A dual-threat quarterback, also known as a running quarterback, is a quarterback in the sport of gridiron football, who possesses the skills and physique to run with the ball if necessary. With the rise of several blitz heavy defensive schemes and increasingly faster defensive players, the importance of a mobile quarterback has been redefined. While arm power, accuracy, and pocket presence – the ability to successfully operate from within the "pocket" formed by his blockers – are still the most important quarterback virtues, the ability to elude or run past defenders creates an additional threat that allows greater flexibility in the team's passing and running game. Overall, the dual-threat quarterback has been referred to as, "the most complex position in sports," by Bleacher Report.
Dual-threat quarterbacks have historically been more prolific at the college level. Typically, a quarterback with exceptional quickness is used in an option offense, which allows the quarterback to either hand the ball off, run it himself, or pitch it to the running back following him at a distance of three yards outside and one yard behind. This type of offense forces defenders to commit to either the running back up the middle, the quarterback around the end, or the running back trailing the quarterback. It is then that the quarterback has the "option" to identify which match up is most favorable to the offense as the play unfolds and exploit that defensive weakness. In the college game, many schools employ several plays that are designed for the quarterback to run with the ball. This is much less common in professional football, except for a quarterback sneak, but there is still an emphasis on being mobile enough to escape a heavy pass rush. Historically, dual threat quarterbacks in the National Football League (NFL) were uncommon, with Michael Vick being considered a rarity in the early 2000s. In recent years, quarterbacks with dual-threat capabilities have become more popular. Examples of dual-threat quarterbacks currently playing in the NFL include Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. Damon Allen, who played from 1985 to 2007 in the Canadian Football League (CFL), is professional football's all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback with 11,920.
- 1 History in the National Football League
- 2 History in the Canadian Football League
- 3 Notes
- 4 References
History in the National Football League
Early history (1950s–70s)
In the 1950s, Tobin Rote, was a rare example of a dual-threat quarterback. as he led the Green Bay Packers in rushing in 3 seasons, and retired with 3,128 yards. As of the 2014 NFL season, Rote still ranks 8th all time in rushing yards for a quarterback.
The next decade, however, saw Fran Tarkenton impact the game in both passing and running aspects. Tarkenton writes, "When I began my NFL career in 1961, I was a freak. The reason was simple: I played quarterback and I ran. There were no designed runs in our playbook, but I would scramble out of the pocket when a play broke down." Tarkenton adds by describing the reaction to his scrambling at the time, "It was not a skill set that was embraced. Plenty of people mocked it, and the rest wrote it off." At the time of his retirement, Tarkenton was the all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback, with 3,674.
In 1972, Chicago Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass set the single-season rushing yards record for a quarterback, as he logged 968 yards. Douglass, however, was not considered a good passer, as his receivers complained his arm strength was, "too strong," as he often overthrew the ball. The Bears attempted to create wild schemes, before discovering his rushing ability, leading to his record-breaking 1972 season.
During the 1980s and 90s, dual-threat quarterbacks were more frequently seen than in previous decades. Randall Cunningham and Steve Young were the faces of rushing quarterbacks during this era. Cunningham was able to exceed Young in statistical regards. On October 18, 1992, Cunningham surpassed Tarkenton's record for career rushing yards by a quarterback. Following the 2001 NFL season, Cunningham retired with a then-record 4,928 rushing yards. Despite having more rushing yards, Young holds the record for most career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, with 43.
There is debate as to whether Young or Cunningham was the better rushing quarterback. CraveOnline writes that, although, "there may be two others [Vick and Cunnhingham] that hold an edge to Steve Young in amount of yards rushed, career wise, by a QB but make no mistake about it, if you are a QB that can run, then Young is who you want to emulate," adding that, Young, "had the rare gift of explosive speed combined with deadly accuracy." As for Cunningham, Jeff Darlington, an NFL Media reporter, writes, "True, Steve Young had legs that merited the respect of defenders. But Cunningham ... Cunningham was different. And today's quarterbacks know it." Darlington adds to his point by referring to an anecdote from Robert Griffin III, a 2010s rushing quarterback, in which Griffin III would watch Cunningham's highlights with his father. Griffin III elaborates, "We'd watch how well he moved in the pocket to avoid defenders and make plays -- not just with his legs, but with his arm. He was one of the first true game-changers the league saw."
As Young, Cunningham, and John Elway, another dual-threat QB from the 1980s and 90s, all retired from 1998 to 2001, a new generation of mobile quarterbacks was ushered in. Donovan McNabb was drafted by the Eagles in 1999, beginning a successful quarterbacking career, in which his running ability was frequently identified. On his mobility, McNabb once joked, "I think you run a lot better when you don't want to be hit." After sustaining an injury in the 2003 season, there was speculation as to if McNabb would be able to retain his mobility, as Ray Buchanan stated, "We'd probably rather see McNabb, because he's not as mobile right now," which McNabb responded with, "According to everyone else I'm not mobile. I'll just let people continue to think that, and when the time comes, I'll make sure I showcase that a little bit."
McNabb was also connected to Michael Vick, one of the most prolific running quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. While attending Syracuse University, McNabb attempted to assist in the recruitment of Michael Vick, and in addition to that, McNabb also mentored Vick about the speed of the professional level. Vick also served as McNabb's backup in Philadelphia in 2009, later succeeding McNabb as the starter for the franchise. Michael Vick was drafted first overall by Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick would go on to be a successful runner for the Falcons from 2001 to 2006. 14 games into his 2006 season, Vick broke Douglass' single-season rushing yards record by a quarterback. A week later, Vick surpassed the 1,000 rushing yards milestone, becoming the first quarterback to reach the mark in a single season. He finished the season with a record 1,039 yards. Vick's mobility had an impact on future mobile quarterbacks; Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated writes, "Young players go out of their way to tell Vick that they were always him when they played Madden growing up, and wore his Nike cleats before the shoe line was dropped." Vick would miss the 2007 and 2008 seasons due to legal issues involving dogfighting.
After his return to the NFL, and a season as McNabb's backup, Vick earned his second starting opportunity. His 2010 rushing statistics (league-leading 676 yards among quarterbacks and 9 touchdowns) would be the foundation for the landscape of mobile quarterbacks during the early 2010s. The following season, on October 9, Vick surpassed Cunningham's career rushing yardage total, to claim the career-record for quarterbacks. That season also saw Cam Newton drafted first overall by Carolina Panthers. Newton would go on to lead quarterbacks in rushing yards with 706, and would earn 14 rushing touchdowns, breaking Steve Grogan's 1976 single season record by a quarterback. In addition to Newton, notable dual-threat quarterbacks in the early 2010s included Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin III, Tim Tebow, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck. On his overall impact and legacy in regards to dual-threat quarterbacks, Vick stated, "I was the guy who started it all," adding, "I revolutionized the game. I changed the way it was played in the NFL."
Decline (2014 onward)
In the 2014 season, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and Cam Newton were all cited as declining or regressing players. Kaepernick was labeled, "symbolic of running QB struggles," by NFL.com writer, Chris Wesseling. This status came after Kaepernick and the 49ers were defeated by Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders. Carr is not considered a dual-threat quarterback, though his, "mindset, athleticism, pocket presence, quick release and strong arm," have all been praised by executives, coaches and analysts. Steve Young, who ranks 3rd all-time in rushing yards for a QB, was cited as believing scrambling away from pressure limits and stunts the development of a quarterback's pocket presence. During the season, Bill Polian, a former Indianapolis Colts president, stated, "What we’re seeing this year is the incredible erosion of the running quarterback." Obstacles such as high expectations and an increased potential for injury hindered the perception that mobile quarterbacks would become the dominant breed of the position.
While Kaepernick, Newton, and Griffin III struggled, mobility in other quarterbacks was praised. Success in the passing game, while having mobility to extend the play was regarded more highly than pure running athleticism in 2014. Aaron Rodgers' mobility, for example, was considered by one NFL.com writer, to be critical to the Packers' offense. New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick praised Rodgers' mobility, stating, "he has a great ability to extend plays, either sliding in the pocket or at times scrambling outside the pocket." Andrew Luck's mobility was also acclaimed by another NFL head coach, Chip Kelly.
All-time NFL leaders
Single season leaders
|Rank||Player||Season||Team||Total rushing yards|
|1||Michael Vick||2006||Atlanta Falcons||1,039|
|2||Bobby Douglass||1972||Chicago Bears||968|
|3||Randall Cunningham||1990||Philadelphia Eagles||942|
|4||Michael Vick||2004||Atlanta Falcons||902|
|5||Russell Wilson||2014||Seattle Seahawks||849|
|6||Robert Griffin III||2012||Washington Redskins||815|
|7||Michael Vick||2002||Atlanta Falcons||777|
|8||Cam Newton||2012||Carolina Panthers||741|
|9||Cam Newton||2011||Carolina Panthers||706|
|10||Michael Vick||2010||Philadelphia Eagles||676|
History in the Canadian Football League
The width of the CFL's field at 65 yards and the length at 110 yards has allowed quarterbacks to find openings to run the ball, implementing improvisation by a quarterback as a beneficial trait in Canadian football. Quarterback sneaks or other runs in short yardage situations tend to be successful as a result of the distance between the offensive and defensive lines being one yard. Drew Tate, a quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders', led the CFL in rushing touchdowns during the 2014 season with ten scores as the backup to Bo Levi Mitchell. He was primarily used in short yardage situations due to his speed and running ability. Tate scored two one-yard rushing touchdowns in the Stampeders' 20-16 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 102nd Grey Cup.
All-time CFL leaders
|Rank||Player||Seasons by team||Total rushing yards|
|1||Damon Allen||Edmonton Eskimos (1985–1988)
Ottawa Rough Riders (1989–1991)
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1992)
Edmonton Eskimos (1993–1994)
Memphis Mad Dogs (1995)
BC Lions (1996–2002)
Toronto Argonauts (2003–2007)
|2||Tracy Ham||Edmonton Eskimos (1987–1992)
Toronto Argonauts (1993)
Baltimore Stallions (1994–1995)
Montreal Alouettes (1996–1999)
|3||Jackie Parker||Edmonton Eskimos (1954–1962)
Toronto Argonauts (1963–1965)
BC Lions (1966–1968)
Single season leaders
|Rank||Player||Season||Team||Total rushing yards|
|1||Tracy Ham||1990||Edmonton Eskimos||1,096|
|2||Damon Allen||1991||Ottawa Rough Riders||1,036|
|3||Kerry Joseph||2005||Ottawa Renegades||1,006|
|4||Tracy Ham||1989||Edmonton Eskimos||1,005|
Single game leaders
|Rank||Player||Date||Team||Total rushing yards / carries|
|1||Nealon Greene||July 16, 1999||Edmonton Eskimos||180 (14 carries)|
|2||Damon Allen||October 29, 1993||Edmonton Eskimos||170 (15 carries)|
|3||Tracy Ham||August 15, 1991||Edmonton Eskimos||166 (13 carries)|
- As an active player, Vick's count of 6,010 yards is accurate, as of Week 17 of the 2014 NFL season
- Young's USFL stats are not accounted into his official NFL stats
- Rote's CFL statistics are not included in his official NFL stats
- Harbaugh only played during the preseason for the Lions, as he was cut on the eve of the regular season
- Young's USFL stats are not accounted into his official NFL stats
- Kemp's CFL statistics are not included in his official NFL stats
- Rote's CFL statistics are not included in his official NFL stats
- As an active player, Vick's count of 36 TDs is accurate, as of Week 17 of the 2014 NFL season
- Culpepper's UFL statistics are not included into his NFL statistics
- Otto Graham scored 44 rushing touchdowns from 1946–1955, however, his stats from 1946–49 are not accounted for, as they are AAFC stats, and despite the 1950 NFL–AAFC merger, the NFL does recognize AAFC stats as official NFL statistics.
- Like with Graham, 6 of Tittle's 39 rushing touchdowns are not included in this listing, because they were scored during his career in the AAFC
- As an active player, Newton's count of 33 TDs is accurate as of Week 17 of the 2014 NFL season
- Flutie's USFL stats are not accounted into his official CFL stats
- Flutie's NFL stats are not accounted into his official CFL stats
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