Michael Vick and the 25 Most Athletic QBs of All Time

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IDecember 30, 2010

Michael Vick And The 25 Most Athletic QBs Of All Time

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 28:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles in action against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field on December 26, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Michael Vick is obviously one of the most athletic quarterbacks of all time. With his phenomenal arm and electric running skills, he makes his case even  stronger almost every time he steps on the field.

    But is he the most athletic quarterback of all time? And with Cam Newton and Terrelle Pryor likely on their way to the NFL in 2011, Vick could soon take a back seat to the younger generation. 

    The term “athletic” is pretty ambiguous and hard to quantify. In addition to his throwing ability, a great athlete/quarterback might be one who runs for yards beyond the line of scrimmage and touchdowns. But scrambling, aka avoiding pressure in the pocket, is another element. As is proficiency at other sports.

    To keep it simple (and avoid a Tim Tebow or Josh Cribbs argument) we’ll set this one requirement: you must have started at least 16 games at quarterback to qualify. 

No. 25: Tony Romo

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    ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 10:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys scrambles with the ball against the Tennessee Titans at Cowboys Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Titans won 34-27.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Teams: Dallas Cowboys

    Years: 2004-present

    To avoid this ranking from just restating the list of most rushing yards by a quarterback, we're going to consider other factors. 

    And although routinely breaking par doesn't necessarily mean you're a good athlete (would you say John Daly or Colin Montgomerie are "great" athletes?) the fact that Romo is a scratch golfer is hard to overlook. 

    Twice he has come close to qualifying for the U.S. Open and, at Pebble Beach in 2008, he shot a 13-over-84 in the first ever U.S. Open Challenge, where celebrities compete on the site (and under the harsh conditions) of the National Open. 

    And just for good measure, Romo was a varsity basketball and tennis player in high school. Yet all that athleticism couldn't help him catch that field goal snap in the 2006 playoffs against Seattle. 

No. 24: Archie Manning

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    Teams: New Orleans Saints, Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings

    Years: 1971-84

    His sons Peyton and Eli have already surpassed him in terms of wins, championships, and passing abilities, but their father was the better pure athlete. 

    Just surviving a decades worth of hard hits in New Orleans, was a remarkable achievement for Archie. So was avoiding that pressure to earn consecutive pro bowl spots in 1978 and 1979.

    And in 1977, his three rushing touchdowns against Chicago helped the Saints overcome three touchdowns by another pretty good runner, Walter Payton, in a 42-24 win at Soldier Field. 

No. 23: George Blanda

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    Teams: 1949-75

    Years: Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders

    Not unlike golf, place kicking skills doesn't necessarily denote great athleticism. So Blanda's 943 extra points and 343 field goals are only part of his resume for this list. 

    Blanda also played a little bit of linebacker for the Bears early in his career and, in addition to his 236 touchdown passes, he also ran for nine more. 

    But his longevity is the clinching factor: he played in the NFL for 26 seasons and several times in the late 1960s, the 40-something-year-old came off the bench to lead the Raiders to important victories. 

No. 22: Steve Grogan

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Quarterback Steve Grogan #14 of New England Patriots drops back to pass during the game against the Los Angeles Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 1989 in Los Angeles, California.  The Raiders won
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Teams: New England Patriots

    Years: 1975-90

    Grogan's 35 rushing touchdowns are still fourth all-time on the New England Patriots roster, and the 12 rushing touchdowns he scored in 1976 are also the most ever in a single seasons. 

    The former Kansas State star was also one of the toughest signal callers ever, routinely playing through or bouncing back from major injuries.

    And although he threw 182 career touchdowns, his greatest achievement in the NFL may have come on January 26, 1986. On that day, in Super Bowl XX, he threw a fourth quarter  touchdown pass to Irving Fryer: the only playoff  touchdown allowed that year against the fabled Bears defense. 

No. 21: Kyle Boller

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    BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 12:  Quarterback Kyle Boller #7 of the Baltimore Ravens evades defensive tackle Lance Legree #70 of the New York Giants during the game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 12, 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Giants 37
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Teams: Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders

    Years: 2003-present

    Again, this isn't a list of "great quarterbacks," it's a list of athletic quarterbacks.

    And one of the reasons why Boller was a first round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft was because he showed tremendous athleticism at Cal. 

    He ran a 4.6 40-yard dash and posted a 35.5-inch vertical leap at the 2003 Combine, prompting one AFC scout to say: "The one guy who made himself a lot of money and moved up today was Kyle Boller....What he did today with that 40 was he separated himself so much. He was starting to really rise anyway; he really was. But his time here made people kind of stop and think, 'Hey, here's a guy who can move.'"

    And although his prowess as a passer was never achieved, he was said to be able to throw a ball, on his knees, over 50 yards. 

No. 20: Tobin Rote

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    Teams: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers

    Years: 1950-59, 1963-63, 1966

    Rote, the last man to quarterback the Detroit Lions to a NFL title, did so as much with his legs than his arm.

    A late season substitute for future Hall of Famer Bobby Layne (and one of the reasons Layne was shipped to Pittsburgh the following year), Rote was the second leading rusher for Detroit, despite starting just four of their 12 games. 

    But it was his stay in Green Bay, a few years earlier that showed his exceptional athleticism. In his last three years as the Packers quarterback (1954-56), Rote scored 24 rushing touchdowns on only 225 attempts. 

No. 19: Roger Staubach

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    Teams: Dallas Cowboys

    Years: 1969-79

    Staubach doesn't have any overwhelming rushing stats or any signature 50-yard touchdown runs. But if you've ever seen highlights of Roger The Dodger, you know he was a remarkable scrambler and runner, which means he was a great athlete.

    And considering that he was almost seven years removed from full-time play (his senior year at Navy was 1964, his first year as a starter in Dallas was 1971) before winning both a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP, Staubach's physical tools were innate. 

No. 18: Greg Landry

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    Teams: Detroit Lions, Baltimore Colts, Chicago Bears

    Years: 1968-84

    From 1970 to 1972, Landry rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a starting quarterback for Detroit . He even earned a trip to the pro bowl one year, the last time a Lions quarterback earned that honor. 

    And although his best single season as a scrambler/runner came in 1972 (524 yards, nine touchdowns), two years earlier, he averaged an incredible 10 yards per rush, thanks largely to a 76-yard sprint against the Packers in Week One. 

No. 17: Rich Gannon

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    PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 12:  Quarterback Rich Gannon #12 of the Oakland Raiders scrambles with the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Heinz Field on September 12, 2004 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Raiders 24-2
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders

    Years: 1988-2004

    Gannon's mobility out of the pocket helped make up for some of his deficiencies as a passer: he didn't have a strong arm. 

    Although the 2002 NFL MVP only ran for 21 touchdowns, he totaled 589 yards on the ground in 2000 and ran for three touchdowns (none of which were just one-yard, up-the-middle sneaks) in a 38-31 victory over Peyton Manning's Colts.

    And we couldn't find the online video, but he scored one of the greatest rushing touchdowns of all time (as named by NFL Films)  with the Vikings against the Cardinals back in Week Seven of the 1991 season.

No. 16: Joe Theismann

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    CHICAGO -1980:  Joe Theismann #7 of the Washington Redskins runs as he looks to pass during the 1980 NFL season game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Redskins 35-21. (Photo by: Jonathan Daniel/Getty I
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Teams: Washington Redskins

    Years: 1974-85

    Although Lawrence Taylor proved to be a better one on a Monday night in 1985, Theismann was tremendous athlete. 

    As a rookie, before taking over as a quarterback, Theismann was a punt returner for the Redskins, and made some of his best plays out of the pocket. 

    The Super Bowl champion was also chosen in the 39th round to play shortstop for the Minnesota Twins after leaving South Bend. 

No. 15: Donovan McNabb

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    Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins

    Years: 1999-present

    Forget what has happened in Washington this year—the assertion that he is "out of shape"—McNabb was an outstanding athlete for a decade in Philadelphia.

    When he came out of Syracuse, he was one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL: from 2000 to 2002, he scored 14 touchdowns and ran for 1,571 yards. That last year, shortened a bit by his ankle injury, he actually averaged 46 yards  per game. 

    And his athleticism was never more on display than on the Monday night victory over Dallas (above): a tremendous scramble punctuated by an on-the-run 60-plus yard heave. 

No. 14: Mark Brunell

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    4 Jan 1997:  Quarterback Mark Brunell of the Jacksonville Jaguars moves the ball during a playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado.  The Jaguars won the game, 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule  /Allsport
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Teams: Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets

    Years: 1994-present

    The former Washington Huskie hasn't seen much time in the last few years, serving time as a backup to Drew Brees and Mark Sanchez. But a decade ago, he was one of the NFL's most elusive and exciting quarterbacks, earning three pro bowl spots from 1996-99.

    His mobility created countless plays outside of the pocket for the underdog, expansion Jaguars in 1996, especially during their playoff run and near unthinkable Super Bowl berth.

    In one of the greatest upsets in postseason history, Brunell's feet led the Jags to an upset of top-seeded Denver in Mile High Stadium. His thoroughly athletic, cross-field scamper set up one of Jacksonville's critical second half touchdowns in 30-27 overtime win. 

No. 13: Ben Roethlisberger

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    Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers

    Years: 2004-present

    Roethlisberger is an excellent golfer, like fellow NFL quarterback Tony Romo: a year after Romo shot an 84 at Pebble Beach in the US Open Challenge, Roethlisberger shot an 81 at a more difficult Bethpage Black Course. 

    But it's Roethlisberger's presence on the gridiron, not the links, that earns him a high spot on this list. 

    He is arguably the most difficult quarterback in the NFL to bring down and routinely avoids pressure in the pocket to make big plays. And (see video) he's scored his share of fantastic rushing touchdowns, even if the one in Super Bowl XL and earlier this year against Miami probably shouldn't have counted. 

No. 12: Sammy Baugh

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    Teams: Washington Redskins

    Years: 1937-52

    Would Sammy Baugh beat Kyle Boller  in a footrace? Throw the football further than Donovan McNabb? Or lift more at the bench or squat than Tony Romo? The answer is no. 

    But in his era, Baugh was an incredibly athlete and for that, he leaps over several modern days stars. Well for that reason and because he was the best passer, the best defensive back, and best punter in the NFL during the late 1930s.

    The seven-time All Pro holds the NFL record for best punting average (51.4 yards) in a season, led the NFL with 11 interceptions (in 10 games), and led the NFL with 25 touchdown passes in 1947. 

    That versatility was an incredible display of athleticism. 

No. 11: Doug Flutie

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    Teams: Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers

    Years: 1986-89, 1999-2005

    To win the Heisman Trophy as a five-foot, ten-inch, 180-pound quarterback from Boston College, you have to be an incredible athlete. 

    And although his NFL was essentially fruitless for more than a decade, he eventually did plenty with his feet and arm with the Bills and Chargers. 

    He posted 476 yards on the ground in 1999, leading the Bills to their last playoff appearance. And when he made that drop-kick (the first in more than six decades) for Bill Belichick's Patriots in 2005, it showed another side to his versatility. 

No. 10: Bobby Douglass

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    Teams: Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers

    Years: 1969-78

    Decades before Philadelphia quarterbacks Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick chased it, the Bears Bobby Douglass set the standard for rushing yards by a quarterback.

    The former Kansas star totaled eight touchdowns and 968 yards on the ground in 1972, an average of 6.9 yards per attempt and 69.1 yards per game. Not even Vick or Cunningham have since snapped that mark. He was actually the 11th leading rusher in the NFL that season.

    Rushing yards don't necessarily make an all-time great athlete, but at the record holder, Douglass earns a high spot on this ranking. 

No. 9: Jeff Hostetler

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27:  Quarterback Jeff Hostetler #15 of the New York Giants rolls out against the Buffalo Bills during Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium on January 27, 1991 in Tampa, Florida. The Giants defeated the Bills 20-19.  (Photo by George Rose/Ge
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Teams: New York Giants, Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins

    Years: 1984-1997

    Hoss was an outstanding athlete both in high school (a great guard for his high school basketball team, a great linebacker, quarterback, and running back for his high school football team) and was thought of as a great linebacking prospect, like his older brothers, at Penn State.

    And although he didn't even throw a pass during his first four years in the NFL, he contributed in other ways. For Bill Parcells, he played special teams (blocking a punt against the Eagles in 1986) and a little bit of wide receiver/tight end. 

    Once he finally got a chance to play quarterback, he led the Giants to a world title in 1990, making a string of clutch completions, on-the-run, outside of the pocket in the team's upset wins in the NFC title game and Super Bowl. 

No. 8: Steve McNair

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    Teams: Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens

    Years: 1995-2007

    The play that followed was the far more significant and one of the most important in NFL history (the pass to Kevin Dyson that came up one yard short), but McNair's scramble/pass that set up the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV was one of the greatest displays of athleticism ever showcased in a title game. See above video.

    That play was only one of dozens like it for McNair, who was every bit the running quarterback of contemporary Donovan McNabb. In all, McNair finished with 3,590 yards rushing, 37 touchdowns, and an infinite amount of broken tackles. 

    Oh, and bow hunting just days after undergoing shoulder surgery? That takes some athleticism. 

No. 7: Vince Young

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    Teams: Tennessee Titans

    Years: 2006-present

    The spectacular runs haven't been as frequent as they were at Texas, but Young still has a great collection of highlight plays in five NFL seasons.

    Although his game-winning, overtime run in his hometown of Houston was probably the most spectacular, before the Titans drafted Chris Johnson, Young routinely carried the Titans ground game, totaling 947 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground in his first two seasons. 

    Despite the recent problems, a six-foot, five-inch 230 pound man that runs a 4.5 40 is a historically athlete no matter how many picks he throws or fights he gets into with his head coach. 

No. 6: Kordell Stewart

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    Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens


    The late 1990s saw an influx of young quarterbacks with tremendous scrambling/running ability: McNair, McNabb, Brunell. 

    But what separated Kordell Stewart from them was his pure speed. He had an ability to run away from defenders (see video) rarely seen before his arrival in 1995. 

    And as the first player since Frank Gifford to pass, run, and catch a touchdown of 70 yards or more, his versatility as "Slash" still makes him one of the most unique figures in the NFL's last quarter century. 

    His arm strength was incredible (remember the throw against Michigan) as was his running ability. But the fact that he stepped in as a rookie quarterback and played a significant role (14 catches, 235 yards during the regular season, and a critical touchdown catch in the AFC Championship)  as a wide receiver in 1995 and helped  Pittsburgh reach  Super Bowl XXV displayed uncanny athleticism. 

No. 5: Fran Tarkenton

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    Teams: Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants

    Years: 1961-78

    The highlight reel above is probably enough to make the case for a Top Five spot, but in case it's not here are some more facts about the "Mad Scrambler."

    He averaged 5.4 yards everytime he ran the ball, scored 32 rushing touchdowns, and threw dozens of his once-record 342 touchdown passes on the run, out of the pocket. 

    Frantic Fran wasn't necessarily fast and at six-feet, 190 pounds he wasn't hard to bring down like a Roethlisberger or McNair. But his subtle movements and tremendous footwork made him arguably the best scrambling quarterback ever.

No. 4: Steve Young

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    Teams: Tampa  Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers

    Years: 1985-1999

    Young was perhaps the most accurate passer in NFL history, leading the league in completion percentage five times during a six year span in the 1990s. That type of precision featured athleticism of an extraordinary nature.

    But the reason why he is high on this list, and fellow pinpoint magicians Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, etc, aren't is because of his running ability. 

    Above might be his single greatest play in the NFL, but his running totals are amongst the greatest of all time: 4,238 yards, 43 touchdowns.

    If Bill Walsh had wanted to, he probably could have played Young at running back and the 49ers of the late 1980s wouldn't have skipped a beat. 

No. 3: Randall Cunningham

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    Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens

    Years: 1985-2001

    What couldn't Randall do?

    During his Eagles career, he punted 12 times, averaging 51.7 yards per kick, the same total as Sammy Baugh's single-season record, and twice punted the ball 80 yards or more.

    Twice he threw 30 or more touchdowns in a season. And his 942 yards rushing in 1990 (a whopping 8 yards per carry) was the second most ever by a quarterback. And, for a time, up until the 21st century, his 4,482 yards rushing were third most in Eagles history.

    Also the fact that he spent all of 1996 away from football, came back a year later to lead the Vikings to an incredible playoff win over the Giants, then went 13-1 as a starter in 1998 was another display of remarkable ingrained athleticism. 

    And then there is the 1990 play he made above, against Bruce Smith and a Buffalo Bills. 

No. 2: John Elway

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    Teams: Denver Broncos


    Most people will always point to the "Helicopter play" Elway made in Super Bowl XXXII as the signature moment of his career. And that was a fine display of athleticism: a 37-year old man scrambling around and taking two hard shots. 

    But "The Drive" was a better showcase of his talents. Just watch how many times his feet avoid pressure and he rifles a pass into coverage to make critical first downs. That was his greatest trademark. 

    And because he was such an outstanding baseball pitcher and batter both at Stanford and in two seasons of minor league ball in the New York Yankees farm system, he has to be right near the top of this list. 

No. 1: Michael Vick

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    Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles

    Years: 2001-present

    Although his arm strength is every bit as impressive as his running ability, it's what he does as a ball carrier that the NFL has never seen before or since. 

    He averages 7.1 yards every time he crosses the line of scrimmage. Although the fact that that total is far better than Barry Sanders or Jim Brown is bit misleading (far fewer attempts), it's still a mind-boggling number. 

    He's the quarterback  to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and is currently ninth in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns (in only 12 games). 

    But this stat might be the best: Vick has started 79 games in the NFL. Ten of those ended with him breaking the 100-yard rushing total. 

    Choosing Vick's most incredible play is an exercise in futility. There are so many. But the overtime winner in the Metrodome in 2002 is probably the best: it combines his incredible speed with one subtle move that paralyzed two defenders. 


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