The three rookie quarterbacks who took the NFL by storm last season — Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson — are all excellent athletes who can beat teams with their feet as well as with their arms. But last year, Luck and Wilson were somewhat overlooked as running threats while people marveled at the running ability of RG3.
A former track star who might have become an Olympic hurdler if he hadn’t decided to focus full-time on football, Griffin is probably the best athlete ever to play quarterback in the NFL. As a rookie, he ran the ball 120 times for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. He led all quarterbacks in rushing yards, and his average of 6.8 yards a carry was the best for any player in the league, at any position, with more than 50 carries.
Griffin, of course, ended his season getting carted off the field in the playoffs, and it’s unsurprising that after reconstructive knee surgery, he’s not the same runner this season. Although his rushing totals are still better than most NFL quarterbacks (38 carries for 233 yards), he’s on pace to finish this year with about 200 fewer yards this year than last year, his average yards per carry is down more than half a yard to 6.1, and he has yet to score a rushing touchdown this season. Griffin isn’t running as often as he did last year and isn’t making as many big plays when he does run.
But in an interesting aspect of Luck and Wilson’s progression as NFL quarterbacks, both of them have been running more often in their second seasons than they did in their first. Some young quarterbacks learn to rely less on their feet and develop into more classic pocket passers after their rookie seasons, but if anything Luck and Wilson appear to be finding more opportunities to hurt opposing defenses on the ground.
Last year Luck carried 62 times for 255 yards, an average of 4.1 yards a carry, and he scored five rushing touchdowns. This year Luck is on pace to have more carries, more yards and more touchdowns, with 28 carries for 183 yards and three touchdowns through seven games. And at 6.5 yards a carry this season, Luck is actually averaging more yards per carry than Griffin.
And it’s Wilson who is leading all NFL quarterbacks with 323 rushing yards this season — that’s more rushing yards than Luck and Griffin as well as more than Michael Vick, Terrelle Pryor, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Alex Smith and all the other quarterbacks who make plays with their feet. Wilson is on pace to finish this season with more carries for more yards and a higher yards per carry average than he had last season.
The new breed of NFL quarterbacks are running the ball far more often and far more effectively than the pocket passers of old. Even if the best athlete of them all still doesn’t look like he’s back to full speed.