Football Philosophy: Quarterbacking Trends, Picking Your Poison, And Why That Matters

In recent years, I’ve become a massive fan of football trends. I think that a large part of that, at least for me, is from becoming as big an NFL Draft nerd as I have. When you’ve been around the prospect evaluation block a few times, you start to notice some trends. For example: athletically gifted quarterbacks often get criticized by scouts for having problems going through their progressions or reading defenses.

You can trace this trend, at least within the last decade or so, back to Cam Newton. Coming out of Auburn in 2011, scouts marveled at Newton’s freakish athleticism. His arm strength and ability to tuck and run the ball for large chunks, with minimal risk of being injured due to his sheer size, showed a truly elite talent at the quarterback position. And yet, the NFL’s official draft profile report on him cites both an inability to identify defenses and poor mechanics and footwork.

These exact same concerns came up with Patrick Mahomes in 2017.

And then Josh Allen in 2018.

And then Justin Herbert in 2020.

And then Malik Willis in 2022.

And now, just you watch, Anthony Richardson in 2023.

It’s a trend, plain and simple. Not that there’s anything wrong with trends, I just find them interesting. This particular trend is perhaps the most easily-traceable that we can see in the NFL today. With a little bit of critical thinking, it becomes clear that this struggle with reading defenses and general throwing mechanics isn’t the fault of the quarterback himself. Rather, it’s more likely that the coaches said quarterback has had throughout his football career let him down. He can make every throw in the book, he is simply more physically dominant than the other team, by himself. Why would a coach bother to teach him the finer points of playing quarterback, when he can obviously do it just fine?

I also find it interesting that we can extrapolate these to a team-wide and league-wide level. It is my personal belief, and basically a hard-and-fast rule in the world of football, that the more everyone does one thing, the more it benefits you to do literally anything else. We see league trends shift around just about every five years.

The air raid-esque, pass-happy offenses of the mid-2010s, made famous by Chip Kelly’s Eagles in 2013 and then made better by pretty much everybody else after him, have recently given way to more run-heavy attacks. You could see the exact point that the trend shifted in favor of bringing back running as well. That being, Lamar Jackson’s MVP year in 2019, which perfectly coincided with the arrival of Kyle Shanahan’s run-heavy offensive system with the 49ers.

Even now, we can see the trends beginning to shape for the next few years. The NFL is in a quarterback renaissance and for the first time in quite a while, it feels as though more teams have a franchise quarterback, than don’t. It may not be the air-raid offensive scheme of yesteryear, but pro football is slowly but surely going back to offenses that are heavier on the passing attack. But here’s the thing: there isn’t one predominant trend. In fact, there seems to be two distinct schools of thought emerging among the top-flight young quarterbacks. So what do you do if you’re a general manager trying to make the best decision for your team? It’s obvious. Pick your poison.

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