But superior athleticism almost never goes hand in hand with superior quarterbacking play.
Michael Vick was supposed to revolutionize the position when he was the first pick in the NFL Draft 10 years ago. In his second season, 2002, Vick rushed for 777 yards and eight touchdowns and helped the Atlanta Falcons become the first visiting team in NFL history to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field. In 2004, Vick rushed for 902 yards and led the Falcons to the NFC championship game. In 2006, Vick rushed for a stunning 1,039 yards, though the Falcons failed to reach the playoffs.
However, in the four seasons since Vick became the first quarterback in NFL history to top 1,000 rushing yards, the position hasn't really changed. During that span, there have been just nine 300-yard rushing seasons by quarterbacks. Two of those were authored by Aaron Rodgers, in 2009 and 2010. Rodgers, unlike Vick for much of his career, generally scrambles to buy time to make a play with his arm rather than his legs.
"I think Rodgers is arguably the most skilled quarterback in the league," NFL Films' Greg Cosell told Packer Report when asked whether Rodgers is the "most complete" quarterback in the NFL. "You might say (Ben) Roethlisberger fits that category, as well, but I think Rodgers is a far, far better precision player than Roethlisberger. A guy like Roethlisberger, as physically gifted as he is, is not totally tuned to the subtleties of the pass game like Rodgers is. I think Rodgers has the most complete skill-set of any quarterback in the league. Rodgers has a hose."
Of the 10 quarterbacks who rushed for at least 200 yards last season, only Vick (Eagles), Rodgers and Jay Cutler (Bears) led their teams to the playoffs. Meanwhile, Vince Young flopped in Tennessee and will be traded or released by the Titans after the lockout, David Garrard has led the Jaguars to one winning season in five years as the starter and Tim Tebow is a backup for Denver. This year's No. 1 overall pick, Heisman Trophy-winner Cam Newton, will need an overhaul of his mechanics to ever live up to the hype and guide Carolina out of football purgatory.
Simply, quarterbacks who relied on their running ability to dominate in high school and college just don't have a grasp of playing quarterback from the pocket, which is what the NFL demands. NFL coaches are too smart and the defenders too fast for a run-first mentality to work consistently, and most athletic quarterbacks simply haven't been schooled to go from one read to the next to the next.
"Cam Newton's a perfect example of what I'm talking about," Cosell said. "I don't know what Cam Newton's going to be. All during draft weekend, I heard how Cam Newton had all the tools. My response to that was, ‘What tools are those?' He's a big man with a strong arm. Quarterback is a position of subtle skills. It's not a position of body athleticism the way we think about body athleticism. He doesn't have the tools. He's a big man with a powerful arm. Now, can he be taught to play? Sure. I would never draft a guy like that in the first round because you don't see on film what's necessary to play in the NFL, so you're starting from the beginning."
Rodgers, due in no small part to the grooming of coach Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, is arguably the best pass-run threat in the NFL. While his running ability led to a concussion against Detroit, Rodgers generally makes brilliant decisions when on the move. And he knows when to pick his spots.
"His mobility allows him to escape the rush and (extend) plays, and it's part of what makes him Aaron Rodgers," McCarthy said last season. "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."
That's the case for every quarterback not named Vick.
Even if you include all of the game-ending kneel-downs, only 10 quarterbacks tallied at least 40 rushing attempts last season. The five quarterbacks who had 4,000-yard passing seasons averaged merely 33.0 rushing yards for the entire season.
None of which is to say athletic ability is meaningless at the position. But guys like Pryor, Newton and Tebow would be wise to watch plenty of tape on how Rodgers plays the position by using his feet to pass rather than run.
"It's big in the sense that you avoid the sack, No. 1, and then also you can get a big play," Clements told Packer Report before the Super Bowl. "We got big plays against Atlanta scrambling. I can remember plays where we've gotten 50, 60 yards off a scramble when things broke down. You have an opportunity to avoid a lost-yardage play, which is good — you try to minimize those — and then you have the ability to get a positive play and maybe even an explosive gain."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.