Physical tools may define what a quarterback can do, but personality traits define who a quarterback can be. The mind is much harder to evaluate than the body, which makes scouting quarterbacks more art than science. In the words of the late and legendary 49ers head coach Bill Walsh, the difference between a good quarterback and a great quarterback “is the ability to make the great, spontaneous decision, especially at a crucial time.”
The same can be said about Instagram. Like playing quarterback, a gifted physical profile helps, but it can take you only so far. More important to success is feel, vision, instincts, finesse, and the ability to command a following—in other words, intangibles. Walsh didn’t have Instagram to identify quarterback traits when he was with the 49ers, but three decades later, we can finally determine, with 100 percent accuracy, which quarterbacks have what it takes to succeed at the NFL level. With draft season in full swing, let’s rank the Instagrams for the top five quarterback prospects, and in the process, we’ll discover which are truly ready for the NFL. We will use the following three metrics, each of which are crucial to both football and Instagram:
Decision-making: Captions speak louder than words.
Instincts (a.k.a. Instaincts): The feel of the game.
Leadership: Without leaders, there are no followers.
To determine a composite Instangibles score, we graded each of these categories from 1-10, with zero being if your dad had an Instagram, and 10 being Beyoncé’s Instagram.
No. 5: Sam Darnold, USC
Follower/Following Ratio: 40.6
Decision-Making: Being a top-tier prospect means sponsors are knocking down your door the moment you declare for the draft. Elite prospects associate with elite brands, yet Darnold has started his professional career by endorsing Red Robin (yummm):
This Insta, Darnold’s first ad since declaring for the draft, has more questionable layers than a Red Robin Banzai Burger. How can a team expect Darnold to identify Cover 2 versus Cover 4 if he can’t even identify a top-10 burger chain? Can he be a patient pocket passer if he didn’t have the patience to pocket a check from a massive corporation like McDonald’s or Burger King? Is he eating cheeseburgers two weeks before the NFL combine? And does he realize that saving $10 on a Red Robin catering platter is a terrible deal because nobody is going to come to a party catered by Red Robin?
Instaincts: Darnold’s Insta is a well-mixed blend of chill friend, loving son, doting boyfriend and #grinding college athlete. He deftly weaves between big moments, (winning the Pac-12, earning Rose Bowl MVP), arresting visuals (throwing footballs off of boats, being smashed by blocking pads), and extremely well-captioned humblebrags.
His Instagram is selfie-free, and that, combined with his limited use of hashtags, hints at a maturity beyond his years. But after a stellar freshman campaign, Darnold’s Instagram took a step back his sophomore year, and of his four Instagrams since declaring for the NFL draft, three were subpar. He has talent, but he’s trending in the wrong direction.
Leadership: One of the most frustrating issues with Darnold’s Instagram is how inconsistent his captions are. When he’s inspired, he can do great things, but often his captions leave you wanting more.
Instangibles Score: 11.5
No. 4 Josh Allen, Wyoming
Follower/Following Ratio: 32.5
This outfit is the sartorial equivalent of throwing against your body into triple coverage. Wearing a suit to prom should be an easy check-down pass, but Allen sends the ball careening into the stands—emblematic of the broader scouting concerns that surround him.
Instaincts: Allen’s Instagram is family-oriented, though he tilted heavily toward photos of him and his girlfriend in his senior year. On the rare occasions he’s not posting about family or football, he leans toward “frat bro you once worked with on a group project.”
Scouts question if he’ll be able to anticipate at the next level, but he can be patient when necessary. He transformed this blurry photo of him into a solid #tbt by waiting for February 29.
Leadership: Football is family, and Allen takes family very seriously on his Instagram. That means posts of charming family gatherings and classic Mother’s Day photos, but it also means roasting your siblings on their birthdays. Look at this savage takedown of his sister in 2016.
The question is how that skill translates to the next level. Allen hasn’t posted a picture with a teammate since July 2016, when he wished a happy birthday to DJ Steelballz (I don’t know what that means, and I don’t want to know).
Instangibles Score: 13.0
No. 3: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Follower/Following Ratio: 560.9
Decision-Making: Mayfield needed less than three weeks after his season ended to make headlines. In January, he commented on former Oklahoma receiver and current Miami Dolphin Kenny Still’s Instagram Live, saying, “#GetMeToMiami.”
Mayfield clarified that the post was a joke and not an actual declaration of where he wants to play, but every decision-maker in the NFL is too old to understand why it was funny. (This post, while relatable, doesn’t help his case.) Excluding the time he planted a flag on Ohio State’s field, this category has never been a strong one for Mayfield.
Instaincts: If a person who didn’t know anything about football had to guess which of these quarterback prospects grabbed his crotch and shouted “fuck you” at the opposing sideline and then cried during the ensuing public apology, and the only clue they had was each quarterback’s Instagram account, that person would guess Baker Mayfield.
If you don’t follow Mayfield, you probably follow someone like him. His go-to hashtag is #MMO (short for Money Moves Only), he attributes common sayings to himself, his throwbacks are frustratingly cute, and his humblebrags aren’t all that humble. He’s got pictures with Justin Timberlake, Odell Beckham Jr., and Kevin Durant. It’s what Drake’s Instagram would look like if Drake played college football.
And yet, he’s starting to show maturity. He’s literally cleaning up his act for his new girlfriend. Mayfield may blossom this year.
[Wipes away tears.] That’s my quarterback!
How could you not want to play for this guy? He @s his teammates, respects his coaches, and appreciates the fans. Mayfield Instagrams with his heart on his sleeve. That makes him a leader in the locker room.
Instangibles Score: 19.0
No. 2: Josh Rosen, UCLA
Follower/Following Ratio: 261
Decision-Making: Rosen’s Instagram is the most pro-ready of any quarterback prospect, and shows remarkable progress from 2015, when he made waves for setting up a $400 inflatable hot tub in his freshman dorm room in an incident later dubbed #hottubgate.
Three years later, Rosen is a different Instagrammer, and finally displays the maturity NFL teams want to see out of their franchise signal-caller (not your typical 21st birthday Instagram). Look no further than the flawless delivery when Rosen announced he was entering the NFL draft.
The design is subtle, but professional enough to show he took it seriously, and the photo shows off his smile in ideal lighting. While his peers are making this announcement by hastily typing their thoughts in the notes app and posting the screenshots (cough, Lamar Jackson), Rosen handles it like a 10-year veteran.
Instaincts: Last week, he posted a pic of himself in an Eagles jacket #circa2011 to make it clear he was an Eagles fan before it was cool. Posting that Eagles picture two days after Philadelphia won the Super Bowl is a total squid move, and it’s significantly worse when you remember there’s a good chance that he plays against the Philadelphia Eagles this season.
He has a tendency to overcompensate for weak pictures by using overexposed filters, and some of his photos are distressingly low-res, but those issues are easily corrected with the right coaching staff. His fundamentals are sound.
Leadership: Scouts are unsure whether Rosen’s attitude issues will affect his leadership ability in the locker room. Rosen’s Instagram suggests these concerns are overblown.
Most quarterbacks give their linemen gifts like grills or steaks (or if you’re Russell Wilson, speakers from your sponsor that you definitely didn’t pay for), but rarely are they personalized, which is the essence of gift-giving.
The only thing more important for young quarterbacks than giving gifts is taking a joke. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Josh.
Instangibles Score: 21.0
No. 1 Lamar Jackson
Follower/Following Ratio: 1,263
Decision-Making: Lamar Jackson and Mayfield are the only players in this ranking to plug a link in their bio—and Jackson does so four times. It’s a crucial step toward professionalism, and he shows his entrepreneurial side by linking to his own site. When you visit lamarjacksonenterprises.com, this is what you see.
That’s the entire site. His webpage may not be at the top of his to-do list, but if Nathan Peterman can have a beautiful website selling throw pillows, Jackson could have spent a few more hours on Squarespace.
Instaincts: Great quarterbacks can turn nothing into something, and elite ones make it look easy. Nobody in this year’s class embodies this like Lamar Jackson.
Jackson has the highest upside of any quarterback in his class. He posts at a high volume (an average of one every 2.5 days since his first post in 2014), which dilutes his pure talent, but he has the best caption game of any quarterback prospect this decade.
I don’t know what that means, but I love it.
Leadership: Hours after leading Louisville to a 44-17 win against Kentucky, Jackson posted the following on his Instagram Story.
Yes, that’s Jackson as Godzilla with laser beams shooting out of his eyes looming over Kentucky’s Kroger Field, besmirching Kentucky’s football team and sponsor. He relishes each opportunity to make fun of Lexington. Scouts should love a prospect that appreciates a good rivalry. We’re lucky he doesn’t charge extra for this much sauce.
Instangibles Score: 22.0