Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton Are Among the NFL's Weapons of Mass Production
In 1873, Princeton, Columbia, Yale and Rutgers set forth rules that all colleges who wished to play the sport of football had to follow. But running the football was not among those rules, nor was throwing it. Harvard was absent in protest. The first legal forward pass didn't happen until 1906 after a rule change was made to allow it.
Here we are, 107 years later, and we see a quarterback position our gridiron ancestors wouldn't recognize if it tapped them on the shoulder. Can you imagine if the National Football League did not allow the ball to be forwarded by pass or run? Oh, perish the thought! In some popular formations of yesteryear (Pop Warner's single wing) the halfback was actually the primary ball-thrower and the quarterback was his blocker.
Though the final image in the slideshow will list who I believe best personified the attributes of a mobile, multi-threat quarterback this is not a "best of" list, but rather an abbreviated historical survey of quarterbacks who were, more or less, equally effective at running and throwing the ball.
Many of our fathers marveled at the exploits of "Frantic" Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings, while others still recall Seattle's lanky lefty, Jim Zorn. Both also amassed critical yards with their arm and feet. Bobby Douglass of the 1972 Chicago Bears deserves mention as well. His single season QB record for rushing yards of 968 yards stood for 34 years before it was broken by, who else, Michael Vick. Major shout-outs to Doug Flutie, and Roger Staubach, minor shout-outs to Vince Young, Seneca Wallace and Tim Tebow.
Scramblin' Randall Cunningham
George Rose/Getty Images
Scramblin' Randall Cunningham's elusiveness and agility were unheard of at the quarterback position in 1989. However, his reckless forays for extra yardage were cause for irregular cardiac palpitations for the entire Philadelphia Eagles nation. Cunningham finished with 942 rushing yards in 1990.
His all out approach to the game was indeed exciting yet very dangerous. The Cunningham approach to the game did eventually take its toll on his mobility in later years, but he had a grenade launcher disguised as his right arm. In 1998, after a steady decline in his production lead many to believe he was done, Randall would lead the Minnesota Vikings to a 15-1 regular record while amassing 34 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. He would make his final appearance in the Pro Bowl that year.
Kordell "Slash" Stewart
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Kordell "Slash" Stewart should need no introduction to long time NFL fans, and especially not Pittsburgh Steelers' fans. He played quarterback, running back and receiver, scoring touchdowns from each position twice in his career. Stewart was named to his only Pro Bowl in 2001, the same year in which he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Year. He was also named Pittsburgh's Team MVP that year as well.
Stewart would finish that season with 3,109 passing yards and 537 rushing yards while leading the Steelers to a 13-3 record. Not long after that great season in Pittsburgh in 2001, Stewart's productivity seemed to drop off the continental shelf of mediocrity into a trench. After struggling near the end of his Pittsburgh tenure, as well as during his stint in Chicago, Stewart would officially retire for good in May 2012.
One could argue that playing three positions early in his career stunted Stewart's growth as a quarterback. He was plagued with an interception bug he couldn't seem to shake, amassing 77 touchdowns and 84 interceptions for his career. Say what you will about my theory, but one position is easier to learn than three, that's all I'm saying.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Daunte Culpepper had his best years while with the Minnesota Vikings. He threw for 4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions in 2004, but a catastrophic knee injury in 2005 marked the beginning of a drastic decline in his once elite numbers. He averaged 26.1 running yards per game for his career, ranking fourth among quarterbacks in NFL history. His 10 rushing scores led NFL quarterbacks in 2002.
Injuries are debilitating by nature, but they were especially so for Culpepper. No longer could he be counted on to scramble for first downs, nor was he the scourge of linebackers and defensive backs who once flailed and failed to wrestle his massive frame to the ground. He became a big, immobile stiff.
Steve "Air" McNair
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Steve "Air" McNair's numbers don't immediately leap off the page at you, but they're not too shabby either. McNair's 31,304 yards ranks 34th all time among NFL quarterbacks. His career passer rating of 82.8? It's alright, it's okay. Nothing great.
In 2003, however, his numbers were good enough to get him selected to the Associated Press NFL All-Pro second team, and he was then voted the 2003 AP NFL co-MVP along with Peyton Manning. He's arguably one of the toughest quarterbacks ever, playing through multiple injuries several times in his career.
McNair would finish his career with 174 passing TDs and 37 rushing TDs, and rarely threw an interception in a critical situation. But the one thing that cannot be measured by numbers is the elusive clutch gene, and Steve McNair had it. McNair was named to the 35th greatest quarterback since the NFL merger, according to Football Nation. He remains the only deceased player on that list.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
When Donovan McNabb was drafted out of Syracuse University with the 3rd overall pick in 1999, the notoriously fickle Philadelphia Eagles fans booed him before he ever snapped the ball. But as any linguistic specialist would tell you, it's impossible to boo someone and cheer for them at the same time if you only have one mouth.
In 2000, his first full year as an NFL starter, McNabb would finish second in the Associated Press MVP voting to eventual winner Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams.
With six Pro Bowl appearances, an NFC Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2004, a competitive Super Bowl appearance against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, and a spot on Syracuse University's All-century team, Donovan is clearly a great one.
Though running the ball was the proverbial "ace up the sleeve" for McNabb early in his career (629 yards, 482 yards, 460 yards and 355 yards in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 respectively), his decreased reliance on what was a potent weapon was noticeable to even the casual observer after 2004. This decrease in his running attempts and yards drove the running quarterback lobby within the Philadelphia Eagles' fan base berserk with frustration at times.
Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid wanted a pocket passer for his west coast offense, and Donovan did his best to become that. Despite historical problems with accuracy and a perceived inability to show up in the big game, Captain Chunky was the man!
Please stop fronting on his legacy.
OK, we all remember his unceremonious dismissal in Philly, and his struggles with the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings there after, but he might be the best Eagles' quarterback ever. Who's better? If your answer is anyone not named Norm Van Brocklin then you need to watch more film.
Al Bello/Getty Images
As illustrated throughout this article, the game has had plenty of running/throwing quarterbacks in the past. But when you add a 4.5 second time in the 40 yard dash you're suddenly faced with the reality that speed changes everything. It changed computers, cars and popcorn-making.
Why should quarterbacks be any different?
Enter the legendary speed and unparalleled shiftiness of one Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Though he had a sub par and injury-plagued season in 2012, Vick's career rushing numbers of 5,551 yards are a formidable mark that he can, and likely will, still add to. His record will likely stand long after his retirement, despite this year's crop of outstanding quarterbacks who operate in a similar QB mode as he.
Imagine if Vick did not miss three seasons due to his well publicized legal issues? That number might be somewhere around 7,000 yards.
Though accuracy has been a cause for concern in the past, Vick has shown incredible arm strength throughout his career. He runs less these days, but he's still a nightmare-inducing threat for defensive coordinators-perhaps some unimaginative offensive coordinators as well.
Robert Griffin III
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Robert Griffin III set NFL rookie records in passer rating (102.4), interception rate (1.3) and had 3,200 passing yards and 815 rushing yards to boot. Guess what? There's that 4.5 second speed again! No one believed the former Heisman trophy winner was going to be as immediately dynamic as he was during his rookie season.
No one could possibly fathom that his work ethic would be so awe-inspiring that he would be named a team captain by coach Mike Shanahan, and the team's unquestioned leader in the huddle.
Cool, calm and collected, Griffin has shown that he can stand in the pocket and hit any target within his throwing range, which is about 50 or 60 yards from wherever he happens to be standing. But what has Redskins fans' hearts all aflutter is his ability to gain massive chunks of yardage with his feet.
The zone read option? The pistol formation? For years coaches have railed against implementing these in the NFL believing defenses on the pro level were just too fast, the coordinators just too smart, for it to ever work. Joke's on them.
It's so effective that variations were run in Seattle and San Francisco. Griffin suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Redskins' playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 wild card game. Early prognosis is that RG3 should be back to 100 percent by the start of the 2013 NFL regular season.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Cameron Newton of the Carolina Panthers completed his inaugural campaign holding rookie records for total touchdowns in a season with 35 (21 pass, 14 rush), rushing yards by a rookie quarterback (706, later broken by RG3).
He also became the first rookie to pass for 4,000 yards in a season (Indianapolis Colts' rookie quarterback Andrew Luck broke his record in 2012), and he holds the NFL record for total yards by a rookie quarterback.
But enough of that rookie record stuff. Cam Newton is the only QB in NFL history to rush for for an average of 10 touchdowns in his first 2 seasons, and only the 25th NFL player to ever have done it.
Among the multitude of other records, Newton also holds the record for most passing yards his first two years with 7,980. Powerfully built and blessed with the speed of a wide receiver, Newton has shown he has the ability to throw for 4,000 yards, and run for 500 more, in any given season.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks tied Peyton Manning's rookie passing record with 26 touchdowns. That record in and of itself would have been the perfect punctuation to any rookie quarterback's year.
But Wilson didn't stop there.
He went on to set an NFL rookie playoff passing record with 385 of the most dramatic yards yet thrown this postseason, eclipsing the mark of 335 yards set in 1937 by the Washington Redskins' Slingin' Sammy Baugh, who died in 2008 at age 94.
Baugh's name is one of my all time favorite NFL names to say. Say it with me now, Slingin' Sammy Baugh. I'm actually surprised a rapper hasn't adopted it yet.
Wilson also holds the NFL rookie record for touchdown to interception differential with 26 touchdowns, as mentioned earlier, with a paltry 10 interceptions. He is the most surprising of the four young quarterbacks mentioned, in part, because of his third round draft position.
A pre-draft red flag was his height, he stands at 5'11" but I can't recall him having any problems observing the field because of it. Perhaps his mammoth heart added six inches worth of confidence? I see a lot of Steve McNair in Wilson. He's tough as nails, he never gives up, never quits. When you have someone like that on your team the game is never over, until it's actually over.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
His story is one for the ages, and it is still unfolding right before our eyes. Forced into the limelight by an injury to a starter, second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has come in and is playing lights out football for a very dangerous San Francisco 49ers team.
The second year player out of the University of Nevada has shown tremendous arm strength and accuracy throwing the long ball. Of his 12 regular season passing touchdowns, six were for 20 or more yards.
"The zone option read play will never work in the NFL," they said. "It's too simple," they said. "Linebackers and defensive backs in the NFL are just too fast," they said. Well, they can say whatever they want to say but Colin Kaepernick's play throughout the regular season and the playoffs is causing folks to simply put a sock in it.
During the divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, Colin ran for an NFL postseason record 181 yards and owned the entire Packers' defense in a 45-31 Niners' win.
He made AJ Hawk and BJ Raji look silly with the zone option read on multiple occasions during the divisional playoff game. During the NFC championship game Colin showed that he can be successful sitting in the pocket and picking defensive secondaries apart as well.
His arm strength, poise and straight line speed are causes for concern, and confusion, for opposing coaches. Kaepernick is sporting a pristine 105.9 passer rating in the playoffs thus far. During those two games (divisional game against Green Bay, NFC championship game against the Atlanta Falcons) Kaepernick has shown he can beat opponents with either his arm or his legs, or both, on any given Sunday.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Steve Young? You might say he's the best running quarterback of all time. As a matter of fact, I would say he is definitively the best.
If it weren't for Tom Brady people could only compare him to Joe Montana as best QB ever, period. Not even surefire future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is in his class from a winning perspective.
His running credentials? Young retired with the third most rushing yards by an NFL QB with 4,239 yards.
Do I even need to mention his Super Bowl XXIX Championship and MVP? No one would ever get rich selling a lie about him being able to throw the football through a brick wall, but his arm strength was plenty sufficient.
His accuracy, mobility, poise under fire and buttery-soft touch when throwing the football were of aesthetic beauty, mental mastery and athletic excellence simultaneously.
Steve Young was a part of three Super Bowls and won Super Bowl XXIX by utilizing each of his considerable skills and attributes in an integrated manner unlike any other quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
What will the future hold? As I watch some of my favorite sports commentary shows there are still flecks of disbelief uttered here and there.
Many still think the running quarterback is a novelty act. They think the zone read, like the Wildcat offense, is a fad that will pass as NFL defenders become more accustomed to it. But whether the zone option is entirely phased out next season, or evolves into something else entirely, athletic quarterbacks who can run the ball will never stop being en vogue.
As illustrated throughout this article, these types of quarterbacks are here to stay and are destined to become more and more prominent in the NFL. Will they ever supplant the pro-type quarterback as the preferred type of quarterback? Doubtful.
There will always be a place for a Dan Marino, a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady. The "final stage" in quarterback evolution is the existence of a "strong armed running quarterback" and the "stand tall in the pocket" prototypical quarterback on more of an equal footing.
Is Colin Kaepernick the final stage of quarterback evolution or is Cam Newton the true heir to the throne? One thing is becoming perfectly clear, the emergence of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson is proof positive that this style of quarterback play will only continue gaining popularity for its effectiveness and offensive lethality.
They are all state of the art weapons of mass production.