Today’s era of the NFL quarterback usually demands some type of athleticism—or at least that’s become the trend anyway.
The demand for the pure pocket-passer isn’t nearly as high as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily correct that things are the way they are.
If a quarterback is a fantastic runner, one who can evade pressure and make plays with his legs, so be it. But that absolutely needs to be coupled with the ability to be a passer, and so often, some of these guys don’t learn how to succeed as pure passers as well because they’ve been so highly touted in the run game that they’re primarily used in that fashion. Quarterbacks of this nature don’t always end up getting the proper amount of reps needed to develop fully as a passer compared to their counterparts who aren’t as mobile.
If you end up with the best of both worlds—a guy who can run and a guy who can sling it—so be it. But there’s a reason why these mobile quarterbacks who rely almost solely on mobility aren’t great bets, outside of the aforementioned fact that in so many cases, they don’t have the necessary experience as a passer.
It comes down to durability and slowing down. In time, every quarterback who can run all over the place, will, well, not be able to run all over the place anymore. He will slow down over the course of time and is obviously more subject to injury. If at the said point that the quarterback slows down and isn’t developed as a passer, especially once he’s all the way to the NFL level, he can no longer compete and may eventually struggle to stay in the league.
Hal Mumme, founder of the Air Raid offense, is one person who sees it this way, referencing what’s recently happened with the New England Patriots’ quarterback situation—Cam Newton was cut and Mac Jones, who has been highly commended for his high level of mental processing, quick release, and ability to pick things up quickly, is the starting quarterback in an offense that has had tremendous success with pocket passers and dominated the NFL in several years.
“Guys like Lamar Jackson, like Michael Vick, they get older and they get a lot slower,” Mumme said. “They can’t outrun people anymore.”
Mumme also says that there’s a misconception.
“In college football, the hash marks are twice as wide. So when you look at the geometry of that game… on the right hash in college you’ve got 30-something yards into space to deal with… the defense can’t cover. If you’re playing pro football and you’re on the right hash, you’ve got basically the same amount of space as you do on the other hash. There’s only a difference of like four yards. So, it’s not that pro football is faster, it’s just that pro football is more condensed because of the way the field is set up. People don’t look at the geometry of the game. Because of that, they don’t get what’s going on. That’s where all of these (mobile) guys you’re talking about like Lamar Jackson come into play. Now, if they can get you in space and they can hurt you with your feet, they will. And they’re great at it for a while. Once some of the guys like this slow down, though, how are they going to hurt you with their arm? They can’t because they never learned how to do it. You can go down the list.
“You can’t just keep hurting people with your feet. You’re not in high school football anymore. You have to be able to bear down, you have to be able to recognize coverage, you have to find the open receiver and you have to deliver the ball on time in a catchable position. Until they all learn that, they’ll continue to have failures.”
Thinking about the concept of a quarterback and what a quarterback is supposed to be boils down to a handful of main things, in my opinion: accuracy, ball placement, release time, high level of mental processing, and intangibles.
After all, just thinking about this logically, a supporting cast is there for a reason. If you have a quarterback who can throw a good ball to the place it is supposed to be, on time, and consistently make good decisions, an offense will hum along so long as the proper pass protection is there and everyone from the offensive linemen to the running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers is doing their job and executing.
It’s time to give pocket passers more credit in a time period in which it seems more people would like to risk it on high-ceiling players who are still raw in a number of crucial aspects of being a quarterback.