Earlier this week, Rex Ryan dispensed the following wisdom on ESPN’s Get Up: “Running quarterbacks don’t get better, they get older.”
After which I wondered: Will a running QB ever win a Super Bowl? Has a running QB ever won a championship before his aging body began to fail him? Depends on what I mean by running quarterback, right?
Dallas’ Roger Staubach scrambled out of the pocket often and was dangerous when he did. But he threw far more than he ran in the Cowboys Super Bowl VI (6) and VII (12) victories. So he doesn’t qualify.
Long before Staubach, Otto Graham played in ten consecutive championship games, seven of which he won. But while he ran occasionally, he, too, kept his focus downfield on Hall of Fame receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie (Great name for a pass catcher, right?).
Ultimately, the same goes for modern day mobile passers John Elway, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes in their multiple Super Bowl wins.
These days, when coverages blanket receivers and protections break down, more than a few passers will pull it down and take off. Some QBs barely look downfield twice.
In 2022, the NFL’s top four YPC (Yards per Carry) runners were quarterbacks. In order:
Justin Fields… 1143 rush yards… 7.1 YPC Lamar Jackson… 764 rush yards… 6.8 YPC Josh Allen… 762 rush yards… 6.1 YPC Daniel Jones… 708 rush yards… 5.9 YPC
In Chicago, Fields led the Bears to a league-worst 3-win season. For his efforts, Chicago will select first overall on Draft Day.
For the second straight season, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson missed the NFL playoffs while recovering from an injury that his athleticism and mobility led to but could not prevent.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen is bigger than most of the defensive backs he encounters during his daring dashes. But Allen also threw for 4,283 yards, the seventh highest total in the NFL.
And then, there’s the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones.
At 6-foot-5 and 221 pounds, Jones didn’t hesitate to run at Duke University. He passed for more than 8000 yards as well. But when he ran, he was decisive about it. The New York Giants liked his skill set and chose him 6th overall in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has started 53 games since.
In April 2022, the Giants new GM/head coach combination of Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll declined to pick up the fifth year option on Jones’ rookie contract, making him a free agent after the 2023 season. In short, “Show us what you’ve got, dude,” before we show you the money.
Jones responded this past season with career highs in every major statistical category except interceptions. His five picks ranked second only to Josh Allen’s 4 among full-time starters. And Jones’ rushing yards contributed mightily to Giants third down conversions, their 9-6-1 regular season record, and the team’s first postseason appearance since 2016.
In last week’s playoff game alone, Jones ran 17 times for 78 yards picking up 7 first downs against the Vikings. He also threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
This week, he faces off against another mobile quarterback with 760 rush yards of his own in Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. Prior to a shoulder sprain suffered on a running play, Hurts was battling Mahomes for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. Now, he’s hoping to stay in this week's game.
The last time the two squared off on December 11th, Hurts outdueled Jones in a 48-22 Eagles victory. That day, Hurts ran for 77 yards to Jones’ 26. Two weeks ago, Jones didn’t play as Hurts and Philly clinched the NFC’s first round bye with a 22-16 win over the Giants JVs.
So will both quarterbacks abandon their pass pockets and take off this weekend with a conference championship berth on the line? Most likely.
Will each call his own number on critical downs? Probably, though a thoughtful Eagles’ game plan will not be RPO heavy.
Finally, will a running quarterback make it to a Super Bowl? Again, depends on your definition. The bottom line: running the ball is part of a modern quarterback’s workload, a viable element in most team’s game planning, and an integral component in varying degrees to NFL team success.
Let’s just hope today’s best dual-threat passers don’t age themselves out of football by running needlessly, recklessly, or too often!