Outside the Pocket

By Chris Lehman

The days of the prototypical pocket quarterback in the NFL are nearing an end.

An innovation that was started by Steve young and John Elway is well on its way to being the norm. I’m not saying every quarterback of this style is of their caliber, but more and more we’re seeing a style of play that will soon no longer be suitable for the likes of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

Sure, if you look at the NFL now, we still have several elite quarterbacks such as Brady, Matt Stafford and Manning (depending on the status of his surgery). But that’s just the thing…there are so few left. Now that we frequently see defensive ends running 4.5 40s or faster, it only makes sense that quarterbacks should be able to do the same. In a sense, quarterbacks did this to themselves. The NFL is in an era where passing is dominant. Establishing a running attack has become so last year. Just this last offseason, two of the top backs in the league almost didn’t get re-signed (Matt Forte & Ray Rice); Maurice Jones-Drew is still seeking his new contract. Rice’s 4 year contract is good for $32 million. Just compare that with Calvin Johnson’s 8 year, $132 million. Not only does the length of Megatron’s contract double Mojo’s, but so does his per-year salary.

The simple truth is – if you can’t put up points, and quickly, you won’t make it. Just look at the top teams from last year. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl and had the worst run game in the league, averaging 89 yards per game. The Green Bay Packers had the best record in football last year. How was their run game? Can you name their running back when Ryan Grant was hurt? The New Orleans Saints have a solid three-headed attack, but are known because Drew Brees threw for 5,476 yards!

 

But I digress. In order for defenses to find a way to slow down these quarterbacks, they had to find a way to pressure them. So now outside linebackers and defensive ends have all become pass-rush specialists. Because of this, quarterbacks will start to become better runners – creating a vicious circle of survival of the fittest. Last year, Cam Newton came onto the scene and appeared nearly unstoppable. I’m not saying all quarterbacks will be able to mimic his success, but he will be the new prototype. He will represent the Peyton Manning of the new era. He is ahead of his time though, as Wilt Chamberlain was ahead of his.

For right now, Aaron Rodgers is the measuring stick. He is the best quarterback in the game not only because he has the best arm, but because of his mobility and accuracy on the run. Drew Brees is looked at as a pocket quarterback, but when everything breaks down, he is able to get out of the pocket and make something happen. Even a guy like Eli Manning, whose mobility matches that of the Great Wall of China, has become the master of getting out of the pocket when it collapses on him. Remember how the “gum on the helmet catch” started?

A lot of times, teams are hesitant to draft non-traditional quarterbacks because they have this belief that a high percentage of them don’t pan out. This may have been the case with guys like Troy Smith, JaMarcus Russell and Tavaris Jackson. But on the other hand, there are studs like SuperCam Newton and Michael Vick, who when they have chosen to adopt the pass-first mentality have found success. Particularly Vick, who has been known to resort to his scrambling ways, has shown the glaring between a running back playing quarterback, and a quarterback who can run with the best of them. I predict that Robert Griffin III will also make a huge splash because he was known as a pass-first quarterback who happened to run a faster 40 than Newton. So while a good amount of scrambling quarterbacks don’t pan out, I’d say about the same percentage, if not higher, of “traditional” quarterbacks don’t either.

So when it comes down to it, teams need to accept that the game is changing. They can’t stick to the idea of drafting the “safe” quarterback, but instead need to start planning for the evolution of the game. Change is coming; we’ll soon see which teams can adapt to football Darwism.

 

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