Running Quarterbacks Gaining Ground

By Chris Malumphy

In the past two years, the role of the NFL quarterback has been transformed before our very eyes. The college game has finally had a major impact on how offenses are run and what quarterback skills are desired by progressive coaches and general managers. All one needs to do is to take a look at the 2012 quarterback statistics to see the changes that are occurring, not just the passing statistics, but the rushing totals of quarterbacks as well.

This past season, rookie Robert Griffin rushed for 815 yards while compiling an excellent quarterback rating of 102.4. Second year quarterback Cam Newton wasn't far behind with 741 yards gained on the ground, although his passing rating of 86.2 was more mediocre to good than excellent. Another rookie phenom, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson, ran for 489 yards and had a superb quarterback ranking of 100.0 with 26 touchdown passes, the most for a rookie since Peyton Manning entered the league. Second-year pro Colin Kaepernick ran the 49ers' offense for about half a season and gained 415 yards on the ground while compiling a QB rating of 98.3.

In all, 11 quarterbacks rushed for more than 200 yards in 2012 including: Michael Vick (332), Jake Locker (291), Aaron Rodgers (259), Andrew Luck (255), Christian Ponder (253), Jay Cutler (233) and Ryan Tannehill (211).

The 11 quarterbacks who ran for over 200 yards included four rookies (Griffin, Wilson, Luck and Tannehill) and four second-year pros (Newton, Kaepernick, Locker and Ponder). Three oldsters joined the group (Vick, Rodgers and Cutler).

Their runs became a significant part of their teams' offenses. Newton ran for 49 first downs, Griffin for 40, Wilson for 30 and although playing just about half the time, Kaepernick rushed for 18. Newton scored touchdowns on 8 runs, Griffin on 7 and Kaepernick on 5. Luck also had 5 touchdown runs and 23 rushes for first downs. Locker gained 7.1 yards per carry, the best average for any quarterback who ran more than a handful of times.

Colin Kaepernick is an interesting case in point as to how the game is being transformed. Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith after Smith went down to injury and he never relinquished the job, despite Smith's outstanding play. After a disappointing start to his career, Smith flourished under the coaching of Jim Harbaugh. Smith's new found excellence was a major contributor to the 49ers surprising 2011 season and he appeared to be playing even better in 2012. In fact, Smith's 2012 quarterback rating of 104.1 was better than every quarterback with 15 or more attempts in the league except those named Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. Smith completed 70.2 percent of his passes for an average of 8.0 yards per attempt. He had 13 touchdown passes and only 5 interceptions. He consistently made good decisions and the 49ers were having an excellent year behind his leadership.

But Harbaugh's decision has worked out fine and is in line with the modern trend towards adopting the college game's diverse offenses that rely upon highly mobile quarterbacks. Kaepernick is certainly no slouch at throwing the football. His quarterback rating of 98.3 with 10 touchdown passes, just 3 interceptions and 8.3 yards per attempt is excellent. But in 2012, Smith was far more accurate, completing 70.2 percent of his passes compared to Kaepernick's 62.4.

The big difference though is Kaepernick's mobility. Both Kaepernick and Smith attempted threw the ball 218 times, but Smith was sacked 24 times and Kaepernick only 16. Kaepernick also ran 63 times for 415 yards, a 6.6 yard average, five touchdowns and 18 first downs. Smith, although mobile, is not quite in that league, running 31 times for 132 yards, a 4.3 yard average, no touchdowns and six first downs.

Now that playoff season has arrived, Harbaugh's decision will undergo microscopic analysis. A Super Bowl ring will confirm his choice. Anything less will be fodder for Monday morning critics.

But the game is now undoubtedly changed, which will open the doors to the NFL playing fields to a wide array of quarterbacks who were never given much consideration in the past, as well as to college coaches, like Oregon's Chip Kelly, who can develop progressive offensive schemes that incorporate solid passing games centered around mobile quarterbacks.

2012 Quarterback Yards Rushing
(Minimum 10 Passing Attempts)
Name Att Comp Pct Avg TD Int Sacked Yds
Rushes Yds Avg Td First
Robert Griffin III39325865.68.1205302177.1102.41208156.8740
Cam Newton48528057.78.01912362446.986.21277415.8849
Russell Wilson39325264.17.92610332037.7100.0944895.2430
Colin Kaepernick21813662.48.3103161126.898.3634156.6518
Michael Vick35120458.16.71210281537.478.1623325.4120
Jake Locker31417756.46.91011251517.474.0412917.1113
Aaron Rodgers55237167.27.8398512938.5108.0542594.8220
Andrew Luck62733954.17.02318412466.176.5622554.1523
Christian Ponder48330062.16.11812321846.281.2602534.2211
Jay Cutler43425558.87.01914382508.181.3412335.7015
Ryan Tannehill48428258.36.81213352346.776.1492114.3216
Ryan Fitzpatrick50530660.66.72416301615.683.3481974.119
Matt Cassel27716158.16.5612191016.466.7271455.4112
Matt Ryan61542268.67.73214282104.499.1341414.117
Josh Freeman55830654.87.32717261614.581.6391393.6016
Alex Smith21815370.28.0135241379.9104.1311324.306
Sam Bradford55132859.56.72113352336.082.6371273.419
Matthew Stafford72743559.86.82017292123.879.8351263.6411
Andy Dalton52832962.36.92716462298.087.4471202.6414
Brandon Weeden51729757.46.51417281865.172.6271114.1011
Kevin Kolb18310959.66.4832715912.986.1161006.317
Ben Roethlisberger44928463.37.3268301826.397.026923.505
Tyrod Taylor291758.66.2013309.462.314735.215
Brady Quinn19711256.95.828211239.660.119663.502
Chad Henne30816653.96.81111281698.372.219643.415
Blaine Gabbert27816258.36.096221587.377.418563.106
Terrelle Pryor301446.75.221000.070.810515.114
Tony Romo64842565.67.62819362635.390.530491.615
Nick Foles26516160.86.465201317.079.111423.815
Philip Rivers52733864.16.82615493118.588.627401.502
Matt Hasselbeck22113862.46.275141036.081.013382.902
Carson Palmer56534561.17.12214261994.485.318362.017
Tom Brady63740163.07.6348271824.198.723321.4411
Byron Leftwich532547.25.1013245.454.913131.011
Greg McElroy311961.36.911117126.279.28303.802
Eli Manning53632159.97.42615191363.487.220301.502
Jason Campbell513262.75.22264910.572.87284.001
Mark Sanchez45324654.36.41318342097.066.922281.303
Joe Flacco53131759.77.22210352276.287.732220.7311
Kirk Cousins483368.89.7433275.9101.63227.301
Colt McCoy17952.94.61042519.085.24153.802
Ryan Lindley1718952.04.40712916.646.7471.801
Brian Hoyer533056.66.2124307.065.8166.001
Peyton Manning58340068.68.03711211373.5105.82360.302
Drew Brees67042263.07.74319261903.796.31550.312
John Skelton20110954.25.62915986.955.4451.301
Thaddeus Lewis322268.86.4113148.683.3133.000
Shaun Hill131076.913.220000.0157.91-1-1.000
Bruce Gradkowski11545.55.900000.064.64-2-0.500
Matt Moore191157.96.910299.596.65-3-0.600
Matt Schaub54435064.37.42212272164.790.721-9-0.400