It took a while for traditionalists to accept him, but the prototypical quarterback is a dual-threat playmaker with the ability to produce big plays as a thrower and runner.
Like it or not, the athleticism of Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and even Justin Fields is becoming a standard style of play at the position. Just look at the quarterbacks leading your favorite teams, and you’re more likely to find an “athlete” than a pure quarterback at the position.
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While passing ability is still a big part of the job description and evaluation, more teams are willing to work with unorthodox playmakers at the position if they are able to consistently move the chains. Look no further than the New York Giants racing to a 6-1 start behind Daniel Jones’ breakout campaign as a dual threat. The sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft is coming off a game in which he had more than 200 passing yards and over 100 rushing yards in a Week 7 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Fields made his mark in a surprise win over the New England Patriots as an explosive rusher (14 carries, 82 yards and a score), leading a revamped offense that featured more read-option plays and designed quarterback runs to take advantage of his skills as sub-4.4 speedster with enough size (6-foot-2, 228 pounds) and strength to go through or around defenders. He rushed for more than 80 yards in back-to-back games and ignited the Chicago Bears’ rushing attack, which ranks #1 in the NFL (181.0).
After seeing the Philadelphia Eagles emerge as title contenders behind a revamped offense that blended some of his Oklahoma concepts with a traditional pro system to help Hurts thrive as a playmaker, it’s clear that NFL offensive coordinators are embracing athletes , which predominately occupy the QB1 spots on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. What’s more, they’re willing to turn new pages in their old playbooks to accommodate and highlight the talent of playmakers with the capacity to produce multiple plays as runners or throwers.
Looking at the recent decision by the Indianapolis Colts to bench Matt Ryan in favor of Sam Ehlinger, it’s another sign of the changing times in the NFL. Instead of sticking with a stationary former NFL MVP behind a struggling offensive line, the Colts are hoping an athletic quarterback with running skills (33 rushing touchdowns in college at Texas) can give the offense a boost with his playmaking ability. While it will force the play-caller to change the call sheet to include some collegiate concepts, the move could help the team reinvent its identity as a play-first team that plays “sick ball” at the point of attack.
As we dig even deeper into the revolution at the quarterback position, it’s possible that Jared Goff and Mack Jones will be the last of the old-school drop passers selected as top picks. Maybe we should include Tua Tagovailoa in that group, but the Miami Dolphins quarterback was a master of the RPO at Alabama and continues to dazzle as a director of a college-style offense.
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In the 2021 draft, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Fields were considered athletic quarterbacks based on how they dominated the college game with their big-play talents inside and outside. With each of their respective teams banking on read-option concepts, RPOs, and motion passes as part of their primary offenses, the NFL game is changing right before our eyes.
Evaluators looking for the next Dan Marino or Troy Aikman will need to rewrite their drafts to include mobile pass rushers with A-plus arm talent and running skills. While the new school QB1 doesn’t need to be an exceptional runner, he must be able to pick up five to seven yards per read option to be considered a viable threat in the backfield.
If a quarterback prospect fails to gain yardage on a designed QB run or a makeshift scrimmage, it will be difficult to find a place for him in a league that looks more like the high school and college games we adore. Traditionalists may not like it, but the league is finally embracing the dual-threat quarterback as the QB1 of choice.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He appears regularly on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and co-hosts the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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