They Still Have to Sling It

Arms, and not feet, are still the measuring stick for college quarterbacks coming into the NFL – the main reason so many experts disagree about the potential of former Auburn QB Cam Newton.

In the assessment of Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli, "the ability to avoid the [pass] rush" was second only to "accuracy" when the Chiefs architect was asked during a media session at the combine last month about the attributes quarterbacks must possess to play well at the NFL level.

Notice, please, Pioli didn't suggest that being able to escape the rush and then gain yards with one's legs -- preferring instead "pocket presence" and "pocket sense" to pure running skills -- were especially paramount to a successful career. And there's a good reason.

Quarterbacks simply don't run much anymore.

Ten seasons after Michael Vick was selected with the first overall pick of the 2001 draft -- granted, two of those years were entirely wiped out by his incarceration -- the man who was supposed to be the personification for the NFL's "quarterback of the future" and redefine the position, has yet to morph into a new dynamic model at the quarterback spot. In the four seasons since Vick became the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000-plus yards in a campaign ('06), there have been only nine 300-yard rushing years rung up by quarterbacks.

QB Michael Vick
Rob Tringali/Getty

The presumed revolution at quarterback hasn't gotten off the ground. Pun intended. Vick, who gained 676 yards last season, is the lone quarterback to run for 400 or more yards in that period. Vince Young, who rushed for 525 yards the same year Vick posted 1,000-plus, is a man without a team, and his future in the league is uncertain. For all his promise of adding another dimension to the position, Tim Tebow is still a backup. The primary discussion of prized prospect Cam Newton is really about his arm, not his legs.

It is a league predicated on a quarterback's ability to throw the football, not make two reads, decide that no one is open, tuck the ball away and run with it.

"It's a [dimension] you'd like to have," acknowledged Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt at the combine, "but one you can make do without."

Said Houston coach Gary Kubiak, whose quarterback, Matt Schaub, has rushed for 205 yards the past four years, while throwing for 14,424 in the same stretch: "You've got to have good feet ... but not necessarily for running [upfield]."

Even the mercurial Vick had just 100 rushes in 2010, the fewest in the five seasons in which he registered double-digit starts.

Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback in the league to rush for 300 or more yards in each of the past two seasons, but the Packers star won Super Bowl XLV with his arm. His only runs against the Steelers in the championship contest last month were a pair of kneel-downs, for minus-1 yard each, at the end of the game.

"His mobility allows him to escape the rush and [extend] plays, and it's part of what makes him Aaron Rodgers," said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. "It's great to have that part of his game. But he's not going to make a lot of running plays up the field." Nor, it appears, are many quarterbacks in the league.

Indeed, Vick may be unique in that regard. The entry of Vick into the NFL in 2001, and his emergence as a running presence, was supposed to signal the dawning of the New Age double-threat quarterback in the NFL, but that has hardly been the case. Even Vick posted only eight rushes of 20 yards or more in 2010, with a long run of 35. In the previous four years in which Vick started 10 regular-season games or more, he averaged nine rushes of 20 or more yards, and his average long run was for 46.8.

There were just two rushes of 40 yards or more by quarterbacks in 2010.

The prevalence of spread-type offenses in the college game probably helped to foster a belief that the NFL would see more running quarterbacks come into the league. But most of the quarterbacks at the combine agreed that rushing the ball upfield was only a secondary skill.

It is, they concurred, a passing league. And it has become more so in the past couple of seasons, with 14 quarterbacks throwing for at least 4,000 yards in 2009 and 2010 combined, and 39 quarterbacks posting 3,000-yard seasons in those years.

The NFL over the past several seasons has become an arms race, not a marathon won with a quarterback's legs.

New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck told the New York Post this week that "the athletic quarterbacks don't last very long" in the NFL. He specifically noted that Newton probably wouldn't be in the league very long if he came in "doing what he did in college."

QB Blaine Gabbert
Jamie Squire/Getty

"I mean, there's no way I'm going to run in the NFL as much as I did in college," said Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of the last three years. "It's not what the NFL is about. I think teams like the running part of my game. It's nice to have that, don't get me wrong. But that's not how I'm going to become an NFL quarterback."

Probably not.

"It's still about arm strength and accuracy," said Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who turned in an impressive 4.62 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine. "Those are undoubtedly at the top of the list."

Even counting end-game kneel-downs in 2010, there were only 10 quarterbacks in the league who recorded 30 rushing attempts, and five with 40. The top 10 passers in quarterback efficiency rating totaled 1909 rushing yards and Vick accounted for more than one-third of that. Subtract Vick's total, and the group averaged 137.0 rushing yards. The five quarterbacks who threw for 4,000 yards in 2010 totaled 165 yards rushing, an average of 33.0, and none managed more than 70.

Of the 17 quarterbacks who ran the 40-yard dash at the combine - Ryan Mallett of Arkansas bypassed the drill - seven were timed at under 4.7 seconds. But none of those guys harbors the notion that a blistering 40 time is the first thing that's apt to grab the attention of NFL scouts. Mallett ran a very slow 5.24 at his pro day last week.

"They're not here to see me run fast," said Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech, whose 4.51 time was the fastest turned in by a quarterback prospect. "They're here to see me throw the ball straight."

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