Until recently there was only one type of quarterback in the NFL, the pocket passer. These gunslingers such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Drew Brees made themselves famous by picking apart opposing secondaries while rarely moving outside of their comfort zone. But if the 2012 regular season has shown us anything, it is that there is a new quarterback skill set that some teams are putting their faith in—the dual-threat quarterback.
Now, how does one actually define a dual-threat quarterback? There are plenty of quarterbacks who are great passers with an ability to scramble. Andrew Luck, said to have had very little running ability, ran 62 times last season. Aaron Rodgers, who is renowned for his excellent skills as a passer, ran 54 times. Although these quarterbacks can scramble, they are primarily pocket passers and not dual-threat quarterbacks.
A dual-threat quarterback is a player whom defenses game-plan against stopping his legs almost as much as his arm. Dual-threat quarterbacks are those very few players whose athleticism gives themselves and their teams another aspect for a defense to worry about. A dual-threat quarterback must enhance their team's running game but also must have the capability to strike through the air if the opposing defenders play the run.
Having said that, there are five quarterbacks who are setting the trend as the league's first true dual-threat quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Michael Vick. Although Vick's career has most likely hit the down slope, he can still be credited for being one of the first dual-threat quarterbacks since 2000.
Since joining the league in 2001, Vick has rushed for over 5,500 yards along with over 20,000 yards through the air. What sets Vick apart from the other four dual-threat quarterbacks is his vulnerability and high turnover tendency. Since 2010, Vick has fumbled at least 10 times each season and is coming off a season in which he turned the ball over 21 times in just 10 games. Although Vick's skill set constitutes him as the inaugural dual-threat quarterback, his discipline and carelessness with the football separate him from the rest.
This postseason may have marked the starting point for the emergence of the dual-threat quarterback. Kapernick, Wilson and Griffin III all led their teams to postseason berths, and if not for a late field goal in Atlanta, there would have been a guaranteed NFC championship game between two dual-threat quarterbacks. The remarkable playoff performances by Wilson and Kaepernick, along with the tragic ending to a magical season for Griffin III sparked the debate as to whether the dual-threat quarterback is a better choice than a pocket passer.
Strategically, having a dual-threat quarterback does an endless amount of things for an offense. Most importantly, having a quarterback with the ability to run the zone-read offense keeps the defense on its toes at all times. Defensive ends must be cautious to contain the quarterback while linebackers and defensive backs must avoid being sucked in by play action or else suffer the consequences of the big play pass. A defensive coordinator must pick and choose carefully when to blitz, because if they choose incorrectly, it could cost them six points.
The biggest area where the dual-threat quarterback can benefit a team is in the running game. According to statistics found on Yahoo.com, the four (Vick excluded) dual-threat quarterbacks combined for 404 rushes for 2,460 yards (a 6.1 yards per carry average) and 24 touchdowns. Of those four teams, only Carolina did not have a running back who rushed for at least 1,200 yards. But each of the four teams ranked in the top 10 in the league in the running department. Washington, Seattle and San Francisco ranked in the top four.
But what makes dual-threat quarterbacks different is that they are very good passers as well. Each of the four dual-threat quarterbacks completed at least 57 percent of their passes and threw at least 10 touchdowns. Wilson, Griffin III and Newton all threw for more than 3,100 yards (Kaepernick only had 1,814 yards in just eight starts). It could be argued that dual-threat quarterbacks are also better decision makers as throwers because of their decision-making abilities while on the run. Of the four quarterbacks mentioned, Newton had the most interceptions thrown with just 12, which was fewer than Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees.
As enticing as the dual-threat quarterback argument is, there are some drawbacks to starting one of these athletic passers.
If there is one way to describe a dual-threat quarterback, it is high risk, high reward. These players can change the game in one play in good ways and bad. Griffin III, Kaepernick, Newton and Wilson each fumbled at least six times. Griffin III, Newton and Wilson all were sacked more than 30 times as well.
Another big risk of banking on a dual-threat quarterback is durability. This has been a major issue for Vick over the years as well as for Griffin III, who recently underwent knee surgery after leaving a playoff game against Seattle. Every time one of these quarterbacks scramble, the general manager and owner of that respective team must hold their breath. It is unfortunate to say, but on any given play one of these athletes could be lost for weeks if not months. Coaches may be forced to limit their quarterbacks' exposure to big hits by calling fewer designed run plays, like a manager limiting a pitcher's pitch count over the course of the season.
The other downside is that defenses could eventually figure out a way to adjust and find ways to shutdown the zone-read offense. As the speed of the college game increases, so will the speed of the game at the professional level. Defenses will find a way to bring in faster defensive ends and linebackers to contain and spy on these quarterbacks. These hybrid defensive ends and linebackers are hard to find right now but as technology and training improves, so will the athletes on the defensive side of the ball.
For right now, the dual-threat quarterback is a pretty good way to go. Teams without a Brady, Manning or Brees may be better bringing in a Griffin III, Wilson or Kaepernick rather than signing an unproven pocket passer or a regressing veteran. General managers have thought the same way, and even head coaches who have been around as long as Mike Shanahan have broken off with tradition and embraced a new style of offense.
Whether the dual-threat quarterback will stick around remains to be seen. College offenses are beginning to lean towards the spread offense, but it takes a unique player with unique ability to translate pieces of that offense into the NFL. But if this season can be used as any indicator of the future, then the game of football could be undergoing a drastic change during the next five or 10 years.