The NFL has seen many different paths to success in recent years. We’ve seen dynasties rise and fall, new stars emerge, and all-time greats fade into mediocrity.
At the center of each team’s success or failure is the quarterback, who is responsible for orchestrating the offense, making plays and leading teams to victory.
Today the league is at a crossroads as older quarterbacks are getting close to retirement and new stars bring a unique style to the game.
Thus the argument arises: which are more effective in today’s game—the new era rookies or the tried-and-true pocket passers.
The current era pocket passer quarterbacks—the ones who sit in the pocket and put the ball in a spot for the receivers to make a play. Quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady fall under this category.
And then there are the younger guys such as Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray, who can dart out of the pocket and make quick throws or take off and run the ball themselves.
So far there have been mixed results, as pocket passers continue to succeed while new-era quarterbacks start to build their legacy.
However, the old-era quarterbacks do have a few advantages.
First, most of the pocket passers are older which means they have more experience than the younger guys and get into the groove quicker at the start of each season.
Second, they are more stagnant and therefore less injury-prone. As long as a team has a solid offensive line protecting the quarterback, pocket passers don’t run the risk of dangerous collisions or accidental tweaks in the same way as more active younger quarterbacks.
Third, the old-era pocket-passing style is still a more common scheme used around the NFL today. Most coaching staffs are filled with years of experience in the league and traditional offenses align with the older style quarterbacks.
But the younger guys have a few things going for them as well.
First, they’re young, which means that if they do end up injured it will take them less time to recover and they’ll probably return healthier than an older quarterback with the same injury.
Second, they’re more athletic and more capable of making quick escapes. This means that a team doesn’t have to spend all their time and money trying to protect the quarterback. If he comes under pressure, he can escape the pocket and dump the ball off to a receiver or run it himself.
Third, the league is evolving toward their style. Each year, more and more NFL teams hire college coaches who bring along their high-intensity, fast-paced playbooks. In the same way that the pocket passer became the gold standard, one day the swiss army knife quarterback who can run, throw and escape danger will be the holy grail of quarterbacks.
Although the new-era quarterback may be more independent and require less protection, a weak supporting cast—in most cases—does not suffice. We’ve seen this play out this season with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and more prominently with Deshaun Watson in Houston.
Just because these quarterbacks are the jack of all trades doesn’t mean they’re a one-man show.
Take Kyler Murray for example. Coming into the league, many people questioned Murray’s ability to succeed due to his small stature. However, he is thriving this year with Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona.
Murray is quick on his feet, and it is known he can throw the ball a long way as seen a few weeks ago with the Hail Mary against the Buffalo Bills.
Whether they’re a classic, old-time pocket passer or an athletic, illusive new kid on the block, they need a supporting cast in order for the team to win.
A championship-caliber team must be great in all facets of the game. Remember, even the so-called greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, could not win in his last year in New England without any notable receivers.
So although the NFL slowly creeps towards accommodating the new-era quarterbacks, the tried-and-true older guys are here to stay at least for a few more years.