[Indianopolis Colt's executive Bill] Polian made one of the great all time decisions in 1998 when he drafted Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf. It's a no brainer now but it was an agonizing choice back then. Leaf was bigger and more overtly athletic, but to Polian, Manning seemed to have more emotional maturity and ability to deal with adversity. It was exactly the right assessment; Leaf turned out to have buried temperament problems and caused the San Diego Chargers nothing but grief. It wasn't the first time Polian was correct: he also brought Jim Kelly to the Buffalo Bills from the USFL. If Polian has a secret, it's that he tries not to overrate the physical in favor of the mental and emotional aspects of the game. Just because a guy has an arm doesn't make him a quarterback. Rather than pure strength, he puts a premium on accuracy and poise, and a particular kind of processing intelligence that he calls "fast eyes," the ability to assess complex situations quickly.Frank Ryan of the 1960s Cleveland Browns earned a Ph.D. in math from Rice U.. (See here for the title of his dissertation.) Yet, he wasn't known as a smart quarterback on the field. His coach had to simplify plays for him to be able to make the right decisions in real time. (What he was known for to his teammates was being brave.)
"Intelligence is awfully important," Polian says. "It's a complex game and they have to be able to comprehend and process lots of information. It's not rocket science but it's pretty close, it's like financial engineering, or the things that pilots do."
It would seem as if the NFL, with all its resources, could develop some kind of video game test of "fast eyes" that would be more relevant than the standard Wonderlic IQ test. For example, I played a fair amount of touch football growing up and, having a decent arm, I was an okay sandlot quarterback in 2 on 2 games where I had only two mental tasks: focus on my one receiver and avoid the pass rusher. In 6 on 6 games, however, I was cognitively overwhelmed. I have "slow eyes." You'll notice that my blogging style isn't that different. Instead of putting up a lot of posts, each one making one single point, I tend to start off with a short post, but it keeps growing as I follow out the implications to who knows where. I don't shift focus adroitly to the latest topic of interest in the news. I'd rather keep burrowing into one topic for a long time. * By the way, Sally Jenkins is the daughter of Dan Jenkins, one of the half dozen top sportswriters of the second half of the 20th Century. I have this theory that women who succeed in masculine fields are much more likely to have fathers who were in that field.