NFL Quarterbacks: The Pocket Passer Is An Endangered Species
Reporters asked the head coach who he would play in place of the starting quarterback with the torn rotator cuff. The coach looked dumbfounded as he replied, “What do you mean? Of course he’s still going to start, he doesn’t need a rotator cuff to run the read-option 50 times a game.”
This terrible joke has been brought to you by the nightmarish hellscape that could be the NFL’s future.
In years past, making it in the NFL as a running quarterback generally meant you would have to change positions. Antwaan Randle El did it for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they shifted him to wide receiver. Former Penn State QB, Michael Robinson, packed on 40 pounds to play fullback for the Seattle Seahawks. Even past Heisman winners, such as Eric Crouch, Charlie Ward and Troy Smith found there was no place for their style of play in the NFL – but it appears now there is.
Thanks to the quick success this season of the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks, both of whom handed the reins of their offenses to unconventional quarterbacks, a frightening shift may occur whereby other NFL franchises will start to copy the formulas of these two immediate playoff teams?
Looking back just a few seasons, to 2009, Michael Vick was the only unconventional quarterback leading an NFL team. Fast forward to 2012, and there are now six. Big deal right, six out of 32 teams is still just a microcosm of the league – which is true – until we look at the top players who will be coming out of the college ranks next.
Running quarterback, Johnny Manziel, became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman trophy, and while he still has at least two seasons left in school, he just goes to highlight the kind of shift the game is in the midst of making. The college and pro games had never been more dissimilar in recent years, yet it is actually the NFL who seems to be adopting more elements from college, instead of the other way around.
The read-option was a play no one ever tried in the NFL, because conventional wisdom said it was just a college gimmick with no chance for success against the fast, professional defenses in the NFL. Yet somehow, this play has finally permeated the NFL game, and its early effectiveness could signal a dangerous sign of things to come.
Last Three Heisman Trophy Winners
2012 Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
2011 Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
2010 Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Add Tim Tebow and Troy Smith’s names to the mix and we see that five of the last seven Heisman trophies have gone to running quarterbacks. This just goes to underscore the type of players the college game is starting to consistently produce. In 2012, seven quarterbacks rushed for over 1,000 yards in college football – only three QBs amassed the same feat in 2011.
West Virginia’s QB, Geno Smith, looks to be the next in line from a stocked stable of running quarterbacks set to emerge from the college game. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, North Illinois’ Jordan Lynch and Kansas State’s Collin Klein are some of the other names sure to pepper the NFL landscape in the coming years as well.
So, while there are only six unconventional quarterbacks leading offenses right now, in a year or two, we could see a drastic shift in how the NFL game is played. Going from one running quarterback in 2009, all the way to potentially half of the league in just a three or four year stretch is not just a trend, but more accurately, it may usher in a systematic change to how the NFL game is played.
Big time college programs, such as the University of Michigan, are no longer interested in cultivating the Tom Brady’s of the game. For a school that once prided themselves on a “three yards in a cloud of dust” style of offense, even their stodgy old traditions have been dusted off to make way for a more open offensive attack with the likes of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner as their quarterbacks.
Some of the blame has to go to the culture of the “business” of college football. For college coaches who have to win now to keep the tentative grips they have on their own jobs, the “best athletes” are generally the ones who are able to make the shift from high school to college most swiftly. This means, instead of schools looking for the pro-style project they can mold into the pure pocket passer who can read coverages and quickly run through his progressions, we get the fast athlete freshman who can also throw a little being asked to take over premiere college programs immediately.