We’re beginning to age out the old guard of quarterbacks in the NFL that have defined the last two decades, but at the moment, it seems as if we’ve never had as many pivotal, impactful leaders at the most important position in all of sports, and they’re developing faster than ever.
Faces of the league are coming in one by one; Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagovailoa are all age 25 and under just to name a few. The future of the position is going to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
In 2012, the narratives surrounding three quarterbacks taken in the NFL Draft write the story for the future of the position. As a league-defining year, these three narratives have helped the position become more bright than ever.
The first narrative is somewhat of a tragedy: the #1 overall pick to the Colts, which was Andrew Luck.
Luck was deemed a once-in-a-generation level talent coming out of Stanford because of his build, his mobility, and his arm strength, and was the perfect successor to Peyton Manning, who was cut by Indy due to struggles with injury. While Luck did have a relatively successful NFL career, taking teams to the postseason on multiple occasions and showing flashes of what we expected out of college, he may go down as the biggest “what if” in league history because of his injuries and early retirement last year at just age 30. It was truly heartbreaking and shocked the NFL landscape.
However, a big reason why Luck is a “what if” comes down to one thing: the Colts couldn’t protect him. Every single Indy game on TV, Luck suffered hit after hit after hit that left him battered with numerous shoulder injuries and seasons sidelined. Had Indianapolis better invested in their protection, who knows what could have came of Luck.
The second narrative comes from the #2 overall pick to Washington: Heisman-winner out of Baylor, Robert Griffin III.
As a sprinter out of college lauded for his read-option capabilities, Washington opted to use Griffin very frequently in designed run plays, often with him diving for extra yardage or having to slide to avoid hits the way he masterfully did in college.
The only problem? These are NFL-sized defenders, not Big 12 college kids hitting Griffin.
He lit the league on fire with the plays he made in his first season, winning Rookie of the Year, but Griffin suffered a torn ACL in the Playoffs after one too many injuries from the decisions the offense made in his designed runs. He was never the same after that brand of usage they installed around him.
The third narrative comes from Russell Wilson, drafted in the third round and not even initially expected to be a starter on the team until he impressed in training camp.
He was widely passed over from his shorter stature at 5’11 and scrambling play-style, and the culture of picking the longer, pocket-passer meant guys like Griffin and Luck were preferred to fit the “NFL brand” better. What’s ironic about that you might ask? Wilson, despite being the smallest of the three, having poor offensive line play, and scrambling the most of three, has never missed an NFL game in his career and has appeared in two Super Bowls. The league will never be the same.
From these three draft picks alone the NFL has adapted to several codes in response in order to get the most out of their quarterback play the same way that Russell Wilson is successful in Seattle. Andrew Luck’s situation taught us the importance of investing in the offensive line; what’s even more devastating about the end of his career was that the Colts had finally invested in one of the best o-lines in the league until it was too late for his health and he retired.
Robert Griffin made us rethink the way dual-threat quarterbacks are used. If you’re going to have designed quarterback runs, they have to be taken with two words in mind: be calculated. Take the slide rather than diving over the linebacker. Run out of bounds. Throw the ball away. There’s a reason that the under-sized Wilson is still in the league playing at an MVP-level and Griffin is a backup after a plethora of injuries: Wilson runs smart. He has the threat to run up for a first down if you give him space, but will opt to make the plays that don’t hurt him or his team.
Since Wilson’s success, you could argue that every quarterback has taken since then that’s still playing at a high-level still has the capability to maneuver outside of the pocket and make plays; the days of the 6 foot, immobile pocket gunslinger are long gone at this point. The beauty of it all is seeing how each new young quarterback is schemed by calculated running; Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson are quarterbacking offenses designed around their run capabilities, leading to play action and runs up the middle, but they both possess the awareness and strength to avoid injury by running out of bounds or sliding.
Mahomes, Tua, Allen, and Mayfield don’t necessarily get very many plays designed for them to run, but they’re similar to Wilson in that they know when to step outside the pocket and use their legs to get the first down.
Patrick Mahomes is a guy who threw for 50 touchdowns in a season one year, yet one of the plays that was most memorable from his Super Bowl run was this go-ahead touchdown run for 27 yards.
As for Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and DeShaun Watson, we’ve gotten to see their mobility unfortunately from poor line play where they’re forced to either run outside and make some magic happen or take a hit…
I hope and pray we don’t get another Andrew Luck scenario from those talents.
Russell Wilson didn’t necessarily invent calculated, intelligent, play-making ability with his legs, but his draft pick in comparison to the top two picks, which were expected to be the faces of the league and successors to guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, revolutionized the way that we evaluate the position for this generation’s offensive revolution.
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