Arm strength for NFL quarterbacks is typically a relatively subjective assessment. Without hard data, it’s tough to say definitively who has strong arms and who doesn’t.
Personally, I’ve always wondered why they don’t have QBs do a long distance toss or throw for a radar gun at the combine. Perhaps they fear it would hurt the players’ arms? Well, apparently there’ve been speed guns at the combine for years, and Ourlads.com has the results for 2008-2014, which I’ve compiled into the chart below (long, but Control-F-ible).
As you can see, Nick Foles ranks in the 13th-21st range among the 90 quarterbacks who threw at the combine from 2008-2014. Now, this isn’t a perfect dataset for measuring relative arm strength , but the results still demonstrate that Nick Foles has upper-end arm strength.
Quarterback Throw Velocities at NFL Combine 2008-2014
|1||Logan Thomas||60||Virginia Tech||2014|
|2-7||Zac Dysert||59||Miami (OH)||2013|
|2-7||Brandon Weeden||59||Oklahoma State||2012|
|2-7||Kirk Cousins||59||Michigan State||2012|
|8-12||Austin Davis||58||Southern Mississippi||2012|
|8-12||John Wilson Parker||58||Alabama||2009|
|8-12||Mike Reilly||58||Central Washington||2009|
|13-21||Chandler Harnish||57||Northern Illinois||2012|
|13-21||Mark Sanchez||57||Southern Cal||2009|
|13-21||Josh Freeman||57||Kansas State||2009|
|22-33||Blake Bortles||56||Central Florida||2014|
|22-33||Jimmy Garoppolo||56||Eastern Illinois||2014|
|22-33||Keith Wenning||56||Ball State||2014|
|22-33||Bradley Sorensen||56||Southern Utah||2013|
|22-33||Nate Davis||56||Ball State||2009|
|34-42||Jordan Lynch||55||Northern Illinois||2014|
|34-42||Geno Smith||55||West Virginia||2013|
|34-42||Rhett Bomar||55||Sam Houston State||2009|
|34-42||Kevin O’Connell||55||San Diego St||2008|
|43-49||Bryn Renner||54||North Carolina||2014|
|43-49||EJ Manuel||54||Florida State||2013|
|50-59||David Fales||53||San Jose State||2014|
|50-59||Dustin Vaughan||53||West Texas A&M||2014|
|50-59||Tom Brandstetter||53||Fresno State||2009|
|50-59||Stephen McGee||53||Texas A & M||2009|
|60-71||Collin Klein||52||Kansas State||2013|
|60-71||Ryan Lindley||52||San Diego State||2012|
|60-71||Kellen Moore||52||Boise State||2012|
|60-71||TJ Yates||52||North Carolina||2011|
|60-71||Tim Hiller||52||Western Michigan||2010|
|60-71||Zac Robinson||52||Oklahoma St.||2010|
|60-71||Graham Harrell||52||Texas Tech||2009|
|60-71||Pat White||52||West Virginia||2009|
|72-76||Colby Cameron||51||Louisiana Tech||2013|
|72-76||Christian Ponder||51||Florida St||2011|
|72-76||Sean Canfield||51||Oregon St.||2010|
|72-76||John David Booty||51||Southern Cal||2008|
|77-84||Connor Shaw||50||South Carolina||2014|
|77-84||Tyrod Taylor||50||Va Tech||2011|
|77-84||Jarrett Brown||50||West Virginia||2010|
|85-88||Michael Glennon||49||North Carolina State||2013|
|85-88||Dan LeFevour||49||Central Michigan||2010|
|85-88||Josh Johnson||49||San Diego||2008|
|89||Armanti Edwards||46.5||Appalachian St.||2010|
I wanted another way to verify arm strength, so I looked at Football Outsiders’ 2012 game charting data (2013 not out yet) to find his longest throw that year. Only 15 QBs threw a ball farther downfield than Foles (53 yards) all year (and three tied him).
This is an even more imperfect measure than our combine data , but it is still additional objective evidence that Foles has a good arm, especially since Foles achieved such a high mark on fewer attempts than most quarterbacks on this list. (Also note how low Peyton Manning ranked. I would be curious to see how he did in 2010 or earlier before his neck injury, and I will be anxious to see how he fared in 2013.)
I think part of the issue with anyone underestimating Foles’ arm strength was that Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick (subjectively) had cannons. I don’t have much hard evidence for either player, but both pass the eye test. People rave about the way the ball jumps out of Vick’s hand (and he did have a 56 yard toss in 2012). And no one ever complained about McNabb’s arm strength; if anything, he was criticized for throwing the ball too hard for his receivers to catch!
(Seriously don’t waste your time reading these. They’re just obligatory explanations of why the data isn’t perfect.)
 There is some sampling bias here if we’re looking to compare him to all QBs in the league. Not all future pro-QBs go to the combine, and it’s also common for a few prospects each year to attend without throwing. And those prospects also often tend to be the most highly rated prospects, and so we can assume that they would be likelier than normal to have strong arms. (On the other hand, maybe some don’t throw because they want to hide weak arms?)
Another issue is that the values seem off. Why is Armani Edwards’ velocity given with a decimal while the others’ are not? And was Colt Brennan’s maximum velocity seriously 16 mph slower than Logan Thomas’. A 44 mph max velocity implies he can throw the ball about 45 yards max (rough estimate based on playing around with a projectile motion calculator). Seriously? I tried to check this by watching Colt Brennan highlight videos on YouTube and saw zero tosses exceeding 40 yards in 4 minutes of watching. Is that right?
- Incompletions are marked based on where the ball lands and completions are marked where it’s caught so if a quarterback throws a ball that’s caught, it will have a shorter reported distance than the same ball that is not caught and travels a little farther before hitting the ground.
- You’ll get more distance throwing straight down the middle as opposed to down the sideline
- The starting point is the line of scrimmage as opposed to the spot where the QB released the ball.
- Not every QB unleashes a max distance throw each year
- Wind/weather may help some and hurt others
Regardless, these flaws affect all QBs about the same, so over such a large sample, it should still provide a reasonable approximation of arm strength.