Saturday, March 18, 2017

Once Elite Mobile QB's Colin Kaepernick & Robert Griffin III Seem on Way Out

For many years now, it always seemed like the NFL was about to become a league dominated by a new kind of quarterback. The fast mobile quarterback, who could beat you with his arms if he needed to, or with his legs if so required

The problem is that very few, if any, of the really good scrambling quarterbacks seem to have great arms. It always seems like they resort to running too quickly. Sometimes it works, and their threat as running quarterbacks can truly be a threat. But other times, it seems that they turn to running too quickly and too frequently. Not surprisingly, becoming the running threat also, more often than not, will lead to injuries down the road that begin to slow their amazing athletic and running abilities, and force them to rely more heavily on their throwing arms.

Time has showed that not every mobile quarterback can make this switch very easily.

One of the exceptions was also probably the first really dangerous, mobile and highly athletic quarterback. Of course, I am speaking of the one and only, Randall Cunningham. 

Back in his day, Cunningham was one of a kind. He was able to run and make leaps that seemed to defy physics. His scrambling ability was legendary, and indeed, he proved a dangerous weapon to opposing defenses trying to contain him. Trust me, as a Giants fan, there were plenty of times when he was able to seemingly make a mockery of tough opposing defenses, and make them look foolish!

Here's the thing, though: Cunningham could also throw. Anyone who doubts that can take a look at perhaps the most famous clip of the combination of his athletic, scrambling abilities and his deadly throwing arm:

Impressive, right?

Well, that's the thing. Prior to Randall Cunningham, we had never seen anyone quite like him, so he was rightly viewed as extraordinary. When he became the starting quarterback for the Eagles, it seemed like there was nothing that he could not do. He brought a dangerous element, a certain explosiveness, to the Eagles, who were mostly known as a tough defensive team, and most people, myself included, figured it was a matter of time before Philly broke through to make it to the Super Bowl.

It never happened, and Cunningham started to be slowed down by the inevitable injuries. Still, as I mentioned before, he also had a great arm, and so he was able to successfully make the transfer to pocket quarterback. He was the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings for most of the 1998 season, when they had what was then the most explosive, high scoring offensive machine that the league had ever seen up to that point. The Vikings went 15-1, averaging about 38 points per game, and then scored points in the divisional game romp against the Cardinals. They were beating the Falcons pretty badly in the NFC title game, too, but then turned conservative, really for the first time all season. This proved costly, as the slower version of the Vikings tried to sit on a hardly insurmountable 20-7 lead, but allowed Atlanta to crawl their way back into the game. It went into overtime, and the Falcons won it there, shocking the heavily favored Vikings, and denying one of the seemingly most dominant single season teams in history to that point the chance to even contend in the Super Bowl for a title.

The thing is, those Vikings were explosive with a pocket quarterback version of Cunningham at the helm. His throwing abilities were strong, and so he was a solid pocket presence, and was able to put up amazing numbers even as a much less mobile quarterback.

However, the Cunningham phenomenon seemed to open up the door for a wave of scrambling quarterbacks who did not focus as much on their throwing abilities. The first of these, as I recall, was Kordell Stewart. He became a star as a special teams player and sometime quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He could throw, and sometimes, he would line up along with another starting quarterback on the team, and this usually drove opposing defenses nuts. He, too, was a serious threat. However, when he had his turn as starting quarterback, he proved not to be as great a passer as many had hoped, and suddenly, the threat seemed considerably less. There were other quarterbacks with similarly amazing athletic and scrambling abilities, but who also seemed far more limited with what they could do with their throwing arms. What the league and it's fans found out was that a scrambling quarterback could only present a viable running threat if he was not also a viable passing threat. 

Still, more scrambling quarterback came around, and took the league by storm with their incredible athleticism. Steve Young, Steven McNair, Quincy Carter, Aliki Smith, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Johnny Manziel, Terrelle Pryor, and now, Dak Prescott - and those are only some of the most famous, instantly recognizable names. 

Of those, less than half have been seen in the Super Bowl, and far fewer have actually won. In fact, of the scrambling quarterbacks in history, we have seen Steve Young and Russell Wilson actually win the Super Bowl so far. Cam Newton could possible do it, and he was a league MVP just two seasons ago. Yet, these guys are successful because they also have dangerous throwing arms, and their running abilities helped them to be more complete, all-around quarterbacks. The threat that they posed to opposing defenses was more complete. Young could sure run, but he could also kill you with his deadly accurate, precision passing game. Russell Wilson can run, but he can also throw, and he normally does not make too many mistakes. Cam Newton has incredible athletic ability, but you had better not underestimate his arm. Let's even give credit to Michael Vick, despite his horrendous crime which defines him far more than anything that he managed to do on the football field. But on the field, he could really make opposing defenses nervous, because he could throw as well as run.

But those guys were the exceptions, and not the norm. 


Because eventually, being a one-dimensional quarterback only works if you are an exceptional passer from the pocket, and can adapt to the speed of opposing defenses. Look at the two quarterbacks who just played in the last Super Bowl, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Neither of them are known for their running abilities at all. That is not to say that they have never run in their careers. Of course they have. But in both cases, these two elite quarterbacks - arguably the two best quarterbacks from this past season - are defined by what they do with their arms, then what they do with their legs. Brady has been to and won more Super Bowls than any other quarterback in history. Ryan has been one of the strongest quarterbacks in the league for years, but he really broke out last year.

Now, that is not to say that every mobile quarterback is necessarily worse than the more traditional, pocket quarterbacks. However, there is a reason for why these mobile quarterback usually do not make it as far as the Super Bowl most years. They may catch some defenses off guard at first, but usually, defenses make adjustments. It may take some time, but the effectiveness of catching opposing defenses off guard starts to wear thin eventually. Plus, scrambling is kind of like living dangerously, and most of these mobile quarterbacks put themselves in position to take shots and get hurt.

And that is what happened in the case of two once elite quarterback known for their scrambling abilities - Colin Kapernick and Robert Griffin III (RG3). Remember how Kaepernick took the starting quarterback job away from Alex Smith in 2012, and then led the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl? I knew some guys who thought that he was going to be the next great quarterback, and one guy I knew - a 49ers fan - thought that Kaepernick was going to become the greatest quarterback of all time.

That same year, Washington took some major risks and banked that RG3 was the QB of their future. Indeed, given the season that he had in 2012, you could see why. A lot of opposing defenses were made to look foolish by his incredible running abilities, and Washington surprised everybody by taking the division title that season, getting to host a playoff contest. RG3 won the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in the process. But he got hurt in the Wild Card Game against Seattle, who went on to win that game, and he never really did the look the same again.

Indeed, that was 2012, but now, in between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the future of those two guys in the NFL is very much at risk. Kaepernick himself lost the starting quarterback position for a while there this season, and his team had the second worst record in the NFL last season. RG3 found himself playing for the team with the worst record in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns, who were flirting with a winless season until quite late. RG3 was not even the starter, and effectively was a non-factor for the Browns. Just four years ago, he was hailed as the model for quarterbacks of the future. He had some impressive accolades, too, having won the Heisman Trophy, and had people standing up and taking notice. So did Kaepernick, for that matter.

Things have changed in a remarkably short time, however. RG3 never looked the same. He kept the starting quarterback position for a while, but gradually, that no longer looked like a certainty. Kirk Cousins started the final three games in 2013. The two of them went back and forth for a while in 2015 and 2015, but Cousins won out, and RG3 went to Cleveland, but failed to really make a mark there, either. Meanwhile, Kaepernick was still quite elite in 2013, leading the 49ers to an impressive 12-4 record, as San Francisco qualified for the NFC title game for a third straight season. In 2014, things were different, as San Francisco fell quite a bit, and at the end of that season, the 49ers lost their head coach, and a whole bunch of talent. Kaepernick was one of the few stars that the 49ers had left from their tremendous run from 2011-2013. Somehow, though, Kaepernick did not look nearly so good, and has been struggling ever since. Things got so bad, that he actually lost his starting position for a while last season, and now says that he will opt out of the final year of his contract with San Francisco, and RG3 appears to be out of a job in Cleveland. Now, both of their futures are very uncertain, and it is quite possible that neither man will ever take another snap in an NFL game again. 

Below is an article about these two once highly regarded quarterbacks, and how it may very well be that their NFL careers are over. Also, I found the explanation of why, traditionally, mobile quarterbacks wind up not playing nearly as effectively a few seasons into their careers as they do when they first start, and seem to make an immediate splash.

Here is the link to the article:

Do Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III have anything left?

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