Vick isn’t the first rushing quarterback, but he is the best (for now)


Michael Vick showed a lack of both humility and history when he declared himself the NFL’s original running quarterback.

I was the guy who started it all,” Vick told “I revolutionized the game. I changed the way it was played in the NFL.”

The reality is, running quarterbacks have been a part of the game of football since long before Vick was born, and when Vick declares himself the first of the rushing quarterbacks, he’s forgetting a fraternity of great dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL stretching back decades. Here are some of the most significant running quarterbacks in NFL history, listed chronologically:

Frank Sinkwich won the Heisman Trophy at Georgia in 1942, and the Lions took him with the first overall pick in the 1943 NFL draft. As a rookie Sinkwich led the Lions in both rushing and passing, and in his second season he was named league MVP, after a season in which he was third in the NFL in both passing yards and rushing yards, and second in the NFL in both passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. Sinkwich spent a year out of football in 1945 while he served in the military, and he was never the same player after suffering a knee injury during his service.

Tobin Rote, who played for the Packers and Lions in the 1950s, finished his career with 3,128 rushing yards and had one of the most impressive seasons in NFL history in 1956, when he led the league in pass completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns, while also rushing for 398 yards and finishing second in the league with 11 rushing touchdowns. Rote did all that in a 12-game season, and his combined 29 touchdowns passing and rushing were the most for any player in any 12-game season in NFL history. Rote spent the early 1960s playing in the Canadian Football League, then returned to play for the Chargers in 1963, and although he was no longer the running threat he once had been, he had one of his best passing seasons and was named MVP of the American Football League.

Fran Tarkenton, who was drafted by the Vikings in 1961, is still viewed by many as the greatest mobile quarterback in NFL history. Few quarterbacks ran in the 1960s, and Tarkenton was saddled with a head coach in Norm Van Brocklin who had been a pocket passer and didn’t want his quarterbacks running the ball. But Tarkenton still managed to top 300 yards running in seven of his first eight NFL seasons, to run for 3,674 yards in his career, and to put together some of the most sensational highlight reel runs of any quarterback ever to play the game.

Greg Landry in 1971 became the first NFL player to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 500 yards in the same season, and then in 1972 he topped 2,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards again. (No one else would do it until Randall Cunningham in 1987.) In 1971, Sports Illustrated proclaimed that Landry’s ability to run and pass gave the Lions “the pro offense of the future.”

Bobby Douglass was such a terrible passer (career completion rate: 43.0 percent) that he didn’t last long as a starting quarterback. But in his only full season as a starter, in 1972 in Chicago, he did things that no quarterback had done before. That year Douglass carried 141 times for 968 yards and eight touchdowns, stunning totals for a quarterback. Although Douglass only started 53 games in his career, he totaled 2,654 rushing yards.

Randall Cunningham was a jaw-droppingly good athlete who played the quarterback position far differently from anyone else of his time. No NFL quarterback in the 1980s ran for 500 yards in any season, except for Cunningham — who did it every season from the time he became the Eagles’ starter in 1986 until 1991, when he got hurt and played only one game.

Steve Young was the first quarterback to show he could be a consistently great passer while also consistently using his feet to make plays. In 1991 Young led the league in passer rating and led all quarterbacks with 415 rushing yards. He finished his career with 4,239 rushing yards.

Steve McNair was the subject of intense debate during his college career at Alcorn State about whether there was a place in the NFL for a quarterback who ran as much as he did, and if McNair hadn’t paid off as the third overall pick of the 1995 NFL draft, Vick probably wouldn’t have been the first overall pick of the 2001 NFL draft. McNair ran for 674 yards in his first season as the Titans’ starter, and although he relied much less on his feet and much more on his arm later in his career, he retired with 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns on the ground.

All those quarterbacks came along before Vick, and when Vick says, “I was the guy who started it all,” he’s not giving enough credit to the rushing quarterbacks who came before him.

What Vick can say, however, is that he’s the best running quarterback in NFL history. There have been other great running quarterbacks, but no one who put together Vick’s blend of pure speed and field vision. Vick is the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing yards for a quarterback (5,857) and yards per carry (7.1).

What Vick can also say is that he changed the way rushing quarterbacks are perceived. Vick’s success in the NFL paved the way for NFL teams to embrace the running skills of younger quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. In fact, Vick’s lasting legacy may turn out to be that he doesn’t remain the greatest rushing quarterback ever for long. Some young quarterback may soon surpass Vick’s accomplishments as a runner — and that quarterback will get that chance because Vick showed just how successful a running quarterback can be.

122 responses to “Vick isn’t the first rushing quarterback, but he is the best (for now)

  1. I’d take ‘at his prime’ Tarkenton over ‘at his prime’ Vick any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Tarkenton tended to last whole seasons after all. . .

  2. What EXACTLY is Vick’s success in the NFL – re running QB?

    Ultimate success in the NFL will ALWAYS be measured by championships. Last I checked, Ron Mexico has zero.

    Average success will be measured by ranking at their position. Vick’s never exactly been considered the best QB in the NFL either. Sure you can put qualifiers on it like “mobile” or “running” QB but then you can also put qualifiers on anything.

    The more qualifiers you put on something – the less impressive it is.

  3. But that’s not what Vick said… He probably doesn’t think of others before him, only him. Who needs that? I’d rather have Randall Cunningham

  4. Really? I would take Randall anytime over Vick. I say it over and over the most overrated player not jus qb in the 50 years I watched football.

  5. Look at that list again and ask yourself how many have won Superbowls? Only Steve Young is my memory but I’m too lazy to look it up.

    I know for sure that Fran Tarkenton didn’t win a Superbowl ring because he was a Viking and everybody knows that the Vikings never won a Superbowl, lost all 4 they were in.

  6. How did Kordel Stewart figure into that group?

    The title of this article implies that Vick is the best of the rushing QB’s, instead of the best at only rushing. I would take any of Cunningham, Tarkenton or Young over Vick as QB.

    Vick should be glad he was paid to QB any team. I really dreaded the thought the Browns would sign him.

  7. I count Aaron Rodger and Andrew Luck among mobile QBs today. Nobody can say John Elway wasn’t mobile.

    Coming in, even Montana was a dual threat guy, as was Roger Staubach. There have been several, but most got a bad rap and not a real chance to flourish

    Things may change, now that Elvis Manziel is in the building.

  8. Vick’s no doubt an exciting player, but he’s not a premier QB by any measure. And his productivity (or, in reality, lack thereof) has hurt the prospects of future running quarterbacks.

    It’s a passing league, and more so every year.

  9. Vick is the poster boy for the modern day mobile QB. He led this huge wave of mobile guys being more highly valued. He pretty much opened the floodgates is what I think he was getting at with his comments.

  10. In a sense he is right. He’s the first super athlete to play QB. The guys you mentioned were good athletes but not even close to what Vick was.

  11. Randall Cunningham, period. Though Vick has a few more yards, Cunningham was more durable and more consistent. 2 of Vicks seasons accounted for 33% of his total yardage. Cunningham actually ran an offense Vick just ran. I guess, are we talking the best (for now) or the guy with the most yards (so far)?

  12. Consider the source!

    He is probably going to be miffed when he doesn’t make the Hall of Fame.

  13. By no means a Vick fan but I am touching 40 and I have never seen any quarterback with with his combination of pure arm strength and speed ever. On the other hand his accuracy durability always have been an issue. In my opinion if he kept his nose in the playbook just another waste of talent

  14. Before Vick there was not a qb in the history of the NFL that could run like him. None. Now there are a bunch. THAT is what he is getting at. How is that above so many people’s heads in here? He absolutely started the trend of ultra athletic/running qbs.

  15. The difference is, most of the earlier quarterbacks could also understand what they were seeing from the defense and pass consistently and effectively. You know… Like a quarterback.

    Vick? He runs or throws a pick when he gets confused or can’t see the one receiver he knows to look for in that play.

    No real comparison.

  16. What else would you expect out of an ignorant professional athlete? People seem to think these guys are intelligent. With a few exceptions, these guys are kids in adult bodies who haven’t learned much in their years at school. Only a handful, like the above mentioned Steve Young, have a good head on their shoulders.

  17. What a moron. He showed us all what happens when you have a qb who isn’t a passing threat. He’s the prototype of what your team doesn’t want. Good enough to play; not good enough to win.

  18. 52 NFL Hall of Famers never touched the Lombardi. Success is not solely defined by championships. Vick is a guy that won’t make the Hall of Fame, just sick of the whole “championships are the sole indicator of success” argument. That’s a team accomplishment.

  19. “Michael Vick showed a lack of both humility and history when he declared himself the NFL’s original running quarterback.”

    That about sums it up.

  20. The problem with this article’s debate is that NONE of the qb’s mentioned in comparison can claim to have possessed any of the Blazing Speed that Vick has demonstrated. He DID revolutionize the position as a runner because on many an occasion he was the “Fastest” player on the football field !!!

  21. First or not Vick was a difference maker at the position.

    Early in his career in Atlanta, Vick was a very special player when he took off running with the ball and that was something defenses had to try to prepare for.

  22. At the end of the day im pretty sure we all knew what the hell he meant.its not that he wasnt giving credit to those before him,it was him telling the truth that there are a lot of the qbs with his style after need to overthink his statement

  23. Revolutionized? Are you being serious MDS? He absolutely changed the perception of running QBs….but for the worst. Give me every QB on your list in their prime and I win more games than you with Vick. Period. If we’re talking “highlight reel” then you win, but if we’re talking sustainable QB play over a long period of time then I win. Guys like Young, McNair and Cunningham had those highlight reel plays with their legs AND their arms. Vick really disappointed me with his comments and you have now as well. Great job compiling this list, but bad form in siding with Vick. Playing QB isn’t just stats. I need those yards when it matters…..and when it matters most he is usually injured because of his constant running.

  24. If you notice all the running QB’s that are mentioned, only one has one a championship. Steve Young and that was because he had a great overall team.

  25. I believe he may have the best passing stats of any running back in history.
    That’s about it, in a nutshell.

  26. Seems the writer is suffering a lack of history as well. John Elway, hello!!! Only QB in history with over 50 K yards passing and over 3000 K yards rushing. Yet he did not make the list!?!?!?

  27. Vick has never been even more than an average QB – throwing and being able to read defenses – the fact that he is a running back who thinks he can play the QB separates him from real QB’s who could run.

    Vick innovated nothing. He is a natural born loser without any integrity or ethics. And now we find he also overrates himself and really is delusional.

    Vick just needs to disappear.

  28. #1 Tarkenton,
    #2 Young, #2B Roger Staubach
    #3 Cunningham,
    #4 Landry,
    #5 Vick,

    then the rest can line up behind them. I saw Bobby Douglas, Tarkenton, Landry all play when I was a mere lad. I always thought that Fran Tarkenton was and will always be the best of the bunch. Young has his Super Bowls and well the others, minus Douglas, had lengthy careers. Vick still has to learn to keep his motuh shut and play up to standards. So for now the HOFers Tarkentan, Young and Staubach all stand out as better than Vick and they all have hugely winning records to prove that they are the best.

  29. Michael Vick is probably the best scrambling quarterback although i would not argue with you if you said that was Tarkenton or even Cunningham. And with all of these successful scramblers, although i hate to say it, Johnny Vegas might have a shot at being a semi-successful double threat. They forgot to include Roger Staubach and John Elway into the mix, but they were more passers than the others and less runners than the others. Slash Stewart, Jim Zorn, Donovan McNabb?

  30. How does Kordell Stewart not in this article considering he was before Vick. Nonsense. Also Vick is a sociopath plain and simple. He is in the same category as OJ!

  31. And now he’s not even as good as Geno Smith and nobody cares about him but him.

  32. Man,I’m really glad he ,let us know,or we could of forgot,what a country within 2 years of getting out of the pen he’s had a $multi-million deal..owners/gms go stupid over qbs..lots aren’t worth it!

  33. I think Vick is different type of runner than almost everyone on that list for what it’s worth. Vick was a run first guy, who is the most explosive running QB the NFL has seen. Cunningham is the guy who is closest to Vick. Vick though was a run first guy who had more than 100 rushing attempts 5 seasons. Not saying any of this is a good thing, but I just think he is different from guys like Tarkenton and Young.

  34. Vick was by far the most productive and dangerous runner. Also had the best arm of the running QBs. The ultimate weapon! Cunningham right up there just not as lightning fast as Vick. Bobby Douglas was very productive as a runner. Should mention Duante Culpepper here as well.

  35. Roger Staubach- Randall Cunningham- Fran Tarkington -Sammy Baugh . I will take these 4 men over ANY QB past or present to be my QB and if Joe Willie Namath had not been born with bad knees he would be the 5th name on the list. ENOUGH SAID.

  36. My biggest problem is the statement “I revolutionized the game. I changed the way it was played in the NFL.”

    By saying this, you are saying there were running QB’s in the league, but I am the person responsible that changed the way people see running QB’s. I made them envision something new and better.

    In reality, to say that you revolutionized the scrambling QB perception, you have to be a QB and have the instincts of a QB first and foremost. You have to command the field through the air and then the ground. So Mr. Vick, your statement is half empty. You have a God given talent in speed and elusiveness, but you never mastered the art of passing the ball, minimizing turnovers, reading defenses, and being the team captain.

    If you were to rate these QB’s (1-poor to 10-great) in areas of ability, Mike would get top scores in his running ability, arm strength, and speed – but would also get sub par results in every other aspect of what makes a QB a QB. He is no more than a glorified half back option passer like Tim Tebow.

    And everyone forgets to mention McNabb when you talk running QB’s. Same era as Vick, but in my opinion, McNabb did it better. Pass first, then run. That is what makes a scrambling QB a scrambling QB.

    And if your talking elusiveness in the pocket, think Dan Marino. When you have a QB that controls the pocket the way Marino did, you do not need to take off and run.

  37. There’s a big difference between a QB who can run when he must and an athlete who can throw the ball on occasion.

    I’ll let each reader decide which category Vick fits.

  38. What about Slinging Sammy Baugh, how could you leave his name out. He was a Great runner. ENOUGH SAID

  39. Extremely mobile quarterbacks who also won Super Bowls:
    Roger Staubach
    Joe Theismann (even returned punts)
    John Elway
    Steve Young
    Aaron Rodgers
    Russell Wilson

    Favorite anti-stereotype: The first black QB to win the Super Bowl was about as mobile as Peyton Manning. Heck, Doug Williams even fell down dropping back to pass on a play in the big game. That dude was all arm and determination.

  40. Before Vick teams were very apprehensive about drafting a mobile quarterback. Now look how many are in the league, Cap, Cam, Manzell, Wilson. The list goes on. I don’t see any other point in history with this many mobile quart backs playing at once.
    I think that’s revolutionary.

  41. You’re giving Vick WAY too much credit.

    As a runner, he may have the most yards, but he is a disaster waiting to happen every time he runs, since he simply cannot learn how to slide. So he gets injured all the time. Hard to call a runner like that the “Best”.

  42. Vick has made more money during his career than anyone on that list. Fact! And that’s REALLY why they play the game. I’d take Vicks career based on the insane amount of money he’s made.

  43. Vick isn’t the best rushing quarterback. Cam Newton is and he will eclipse all of Vick’s numbers soon enough.

    Having said all this, running quarterbacks are only good for fantasy football. And Cam Newton still sucks.

  44. Mike Vick superbowl champion, oh wait thats right he hasn’t won anything. He will be know as a dog murder and someone who was fragile and never became the winner he proclaimed to be.

  45. Roger Staubach won 2 Super Bowls . . . and almost single-handedly won 2 more (4 point losses to Pittsburgh). Fran Tarkenton was a scrambler, Roger the Dodger was a runner!

  46. When talking about “running quarterbacks”, they’re not referring to good passers who also happen to be mobile (Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers, etc.). I believe they’re talking about quarterbacks who suck at passing, can’t read defenses, and must run the ball to gain any yardage at all. Michael Vick, RG3, Colin Kaepernick and Vince Young all fall into that category. Not something to be proud of.

  47. Just because he has the YPC record & total yards from scrimmage rushing from the QB position, doesn’t automatically make him “the best running QB” for now, that has ever played the game.

    Michael Vick has the most rushing yards & highest YPC from any player that has played the QB position in the NFL. Just because he owns those two distinctions, he is far from the best mobile/rushing QB. Throwing the ball accurately will always be the “heart” of a real/pure NFL QB. Knowing that passing is the real measure of greatness for QB’s, Michael Vick is far from the best anything to line up at the QB spot on an NFL team. Based upon rushing & throwing, Randall Cunningham beats up Vick & steals his lunch money every time.

  48. I think Vick has a point. He rushed for over 1000 yrds as a QB. That’s insane. Holds both the single season and career mark(which he broke 3 yrs ago) for rushing QBs. He’s the 1rst QB I remember defenses devoting a full time ‘spy’ to stop. The game seems to be evolving, generally, from a traditional pocket passer to a more mobile, multi-faceted weapon. Not sure Vick started it, but I think he was a factor in the evolution.

  49. — and that quarterback will get that chance because Vick showed just how successful a running quarterback can be.

    Wondering what the definition of success is?

  50. IMO 90% of today’s players are clueless about the history of the game they play. Ignorance is bliss.

  51. Vick is also notable in the fact that he has shown zero growth in playing the position. He has the most yards rushing because never learned how to be a better QB.

  52. Yea, Vick with his 2 career playoff win showed just how successful a running QB can be.

    *rolls eyes*

  53. That is the problem, the history of the QB and the NFL is out there for all to read.

  54. Career leader board total yards

    2) STEVE YOUNG, 4,239 YARDS
    3) MICHAEL VICK, 3,954 YARDS
    5) STEVE MCNAIR, 3,590 YARDS
    6) JOHN ELWAY, 3,407 YARDS
    9) JIM HARBAUGH, 2,787 YARDS
    10) GREG LANDRY, 2,655 YARDS

  55. Vick ran it was pass play he misread/did not read or plain screwed up… he should not be praised for being a ball hog. he is something we have way too much of a black man with a inflated ego. He ran mostly because he WANTED to run!
    Tarkenton scrambled/not run to get out of trouble and get the pass off.
    Douglas was a fullback they allowed to throw the ball

  56. He had the best running ability out of anyone who played qb. His passing ability was very limited in Atlanta. Put it together with Reid in Atlanta but Young and Tarkentan are still better qb’s.

  57. Typical jet disease… ALL talk, no action. He’ll fit in just fine with the no win jets.
    This franchise is an embarrassment to the AFC East.

  58. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but…
    There was a 4 year chunk of time, (I believe ’76-79, but I could be wrong), That Steve Grogan averaged right around 400 yards rushing per year. In 14 game seasons.
    Not the most naturally gifted athlete, but a tough son of a gun. Kind of like if George Washington would have been a QB.
    My favorite Patriot of all time!

  59. True, Vick has the most rushing yardage of any NFL QB.

    True, Vick is a lousy NFL QB whose teams has done squat and will continue to live the cellar.

    So how does that all sit with fans who want to win and those fans who drink themselves stupid arguing about useless stats (fantasy dorks, this means you).

  60. You forgot Steve Grogan… 539 rushing yards for the Patriots in 1978. That team still has the all time single season rushing recods. 12 rushing TDs in 1976.

  61. Two players mentioned in the article played 12 game seasons, and all the other mentioned before 1978 played 14 game seasons, while Vick played a 14 game schedule… oh, wait…

  62. I like the story of Vick when he went down to Mexico and met his friend Ron there Spreading Tasteless Debauchery to ladies.

  63. Tarkenton or Cunningham over him….and Tarkenton was a scrambler who also was a passer, unlike Vick.

  64. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Vick makes a fool of himself every time he opens his mouth. I can’t wait until he’s out of the league. I hope that time will be after this upcoming season… can hope!

  65. Whats funny is that Vick never declared himself the “best” running qb of all time, which is proved in the article above.
    He did, however, say he revolutionized the qb position, which he absolutely did. No teams have drastically changed their gameplans to stop any other qb in the history of the game as much as they have to stop Atlanta or Philadelphia Mike Vick. That doesn’t mean he’s better than Cunningham or Steve Young, and that’s not what Vick was saying at all. He’s saying he revolutionized the game because it made defences drastically adapt to his playing style. You have all seen his highlights, you know what he can do so stop pretending.
    He is nowhere near as good as Steve Young was, but he is a monumental figure in NFL history, whether you love him or hate him

  66. Michael Vick’s the best runner of all time, eh? Not a home run threat … Never a run of more than 61 yards. And he was caught and tackled on that one. Also caught before scoring on runs of 58, 53, and 51 yards. His longest TD run ever? … um … 46 yards.

    Meanwhile, RGIII had a 76 yard TD his rookie year. Cam Newton a 72 yard TD his 2nd year. Even Steve McNair, who ran more like John Riggins with a 4.5 forty was a homerun threat … getting a 71 yard TD his 2nd year as a starter. … And Kordell Stewart and Terrelle Pryor dwarf them all.

  67. Seriously! Most of your comments are fueled by hate. You hate a man you don’t really know and it is blinding you from making unbiased comments. Truth is…. No other name on that list revolutionized the position. You all keeping saying Vick is a bum… You must not ever watch the game of football. You sure haven’t played the game of football. This guy is an athletic God. He took a mediocre atlanta team all the way to Lambeau and dusted off The “Great” Farve. (Talking about turnover prone) I don’t see how you can praise Farve as one of the greatest ever… and completely disregard his turnovers.. But fail to acknowledge Vicks greatness.. instead only mention the few knocks he has against him. If you want to base things off championships…. I guess you are saying that Dan Marino sucked? Marino arguably the best pocket QB of all time never won a ship but he still gets respect for his abilities.

    All I’m saying is Respect Vick. The same ppl up here disrespecting Vick are the same ones who only use him in madden. I’m talking the guys who trade vick to their favorite team! The only reason ppl are taking chances on these young black super athletic QB’s is because Vick proved 1. they are exciting. 2. They put butts in the seats. 3. they can win.

  68. “Should have been” and “actually turned out to be” are different things.

    Michael Vick’s career has been a disappointment. Here’s hoping that he makes the most of the rest of his life.

  69. You guys are not giving Vick enough credit. Name one other QB that has spread herpes with such flair, used as creative packaging in smuggling drugs on an airplane and tortured and killed animals with such ferocity? He opened the door to the new breed of criminal ballers. Everything else this POS says is trivial, the aforementioned acts are all his legacy should claim.

    The Amazing Michael Vick, had 50 million dollar legs and a 2 cent brain.

  70. NFL fans/players never give the guys that made the game, paved the way any respect.

    Drew Brees jumping around like he’s actually better than Unitas. gtf-outta here mole boy.

  71. “What Vick can also say is that he changed the way rushing quarterbacks are perceived. Vick’s success in the NFL paved the way for NFL teams to embrace the running skills of younger quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. In fact, Vick’s lasting legacy may turn out to be that he doesn’t remain the greatest rushing quarterback ever for long. Some young quarterback may soon surpass Vick’s accomplishments as a runner — and that quarterback will get that chance because Vick showed just how successful a running quarterback can be.”

    Isn’t that a more nuanced way of saying the same thing that Vick said? He was just clumsy with his language.

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