Good discipline and a basketball background have made it possible for Drew Brees to overcome his size.

On a typical Sunday afternoon, fans around the globe surround their prized televisions to watch as many NFL games as they possibly can. While watching the games, they engage in various topics of conversation, and one that often pops up is the debate over the NFL’s best quarterback? The common answer to this question is Colts quarterback Peyton Manning or New England’s Tom Brady. However, one quarterback that does not get mentioned enough in this conversation is Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

In the 2001 NFL Draft, Brees was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the first pick of the second round. Brees held the clipboard his rookie season, analyzing what was happening on the field and learning from veteran quarterback Doug Flutie. However, Brees became a starter in his second season and endured some tough times. He battled inconsistency in various parts of his game, such as decision-making (16 interceptions), mechanics and footwork. Despite a worse record, Brees got better in his third season, but it was his fourth year in which he really took off. In his third season as a starter, Brees blossomed into an NFL star by throwing 27 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, earning a spot in the 2004 Pro Bowl.

What helped Brees become a more efficient and better all-around quarterback was consistency in his play. Brees’ decision making and accuracy improved, which can be tied to two things: mechanics and footwork. Mechanics and footwork are the two most important traits of quarterbacks, because every play can be traced back to success in those areas.

Below is one of the important parts of quarterback mechanics: the triangle setup before the pass. The triangle setup consists of the quarterback holding the ball with both hands, with his elbows out and the nose of the ball pointing down at the ground. This allows the quarterback to have both hands on the ball to secure it if or when pass rushers are closing in, and it also allows him to get his arm up quickly to get rid of the ball. If the quarterback was to hold the ball in one hand with it hanging around, it would require a longer windup motion to get rid of the ball, which puts the offense at a disadvantage because the ball would not be getting out quick enough. It is called a pre-pass triangle setup because it forms a triangle with the head and the elbows of the quarterback.

Moreover, a few more components of mechanics that can be seen in the image below are ball placement, the ability to get the elbow up and out with the ball at the ear, the transfer of weight to the lead foot, and the pointing of the belt buckle toward the intended target. It’s important to get the elbow up and out because the quarterback needs to be able to generate the most power as well as deliver a ball that leads the target in his route. Brees does a great job of this in the image below and on a consistent basis. This is why a lot of his throws have quality ball placement, which consequently allows the receiving target to make a play after the catch.

Ball placement can be a before and/or after the throw pointer, and in this case it’s before the throw. When raising your arm to throw the ball, there should be an open space between the ball and the palm of the hand. If there’s no space between the ball and the palm, the throw will come out flat. This can be seen in basketball as well, with jump shooters. When there is a space between the ball and palm, the shot comes out with an arc and has a higher chance of going into the basket. This applies to football when attempting a touch pass, for example. Brees does a good job of this, likely because of his background as a basketball player in high school.

Also, the transfer of weight to the front foot is vital to the quarterback’s delivery because it allows him to generate much-needed velocity on the ball to make throws in tight windows. This is often an issue with young quarterbacks coming into the NFL, as they rely so much on their upper body to generate power. Throws have to be made through the lower body and hips.

Last but not least, the quarterback should have his belt buckle (or towel in Brees’ case) pointing at his target as he delivers the ball. This goes back to the opening of the hips and throwing with them because once the hips are open, the quarterback is aiming them at his target, which allows him to be more accurate. This is also similar to the jump shot in basketball — the feet and hips of the shooter should be aligned with the basket if he wants to have a higher chance of making a basket.

Another aspect of quarterbacking is the throwing motion. When evaluating a throwing motion of a quarterback, you want the throw to be over the top as opposed to a side arm throw or a throw that has the arm coming in low. What Drew Brees has is a 3/4th’s throwing motion, which is pictured below. Brees’ lack of stature is a problem for him, so this type of throwing motion allows him to get the ball over the top of defensive linemen. It also allows him to have more power on the ball and a shorter delivery time, which is key to the success of completing passes at any level of football.

In this next image, there are two things to note: the follow through of the pass as well as the timing of it. The follow through of the pass is very important because it equates to power and velocity. This allows the pass to get to the pass-catcher as quickly as possible while lessening the chance of the pass being batted down. Brees followed through with his pass before bringing it across his body, into the opposite pocket, which is commonly taught by quarterback coaches.

The timing of the throw is something that is not tied to mechanics as much as the other things listed, but I felt it was very important to note. This throw by Brees was made before the receiver got out of his break. What this throw shows is a complete understanding of where Brees is supposed to go with the ball and the chemistry between the two Saints players.

The final step in the mechanics is the throwing shoulder. One thing that’s harped on by coaches is that the throwing shoulder needs to be brought over to the front of the body once a throw is made. The shoulder needs to be brought over to the front because the weight needs to be transferred to the front of the body for the throw to be made with with full power. This is something Brees does very well.

The final thing that has helped Drew Brees become a top quarterback in the NFL is his improved footwork. As NFL coaching legend Bill Walsh once said, “you’ve got to lock this stuff in so you can make reads, give the ball to people on time and make decisions about where to throw the football based on your feet.” Footwork is heavily tied to the success of a quarterback because it has such a significant impact on the throw. Quality footwork helps accuracy, decision-making, and arm strength. It also is key in the timing with pass-catchers, as all offenses nowadays are built on tying footwork in with routes.

Drew Brees’ footwork is often a significant factor in his success. In the video below, Brees takes a five-step drop — three large steps, and then two small ones. The three big steps are used to to get depth on the dropback, while the two small steps are used to gather himself and get balanced while reading the field. Once the decision has been made, Brees is balanced while stepping up into the pocket and transferring his weight to deliver the pass to the receiver.

Brees has overcome many of the inconsistencies and limitations that plagued him early in his career to become one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL today. Brees overcame inconsistency in his mechanics and footwork as well as the limitation of being short. Six-foot tall quarterbacks are not typically successful in the NFL, but when they have the tools Brees possesses, they can overcome their limitation in stature to be successful. One thing’s for sure: Brees is ready for the 2011 season to start, and the Green Bay Packers better be ready too.

Additional reading:

How I Evaluate Each Position: Quarterback by Bill Walsh