Dismantling Misconceptions on Quarterback Drop Depth

Dismantling Misconceptions on Quarterback Drop Depth

"Get depth on your drop" is a common coaching point extolled from grade school to NFL coaches. This is overcoached and incorrect. While depth on the initial steps, especially when under center, is valuable, the final steps of the drop should basically be on top of each other. In this post, I will steel man arguments for more depth on drops, and then will go back through and refute them.

Arguments for More Depth

Timing and Rhythm: Getting more depth away from the line of scrimmage synchronizes your footwork to the route concepts the wide receivers run. This creates more timing and rhythm for an offense.

Setting a pocket: Getting nine yards of depth on your drop as opposed to seven allows the offensive line to back up more and gives you an extra second to get the ball away. It also forces the defensive ends to set their rush at the top of your drop so you can then climb back up into the pocket.

Vision: Everyone in front of you is 6'6" and to properly analyze the field of play, you need to get more depth.

Bigger Hitches: Getting more depth allows you to take larger hitches to increase velocity on your throws. You have more space in front of you to hitch up and let it rip.

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Refutation Based on Biomechanics

I'll debunk the earlier points in detail later; but here's the key takeaway: overextending your drop ruins your biomechanics. This alone dismantles the four arguments. Poor biomechanics equals less accuracy and less velocity. If you can't place the ball exactly where you want, forget reaching your full potential. Tom Gormely, an expert in Applied Biomechanics, explains below:

From a purely biomechanical standpoint, a quarterback drop should only be deep enough to build three main things: a good hip coil/rotational base, a stacked rear leg without drifting weight too far forward, and a feeling of athletic “lightness” on your feet. 
Oftentimes we see quarterbacks create clunky drops from under center and in the gun that end up setting them up for poor throwing based positions. Creating too much depth, for example, can cause the quarterback to stab their back foot way outside of the base of support causing a forward shifted center of mass and leaning towards the front foot. This position prevents a stable base, where the rear hip is loaded and coiled, which would allow for collision into the front foot in a rapid and efficient rotational manner. When a quarterback gets stuck in the aforementioned forward lean and extended back leg it is often times, because they are trying to gain as much depth as they can in a drop: this is a killer to dissociation, rotation, velocity and accuracy. 
Biomechanically, the top of a drop should feel like a boxer getting ready to deliver a punch. You should be light but reactive on your feet ready to create ground reaction force through rotation and pull the trigger at any time. You should also find yourself loaded into your rear hip with weight just inside the back foot and a coil/hinge into your glutes.
A simple cue: Get out quick and big, then adopt a calm and controlled tempo to maintain base and rhythm.
At times this may change drop depth, but maybe that’s a good thing? If a quarterback has different drop tempos and distances it could possibly prevent edge rushers from seeking a spot to get to and provide more variability for defenses to account for. This is of course on top of the already biomechanically described advantages. 

As a practitioner with six years of experience in the NFL, this is all true. While it remains possible to overextend your drop and still establish solid mechanics—as demonstrated by some NFL quarterbacks—most will find that overreaching diminishes their chances of consistently generating the proper sequence, rep after rep.

More Refutations

Now, one by one, let's address the arguments in favor of more depth that were mentioned earlier in the article.

Timing and Rhythm: This belief is a misconception. Aligning your drop with the depth of routes is a matter of adjusting the tempo, not the depth, of your drop. Whether by slowing down or accelerating, you can synchronize your movement with the play's timing—depth plays no role in this equation.

Setting a Pocket: While a valid point, the counter is that the tradeoff of poor biomechanics is not worth the benefit of additional depth. Beyond that, especially in the gun, I would advise playing with your left foot up, which gives you an extra step on every drop (more depth without overextending). Additionally, one can back up an extra half yard in the gun, so they are farther away when they catch the ball (more depth without overextending).

Vision: As a player in the NFL, who has spoken to other quarterbacks ranging from 6'6" to 6'0", the reality is you will always have impaired vision. Your eyes sit three inches below your head. If you're 6'6", your eyes sit at 6'3", and your linemen are all 6'6". The argument for getting more depth to create better vision makes no difference.

Bigger Hitches: The argument that you need more depth so you can generate larger hitches, and in turn more power is false. You do not need big hitches to generate velocity. If you are a rotational thrower, then you should be able to make all of the throws in a phone booth. Hitch size does not matter.

In conclusion, depth is overrated.

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