NFL on pure talent, it’s so obviously false (Kaepernick has a career passer rating of 88.9 – better than league average, averages 6 yards per carry, and has a 4-2 playoff record, better than guys like Phil Rivers and Matt Stafford by a wide margin; Reid is a 26 year old former pro bowler who has been remarkably consistent throughout his career) as to not merit any real discussion. But because they bring in all sorts of other issues beyond just straight “they are being discussed differently because of their skin color”, they are an (important) issue all their own.

Many will be quick to point out that most of the NFL is black, and this is undeniably true. In fact, I think that at some skill positions, there is bias against white players (especially at RB and WR). This is likely due to blacks being seen as bigger and stronger than they actually are. As size and strength are generally considered positive traits for non-QB positions, it is not a surprise then to see that blacks are favored in those positions. But for QBs, QBs need to be smart. Right? …Right?

How often has the refrain “QBs need to be intelligent” or “he’s not smart enough” come up? QBs absolutely need to be able to read defenses, process what he sees quickly, and make quick decisions. I don’t know about you, but I never learned any of those things in school. Quite frankly, I don’t see what any of those things have to do with intelligence. They are learned skills through years of practice, no different than getting good at video games or a musical instrument or learning a new language. If you took a random person out of a Masters degree classroom and stuck them on a football field, they would suck at it because it has nothing to do with things they are smart at. It is giving a tree exam to an elephant.

Which is why the Wonderlic exam has no relation to actual NFL anything. Have you actually taken a Wonderlic exam before? Here are two different ones you can try: 1, 2. I have taken many standardized tests in my life. I have taken multiple classes on how to take standardized tests. The Wonderlic is a standardized test. Standardized testing has a ton of problems. Standarized testing is also biased against minorities. They are assembled in a minority-biased way. Ryan Fitzpatrick, known for his high wonderlic score, doesn’t know his score and doesn’t see the relation between it and his football abilities. And again, there is a long history of race and intelligence being maliciously linked.

Studies have been done specifically about how people, both white and black, view black and white QBs. This is the type of implicit bias that truly affects how QBs are viewed. Given objective, explicit, controlled descriptions and pictures, with nothing else affecting the participants, the participants of these studies were still prone to stereotyping and bias. I am sure that most if not all of the participants were not explicitly racist. Yet their internalized ideas still manifested to the detriment of the black QBs.

Most likely, people don’t even realize that they’re being biased. People in all professions unconsciously discriminate based on race. And, much like the NFL Draft pre-draft process is one long job interview, one of the most insidious places implicit race discrimination appears is in interviews. It’s proven in resumes. It’s proven in names. For NFL QBs, it’s proven in scouting reports.

Why all this discussion for this draft? Well, we have one black QB who is being treated significantly differently in Lamar Jackson. Remember, the draft process started with NFL teams asking Jackson to play WR, a take so blindingly stupid it spurred Chris Long to rant on Twitter. The amount of coded language and double standards are so numerous it is difficult to keep track, though some people are trying. And while many people will cry out “it’s not racism, he’s just not that good”, the claim just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. He played in a pro system with poor talent, with numbers suppressed because he suffered the most drops of any top QB prospect.

I’m not saying there’s no reason to criticize him – there is no such thing as a perfect prospect. But many of the criticisms – lack of accuracy because of low completion percentage, inability to operate in a pro-style system because he’s too quick to bail from the pocket – are so far from the truth, and, perhaps, more importantly, held against Jackson significantly more than they are held against other top prospects, that there really is only one explanation, and this is it.

On the other end of the spectrum is Josh Allen. Allen has been just as divisive as Lamar Jackson, with those in favor of him pointing out that he has a massive arm and great athleticism, and those wary of him pointing out that that’s really all he has right now. Similar prospects, such as Cardale “12 Gauge” Jones and Logan Thomas, were projected as 4th rounders and were drafted in the 4th. Cardale Jones’ tools were slightly behind Allen’s but he also put up a significantly better performance in college against significantly better competition. Logan Thomas had better athletic tools at a bigger size and put up slightly worse numbers against significantly better competition. There is simply nothing separating Allen from prospects like Jones and Thomas except for one thing: the color of his skin.

This type of QB prospect is rare to begin with prospects with a huge arm and a ton of athleticism come around once every two or three years, maybe even less often than that. But even more rarely do they come with white skin. That is where Josh Allen really outshines his comps. It is completely irrelevant to his projection. It is completely irrelevant to his success. But it is very, very relevant to his stock.

On a closing note, I want to point out how these types of biases could be affecting two other QB prospects this year. Cam Newton faces criticism and sets off a firestorm when he does something like arrogant struts and in your face taunting. Baker Mayfield is…well, “the six foot jerk”. His particular brand of arrogant taunting (and small stature) may have affected his draft stock quite a bit more if he was black, although it appears that they have both hurt his draft stock to some extent to begin with. And while it isn’t white and black with Josh Rosen, I could probably write a whole separate article about whether Rosen’s draft stock may be suffering (or benefiting) from being Jewish.

Okay, enough with this heavy talk, let’s move to talking about the QBs!