In gridiron football, a dual-threat quarterback, also known as a running quarterback, is a quarterback 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. Current NFL starting quarterbacks considered to be dual threats include Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota, Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, and Carson Wentz.
- 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 end of 2017 NFL season, Rote still ranks 10th 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.
Another rare dual-threat quarterback that emerged in the 1970s was Steve Grogan. While playing college football for Kansas State, Grogan had rushed for a 100-yard game, and had over 500 yards in two seasons as a starter. Drafted by the New England Patriots in 1975, Grogan scored 12 rushing touchdowns in the 1976 season, a record for quarterbacks which stood for 35 years. During the 1978 season, Grogan ran for 539 yards, on a team which set the NFL record for total rushing yards (3,165), which still stands as of 2018. Limited by injuries during the middle part of his career, Grogan would transition to a more traditional pocket-passer by the middle 1980s.
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 Cunningham having more rushing yards, Young held the record for most career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (43) until being surpassed by Cam Newton in 2016.
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 Cunningham] 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 influenced 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."
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) were 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 the Carolina Panthers. Newton went on to lead quarterbacks in rushing yards with 706, and earned 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."
In the 2014 season, Kaepernick, Griffin III, and 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 third all-time in rushing yards for a quarterback, 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 during the season, 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." Luck's mobility was also acclaimed by another NFL head coach, Chip Kelly. Despite early-season reports of a decline in the performance of dual-threat quarterbacks, Russell Wilson rushed for a career-high 849 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2014, leading the Seattle Seahawks to a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
New dual-threat quarterbacks emerged as starters during 2015 such as Marcus Mariota and Tyrod Taylor. Also in 2015, Cam Newton had a resurgent season, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns en route to a Super Bowl berth. However, as Newton was also successful in his passing game, one Wall Street Journal reporter wrote "defenses say it is Newton's ability to do anything on any given play that really keeps them up at night", adding "[Newton] is a pass-first quarterback capable of picking up a first down with his legs at any moment."
All-time NFL leaders
Note: stats are accurate as of the end of the 2018 NFL season.
Single season leaders
|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||2017||Carolina Panthers||754|
|9||Cam Newton||2012||Carolina Panthers||741|
|10||Cam Newton||2011||Carolina Panthers||706|
Note: The list only includes seasons in which a quarterback rushed for double-digit touchdowns
|1||Cam Newton||2011||Carolina Panthers||14|
|2||Steve Grogan||1976||New England Patriots||12|
|3t||Johnny Lujack||1950||Chicago Bears||11|
|Tobin Rote||1956||Green Bay Packers||11|
|Kordell Stewart||1997||Pittsburgh Steelers||11|
|6t||Billy Kilmer||1961||San Francisco 49ers||10|
|Daunte Culpepper||2002||Minnesota Vikings||10|
|Cam Newton||2015||Carolina Panthers||10|
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, Newton's counts of 4,808 rushing yards and 58 rushing touchdowns are accurate as of the end of Week 17 of the 2018 NFL season
- Young's USFL stats are not accounted into his official NFL stats
- As an active player, Wilson's counts of 3,651 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns are accurate as of the end of Week 17 of the 2018 NFL season
- Rote's CFL statistics are not included in his official NFL stats
- Tom Matte and Charley Trippi have 4,646 and 3,506 rushing yards, respectively, enough for placement within the top 10. However, they are not included in this listing as Matte was primarily used as a running back, having only attempted 42 passes in his career, while Trippi played in the pre-modern era of the NFL, in which players were more commonly versatile in terms of position. Trippi was also primarily used as a halfback rather than a quarterback, logging more rushing than passing attempts, and earning All-Pro honors as a running back.
- Kemp's CFL statistics are not included in his official NFL stats
- Culpepper's UFL statistics are not included into his NFL stats
- Although Pro Football Reference lists Tom Matte with 45 touchdowns, Matte is not included in this listing as he was used primarily as a running fback, only attempting 42 passes in his career.
- Otto Graham and Y. A. Tittle recorded 44 and 39 rushing touchdowns, respectively, enough for a top 10 placement. However, they recorded several of their touchdowns during their time in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), whose stats are not officially recognized by the NFL, despite the 1950 NFL–AAFC merger. From the 1950 NFL season onward, both Graham and Tittle recorded 33 rushing touchdowns each.
- 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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If Russell Wilson can make good decisions on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, he may finally change the NFL's perception of the dual-threat quarterback.
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The big arm is there and the toughness is there, but he's able to accelerate and run away from linebackers at the second level. He's a true dual-threat quarterback.
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- This Stat Proves Carson Wentz is a True Dual-Threat QB
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|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End||Kicking players||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|