The NFL always seems to be a sport that evolves as the years go by and today’s athletes are no different. Athletes of past and present share one thing in common and that is their desire to win and their commitment to staying in shape and being the best at their respective position. The Quarterback Position has long been considered the most difficult one to succeed with in the NFL. Not only is it the most difficult, but it is also the most important one on the Football Field. With the emergence of better athletes in sports today in general, due to technology and better training, many styles of play have elevated to adapt to the change in strategy. No position in sports has evolved more than the Quarterback Position in the NFL.
Since the inception of the NFL in August of 1920, there have been countless star players that have left their mark on the league and entertained fans all over the world. The NFL Hall of Fame enshrines the NFL’s best of the best. The HOF is composed of players, coaches, owners, and key contributors. As of 2013, there are over 280 members in the NFL Hall of Fame, with over 30 of those members being Quarterbacks. When we think Quarterback, we think passing yards, touchdown passes, interceptions, wins, playoff wins, and Super Bowls. However, as the game has evolved so has the Quarterback Position. The classic “Drop Back” Quarterback that was the norm is now a thing of the past. Slowly but surely, the NFL Quarterback has become a dual threat. Now when taking a look at this dual threat, which can be described as the word “mobile-meaning able to escape and extend plays”, there are a few different styles that have developed.
The mobile quarterback has went through numerous style changes as well as philosophical changes. When looking back at the history of “mobile’ Quarterbacks, we think of Fran Tarkenton, Bobby Douglass, Tobin Rote and Roger Staubach as being the best of the early ones. Tobin Rote was a Quarterback for the Green Bay Packers during the 1950’s. Rote led the NFL in Rushing Yards by a Quarterback six times (1951,1954-1958) and his 37 Rushing Touchdowns rank sixth on the all-time list of signal callers. What was even more incredible about Rote was that he actually led his team in rushing 3x, in a time when running the ball was a grind it out 3.0 Yards Per Carry, cloud of dust down your throat approach. He also led his team in Rushing Touchdowns 5x. The two time pro Bowler is still the only Quarterback to lead an AFL and NFL team to a championship. Fran Tarkenton was the first “True Running” Quarterback. Nicknamed the “Mad Scrambler,” Tarkenton was a player ahead of his time. Tarkenton produced 3,674 Rushing Yards along with 32 Rushing Touchdowns during what was known as the NFL’s “STATUE” era of Quarterbacks. Statue refers to the drop back inn the pocket and wait until someone came open or throw the ball away style. Tarkenton is fourth in all-time Quarterback Rushing Yards behind Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham, and Steve Young. Tarkenton was also lethal through the air. He lead the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls during his time there. His Passing Stats were among the best when he retired from the NFL in 1981, and stood as records at the time.
Other Quarterbacks were “mobile” and fleet on their feet as the game evolved. The Patriots Steve Grogan was also considered a great escape artist of his time. During his career, he compiled 2,176 Rushing Yards and 36 Rushing Touchdowns. Grogan held the NFL record for Rushing Touchdowns by a Quarterback with (12) up until two years ago when the Carolina Panther’s Rookie Cam Newton rushed for 14 Scores. 1978 was his best all around season as far as rushing when he had 539 Yards and 5 Touchdowns. There was also Bobby Douglass, the former Chicago Bears standout. In 1972, Douglass rushed for a single season record of 968 Rushing Yards for a Quarterback while scoring 8 Touchdowns on only 141 Carries. Michael Vick has since broke Bobby’s record, however Bobby set the record in a 14 game season, two less than Vick and averaged 69.1 Yards Per Game. There were also other Quarterbacks that made their mark as being “mobile” including Doug Flutie, Greg Landry, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett, Vince Evans, Daunte Culpepper, and Kenny Anderson.
In 1985, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Randall Cunningham in the second round. Randall Cunningham would change the Quarterback position forever taking “mobile” to the next level. During Randall’s career, he amassed 4,982 yards Rushing on 775 Carries, a 6.4 Yards Per Carry Average and 35 Rushing Touchdowns. Cunningham’s star power as a dual threat with both rushing and passing earned him the nickname “The Ultimate Weapon.” During his career, Cunningham also won 2 MVP Awards and he single handedly carried the Eagles for most of his time there due to the lack of a supporting cast and a weak Offensive Line. In 1990, Randall rushed for 924 Yards and scored 5 Touchdowns with an astronomical 8.0 Yards Per Carry Average. However, not only could Cunningham run the ball, but he could also air it out with the best of them. He actually threw a ball over 80 yards in the air in practice which may still be a record. He even punted the ball a record 92 Yards in one game showing just how athletic he was. But the most impressive thing about that 1990 season was that along with the 924 Yards/5TDS Rushing, he also threw 30 Touchdowns and only 13 Interceptions, for 3,466 Yards with a long of 95 Yards. That 95 Yard pass came in a game against the Buffalo Bills, where he miraculously made Bruce Smith miss a sack and safety, and he scrambled to the entire other side of the end zone, finally heaving a bomb that Fred Barnett caught at the 50 Yard Line, which he took for a Touchdown.
There is no telling how good Randall could have been if he was surrounded with more talent. He also had Buddy Ryan as a head coach which knew as much about offense as I do about Algebra, and that is very little. Cunningham was also injured for two entire seasons, as he tore both ACL’s in two different seasons. Later in his career, Cunningham joined the Minnesota Vikings where he had his best season as a pro. During that 1998 Season, Randall compiled a 13-1 Record, while Throwing for 3,704 Yards, 34 Touchdowns (career high), also chipping in 132 Yards Rushing and 2 Rushing Touchdowns. A few Quarterbacks have since passed Cunningham’s records but there may never be an athlete like him again, just saying.
After Randall, many other great Quarterbacks were able to use both threats on the field. Steve Young, who still holds the Career Passer Rating Record for Quarterbacks, also chipped in an amazing 4,239 Yards Rushing, 43 Rushing Touchdowns and a 6.0 Yards Per Carry Average. He was the first of the dual threat Quarterbacks of this era to lead his team to a Championship. This has always been the argument that “mobile” or “running” quarterbacks cannot win Super Bowls. Well, I think Young proved that theory wrong. However, I will say that the Quarterback needs to still primarily star through the air. Young was probably the most efficient at both. John Elway was also a master of the escape and extending plays with his legs. Actually, this is sometimes a forgotten part of his game. Elway in his career rushed for 3,417 Yards and 33 Touchdowns on 774 Carries, second only to Cunningham. He also is the post season leader in Rushing by a Quarterback with 461 Yards Rushing and Six Touchdowns. His Four Rushing Touchdowns in a Super Bowl is an NFL record. During the past two decades, there have been other great dual threats including Steve McNair, Vince Young and Kordell Stewart, otherwise known as “Slash.”
Ironically, in 1998 the same year that Randall Cunningham was having his resurgence with the Vikings, the Philadelphia Eagles once again drafted a “dual threat” running Quarterback in Donovan McNabb. Well, he was booed at the Draft Event by over 100 Philly Boo Birds. McNabb quickly silenced his critics as he became the Starting Quarterback later that season. During his career as the Eagles starting Quarterback, he ammassed 3,459 Rushing Yards and 29 Rushing Touchdowns. In another cruel twist of fate, McNabb spent much of his time in Philly carrying the Eagles solely on his shoulders, due to lack of talent around him, especially at Wide Receiver. In 2004, the one season when McNabb was given a Top Receiver in Terrell Owens, he took the team to the Super Bowl, coming a field goal short of the Eagle’s first Championship. Donovan McNabb was a more dynamic player than Cunningham ever was, although Cunningham was a better pure athlete. McNabb threw 217 touchdowns and 117 Interceptions along with 37,276 Yards Passing. McNabb never wanted to be known as a running quarterback, constantly refuting debates and maintaining that he wanted to be considered a pocket passer. However, there is no denying that his skills on the ground gave him a better chance of winning and enhanced his NFL career.
Then we have Mike Vick. Mike Vick is almost the opposite of McNabb on the spectrum. Vick, who is still playing while his career winds down has the NFL record in basically every Rushing Quarterback Stat. He has 5,859 Yards Rushing, 36 Touchdowns (2nd to Young) and a 7.1 YPC Average. He has also thrown for over 21,000 yards and 128 Touchdowns. The thing we cannot forget is that Vick missed three seasons while he was in prison after being convicted for dog fighting. Vick was the fastest of all of the Quarterbacks as he can run a 4.3 40 YARD DASH. He probably has the best escapability of any Quarterback in history.
In today’s NFL, we have a new wave of mobile “Dual-Threat” Quarterbacks. These Quarterbacks have seemed to use Running as their second option, however having the threat makes them extremely dangerous. The next generation “mobile” quarterback uses the pass to set up the run as opposed to the traditional style. As the Quarterback position continues to evolve, there will be more records to come and go, more standards to set, and hopefully more championships. The best of the best Dual-Threat Quarterbacks today are RGIII, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Colin Kapernick, Terrelle Pryor, Alex Smith, Jake Locker, Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Of these Quarterbacks, the best right now are Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. Cam Newton is only in his third season. In his 1st Season, he passed for 4,051 Yards and 21 Touchdowns while adding 706 Yards Rushing and an NFL Record 14 Rushing Touchdowns. So far in less than 3 seasons, Cam has thrown 59 Touchdowns/40 Interceptions, 10,536 Yards, for an 86.1 Rating. More impressive though are his rushing stats. He already has 28 Rushing Touchdowns, 1894 Yards Rushing and a 5.7 YARDS PER CARRY AVERAGE. The other standouts are RGIII, Russel Wilson, and Colin Kapernick. Terelle Pryor of the Raiders has come on strong this season leading all Quarterbacks in Rushing up to this point.
In conclusion, there has been a major renaissance in the “mobile” Quarterback in today’s game. It seems that more importance has been put on developing skills in both passing the ball and running it. Wether it is to escape on coming sack artists, buying more time till a receiver gets open, or extending a play or making a broken play into a gain, these skills are wide spread in today’s NFL. So, Randall Cunningham, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young and even Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick were ahead of their time. Today’s mobile Quarterback is much different. They excel at both sides but they have a better idea when to use which. As the seasons go on, it should be interesting to see how this phenomenon continues to change in front of our eyes. Until next time, enjoy your weekend. Looking for some feedback on this post so feel free to join.