Running Quarterbacks Through the Years


Mar 26; Florham Park, NJ, USA; Newly acquired New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow addresses the media at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE

A reader recently asked me, “What will it take for you to get on the Tim Tebow bus?” A very interesting question, thanks to the reader for asking it, and I answered. Clearly, if you have been on the site a lot, you have seen me write about why I think this is bound to fail, and the scenarios where I think it can work.  Anyone who reads me knows that my overall impression of this idea is not very good.

The question got me thinking a bit, about the game, through the years I have been watching.  It got me thinking about other running quarterbacks, and why some of them have been successful, and yet I have my thoughts about Tim Tebow.  So today, I am going to look at three top running quarterbacks from my time.  The first is:


Most readers I am sure know who this guy is, but for any really young readers that only know him from ESPN, here is some quick background.  He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985, and went to the 49ers in 1987.  After sitting the last years of Joe Montana’s time in SF on the bench, he became the starter and won a Super Bowl title while he was there in 1994.

He was about as Tim Tebow-like as anybody.  The game was different then, but in his years as a full time starter, he never ran the ball less than 50 times, rushed for as many as 537 yards, 7 TDs, and never ran for less than 4.0 yards per carry.  In his early years in SF, the late Bill Walsh would complain about how Steve had difficulty with the offense, but was so good with his feet that he would get himself out of trouble.


Most everybody knows about this guy. Long career, all with Denver after forcing a trade from Baltimore, ran into a lot of hard luck until his last 2 seasons, when Denver won back to back Super Bowls.

Elway ran around a lot as well, with over 3,400 yards rushing over his career, 33 TDs on the ground, and a 4.4 yard average per rush. His best year rushing was 1987, with 304 yards rushing, and he had 6 TDs on the ground in 1991. In any season that he was in all 16 game, he only rushed for under 4 yards per carry once. He didn’t put up the yardage totals that Tebow does, again, different game.


Here you have a guy that in a few seasons, put up rushing numbers similar to Tim Tebow’s.  Randall Cunningham.  He made his name in the 80s and 90s, so I will give some background on Randall for younger readers.  He was drafted by the Eagles in 1985, and played with them until 1995.  They made playoff appearances and Cunningham played well, although he has no Super Bowl wins to his credit.  He was in Minnesota from 1997-1999 after being out of the league in 1996.  He finished his career with Dallas in 2000, and Baltimore in 2011.

We are going to take a look at his early career, through 1991, because after that he suffered an injury that hampered his running and athletic ability.  Beginning in 1986 when he took over the Eagles starting QB job full time, until 1990 which was the season before he got hurt, he never rushed for under 500 yards.  He rushed for 6 yards per carry or more in each season and rushed for 942 yards in 1990.

So you might ask, “These guys were successful, why not Tebow?” Fair question. Tebow runs around, and is quite good at it. You could argue that on his young career, he has the potential to run the football as well as these guys.

So what’s the problem?

64.3%, 56.9%, 56.6%

These are the three career completion percentages of the guys noted above, Young, Elway, and Cunningham respectively.  That’s the difference.  We all know that Tim Tebow’s is nowhere near that, so far.

The problem is, teams have game film on Tebow now.  Whenever he is in the game, teams will dare him to throw, and close up the running lanes.  As good as a runner he is, you have to be able to drop back and pass the rock.

Even Michael Vick, whom everyone knows as a great runner, was not considered in the upper echelon of quarterbacks until he got to Philly and completed over 60% of his passes.

Now, don’t go crazy on me folks.  I realize that the guys I have described have a huge body of work, and Tim Tebow does not.  I get that.  Tim Tebow is young, I get that, and that he has a lot of time to improve.

I turn to the experts, at least the so called experts.  A lot of the reports you hear say that his mechanics stink, and they won’t get better.  They say that because of how long he is doing it one way, he won’t be able to change.  If that is true, that is why I worry.

As much spirit as Tim Tebow has, and he has a lot, and as much of a winning spirit he has, he lacks drop back passing ability.  He just won’t be a consistently successful NFL QB until he does.  I want to be wrong, because I love the Jets, and want everyone on the team to be successful.

If he can’t get better, though, he won’t be a good NFL QB.