Does Donald Trump have the attributes to be a top NFL quarterback?

Is he fit for office? Does he have the ability, temperament and policy knowledge to be President? These and many other questions are being asked about Donald Trump. But there is another question, one no one’s asking at the moment: could Donald Trump make it as an NFL quarterback?

Scouting Trump

US President may well be the most important job in the world, but it’s not the only one for which there is a serious shortage of good candidates. Starting quarterback in the NFL is the toughest job in professional sport and, at any one time, half the teams in the league are looking for an upgrade.

So does Trump have what it takes to dominate on the gridiron? Is he the next great NFL signal-caller? Could he be the first person ever to be President and offensive rookie of the year? All great questions. And, fortunately for us, there’s plenty of tape on him to help us project his development as a quarterback.

Measurables

Might as well start with the big issue. Or rather the small one. Trump, we are assured, is packing some serious heat in his jock. But there is a part of his anatomy whose size could be problematic for our purposes: his hands.

Trump handprint

Entered real estate after an inability to hit 60 words-a-minute meant he flunked out of a Swiss finishing school.
© Adam Gabbatt

According to recent reports, Donald Trump’s hands are 7.25 inches, which is below the US male average of 7.44. And that’s a serious issue because, in the NFL, one of the most important (but least appreciated) physical attributes of a quarterback is hand size.

According to Bruce Feldman’s The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks:

“[Brett] Favre’s hands were measured by the NFL years ago (from thumb tip to pinkie tip) at 10.38 inches. For comparison’s sake, Tony Romo’s hand was measured at 8.88 inches. Anything bigger than 9.5 is considered large for an NFL QB prospect. Most personnel people expect hand size to correlate to body size, but that’s not always the case… Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson, who stands, according to the NFL, at 5’105/8’’… has 10.25-inch hands… among the biggest the league has measured in the past half decade.”

A competition size ball, even one inflated to the liking of Trump’s friend Tom Brady, is a large object. Donald Trump’s hands are so small that there must be serious doubt he could hold a ball in one hand, let alone throw a decent spiral. Sad to say, then, many coaches – especially in cold-weather cities – are going to take one look at Trump’s micro-mitts and think twice about if they want him under centre, taking snaps and making hand offs.

And it’s more than basic ball handling that could be an issue. The pump fake isn’t a huge part of the game anymore, for example, but it’s a handy trick to have up your sleeve. Trump, despite having plenty of room up his sleeves, may not be able to sell a convincing pump fake without the ball popping free. Likewise, any offensive coordinator who likes the read option is going to wonder if he can trust Trump to thrust the ball into the belly of a runningback and then rip it back out if he sees a receiver match-up he likes.

And what about ball security? Turnovers cost games. If he’s sacked is he going to cough it up like Michael Vick at his annual physical? In fact, is there any reason to think that, in the clutch, Trump’s grasp on the ball will be better than his handle on foreign policy?

This is such a serious issue that, the more I consider it, I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that many people will conclude, based on hand size alone, that Donald Trump will never play quarterback in the NFL.

Trump shows hand © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Big enough to get a steel grip on Congress’s balls, am I right?”
© Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

And that’s sad because, of course, there’s more to the perfect quarterback body than having hands like a clown. So, for the sake of balance, let’s note that, at 6’2’’, Trump has reasonable, if not outstanding height for a quarterback.

Your typical quarterback prospect is 6’4’’, which makes getting a clear view over the heads of linemen considerably easier. However, the aforesaid Russell Wilson has been to two Super Bowls in recent years, winning one, while Aaron Rodgers, by consensus the most gifted QB of his generation, is the same height as Trump. So let’s not count The Donald out yet.

Weight wise, Trump is definitely a touch slight. He’s ten kilos lighter than Rodgers, for example, who’s already on the athletic side of quarterback builds. Trump is certainly going to need to hit the gym in the off-season if he’s serious about the NFL.

Physical tools

While it’s clear that Trump doesn’t have the look of your prototypical quarterback, in terms of general sporting ability and athleticism, he has much going for him. He played football, soccer and baseball in college with sufficient distinction that he was inducted into the New York Military Academy hall of fame. Indeed, according to a former high school classmate, he may even have had a shot in the pros in baseball.

“He was just the best, a good athlete, a great athlete,” Ted Levine told Business Insider, in the kind of endorsement of Donald Trump that you more usually hear from Donald Trump. “Could he play football? Could he play soccer? He could do anything he wanted. He was physically and mentally gifted.”

Trump baseball

“He could throw that speedball by you / Make you look like a fool, boy”

If picked now, in his early 70s, Trump wouldn’t actually be the oldest QB drafted into the league. That record would still belong to Brandon Weeden, but since Weeden was so old that he actually expired before his rookie deal did, we have to treat age as more than just a number. At Trump’s time of life, physical deterioration is something that simply can’t be ignored.

Granted speed and strength aren’t as big issues for quarterbacks as other positions, which is why a quarterback can play into his late 30s when everyone but the kickers have hung their cleats up. Footwork matters, though; balance and poise are important even for the least mobile quarterbacks. And this is a worry for Trump. By 1968, at 22 – an age when most QBs are only just getting drafted – he had already received four medical deferments from the US military which, tragically, prevented him from joining the children of low-income parents in Vietnam. The cause of these deferments were heel spurs, a condition that must make you worry about Trump taking five-step drops, hitting his back foot and making quick releases.

Added to this, while he seems to have decent short-area quickness when bounding to the stage, it seems reasonable to conclude, even in the absence of an official 40-yard-dash time, that Trump is no dual-threat QB.

If you’re going to make him the face of your franchise, then, you’re going to need an offensive coordinator who knows how to develop pocket passers and you need an O line that can keep him upright. His most recent physical noted he’d never had a hip or knee surgery. But, at his age, that won’t be the case for long if he’s taking a beating from pass rushers.

He might claim this wouldn’t scare him, but one rather suspects that his professed enthusiasm for the Dick Butkus school of tackling may wain the first time he meets Luke Kuechly bursting through the line unblocked.

In his favour, it must be said that, whatever he lacks in flexibility and mobility, he compensates for in elusiveness. Like Ben Roethlisberger, many are the reporters who’ve grabbed a handful of Trump’s shirt, feeling they had him dead to rights, but been unable to bring him down. Instead, Trump has simply shaken them off and marched on towards the end zone.

Mind-set

Few roles come with as much public scrutiny as starting NFL quarterback. Presidential candidate is certainly one, though – and Trump obviously has the indomitable self-belief and single-minded determination required of a QB.

The public often laugh at the arrogant pronouncements of quarterbacks, but, like a candidate for high office, how can you possibly put yourself forward if you don’t believe you’re the best? Trump’s bumptiousness is a positive asset here.

Trump talking © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“I would be the best football player ever to be president. Gerald Ford said so.”
© Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

He also has the precious gift of forgetting. When something goes wrong – like throwing a game losing interception or suffering a massive corporate bankruptcy – you need someone who can instantly put the error behind them and not allow it to crush their self-belief. Classic gunslingers like Favre or Andrew Luck have it. They know that you need to take some chances and, whatever happens, never start second guessing yourself. That’s the road to disaster, where simple manoeuvres turn into car crashes.

The dark side of self-belief is not knowing when to change course. Trump’s willingness to double-down on decisions, even in the face of overwhelming evidence he’s made a mistake, will lead scouts to wonder what will happen against other big characters. Trump, I suspect, is the guy who will throw on Richard Sherman just because you’re not supposed to and, when Sherman picks him off and takes it back for a touchdown, will immediately throw to Sherman’s side again. And again and again until the game’s gone or the coach benches him.

And, if the coach does, he’s going to notice something: Trump, when he’s got the hump, has the radioactive body language and plate-throwing pettishness of Jay Cutler. And not just ordinary Jay Cutler, but Jay Cutler who’s spent all day thinking people are planning a surprise party for him, only to get home and realise that, no, everyone has just forgotten his birthday.

Some of this, of course, may be a product of his background. Trump would hardly be the first NFL player whose father had had trouble with the law or who had not had the benefits of a stable home life. By his own admission, Trump has fathered multiple children by numerous different women.

Accuracy

Paradoxically, while teams pass more than ever in the NFL, having a big arm is ever less important. Teams are throwing more short passes and, provided a player can drive a ball 20 yards, arm strength isn’t a huge deal. What counts is accuracy.

Unfortunately, some of Trump’s tape can be pretty ugly on this front. Indeed, after detailed review of Trump’s performances, one expert said that “[his] record on… accuracy is astonishingly poor,” and suggested his completion percentage was around just 25%. That’s Rex Grossman territory.

Preparation

Respected quarterbacks are, famously, the first in to the building in the morning and the last out at night. (This is an extraordinary account of the mental demands running Arizona’s offense places on its quarterback Carson Palmer.)

Trump’s study habits have often been questioned as has his possession of that most precious attribute: ‘coachability’. In his mind, he is his own head coach, often appearing so confident in his ability as to be willing to wing it on every play. It’s an approach – improvise and scramble – that can win you a Heisman Trophy, but at the NFL level, as Johnny Manziel showed, there’s no shortcuts to success.

Trump, then, projects as a throwback quarterback. Ken Stabler famously claimed to study his playbook by the light of Bloomberg News as he checked his property portfolio and Trump, you have to assume, will be similar.

Trump goes for two © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“We’re going for two.”
“It’s 24-24 and there’s only five ticks left.”
“Two.”
© Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The question is, can you still survive in the NFL on natural ability alone?

Trump is an instinctive quarterback. He lives on his wits and he’s unwilling – unable even – to deliver a defined plan. He doesn’t care to make pre-snap reads. No, this is a quarterback who will call his own plays in the huddle and run them come what may. Everything is going to go through him. Forget the improvisational brilliance of Roethlisberger or the scrambling ability of Wilson, Trump’s best case scenario is more like that of Jim Kelly or Boomer Esiason; you can prep him all you want, but you know that, come game time, he’s the man running the show, not the voice in his earpiece.

And that means going for it on 4th down. Every time. Even 4th and 19 on his own goal line in the first quarter with the game tied at 0-0.

Communication

NFL players have a camera thrust in their face regularly. Perhaps not frequently enough for Trump’s liking, but enough that it worries team owners. They hate controversy more than just about anything. Certainly more than wife beating and drug taking.

But, while teams fight shy of loud mouth players, there’s no denying they’re great box office. Who, for example, among true football historians can watch Trump’s assertion that he’s going to build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it and not be reminded fondly of Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee?

Overall grade

As I’ve written before, for all the investment in scouting, drafting a quarterback is still, essentially, a coin toss.

We can say with confidence, though, that the NFL has never seen a draft prospect like this. He’s unorthodox and far from pro-ready. But he’s tough and durable; a natural brawler who never knows when he’s beaten and, even when he has been, will frequently continue to deny it.

Ultimately, just as voters are wondering who to entrust with the leadership of their nation, every general manager in the NFL is going to be pondering this question: could I really put our future in those hands?

 

Martin Calladine

If you enjoyed this, please buy my book “The Ugly Game: How Football Lost Its Magic And What It Could Learn From The NFL”. That way I’ll have the money to write more things you might like. Oh, and please spread the word, too. Thanks a lot.

Next week: ‘Could Hillary Clinton thrive as a False Nine?’

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