Rod Mar (top) and Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB
Rod Mar (top) and Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

The Next Wave of NFL QBs Is Here to Stay

Four of eight quarterbacks in the divisional round had no more than three seasons under their belts. Two moved on, and one is guaranteed a Super Bowl berth. Will we look back at this postseason as the watershed moment when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning passed the torch to the next generation?

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Greg Roman’s favorite play-call from last Sunday, the one that led to Colin Kaepernick pilfering the opposing quarterback’s Superman shirt-rip celebration in the end zone, had been in the offensive coordinator’s back pocket since Nov. 10, when the 49ers fell to the Panthers, 10-9, at Candlestick Park.

“I was kicking myself for not running it then,” Roman told The MMQB. “I think we would have won the game if we ran it then, to be quite honest with you. So we came back and ran it this time. Hindsight is 20/20.”

Good thing he saved it for when it mattered most.

With nine minutes to go in the third quarter of last weekend’s divisional game at Carolina, Kaepernick stuck the ball in the belly of his tailback, Frank Gore, while receiver Quinton Patton sprinted across the formation from right to left, drawing cornerback Drayton Florence into man-to-man coverage. Kaepernick pulled the ball back from Gore and took off behind Patton, just four yards separating him from the end zone. Each of the three receivers on the field—Patton, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin—locked onto a defender in front of Kaepernick. The only player in position to make a stop, Florence, overran the play and couldn’t adjust.

The touchdown gave the 49ers a 10-point lead and Kaepernick performed just as nimbly when the play was over: He mocked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton by pretending to bare an ‘S’ on his chest, then pantomimed buttoning up his shirt before turning to his own signature move: a biceps kiss.

The read-option was dialed back across the league in 2013, but San Francisco’s 23-10 victory was a potent reminder that it hasn’t died. It’s just another tool at the disposal of coordinators like Roman, who sprinkle it in like a pinch of salt for seasoning. It’s also a reminder that change is inevitable. This has been an important season for the NFL’s young quarterbacks, particularly since their surprising success last season raised a valid question: Do they have staying power? The answer: Four of the eight QBs in last weekend’s divisional round had no more than three seasons of experience (Kaepernick, Newton, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the Colts’ Andrew Luck).

This year’s playoffs have an oddly scripted feeling. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game; Kaepernick and Wilson for the NFC title. It’s a perfect dichotomy, one conference championship game featuring the old guard and the other the new guard of NFL quarterbacks. Might we look back upon this postseason as the passing of the torch?

Two of a kind

Greg Roman reached into his bag of tricks to spring Kaepernick for a read-option TD last Sunday. Brady and Manning lack those youthful legs, but they have a few tricks of their own. FULL STORY

Manning is 37 and has had four neck operations; Brady is but a year younger. Kaepernick and Wilson are closer to the legal drinking age than they are to being over the hill, but they seem just as comfortable as their veteran counterparts on the big stage. Kaepernick played in Super Bowl XLVII last season, and either he or Wilson will play for the Lombardi Trophy in early February, showcasing the virtues of a hybrid skill-set and mobile quarterbacking. (To be fair, they also benefit from being paired with a top-five defense).

The NFL’s debate about mobile quarterbacks versus drop-back pocket passers is a bit like politics: neither party ever goes out of style, but power ebbs and flows depending on the leaders. The 49ers-Panthers tilt last Sunday at Bank of America Stadium was just the kind of new-guard showcase you’d expect to find: Newton warmed up in shiny “Supercam” custom cleats, and afterward, Kaepernick coolly described his celebratory taunt as “just a little shout out.” On the field, their play reflected the strides they’ve taken to keep their games effective and balanced.

Take Kaepernick, for example. Though he ran for 98 yards in the wild-card win over the Packers a week earlier, Roman thought the best place for him to operate against Carolina’s strong front seven was “in the pocket, trying to pick them apart.” The Panthers played the 49ers’ short routes aggressively, but Kaepernick made some big gains, like his 45-yard pass to Boldin on a slant-and-go that set up his touchdown scamper two plays later.

Defenses learned how to defend the read-option last offseason. You play with gap discipline, you don’t just turn your edge rushers loose upfield, and you try to avoid having your secondary players turn their backs to the line of scrimmage. Offensive coordinators also realized that you can’t expose quarterbacks to repeated hits. But facing 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line, with a chance to go up by 10 in the divisional round? “If you’re capable of utilizing it,” Roman says, “you’ll probably see it this time of year.”

To NFL historians, next weekend’s conference championships matter very little. No matter who wins, the narrative will be the same. The old guard and the new guard are on a collision course for Super Bowl XLVIII. And soon enough, the true Superman will be revealed.

mmqb-end-slug-square

More from The MMQB
94 comments
AustinJosephBerger
AustinJosephBerger

You guys are all missing the big picture. Hot wild card teams with solid defenses are the trend. We saw it with the Saints over the vikings, we saw it to Manning countless years, we saw Brady fall with one of the best offenses of all time, its all Defense, it's all day. Its 9er Nation at the End. 


27-17 SF over NE. 

Jason L
Jason L

I'm going to say something that some people will find controversial, but it's not by intention to offend anyone. There are two things that Kaepernick & Wilson have in common that history shows is not in their favor for winning a Super Bowl.

Number one thing in common, they're both great running QB's with an average throwing game. History has shown us that it's the QB with a great passing game that usually wins a SB. Now, average passing QB's can win a SB, but there's usually a phenomenal defense to back it up. Think the Ravens with Dilfer and the Bucs with Johnson. Those were two of the greatest defenses in NFL history.  Now, Steve Young could be considered a running QB, but I would consider him a great passing QB who could also run very well.

Number two thing in common, and this will offend some people. They both African American. I'm not saying this to start a race war, and I have absolutely nothing against African Americans. But if you go by history of the Super Bowl, it hasn't been kind to African American Quarterbacks.. The fact is that Doug Williams is actually the ONLY African American Quarterback to have won the Super Bowl.

Now, I'm not saying they won't win the SB this year, but history shows us that it might be tough for them. I'm just going by the facts everyone, so don't start the whole "you're racist" thing. I'm just stating history, and why I'm picking Denver or the Patriots to win the SB this year.  

Jason L
Jason L

I'll still pick Manning or Brady to win the SB this year. What history has shown us is that running style QB's with an average passing game rarely win the SB. It happens once in awhile, like Steve Young, but Young was also an excellent passer. Also, average QB's can win a SB, but usually there's a phenomenal defense to back him up, like the Ravens with Dilfer and the Bucs with Johnson. Kap and Wison can obviously run the ball well and avoid sacks, but I wouldn't say they have a great passing game. So, the winner of the Broncos-Patriots game, in my opinion, will win the SB.

SFCRET
SFCRET

I say judging the quarterback to be accurate must include a look at the supporting cast.  Both Seattle and San Francisco have top defenses.  Both have top offensive lines.  Kaepernick and his team struggled when several key players were out with injuries, including Crabtree.  Wilson has not been great throwing the ball the last few games and without the Seattle defense and run game they would not be in the title game this week.  Payton has been successful with a middle of the pack supporting cast as proven by the Colts record the year he missed.  Brady has had a good team to play with until this year with all its changes and injuries.  This year he has done what Payton did for much of his career.  Judge QBs by what they have done with what they have had to work with.  As one former Superbowl QB now annalist said.  "I have a Superbowl ring but I am not a Brady or Payton."

Steve Moore
Steve Moore

Slash Stewart, Randall Cunningham,VinceYoung,MVick,CNewton blahblahblah. Is this the NEW QB?

No, it's not. Super Bowls are won by Flacco,Brady,Rodgers,Brees,Mannings,TrentDilferBJohnson etc.

Please stop with the running QB crap.

Chris8
Chris8

Of course it's going to be considered a "passing of the torch" because sometime soon here Manning and Brady are going to retire, and teams are still going to need QB's.  The fact that four of the eight QB's last week had less than for years of playing experience has to do as much with the fact that their teams have been consistent at QB rather than their direct age.  That consistency could be from a lack of competent alternatives. 


But there are plenty of QB's with, say, 4 or fewer years of experience who flat out suck.

Guys like Wilson and Kaepernick; yeah they're good.  No question.  But somebody has to be better than the rest.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

Wilson and Kap are good QB's, more Alex Smith game manager types than great QB's.  They may be great in the future but calling them that now is media hype.  

Danruidl
Danruidl

So...this is an article about the Seahawks and 49ers game, right?


So...where's the analysis? where's the focal point other than Kaep's win over the Panthers.


Maybe I'm just confused.

Bret_Chris
Bret_Chris

Can we stop anointing Kaep as the future greatest QB ever. The guy only completes half of his passes. Only scored 23 points against a Packers D that was downright pathetic down the stretch and was missing 4 of its best 5 players after the first series and was playing a street FA running on one leg for most of the game. And all that with some of the best weapons in the League on offense (Crabtree, Davis, Boldin and Gore). Let him prove that he's indeed Canton material before giving him the Gold Jacket!

BargainTuesday
BargainTuesday

“I was kicking myself for not running it then,” Roman told The MMQB. “I think we would have won the game if we ran it then, to be quite honest with you."

Yeah, and imagine if he did that on our last possession in the Super Bowl.  Ugh.  I'll never understand why they didn't give the ball to Gore, who was running great all night, and decided to do the same pass plays over and over again until we lost possession of the ball, and thus the Super Bowl.  Never understand it.

Hizenberg
Hizenberg

I see the NFL moving to more of a hybrid linebacker that can pull duty as a end and safety. Defense always develops to overcome a new offense. Taller faster linebackers that are smarter with nimble quarterbacks.  

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

Kaepernick plays on the most talented roster in the entire NFL and puts up average numbers…. the 49ers have the best offensive line, and he's got a HOF running back...



even earlier this year when all FortyWhiner fans were crying about how Kaepernick didn't have any weapons, and that's why he was struggling while Manningham and Crabtree were out….


Boldin and Vernon Davis are better receivers than anybody on Green Bay, anybody on Carolina and anybody on Seattle (and New England) -- and now he has Crabtree, Patton etc…



Kaepernick inherited by far the most talented roster in the whole league, but the 49ers nearly missed the playoffs while he put up mediocre numbers this season…



but he is the best in the NFL at acting like a moron and taking all the credit…


------



Cam Newton inherited the worst team in the NFL and led them to the No. 2 seed three years later, Russell Wilson joined a Seahawk team that hadn't been over .500 the previous three years and led them to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Andrew Luck was drafted by the worst team in football and two years later they won a playoff game… 


(try naming multiple players from GB, Indy or Carolina who could start for the 49ers  -- besides the quarterbacks)…. 



the 49ers had a better record under Alex Smith, and they were in the NFC title game the year Kaepernick took over… Kaepernick is surrounded by the most talented NFL roster in the last few years, scraping past Green Bay and getting tons of calls against Carolina -- two teams the Niners should've beaten by four touchdowns isn't impressive…


Percy Harvin hasn't played all year, name a receiver or tight end on the Seahawks that would even get snaps for the 49ers, Tate as a fifth receiver?  Name an offensive linemen on the Seahawks that could start for the 49ers. 
The only reason the Niners have struggled in Seattle is because of Kaepernick, all he has to do is stay out of the way and the Niners will win the Superbowl --- while he receives all the credit..


Thomas15
Thomas15

Q: What do RGIII, Kaepernick, Wilson and Andrew luck have in common? 


A: None to them measure up to Nick Foles. 



AustinJosephBerger
AustinJosephBerger

This is coming from a Viking fan. Just so everyone knows. Not Bias. 

AustinJosephBerger
AustinJosephBerger

Best 3 offenses of all time. 


1. Broncos this year

2. Patriots with Moss (16-0)

3. Vikings with Moss 


Superbowls- 0

Proven
Proven

@Jason L  The reason why African American QBs have only one Super Bowl title is that there have been very few African American starting QBs in NFL. As we all know that they were not given enough opportunities before the golden age for AA QBs that is after 2000. since 1999, with the exception of 1999, 2000, 2012 and 2013, at most there were only 4 AA QBs were starting in NFL. That is 4 out of 32. Chances of AA QB winning a Super Bowl were 1 out of 8. This year had the best representation of AA QBs in the history of NFL. There were 8 starting QBs at the beginning of the season. Anyway, my point is that AA QBs have only one superBowl because on average NFL teams draft 1 AA QB for every 13 QBs since the first super bowl. Like everything else, this is numbers game. The more stones you throw, more fruits fall

sillycon88
sillycon88

@Jason L 


Wow, what a load of nonsense.  What does their race have to do with anything?


You could pick any random attribute and say the same thing.  Why highlight their race as a factor?  Sounds to me like what you're really trying to say is that Kap and Wilson as black QB's don't have the intelligence to be sucessfull quarterbacks.    


Go on, say it.  Don't try to talk around it.


Arthur7
Arthur7

@Jason L 

Why don't you put your money where your mouth is?

Both NFC teams are favored over either AFC team by Las Vegas. Put your "not prejudice" to the test.

Arthur7
Arthur7

@SFCRET  

"Both Seattle and San Francisco have top defenses.  Both have top offensive lines."

I'm a Seattle fan, but "top offensive line?" More like "top weakness"

Toreby
Toreby

@SFCRETThe Seahawks have a good LT and C, but the rest of the line is rather pedestrian to say the least. Wilson has been good during the season despite the line, especially when both Okung (LT) and Unger (C) both were out. I believe Carroll has been very conservative in the play calling in the last 5-6 games, and that's the main reason for Wilson's lack of production. The weather Saturday didn't help either. Having said that, he has missed some open receivers, but not to the extent it would worry me though. I think Kaepernick is more prone to make mistakes when pressured than Wilson is, and that might be he deciding factor on Sunday.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@Steve Moore Steve Young and Roger Staubach had games similar to Wilson and Kap.  They won Super Bowls.

MrMikeChamberlain
MrMikeChamberlain

@Danruidl agreed- terrible article. Seemed like she tried to make her notes fit the title but failed.

surprising that PK ran it under his byline.

sillycon88
sillycon88

@Bret_Chris 


You're conveniently forgetting the fact that Kap was playing an away game at Lambeau field in sub-zero temperatures.  


Aaron Roger only managed 177 yards passing that day as well.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@Bret_Chris Thank you!  People are finally starting to see there's a little more sizzle with Kap than steak.  Not that he isn't good but he aint all that either.

SonofaM1tch
SonofaM1tch

@BargainTuesday Could not agree more.  IMO, that loss is easier to stomach if we run Gore and KAep 4 times behind our O Line. I think Roman kind of panics inside the 10, maybe the worst call of all was going under center on the final play. Get him in shotgun and moving around a little man. I'm just pissing myself off at work now.

sillycon88
sillycon88

@humdrumdrumhumming Your post is ridiculous.


What you are conveniently forgetting is that Kaepernick plays in the toughest division in the league:  The NFC West.  Kap plays the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Rams twice per year.  -all teams with top-tier defenses.


And if you look at Russell Wilson's record, he barely passed for 100 yards against the Saints.  And his last regular season game he passed for only 108 yards.


If you look at Kap's QBR rating the last 8 games and compare them to Russell Wilson, Kap is a top of the league and Wilson is rated near the absolute bottom.

trpdds
trpdds

@humdrumdrumhumming I've seen every 49er game since John Brodie was the qb, and I can tell you that Colin is the most athletically gifted qb that the team has ever had, which is amazing considering Steve Young and Joe Montana. Joe Montana, in my and many expert's opinion is the best qb in the history of the NFL. This was mainly due to his innate ability to read defenses, his total knowledge of Bill Walsh's offense and all of the intangibles---especially leadership and the will to win. Remember Joe was not immediately thrust into center stage like Colin, and did not have to displace a popular qb like Alex Smith. Steve Young had years to prepare for his replacement of Joe as starting qb.  Colin possesses the skills to be one of the best ever qb's in the history of the NFL. He can make all the throws and can win games with his arm,  legs and intellect. He is about to lead his team to their 2nd Super Bowl in his 11/2 yrs as a starter and all of this nonsensical banter about his lack of contribution to the success of the current 49er's is asinine! Coach Harbaugh knows about Colin's talent and his ability to lift the team to highest level of achievement.

LeeMichael1
LeeMichael1

@humdrumdrumhummingDarwin is looking for you . He hasn't found your DNA on any list from this planet . Ya . . . Kaep is still progressing .Let's keep that into focus . As a 49er fan , he isn't the greatest Niner QB ever by a country mile . As for the reffing , you make it out like the Panthers were clean of any infractions . Next time . . . . watch the whole game .

Mood_Indigo
Mood_Indigo

@Thomas15 

Play fantasy football much?

Foles would not have half his numbers if he played in NFC West.

This board seems to attract a crowd largely bereft of football knowledge.

sillycon88
sillycon88

@Thomas15 


Foles had the benefit of playing in the weakest division in football this year.


That doesn't mean Foles is no good...it just means he hasn't played enough games against top quality opposition to form an opinion on him yet.

Travis R
Travis R

@Thomas15 actually, of the five QBs listed, Andrew Luck is the one that doesn't fit.  The other four all have superior rushing offenses that enable the QBs to be hidden in the offense thus achieving better efficiency stats.  In fact, all were in the top third of the league in rushing with the Eagles having the top rushing offense in football this year, the 49ers, Seahawks and Redskins were 3, 4 and 5 respectively and Carolina was 11th.  Meanwhile Indy had no semblance of a running game that was so bad they traded away their first round pick in the draft for Trent Richardson who was a complete bust.

Centennial
Centennial

@Thomas15 Would that be the same Nick Foles who's playing in the NFC championship game this weekend?

LeeMichael1
LeeMichael1

@Thomas15That's funny . That's about as funny as Chris Christy going to the press conference about the bridge closure and saying ," I thought this was about the fridge closing ."

anon76
anon76

@Thomas15 


A: 11 (soon to be 13) more playoff appearances, 7 (soon to be 8) more playoff wins, a combined 65.2% regular season winning percentage as starters (compared to Foles' 56.3%), wins against the Seahawks/Panthers/49ers/Saints pass D, and much better 2012 seasons than Nick Foles?

AustinJosephBerger
AustinJosephBerger

Best 3 Defenses of all time.


1.) Steel Curtain Steels 1976

2.) 1985 Bears

3.) 2000 Baltimore Ravens


Superbowls- 3

el-cid
el-cid

@sillycon88 @Jason L Yeah, and no woman has one a Super Bowl at QB either.  Jeez.  Why don't you just trot out the usual "athletic" vs. "intelligent" cliche as well.  

Travis R
Travis R

@PhillyPenn, Steve Young was actually a much better thrower of the football than either of them which is why he threw for over 33,000 yards in his career, the bulk of which (nearly 27,000) came in just 7 years as the primary starter for the 49ers, an average of over 3,800 yards per season, and in two of those seasons he played just 11 and 12 games.  As far as Staubach is concerned, you may as well be talking about Bart Starr because that era of football doesn't even come close to today's game.  So let's take it easy with the hyperbole, it's more than a little premature to be comparing either of these guys to Hall of Famers.  For the second consecutive year, for QBs who played all 16 games, Russell Wilson had the fewest pass attempts in the league, he's asked to do absolutely nothing except not lose the game.  Oh, and Colin Kaepernick had the second fewest attempts and similarly is asked to do nothing but not lose the game.

Bret_Chris
Bret_Chris

@trpdds @humdrumdrumhumming Agree with most of your points, except when you mention displacing a popular QB. First Smith got injured and he wasn't all that popular in the first place. He was often criticized for being a game manager who couldn't throw downfield even if his life depended on it. Kaep on the other hand was slinging it like Favre or Elway and   people got on his bandwagon right away. I also do not agree that he has shown exceptional football IQ. Most observers who know football better than I do have said that he needs to go through his different reads much better and much faster and that he tends to get stuck on his first or second options. Again he is young and has all the tools. He just hasn't proved yet that he can win with his arm. He, on the other hand, has proved that he can lose it with his arm (eg the Seattle game with multiple interceptions). Let's not forget that if Hyde doesn't drop that last interception, the 9ers would probably not be here today.

Sportsredo
Sportsredo

@anon76 @Thomas15 Foles threw more TD's than Kaep or Wilson in just 11 games. And he only threw 2 picks. If he was on Sea for SF they'd be a more complete team. Let's see the results next year and when Philly improves it's D.  Look out NFC Foles is coming!

sillycon88
sillycon88

@PhillyPenn @Travis R 


It could go both ways.


Yes, Steve Young owes many of his passing yards to Jerry Rice's YAC.


But you could also say that it was Young's accuracy that allowed Jerry Rice to catch the ball in stride and put him in a position to gain those yards after the catch.

Jason L
Jason L

@PhillyPenn @Travis R  Steve Young wasn't just a better passer, he was a much better passer. You can't give all of his credit to Jerry Rice. Do you honestly believe that Kap or Wilson would have the same stats as Young if they had Jerry Rice to throw to? I'm not buying it. Is it also possible that Jerry Rice's stats are great because he had two hall of fame QB's throwing to him? It goes both ways. Look, I like Kap and Wilson, but I don't consider them similar to Young as far as being a QB, except for running abilities.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@Travis R Steve Young owes many, many, many of those yards to Jerry Rice and his incredible YAC numbers.  He was a better passer than Kap or Wilson but their games are still similar.  Staubach did play in a different era but his skills were still similar to those two and he did win Super Bowls.  And that was the point I was responding to in the original comment.  So there was really no need to call me hyperbolic.  BTW, below you will see that I called Kap and wilson game managers.

Travis R
Travis R

@PhillyPenn what does "capable of winning a SB" have to do with being a quality QB?  Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer won Super Bowls and they're less than game managers, although they'd be far more accurate comparisons than Steve Young and Roger Staubach.

MrMikeChamberlain
MrMikeChamberlain

@PhillyPenn@MrMikeChamberlain@Danruidl okay- it's like the article is written solely based on an interview with Greg Roman with backstory and context provided at a neophyte level of football comprehension( Oh, so that's how you stop the read option-ya right).

varietyfan
varietyfan

@Sportsredo@anon76@Thomas15 Foles is a product of his system and it didn't even take an off season to figure this below average QB out.  Watch the tape of Min, DAL or the playoff game against NO.  Foles is A.Smith a game manager with a new offense that the NFL has yet to totally adjust to but all the green tinted glasses are soon to come off when  NEXT season starts.  By the way Foles plays in one of the weakest divisions ever in football and played so many teams with out their starting qb it isn't funny.  Foles - better than Kaep or Wilson what a joke!  The Niners and Seahawks played at the minimum with out looking all the stats up 5 games against the top 3 defenses in the league it is easy to put up good numbers against bad teams.

Newsletter