BY Dennis Glade
Times Herald Columnist
---- — In the coming days, millions of Americans will open their mailboxes to see one of four regional covers celebrating the new generation of quarterbacks that took the NFL by storm in 2012. The covers will feature one of the following four quarterbacks depending on where you live — San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck. The covers are celebrating “The New Kings” of a new breed of quarterback.
The interesting aspect of this supposed new generation of read-option quarterbacks is there is one that definitely is different than the other, and that’s Luck. Luck was the most celebrated college quarterback since John Elway was at Stanford, but entering his senior year in Palo Alto, Luck was upstaged by the monsoon of press known as RGIII. Griffin won the Heisman and stole all the publicity that was building for Luck, not that he minded.
Griffin was a known commodity, but before winning the Heisman, Luck was the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. All of a sudden, that top pick was up for debate and by a stroke of luck — please excuse the pun — Colts quarterback Peyton Manning missed the entire year with neck issues and Indianapolis suffered through a terrible 2-14 season. The Colts released Manning, drafted Luck and the rest is history.
Luck is very much like his predecessor, Manning. A very hard worker, who has no flash to him at all, and doesn’t need the spotlight. Luck led the Colts to a 11-5 record and a wild card berth in his rookie season despite his head coach Chuck Pagano missing most of the year after being diagnosed with leukemia. Griffin was no slouch either, he led the Redskins to a 10-6 record on their way to winning the NFC’s Eastern Division. Griffin’s season was plagued by conflicting opinions about a nagging knee injury. Griffin tore his ACL after noticeably limping during a wild card home loss to fellow rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Griffin has spent his offseason rehabbing and taking veiled and non-veiled shots at his head coach, Mike Shanahan. Wilson was a third-round pick in last year’s draft after a stellar collegiate career at North Carolina State and Wisconsin, but he stands just 5’11”, and that was a sticking point to many NFL teams. Wilson proceeded to beat Griffin in the wild card round and nearly upset Matt Ryan and the Falcons in the Georgia Dome in the Divisional Round. Wilson has garnered praise for his laid back, zen-like approach to football, which has clearly succeeded in the Pacific Northwest.
The fourth ‘king’ is Kaepernick, who was in his second year in 2012, but similar to the fast start to Tom Brady’s career in New England in 2001, Kaepernick took advantage of an injury and nearly duplicated Brady’s storybook ending of winning a Super Bowl. Kaepernick wowed the football world in the second half of the football season and then he ran straight into the record books with an NFL-record 181 rush yards and one rush touchdown to go along with 263 yards through the air and two more touchdowns.
Griffin, Kaepernick and Wilson gave credence to all the talk that Carolina’s Cam Newton was ushering in a new era of quarterbacks that can run and pass. In the past, there was no doubt that running quarterbacks ran because they weren’t good throwers. The same can’t be said for Griffin, Kaepernick and Wilson. When Newton won the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, everyone called him the new prototype of what a quarterback will be.
Call me old fashioned, but to me the “prototype” is a pocket passer who makes good decisions and doesn’t chance getting hurt by running. Sure, Aaron Rodgers and Luck can run for a first down if they have to, but for the most part they stay in the pocket. Think about the quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls in the past decade — Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Drew Brees. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowl rings, but he’s a complicated case. He’s not running by design, but more of a function of his game where he tries to keep a play alive, but even at his tall stature, Big Ben has battled injuries the last two seasons.
One major advantage Luck has over Griffin, Kaepernick and Wilson is that he’s in another conference. While those three will be battling for the next 5-10 years, Luck will be at the head of a conference that is lacking in young top flight talent at the quarterback position. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are over 35 and have both missed an entire season fairly recently due to a severe injury. Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are past their primes, and Flacco no longer has a top flight defense to lean on. In short, Luck is set up for a decade of great opportunities at winning multiple Super Bowls, something his predecessor wasn’t able to do in 13 seasons in Indianapolis.
Luck has an old Samsung flip phone that is five years old, and his personality is as flashy as a 30-year-old copper penny. Don’t confuse his lack of flash for disadvantage compared to his contemporaries. Luck is the future of the NFL. There is no new prototype for playing quarterback, it’s the same as it ever was — pocket passers win championships — running quarterbacks win fantasy football championships.