Traditionally, the style of football played in the NFL has always favored a quarterback who stays within the pocket to make their throws. The level of talent on the defense often makes it too risky to consistently have a QB trying to run for a first down, or make a scrambling throw across their body. As such, most game plans from offensive coordinators revolve around getting the ball to a skill player out in space, where they'll have more blocking to assist their mobility.
However, there have been a handful of QBs who have bucked the trend, and proved that they're willing to take the gamble. Over the years we've seen players at the position have a ton of success with their scrambling ways, and others who became too predictable, and were hindered because of it. Certain players are able to make the "running QB" philosophy work, but if they don't have the arm talent, they will ultimately fail, and not have enough firepower to exploit NFL defenses. It's certainly the path less traveled when it comes to QB styles in the pros, but the ones who were able to do it, and not let themselves become one-dimensional, have thrived because of this unique skill set.
Ranked below are the 8 best, and 7 worst mobile QBs in NFL history.
16 BEST: Russell Wilson
In the past several years, Wilson has emerged as one of the best QBs in the league, and one that knows how to use his mobility to his greatest advantage, not matter what the situation is. He can evade the pocket, or break off a 20-yard gain in an instant. Conversely, he can make accurate, powerful throws from the pocket. He has all bases covered, and it's almost impossible to gameplan against him, because he does so many things well. In many ways, he's the culmination of what all the running QBs before him aimed to do with their game. He doesn't rely on any one style of play, but can still turn on the jets when he has to, and burn opposing defenses. One of the best players in the league at the moment.
15 WORST: Quincy Carter
Before the days of Tony Romo as the Cowboys franchise QB, Carter was drafted to be that guy, and failed miserably. Drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft, his athleticism was intriguing, and Dallas took a chance on him. His lack of arm talent caught up with him however, and while he could still run well, his game became one-dimensional. He got the boot from Dallas three seasons later, and was out of the NFL entirely after four. Ill-advised throws, and simply a lack of acumen to play the QB position at the highest level was his downfall, along with a failed drug test, which was the final straw and sent him packing. The Cowboys eventually found their franchise QB, but it took some trial and error with players like Carter, before they were able to do so.
14 BEST: Steve Young
Starting out as Joe Montana's backup in San Fransisco, Young eventually came into his own as the 49ers franchise guy right after Montana left. His skill set was drastically different however, relying on his elusiveness and running ability, along with an accurate, rather than powerful arm. He found plenty of success, winning a Super Bowl with the Niners, racking up tons of rushing yards and TDs along the way. One of the best QBs of the 90s, Young showed that a mobile QB was transferable to the game, when the strategy of it was rapidly changing face. He paved the way for future players such as Russell Wilson, who adapted his style, and use it to their advantage in the modern day.
13 WORST: Kordell Stewart
Stewart is probably more fondly remembered by football fans than he actually should be, as he was pretty one-dimensional, and relied on his athleticism far too often. He was able to lead the Steelers to some playoff success, but once he was contained in the pocket, he couldn't get by on his arm talent alone. This shortened the amount of time when he could truly be effective in his career, and he ended up starting for Pittsburgh for well less than a decade because of it. Stewart had plenty of raw talent, but unlike other athletic QBs of the era, he wasn't able to harness it into any form of consistency, and it signaled a quick decline for him when his style of play was figured out by opposing defenses.
11 BEST: Fran Tarkenton
In an era where the concept of a running QB was completely foreign, Tarkenton served as a inspiration and influence to many future scramblers. He was the main man under center for the Vikings for a tenure that spanned from the early 60's to the late 70's, winning plenty of games along the way. Tarkenton was able to use his speed to evade a pass rush, or rush for a significant gain of yardage. What he was doing was almost unheard of from a QB in those times, and his unique style of play allowed him to be successful when most defenses weren't equipped to defend such a strategy. He was ahead of his time, and a renegade of his time, when it came to being a running QB.
10 WORST: Akili Smith
Back around the turn of the century, Ryan Leaf was the one who got all the credit for being a certified QB bust. Everyone tends to forget however, that Akili Smith, drafted third overall by the Bengals in 1999, was just as bad if not worse. Smith was a highly touted prospect coming out of Ohio State, and figured to be the Bengals new franchise QB. Only problem was, he had zero accuracy when throwing the ball, and was a glorified running back playing the QB position. He was simply awful, and when teams realized that he couldn't throw, his scrambling was easy to contain, and Smith was out of the league in seemingly the blink of an eye. One of the biggest botched draft picks ever, the Bengals suffered a major miscalculation, serving as a warning to future teams.
9 BEST: Donovan McNabb
It's easy to criticize McNabb for many things during the tenure of his career, and many of them are deserved. He was however, a true mobile threat, and had the arm talent to back it up much of the time. As he was breaking into the league, he wowed spectators with an ability to think on his feet, evade pressure, and deliver the big throw. In many ways, it was his saving grace as an NFL QB, because as a pure pocket passer he probably didn't have the skills necessary to succeed on the level that he did. As it turned out, the Eagles benefited from McNabb's mobility, and he carved out a nice career for himself. A true dual threat, McNabb was one of the best running QBs at the turn of the century.
8 WORST: Terrelle Pryor
Although he has recently found his niche as a wide receiver on the Browns, Pryor began his career in Oakland as a QB, and didn't find any success under center. While he displayed some big-play ability during his one season as a starter with the Raiders in 2013, he simply couldn't throw the ball accurately enough to play at the NFL level. There undoubtedly something there as an athlete though, and he was able to turn combine his speed and agility with route running, and has become a receiver on the rise since the beginning of the 2016 season. He's much better off this way, as his skills as a QB weren't up to par, and he relied on his scrambling ability far too often.
7 BEST: Steve McNair
"Air" McNair started out his career as a predominant runner, but eventually developed into a true dual threat, and a future MVP Award-winner. At the peak of his powers, he was nearly unstoppable, with elite elusiveness, and a cannon of an arm to go along with it. As his accuracy improved with each proceeding season, he had a skill set that few, if any, QBs in the league at the time could match, and led the Titans to plenty of success during that era. His peak years didn't last the longest amount of time, but McNair is still one of the best mobile QBs of all-time, and showed that they had a place in the developing strategy of the time. One of the best of his era, with a skill set that few could match at the time, and few were able to replicate in the proceeding years.
6 WORST: Colin Kaepernick
As is well-documented at this point, Kaepernick led a lot of people on in believing that he was a rising star in the league, based off his performance in the 2012 and 2013 seasons for the 49ers. As he played in more games, his flaws became increasingly apparent, and it was discovered that he had a real difficulty making quality throws from the pocket. His athleticism is and was unquestioned, but he ultimately relied on it far too much for him to be successful over the long term. His career looks to be on the downswing at this point, and likely won't be starting in San Francisco in the 2017 season. One of the biggest "what if?" QBs of the last 20 years, Kaepernick fooled everyone early in his career into thinking that he could be an elite player. It wasn't to be.
5 BEST: Cam Newton
There are many positives and negatives that can be attributed to Newton, as he has been one of the most outspoken players in the league over the past several seasons. One thing that cannot be debated however, is his remarkable skill set, especially when he is running with the ball. Most historically mobile QBs don't have the sheer size and power that he does, which makes defending him an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. Whether or not he can ever replicate the dominance of his 2015 season, he'll still go down as one of the best mobile QBs ever, with an unequaled skill set. It doesn't hurt that he has a cannon for an arm as well, leaving defenses to hope that his accuracy is off on any given Sunday, to give them a chance at victory.
4 WORST: Tim Tebow
Unlike some other QBs on this ranking, Tebow was never even able to fool anyone into thinking he was a good player. His mechanics were always horrible, and he never had the kind of break away speed to make his mobility a true threat. He was somewhat of a phenomenon at the time, but ultimately, he was never able to play the position at a high level in the pro ranks. He could move around for sure, but his mobility was more a product of being unable to do anything else. Still, his unabashed followers took the bait, and to this day there's probably those people out there who insist that he was never given a fair chance. In reality, he was never good, and never had the skill set necessary to play in the NFL.
3 BEST: Randall Cunningham
Cunningham brought the QB position into the 21st Century, roughly a decade before the fact. During his time with the Eagles, there was no QB who could contort his body, and make plays with his feet, more than he could. He was simply a human highlight reel, and even if it did come at the expense of superior pocket passing. The difference with Cunningham however, was that he could get by and win games with his mobility more than any other QB of the era could. He learned how to put points on the board, simply with his athleticism, something only a few players at the position in history have ever figured out how to do. Later on with the Vikings he developed his pocket passing, but his most entertaining years came in Philly, when he was a run-first player under center.
2 WORST: Johnny Manziel
The "Johnny Football" phenomenon is worse than the Tebow one a few years earlier, because the fact is that Manziel never put the game first. Both players relied on improvisation to win them games as a QB, and both found it impossible to do so when they faced the athleticism of an NFL defense. As much as he ran around, and tried to pump-fake his way to an NFL career, Manziel just didn't have it from the beginning, and his constant issues with partying mid-season didn't help. His general ambivalence toward his career spelled his downfall, and he's unlikely to ever play another snap in the league because of it. What he could get away with in the college ranks, he couldn't in the pros, and it ended up costing him his career just after it began.
1 BEST: Michael Vick
As if there could be anyone else, when talking about this topic. Vick played the QB position in a manner that nobody had seen before, and probably won't ever be replicated. He could beat defensive backs in a footrace, and there was never a surefire way to contain him in the pocket. Vick had elite speed a rocket arm, and an uncanny sense of the pocket pressure around him. He's the best running QB of all-time, and was able to torch opposing defenses for years, no matter the game plan. Of course, the prison-sentence is a stain on his resume, but strictly speaking on the field, there wasn't a better athlete in his era. He was the ultimate weapon, with the ultimate skill set. The league hasn't seen a player like him since, and it'll be a long time before someone comes along who can replicate his play in the exact same style. When it comes to human highlight reels, Vick was the cream of the crop.
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