Is QB Mobility Necessary For Success?


Quarterbacks with great speed and mobility get most football fans pretty excited, but QB agility (the ability to move within a six-to-eight foot box, reset and deliver the ball accurately) regardless of speed is what wins big in the NFL.

Some general managers and coaches lose their sensibilities over the potential of the ultra-fast QB and is generally the reason some of the guys became the quarterback of their youth and high school teams. They grew up as the fastest guy on the team and coaches wanted the ball in their hands every play.

The reality is that the fastest and most mobile QB’s have found relatively moderate success in the NFL.

Fran Tarkenton scrambled his way to the Hall Of Fame and took the Minnesota Vikings to multiple Super Bowls, but couldn’t win it all.  Steve Young’s legs created incredible excitement and became the $40 million quarterback for the L.A. Express of the USFL.  His lack of success, when he entered the NFL, can’t be properly measured, since it came with the completely inept Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  After finding his way behind Joe Montana for a few years, his legs still created some great runs, but it was his arm and Jerry Rice’s legs that got the 49ers another Lombardi Trophy and his invitation to Canton.

Michael Vick brought even more interest to the game than Young did almost two decades earlier.  He quickly made the also-ran Atlanta Falcons a legitimate title contender, taking them up against Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship.  The lefty may have actually had the ability to take a team to the top and boost the argument for a super-fast QB as the ultimate prototype, but his promising career was lost with his poor work ethic and ultimately his stay in prison.

John Elway was one of the most athletic and mobile quarterbacks of all time and had amazing success, taking his Denver Broncos to the big game three times, yet losing all three times when his athleticism was at its highest.  Getting blown out by the Washington Redskins and Doug Williams, one of the least mobile QB’s at the time (he moved around pretty well with the Buccaneers, but was never a runner) put an exclamation point on this concept.  We all know that Elway was ultimately successful when he asked less of his own athletic ability and more of those around him.

More recently Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick have gotten the faithful revved up with their amazing abilities, but none are on teams that seem like they are on the verge of doing anything special any time soon.  I believe only Kaepernick has the ability to make the transition as Elway did, but must replace Frank Gore and rebuild the defense to sniff a championship.  The guy that seems closest to getting over and has a great combination of size, agility and pedigree is Andrew Luck.

Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady all have four rings, but none have a career highlight running the football.  Dan Marino doesn’t own a ring, but still stays in the conversation when it comes to best quarterback of all time and we know just how immobile he was.

As the Super Bowl turns 50 this year, history has shown playing quarterback in the NFL is much more than the all-important 40 yard dash (where too much attention is still paid in other positions).  The Manning brothers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are poor runners with embarrassing 40 times, but have all shown the agility to move within the pocket and deliver big-time for their teams.   Both Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are significantly faster than those just mentioned, but they play the position properly and use their agility judiciously.  And since they are both in their primes, will probably battle each other in the NFC championship a few times before they are done.

So, what does this mean for the upcoming draft and the top QB prospects?  It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but history should tilt to Jameis Winston’s side, although there is concern.  During Winston’s recent pro day, Kurt Warner rightly pointed out Winston’s struggles to stay balanced or get back to balance when he has to move his feet very much.  On the other hand, I don’t think Marcus Mariota is the same kind of “take off running at the first sign of trouble” quarterback as I’ve chronicled here.  He is a quality passer with really good mechanics and a great 40 time.  He uses his speed when he needs it, not his constant default option, and if he doesn’t try to prove his manhood by running into defenders like so many other youthful QB’s have made the mistake of doing, he too will find a lot of success.

About Jeff Carlson

Jeff Carlson

Former NFL quarterback, training youth QB's in Tampa, Florida. Football Analyst for Bright House Sports Network and Football Insiders.