The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Sant-Miller: NFL will catch up to speedy QBs (Sept. 5)

Aaron Sant-Miller | Thursday, September 5, 2013


With the kickoff of NFL season today, you, like myself, probably have been sufficiently inundated with NFL news. As a result, by now, you surely know that Geno Smith will be starting for the New York Jets and Terrelle Pryor will be starting for the Oakland Raiders in Week 1.

These moves reflect a larger movement in the NFL as a whole, as teams have begun to shift from the classic pocket passer to more mobile quarterbacks. In their pre-draft workouts, both Pryor and Smith ran sub-4.6 forty-yard dashes, with Pryor running a blazing 4.38. Currently, passers who can run a 40-yard dash in under 4.6 seconds account for more than a quarter of NFL starting quarterbacks.

Of the nine speedsters starting at quarterback in Week 1, all but one were drafted in 2011, 2012 or 2013. Conversely, of the 19 starting quarterbacks who were drafted before 2011, Michael Vick is the only passer who ran under a 4.6 40-yard dash. Quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, with their five-second plus times, are becoming dinosaurs.

Much of this has to do with the read-option craze that started with Cam Newton in 2011 and was continued with Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick in 2012. The read option was incredibly successful in 2012, as these young quarterbacks dominated NFL headlines. I wouldn’t bank on the same being true this year in 2013.

This “electric” little phase reminds me of the NFL’s stint with the Wildcat formation a few years back. That all started when the Dolphins marched into Foxboro, Mass. and upset the Patriots in Week 3 of the 2008 season, handing New England their first regular season loss since 2006. In that game, the Dolphins went into the Wildcat formation six times. On those six plays, Miami gained 119 yards and scored four touchdowns. 

But, where is the Wildcat now?

Defenses quickly learned how to counter it. In this day and age, NFL defenders are just too athletic. With all that athleticism to play with and sound teaching and fundamentals, NFL defensive coordinators promptly adapted. When the Patriots traveled to Miami nine weeks later, the Patriots held the Dolphins to only 25 yards on eight carries from the Wildcat formation and won 48-28.

There are few things on this planet that adapt faster than NFL defenses. The coaching is just too good and the athletes too gifted. Sure, the read-option has been tougher on defensive coordinators than the Wildcat was. It still was a resounding success late in the postseason, as Kaepernick ran all over Green Bay for 181 yards.

That will change. 

Now, defensive coordinators have been gifted an entire offseason to develop a plan for the read-option. It would be safe to say that a large portion of the last eight months have been devoted to figuring out a way to contain the Kaepernicks, Newtons and Griffins of the NFL.

Many will argue that the read-option is an entirely different beast than the Wildcat, with a more functional passer taking the snap. Others will cite the continued success of the read-option at the college football level. Some will argue these quarterbacks are just too incredibly gifted to slow down. This year, those young passers continue to be taken early and often in fantasy football drafts, as fans and pundits alike look forward to the age of the dual-threat NFL quarterback. 

Maybe I’m just a hater and a contrarian, but I don’t buy it. I refuse to anoint these young guns as the future of the NFL. I maintain my faith in the adaptability of NFL defenses. In my mind, this is just a phase, an NFL fling with the college game.

I will go out on a limb and say that all the fans who took dual-threat quarterbacks early in fantasy drafts will be kicking themselves in December. I will go out on a limb and say that, in December, SportsCenter will be smothered with analysts highlighting how well NFL defenses adapted.

While all this is going on, I will be sitting back and enjoying my Peyton Manning led fantasy football team. Maybe I’m old school, but I maintain my faith in the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the NFL. Sure, as a fan, I don’t support either of them. But, as an NFL aficionado, I’d take either of them any day with their pocket passing and 5.2 40-yard dashes over these young speedsters.