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26-27-60 Rule for QuarterbacksSeptember 28, 2011


by: Aaron Stern

By the conventional wisdom of that time, Ryan Leaf was a can’t-miss quarterback prospect. He had the measurable – size, strength, lots of touchdown passes – and the immeasurables – competitive drive and the charisma of a leader. That he would be a top-tier pro was a belief above common reproach.

It is well known how untrue that turned out to be: Long story short, the can’t-miss kid exploded far off target and became the poster boy for first-round quarterback flops.

Leaf and many others before and since, serve as painful reminders to scouts that predicting what ingredients make a successful NFL quarterback is an extremely inexact science. The stakes are high: Success can lead to glory and prosperity for teams and cities; failure can set a franchise’s development back for years to come. So determining the financial viability of investing titanic sums of money in any strong-armed 21-year-olds is weighty stuff.

Scouts use every tool at their disposal – game tape, statistical analysis, gut intuition – to minimize their odds of screwing this decision up. And now they have the supposed rule of 26-27-60, the latest fad in predicting a quarterback’s professional success.

As outlined in John P. Lopez’s definitive piece on the subject in SI last year, this rule states that any quarterback who scores at least a 26 on the Wonderlic test (the exam given to quarterback prospects that supposedly gauges their natural and football intelligences), started at least 27 collegiate games, and completed 60% or more of his throws collegiate throws is likely to succeed. It’s not clear who came up with this formula or how seriously it is taken by the pro scouts, but when you apply it to recent high draft choices and other big names at the position, it gains merit.

Recent notables who made the grade include the standard-bearers at the position: Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, and Matt Ryan. Others who have emerged from more humble origins might claim that this rule could have predicted their successes: Kyle Orton, Kevin Kolb, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The predictable flip side is that the bigger busts in recent memory failed this test: JaMarcus Russell, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington, and Tim Couch were each deficient in at least one category.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, as others have succeeded to varying degrees despite not meeting the letter of the 26-27-60 law. Among them: Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, and Donovan McNabb fell below the Wonderlic threshold (25, 22, and 14, respectively), while Jay Cutler didn’t meet the accuracy rating, Joe Flacco started too few games, and Mike Vick was sub-par in all three categories.

Among the 2011 rookie quarterbacks who were drafted as franchise signal callers, Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, and Christian Ponder all made the grade, but Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Mallett, and Jake Locker did not. Then there’s Cam Newton, who has easily been the most impressive rookie quarterback this season and he started only 14 college games before entering the pros.

As for Leaf? He made the Wonderlic grade, but had only 24 college starts and completed only 53% of his passes in college (whatever you think about the 26-27-60 rule, that statistic alone should have raised a huge red flag with scouts).

It’s hard to say how legit the 26-27-60 rule is, but when it comes to planning the future of an NFL franchise, every tool helps.

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