Evolution of the NFL Quarterback: Can a Running Quarterback Win the Super Bowl?

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Evolution of the NFL Quarterback: Can a Running Quarterback Win the Super Bowl?
Harry How/Getty Images
Colin Kaepernick might be the first running quarterback to win a Super Bowl

Since the inception of the Super Bowl in 1967, there has not been a quarterback who was known for his running abilities to win the championship.  If you take a list such as this one listing the Top 10 Running QBs in history, some of the names should not even be considered for this category.

For example, people will classify John Elway or Steve Young as running quarterbacks; however, the most yards in a season that either of them ever ran for is 537 for Young (1992) and 304 for Elway (1987).  These average to at most 33 yards per game for a full 16-game season.  Hardly would anyone consider those numbers as a running quarterback when they threw over 400 times per season for 3000-4000 plus yards.  

During the years that Michael Vick, No.1 ranked running quarterback by many, ran for 900-1000 yards he barely broke 2,400 yards passing.  Clearly, there is a distinction in the two styles.

Another quarterback who had one season with high rushing totals and was very skilled as a running quarterback was Randall Cunningham.  In 1990, he amassed over 3,400 passing yards and close to 1,000 rushing.  However, they lost to the Redskins in the Wild Card.

One more name thrown around as a dual-threat that has come the closest (one yard short) to winning the Super Bowl is Steve McNair.  In 2000, the Tennessee Titans came up short against the St. Louis Rams in one of the most exciting Super Bowl finishes.  In that game, McNair set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in the Super Bowl at 64.  

However, McNair was hardly a running quarterback, as we think of it in 2013, as the most he ever rushed for in a season was 674 (1997).  In fact, his rushing totals per season declined from 1997 onward.

Therefore, the question still remains.  Will a pure running quarterback ever win the Super Bowl?

Will Kaepernick and the 49ers win Super Bowl XLVII

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Yes and no.

With the new class of star quarterbacks—Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick—who have made playoff runs this season by bringing this style of offense to the NFL with such efficiency that has not been seen before, a Super Bowl winner might be in the mix.  The key, however, is to be truly dual-threat.  

With previous running quarterbacks such as Vick and McNair, they were not as equipped to either fake the defense, throw on the run, or sit in the pocket and make accurate passes as quarterbacks are now. Two reasons account for this new trend.

  1. Quarterbacks are taught this earlier than in previous years.  From college, pro-style offenses are implemented and there is more time for repetition.  Therefore, when they reach the NFL, they are well-equipped to move their abilities to the next level.
  2. Quarterbacks are more protected by referees than ever before.  This might be the biggest reason because now defenses have to be extremely careful how they tackle—especially the quarterbacks.  Moreover, quarterbacks have become smarter while defenses are still trying to catch up.

As with all offensive schemes (Wildcat, triple option, etc), defensive coordinators study film and train their players how to shut the opposition down.  Eventually, the linebackers and defensive ends will catch up to running quarterbacks and the read option might go away as well.  

The key will be to get ahead of the defense more quickly than they are able to react.  Who knows? It might never happen...or possibly Kaepernick can be the first to do so this very weekend at Super Bowl XLVII.

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