What Makes A Great QB

Updated: October 12, 2015

With benching of Robert Griffin and the problems of Colin Kaepernick has many questioning, can a spread or pistol quarterback make it long term in the NFL?   There are many variables to making a successful NFL quarterback and no one is ever certain who will make it or who will not.  How many pundits in 1998 viewed Ryan Leaf with more upside than Peyton Manning, but we know how that turned out as Manning is still playing and Leaf has been out of the NFL for years.   Tony Dungy, the Colts coach at the time, mention in a recent interview that picking Manning was not a slam dunk but what decided which way the Colts went was the interview when Manning came in with notebooks full of plays whereas Ryan Leaf was “laid back.”

In 2012, Washington gave up draft picks to trade up and grab Robert Griffin behind Andrew Luck.  Griffin had a great rookie year but knee injury at the end of year and subsequent surgery hurt his development the following year.  In 2014, Griffin never seem to hit his stride in new head coach Jay Gruden’s offense and this past year, Gruden decided that Kirk Cousins would be the better fit for his offense and while, the jury is still out on Cousins, it appears that RG 3 might be headed out of Washington at the end of the year.

Kaepernick has nice stats with 62% of passes completed but he has not played as well as he done in the past and it wasn’t that long ago that he led the 49ers to a Super Bowl and came close the following year of making his second trip to the Super Bowl.  How much of Kaepernick problems are due to his failure to develop further and how much is due to the fact that the 49ers are simply not as good as past teams he played on?

Of course if Robert Griffin is the poster quarterback failure for the pistol offense, no one seems to bring up Cam Newton who has managed to lead his Carolina Panthers to a 4-0 record or forget that the Panthers made it to playoffs over the past two year under Newton.

Alex Smith came into the NFL as a pistol quarterback but has become a solid NFL starter after a rough initial years of learning as a quarterback and through the first four games of this year, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was raised in the spread offense, has outperformed Jameis Winston, who was played in a pro set and was consider the more pro ready.  While this is a small sample as a career is concern, it does show that being a spread quarterback in college is not a disqualifying since there is more to being a quarterback than just a strong arm.


How many teams passed on Tom Brady in the 2000 draft? Other teams had 198 opportunities to draft Brady and now Tom Brady may be the best quarterback of his generation.  And look at past great quarterbacks and see different stories.

Terry Bradshaw had an up and down career for his first five years and in 1974, the year that the Steelers won their first Super Bowl, Bradshaw was benched for the first six games before reclaiming his job for good. Will Robert Griffin in the fifth year of his career follow a similar pathway or will he simply drift out of the NFL with just a great rookie year to show? Bradshaw would lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl games

Or how many fans remember that Joe Montana, another great quarterback was not drafted until the third round and didn’t’ start until his third year when he lead the 49ers to their first of five Super Bowls?

Sometimes a Quarterback is a victim of the team they are drafted to.  Alex Smith was consider a bust after going through bad teams and bad coaching until Jim Harbaugh came to the 49ers.  He develop into a good quarterback and continue to be a solid quarterback when he moved onto Kansas City Chiefs where he is coached by one of the better coaches in the NFL, Andy Reid.  I am not saying Smith is a Hall of Fame quarterback but he has gone from being a bust to a solid starter.

The NFL is changing and a mobile quarterback gives a team advantages and the pistol offense can add pressure to the defense if you have the right quarterback at the helm.  The pistol with the 2012 RG 3 or Cam Newton today adds a dimension to the Panthers offense that not only forces a defense to spy Newton but it also opens up passing lane.  Seattle Seahawks have added wrinkles including a pistol that has allowed Russell Wilson to use all of his talent.

The Pistol and spread has open up the offense in the college rank and Warren Moon success as a Hall of Fame quarterback came as results of spread offense in the early 1990’s.  So maybe it is not the offense that determines success of a quarterback but the talent and heart of a quarterback.

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