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Running quarterbacks revolutionizing game, but not ready to win it all yet


Cam Newton 'could easily rush for 1,000 yards this year as Michael Vick did in 2006.' (Getty Images)  
Cam Newton 'could easily rush for 1,000 yards this year as Michael Vick did in 2006.' (Getty Images)  

For the past few years there have been claims that the quarterback position is changing. More athletic signal callers with legitimate running skills are really starting to penetrate the position, and this year should be exceptional for quarterbacks with running skills.

Could we see at least two QBs with 1,000 yards rushing? Does it mean there's a new way to win it all in the NFL?

Last year the top four running quarterbacks in the NFL put on a fine demonstration of athleticism, escape-ability and pure open-field rushing skills.

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Cam Newton not only led the league in rushing yards for quarterbacks with 126 carries for 706 yards but he also ran for 14 touchdowns. As his head coach Ron Rivera said to me, "Cam is our red zone run game."

The other running quarterbacks in the top four included Tim Tebow (660 Yards, six TDs), Michael Vick (589 yards, one TD) and, as usual, Aaron Rodgers (257 yards, three TDs).

Rodgers has been a top-four rusher for the past three seasons, averaging 61 carries, 309 yards, four touchdowns and a 36-12 record. That seems to be the right formula for team success.

When you look at the other quarterbacks who make running with the ball a big part of what they do, the wins don't necessarily follow the rushing yardage. In fact, the top four rushing quarterbacks since 2006, excluding Rodgers, have five winning seasons out of 19.

Are things about to change with the mobile QB?

Since 2006 there has been a steady increase in rushing yardage, and rushing touchdowns for the top four running quarterbacks in the NFL. With Robert Griffin III now joining Newton, Tebow and Vick as the probable candidates to lead quarterbacks in rushing this year, we should see some dazzling runs from the men under center.

Newton is committed to throwing from the pocket but could easily rush for 1,000 yards this year as Vick did back in 2006.

Tebow is now with the Jets, a team that believes in the wildcat. If Tebow averages 10 carries a game, he should pass the 800-yard mark.

Vick says he is going to play it safer this season, but it's hard to take the runner out of Mike. Vick, in the last three seasons, has played most of the games and has averaged just less than 800 yards on the ground. Let's say he "plays it safe" and that means 600 yards.

RG3 is the wild card. Last year at Baylor the world class runner ran 179 times for 906 yards in 13 games.

If Newton is any indicator of rookie running production, RG3 could crack the 700-yard mark.

I will not be surprised if the top four running quarterbacks combine for a record-breaking season, easily surpassing last year's 2,212 yards and 24 touchdowns that Newton, Tebow, Vick and Rodgers delivered. I expect closer to 2,500 yards and 28 touchdowns, but will any of the four men lead their team to a Super Bowl win and be the first real runner to do so?

It's going to happen someday, and there is a growing sentiment Vick could do it this year. But after discussing this topic with defensive coaches around the league, I would be slow to think it's going to happen in 2012.

One defensive coordinator who has to defend Vick this year said, "We would rather see him run than throw deep to [DeSean] Jackson or [Jeremy] Maclin."

A coach who has to defend Newton said, "He is awesome in the open field and very tough to bring down, but he scares us more as a pocket passer in the open field. The red zone ... that's a different story."

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.

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