Dual-threat Quarterback
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Dual-threat Quarterback
Navy quarterback Craig Candeto rushing

In gridiron football, a dual-threat quarterback, also known as a running quarterback,[1] 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.[2]

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,[3][4]Russell Wilson,[5]Deshaun Watson,[6]Lamar Jackson,[7][8]Josh Allen,[9]Kyler Murray,[8][10] and, to a lesser extent Aaron Rodgers,[11]Dak Prescott,[12]Carson Wentz,[13]Patrick Mahomes,[14] and Daniel Jones.[10]

History in the National Football League

Early history (1950s-70s)

Fran Tarkenton scrambling

In the 1950s, Tobin Rote, was a rare example of a dual-threat quarterback,[15] as he led the Green Bay Packers in rushing in 3 seasons, and retired with 3,128 yards.[16][17] As of the end of 2017 NFL season, Rote still ranks 10th all time in rushing yards for a quarterback.[18]

The next decade, however, saw Fran Tarkenton influence 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."[19] 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."[19] At the time of his retirement, Tarkenton was the all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback, with 3,674.[20]

In 1972, Chicago Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass set the single-season rushing yards record for a quarterback, as he logged 968 yards.[21] Douglass, however, was not considered a good passer. His receivers complained that his arm was "too strong," and he often overthrew the ball.[21] The Bears attempted to create wild schemes, before discovering his rushing ability, leading to his record-breaking 1972 season.[21]

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 held until December 29, 2019.(Ravens 3,296) Limited by injuries during the middle part of his career, Grogan would transition to a more traditional pocket-passer by the middle 1980s.

Rise (1980s-2000s)

Randall Cunningham (left) and Steve Young (right) were prominent dual-threat QBs during the 1980s and 90s

During the 1980s and 90s, dual-threat quarterbacks were more frequently seen than in previous decades. Randall Cunningham and Steve Young were prominent 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.[20] 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.[22][23]

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."[22] 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."[24] 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.[24] 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."[24]

Aside from Cunningham and Young, Steve McNair, and Kordell Stewart, were also considered dynamic running quarterbacks.[25][26]

Michael Vick running during his record 2006 season

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.[27][28] On his mobility, McNabb once joked, "I think you run a lot better when you don't want to be hit."[29] 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."[29]

McNabb was also connected to Michael Vick, one of the most prolific running quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.[30] 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.[29] Vick also served as McNabb's backup in Philadelphia in 2009, later succeeding McNabb as the starter for the franchise.[31] Michael Vick was drafted first overall by Atlanta Falcons in 2001.[32] Vick would go on to be a successful runner for the Falcons from 2001 to 2006.[33] 14 games into his 2006 season, Vick broke Douglass' single-season rushing yards record by a quarterback.[34] A week later, Vick surpassed the 1,000 rushing yards milestone, becoming the first quarterback to reach the mark in a single season.[35] He finished the season with a record 1,039 yards.[36] 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."[32]

Peak (2010s-present)

Lamar Jackson quickly emerged as an effective dual-threat quarterback when he began playing in the late 2010s.

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[37]) were the foundation for the landscape of mobile quarterbacks during the early 2010s. 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."[33][38]

The following season, on October 9, Vick surpassed Cunningham's career rushing yardage total, to claim the career-record for quarterbacks.[39] 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.[40][41] 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.[42][43] Rodgers, often cited as one of the most talented players to play the quarterback position, was noted as often using his mobility to avoid pressure and extend plays.[44][45]

In the 2014 season, Kaepernick, Griffin III, and Newton were all cited as declining or regressing players.[46] Kaepernick was labeled, "symbolic of running QB struggles," by NFL.com writer, Chris Wesseling.[47] 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.[47]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.[47][48] 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."[46] 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.[49]

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.[50]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."[51] Luck's mobility was also acclaimed by another NFL head coach, Chip Kelly.[52] 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,[53] leading the Seattle Seahawks to a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.[54]

New dual-threat quarterbacks emerged as starters during 2015 such as Marcus Mariota[55] and Tyrod Taylor.[56] Also in 2015, Cam Newton had a resurgent season, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns en route to a Super Bowl berth.[57] 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."[58]

Dual threat quarterbacks have continued to rise to prominent levels in the NFL during the late 2010s, with Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson both exceeding expectations upon emerging as starters for their new teams. Watson enjoyed a dominant rookie season prior to it getting cut short due to injury, posting efficient rushing and passing ratios, and has led the Texans to multiple playoff appearances and garnered a Pro Bowl nomination since then.[59] Jackson led the Baltimore Ravens to a playoff berth in his rookie season despite lower-than-average passing yardage, but has emerged as one of the most effective passers and rushers in 2019; during week 2 in particular, he became the first player in NFL history to pass for over 250 yards and rush for over 120 yards in the same game,[60] and later overtook the NFL record for rushing yards in a season while also passing for 36 touchdowns.[61] In addition, other quarterbacks such as Josh Allen and Daniel Jones emerged as mobile threats. Allen in particular broke Michael Vick's record for the most rushing yards in a 3-game span during his rookie season before it was broken again by Jackson the following year.[62]

All-time NFL leaders

Note: stats are accurate as of 2020 NFL season.

^ Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
* Denotes player who is still active

Rushing attempts

Russell Wilson has the third most rushing attempts for a quarterback.

Rushing yards

Tobin Rote on a 1952 Bowman football card

Rushing touchdowns

Cam Newton currently holds the record for the most career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback
John Elway, a dual-threat QB, appeared in 5 Super Bowls and holds the record of most rushing TDs by any quarterback in the Super Bowl.[67]

Single season leaders

Key  Player  Denotes an ongoing season.

Rushing attempts

Rank Player Season Team Rush attempts
1 Lamar Jackson 2019 Baltimore Ravens 176
2 Lamar Jackson 2020 Baltimore Ravens 159
3 Lamar Jackson 2018 Baltimore Ravens 147
4 Bobby Douglass 1972 Chicago Bears 141
5 Cam Newton 2017 Carolina Panthers 139
6 Cam Newton 2020 New England Patriots 137
7 Kyler Murray 2020 Arizona Cardinals 133
8 Cam Newton 2015 Carolina Panthers 132
9 Cam Newton 2012 Carolina Panthers 127
10 Cam Newton 2011 Carolina Panthers 126

Rushing yards

Rank Player Season Team Rushing yards
1 Lamar Jackson 2019 Baltimore Ravens 1,206
2 Michael Vick 2006 Atlanta Falcons 1,039
3 Lamar Jackson 2020 Baltimore Ravens 1,005
4 Bobby Douglass 1972 Chicago Bears 968
5 Randall Cunningham 1990 Philadelphia Eagles 942
6 Michael Vick 2004 Atlanta Falcons 902
7 Russell Wilson 2014 Seattle Seahawks 849
8 Kyler Murray 2020 Arizona Cardinals 819
9 Robert Griffin III 2012 Washington Redskins 815
10 Michael Vick 2002 Atlanta Falcons 777

Rushing touchdowns

Note: The list only includes seasons in which a quarterback rushed for double-digit touchdowns

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.[85][86]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.[87][88] 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.[87]

All-time CFL leaders

Damon Allen is the CFL's all-time leader in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns for a quarterback.

Rushing yards

Rushing touchdowns

Single season leaders

Rushing yards

Rank Player Season Team Total rushing yards
1 Tracy Ham 1990 Edmonton Eskimos 1,096[89]
2 Damon Allen 1991 Ottawa Rough Riders 1,036[89]
3 Kerry Joseph 2005 Ottawa Renegades 1,006[89]
4 Tracy Ham 1989 Edmonton Eskimos 1,005[89]

Single game leaders

Rushing yards

Rank Player Date Team Total rushing yards / carries
1 Nealon Greene July 16, 1999 Edmonton Eskimos 180 (14 carries)[89]
2 Damon Allen October 29, 1993 Edmonton Eskimos 170 (15 carries)[89]
3 Tracy Ham August 15, 1991 Edmonton Eskimos 166 (13 carries)[89]


  1. ^ a b c Young's USFL stats are not accounted into his official NFL stats
  2. ^ a b Rote's CFL statistics are not included in his official NFL stats
  3. ^ Tom Matte and Charley Trippi have 1,200 and 687 rushing attempts, 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,[64] 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,[65] and earning All-Pro honors as a running back.
  4. ^ 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,[64] 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,[65] and earning All-Pro honors as a running back.
  5. ^ Kemp's CFL statistics are not included in his official NFL stats
  6. ^ Culpepper's UFL statistics are not included into his NFL stats
  7. ^ 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.[64]
  8. ^ 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.[69] From the 1950 NFL season onward, both Graham and Tittle recorded 33 rushing touchdowns each.[70][71]
  9. ^ Flutie's USFL stats are not accounted into his official CFL stats
  10. ^ Flutie's NFL stats are not accounted into his official CFL stats


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