Sunday’s contest between the Houston Texans and the Seattle Seahawks might have been a whole lot more than just the best game of the year in the NFL; it might have been the showcase for the future of the quarterback position.
For the past 20 years, that position has been dominated by primarily pocket passers like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees processing information at a ridiculous rate while chaos unfurls around them.
Those three have been the standard for so long, and one look at both the statistics and their teams’ records indicates that on some level Brady and Brees still should be considered among the elite.
The issue is that Brady is 40, Brees is 38 and there don’t appear to be many (any?) other quarterbacks in the pipeline that either have the same characteristics or have shown the ability to play the position in a manner anywhere near the same proficiency that those two do.
Look around. Alex Smith is having a career year, but processing things quickly and being accurate and productive from the pocket this season is really an aberration more than his standard operating procedure. He’s an improviser by nature, with the ability to create plays out of nothing by scrambling.
Other quarterbacks that operate almost exclusively from the pocket without generally using their legs to escape include Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers and Matt Ryan. Of that group, Ryan is probably the closest to being able to carry the “elite primarily pocket quarterback” mantle from Brees and Brady after their careers are over, but even he is in his 10th year at this point. Players younger than him capable of being that type of QB seem slim, with Cousins probably having the best shot — but even he is in his sixth year still not showing to this point that he should be mentioned in the same breath as the best quarterbacks in the league.
Instead, the future of the quarterback position for the next 10-15 years in the league may very well lie with guys like Wilson, Watson, and Carson Wentz and younger quarterbacks like them that come into the league. It must be a “W” thing with all three sharing the same first letter of their last name, and the way they are all playing, there should continue to be a lot of “W’s” on the field for the foreseeable future.
The prototype is a quarterback that is not just a human computer able to make pre-snap reads, necessary audibles and go through their progressions after the ball is snapped, but also athletic enough to make big plays happen when things don’t go just like the coaches drew it up. That’s why a guy like Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott should absolutely be in that conversation as well.
It’s never been an easy transition from that position to the pros, but it might be even more difficult than ever these days.
“I hate how in college football the quarterbacks all look to the sideline so that the coaches can not only tell them what play to run but also pretty much who to throw the ball to,” former Pro Bowl linebacker and current ACC Television Network analyst Takeo Spikes told me.
“Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson aren’t like that. They know how to go through their progressions and know where to go with the ball, but really they are the outliers.”
These types of quarterbacks aren’t altogether new. The model, of course, is Aaron Rodgers. While he can be effective in a confined space in the pocket, his biggest plays come when he breaks out of the pocket and can buy some time for a big play down the field with his uncanny ability to make ridiculous throws while on a dead run.
The thing is, there weren’t very many quarterbacks before or after him that looked like they were capable of even being a “poor man’s” Rodgers in that regard. Until now.
Wentz dazzled the football world with his deep ball accuracy and incredible ability to somehow burst out of a collapsed pocket last Monday night against the Washington Redskins, only to be outdone on Sunday by a pair of signal callers who outdueled each other for sixty minutes, before Wilson and the Seahawks got the last score to beat Watson and the Texans in an epic 41-38 contest that won’t soon be forgotten.
Both players threw for over 400 yards. Both had four touchdown passes. And both, amazingly, also led their teams in rushing.
They did that, by the way, against two defenses that like to think they are pretty good, although they may be wondering just how good they really are after getting torched by the other side’s QB repeatedly on Sunday.
There may not be any future Brady’s or Brees’ types in the NFL quarterback pipeline, but there’s a handful of Rodgers-esque players that look like they are capable of being the next crop of elite NFL quarterbacks. Based on Sunday’s performances, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.