Throughout the history of the NFL, teams have been led by strong and sturdy pocket passers. Dating back to the days when quarterbacks like Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas dominated defenses with their strong arms, pocket passers have played a key role in the history of the NFL. The past decade, we have seen quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning follow the winning formula created by past quarterbacks, as they typically reside in the pocket and rarely scramble and risk injury just to extend plays.
However, with players like Manning retiring, the “old age” quarterbacks are decreasing in number. A new wave of quarterbacks has entered the NFL. These quarterbacks are far more mobile, and have proven to be just as effective as pocket passers, if not better. With recent draft classes featuring mobile quarterbacks being drafted early, it proves that NFL youth resides in mobile quarterbacks. The new NFL revolves around such quarterbacks.
Speed Kills: The New NFL Quarterback
Now, this revolution did not just start out of nowhere. In fact, mobile quarterbacks have been around since the early days of the NFL in the 1960s. The first successful mobile quarterback was Paul Hornung, a phenomenal athlete who led the Green Bay Packers to the first Super Bowl victory in NFL history. Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961, and his incredible mobility played a key role throughout his career.
As time went on, other mobile quarterbacks rose to prominence in the NFL. In the 1970s, Fran Tarkenton led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs several times with his dual-threat ability. In the 1990s, Steve Young and John Elway dominated the NFL landscape, and led their respective teams to multiple Super Bowls. Then, in the mid-2000s, Michael Vick entered the NFL, and prior to his suspension because of the dog fighting scandal, he tore opposing defenses apart with his legs.
Mobile quarterbacks have been present throughout the history of the NFL. Why now has there been a sudden influx of such quarterbacks into the NFL? One explanation can be seen in the recent examples of success by mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. In the 2012 season, the league witnessed the San Francisco 49ers replace starting quarterback Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick due to a concussion suffered by Smith. Kaepernick, a far more mobile option who displayed his two-way ability while Smith was injured, ended up getting the keys to the 49ers offense for the postseason over a healthy Smith. Kaepernick went on to dominate the playoffs. He led the 49ers past both the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons into the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, they went on to lose to the Baltimore Ravens.
The same year Kaepernick exploded onto the national spotlight, rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson started to show glimpses of their potential and prove that they were the future of the NFL. While Griffin III has dealt with injuries throughout his career, both Luck and Wilson have proven to be Pro Bowl quarterbacks who are the future of the NFL. The year prior, Cam Newton made his NFL debut and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award thanks to his phenomenal play both with his arm and his legs.
Past Three NFL Drafts
In the past three NFL Drafts, mobile quarterbacks have been featured as early picks. In the 2014 Draft, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr were all drafted within the first two rounds, and were all viewed as mobile quarterbacks coming out of college. While Manziel’s career has been derailed due to off-field issues, the trio of Bortles, Bridgewater, and Carr all look like potential superstars. Carr and Bridgewater both made the 2016 Pro Bowl as reserves.
In the 2015 Draft, the first two picks were Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, two players who displayed phenomenal two-way ability in their rookie seasons. Winston ended up being a Pro Bowler last season, while Mariota enjoyed a solid rookie season for the Tennessee Titans.
Moving on to the most recent draft, the top two picks, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, both have the potential to be solid mobile quarterbacks. While Goff profiles to be more of a pocket passer than a mobile quarterback, he displayed a decent ability to extend plays at the University of California. He could be more mobile than expected at the NFL level. Wentz, on the other hand, is extremely mobile and should display a phenomenal two-way ability at the next level.
Increased Trust in Mobility
More teams are trusting mobile quarterbacks with the future of their franchise. They are willing to trust unproven, mobile talent for a team that could be a playoff contender. A key example of this can be seen with Tyrod Taylor of the Buffalo Bills last season. Prior to last season, Taylor was only a second-string quarterback for the Ravens. He had never been considered to be worthy of a starting gig at the NFL level. However, after an impressive preseason for a Bills team looking for a solid starter after growing impatient with E.J. Manuel‘s poor development, Taylor won the starting job and turned in a Pro Bowl season for Buffalo.
Taylor’s success could be a reason the Cleveland Browns are giving Robert Griffin III a second chance. Like Taylor, Griffin has been on the bench the past few seasons. He is still seen as a player with the potential to have a solid season. The Browns are hoping he regains his rookie form.
The Future of the NFL
Moving forward, expect the NFL landscape to be dominated by mobile quarterbacks. With players like Deshaun Watson expected to come into the NFL next season, the number of mobile quarterbacks is only going to increase. While pocket passers are not going to completely die out, they will soon become less and less common to see. Just like physical receivers, pocket passers are not out of the NFL, yet.