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The Future of the Quarterback Position

Updated on January 26, 2014

The Difference

Long gone are the days of Joe Montana and John Elway. The new style of quarterback is bigger, faster, and stronger. Are you aware of what's coming?

The Future

These two quarterbacks set the standard for the future
These two quarterbacks set the standard for the future


The 2004 NFL draft brought three Pro-Bowl level quarterbacks to the NFL. They were Eli Manning, Ben Ben Roethlisberger, and Phillip Rivers. They were all listed at 77 inches and none ran tremendous 40 yard dashes. Roethlisberger's was a 4.75 which for the time seemed good. These quarterbacks were tall, solid, and had strong arms. They weren't incredibly mobile though. They didn't need to be, they were pure-pocket passers. The focus of the draft was if they could make plays downfield with power and accuracy. The rest of the game would come to them. Fast forward to the 2011 NFL draft where we saw Cam Newton taken number 1 overall. There was stark difference between Cam Newton and the aforementioned players. He was nothing like we had ever seen before. 6'5" made him a full inch taller than the previously mentioned quarterbacks. He wasn't the lanky Eli Manning.... or chubby Big Ben. He was built like a Mac truck with 248lbs of lean muscle. He could take a hit and keep going. A team didn't have to worry about injuries. He could sneak for a first down and then some. The team didn't have a quarterback, but a weapon with which to wreak havoc with. Similarly, recent breakout star Colin Kaepernick has a similar build. He was 6'5'' and 233 pounds of lean muscle coming out of the University of Nevada. Even highly touted blue chip prospect Andrew Luck, who was designated as a pocket-passer, was 6'4" and 234lbs of shredded muscle. The modern quarterback must be not only tall, but have the frame to take hard hits and stand strong in the pocket. Look for teams to opt taking the big body rather than the tall, lanky quarterback of the past.


Mobility has always been important to the quarterback position. What about Tom Brady? He's pretty slow! Yeah true, but he still possess tremendous mobility. When there is a break in the offensive line you can see him dodge incoming defenders with well-planned side steps. Players need to be able to escape pressure and keeps plays going. Where Tom Brady, or perhaps Peyton Manning don't excel is escaping multiple pressures. When a team drafts a quarterback now, they want that quarterback to be able to handle the pressure that comes with a blitz. The quarterback needs to escape the pressure, find a throwing lane and make the play continue. If there is no open receivers then to take off and gain something. The purpose of mobility is to not be a sitting duck, and therefore, to not take losses. Two modern quarterbacks that do a good job of this are Aaron Rodgers and newcomer Russell Wilson. Below are some Russell Wilson highlight, not to show off how awesome a player Russell is. Nor because there is Eminem on the video (feel free to mute), but to help show what "mobility" is. Seriously, take a minute to watch it. Notice how throughout the video Wilson is able to sense when the pressure is coming. Instead of throwing it away or taking the sack, he is able to run to a safer area and make a good throw. The "new" quarterback must be able to escape the pressure and make these throws on the run.

Mobility=More Yards


The most important part of a quarterback is most likely their ability to hit the receiver, whether he is wide open or in a tight window. Not only does the new breed of quarterback have to be physically imposing, but they have to be able to throw the ball. This means making NFL throws at any level, which can be quite challenging for some. We've seen physical phenoms such as Vince Young and Mike Vick that were very athletic but could not throw the ball. The level of competition has increased, which is the same for the level of difficulty regarding the throws. A good quarterback should complete over 60% of their throws. Russell Wilson has been the best of the newer quarterbacks, completing an average of 63% of his passes in the NFL. This matches up with Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady's career average. Accuracy goes beyond making the throw and having the receiver catch it. The new quarterback must make deep fades over the top, zip in a slant route through traffic, deliver the back-shoulder when the safety is coming over the top, and give a shovel pass over the middle. These throws are all very hard to make, as they require the thrower to judge how far and fast to throw the ball. If they make a small error in their judgement, then the ball may very well turn into an interception for the defense. This is why accuracy is stressed so much.

Speed Kills

Quarterbacks have to be able to improvise
Quarterbacks have to be able to improvise


Why stop at just mobility. What do Andrew Luck, RG3, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick all have in common? They ran sub 4.70 40 yard dash times at the NFL combine. Of the three quarterbacks I mentioned earlier, Roethlisberger ran the fastest 40 yard dash. Where does he rank amongst these blistering speedsters you may be asking? 4.75. Not exactly a game changer when .01 can mean a big difference. The modern quarterback doesn't have to have RG3 or Mike Vick speed (now we're taking overdrive) but he does need to be quicker than the average defensive linemen. Notice in the video adjacent how Cam is able to escape pressure and run for a 67 yard touchdown. Having a quarterback that can run feeds into the idea of having a weapon rather than just a thrower. A quarterback should not be a runner-first, but in a game that's all about inches, every little bit counts. The ability to gain inches with your feet when your arm cannot find anyone open allows for the team to always get something. That is even if it's a 3 yard scramble and a slide. The speed also helps the quarterback in their mobility, the faster they are the easier they can evade pressure and make a good throw.

Combine Results From Top Quarterbacks Past 3 years

40 Yard Dash
Broad Jump
20 Yard Shuttle
3 Cone Drill
Andrew Luck
233 lbs
4.67 sec
124.0 inches
4.28 sec
6.80 sec
Cam Newton
248 lbs
4.59 sec
126.0 inches
4.18 sec
6.92 sec
Russell Wilson
205 lbs
4.55 sec
118.0 inches
4.09 sec
6.97 sec
Robert Griffin III
223 lbs
4.41 sec
120.0 inches
Colin Kaepernick
233 lbs
4.53 sec
115.0 inches
4.18 sec
6.85 sec
Quarterbacks in todays NFL have to be more athletic than ever

The Modern Quarterback

To be successful at the position they must throw, run, and improvise
To be successful at the position they must throw, run, and improvise

The Cannon

Colin Kaepernick can zip the ball downfield with a powerful arm
Colin Kaepernick can zip the ball downfield with a powerful arm

Most Important Aspect of a Quarterback?

What do you think is the most important aspect of a quarterback?

See results

Arm Strength

An important part of the modern quarterback is the ability to throw downfield. It is also important to be able to drive a ball with force. If not for downfield throws, then to just be able to get balls inside tight windows. This requires a lot of arm strength to throw the football with enough velocity to make it through the necessary space. Also, going back to mobility, when a quarterback breaks containment (or leaves the protection of his offensive line) he must usually throw on the run. Since the player cannot cock his arm back in the proper motion, arm strength is needed to get the same amount of power into the throw. During his rookie year, Andrew Luck completed 37 passes of over 20-yards. That shows playmaker ability. A player can dink and dunk, completing short passes all game. But when the opportunity for a 50 yard touchdown arises, the player must capitalize. Whether it is throwing the ball downfield or making close window passes, arm strength is must for every quarterback.

Size isn't Everything

Russell Wilson doesn't exceed because of his height
Russell Wilson doesn't exceed because of his height


With all this talk of the physicality of the modern quarterback, you might think that they all must resemble Cam Newton. This is not necessarily the case. While a GM looking for the modern player to be their franchise quarterback might look for these luxuries, the less gifted still can succeed. A quarterback may just be taken for his physical ability, but someone that isn't that size can still develop into a star. Take Wilson for instance. He is well below the sought after height of at least 6'2" (standing at a tiny 5'11") yet he succeeds in the NFL. Why? Intangibles. Intangibles are things that cannot be touched. So while Wilson may not present tangible physical traits, he makes up for it with things we cannot physically touch. Manly his brain. Wilson uses his strengths to his advantage and to mask his deficiencies. Why does he roll out of the pocket so much? Since he has a below-average height he may struggle looking over the behemoth offensive lineman that stand well above 6'3" in some cases. He is forced to roll out where he looks for an open throwing lane. His ability to find passing lanes where there might not be one is what makes him so good. Jonny Manziel will likely be a top 10 pick in the upcoming 2014 draft yet he's only 6'1". It's his ability to make plays occur when none are present. So while raw physical gifts are sought after, it is a player's ability to make plays that coaches and GM's like to see.

Bottom Line

By now you know the necessities of the modern quarterback. They need to be able to take hits, deliver downfield throws, and escape the pocket when things break down. They must throw accurately and with precision. The most important thing to realize about the modern quarterback is that they are no longer just a passer. They are a weapon. Much like a receiver catching a deep pass or a linebacker coming in on the blitz. They must do many things. The most important position has become one of greater importance as they pick up yards with their legs and arm. One things for sure, the position has changed, and we're in for some exciting new football!


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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Good article. The biggest issues I see with many of the young QBs is their inability to read a defense. They don't check down. Once their first option is covered, they go. Kaepernick is the biggest offender. Wilson can do it, but his height is a problem. Luck is skilled at it but he's too confident in his own ability. I had high hopes for RGIII but now I'm not so sure. Newton is improving too. As much as I enjoy the new QBs, there's something I'm going to miss about watching someone throw a perfect spiral with accuracy like a Dan Marino. We'll miss Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They are the last of their breed. Voted up.

    • mschilling20 profile image

      Matt Schilling 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      This modern era of quarterbacks are extremely exciting to watch. In 2005, or longer ago, when the criteria wasn't as long of a list as it is now, there were still a great deal of teams who still needed a quarterback. Now, these quarterbacks are going to be even more rare to come by since the list is even longer.

      All quarterbacks are going to need to be able to take a hit. Pure pocket passers get hit a lot throughout their careers. These mobile quarterbacks will only get hit more, which begs the question "how much longer can they last?" The extra size does help, but being smart and sliding or running out of bounds is obviously the best way to stay healthy with RGIII being the prime example. The other four quarterbacks listed in your article are smart enough to not put themselves in danger as much, which results in them starting every game. Overall, these quarterbacks are just going to be hard to come by.


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