San Francisco 49ers: Illogical Fear of Dual-Threat College QB Prospects

San Francisco 49ers fans have become downright fearful of dual-threat quarterbacks partly due to the failings of Colin Kaepernick, but is it warranted?

San Francisco 49ers fans have been treated to abysmal seasons over the past two years. A major part of those horrid seasons was the subpar play of former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He should shoulder the majority of that blame, but not all. After all, its not as if he played on a loaded roster.

Even elite quarterbacks need superior talent around them to win. This point is often missed by many. Kaepernick can be a deadly weapon on the right team. But, the key phrase in that last statement is “the right team.” The right team has to have a dominant running game and a top-10 defense. Otherwise, Kaepernick is a less-than-average starting quarterback.

Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar did an excellent job of explaining how Kaepernick is supposed to be used. If he lands in the right place, Kaepernick could excel. He displayed that ability early in his career, but failed to develop the necessary skills to win from the pocket on a consistent basis.

Of course, 49ers fans know this all to well. Its not that he isn’t capable of making throws from the pocket its just not there consistently. This is where players like Seattle’s Russell Wilson separate themselves from Kaepernick. Wilson is not the exception either. In the NFL, dual-threat QBs are more prominent than most fans realize. For example, coming out of college, Aaron Rodgers was a dual-threat, spread-system quarterback.

With the Packers, Rodgers operates primarily out of the shotgun and runs out of the pocket mostly to set up the pass. He will tuck it and run, but only as a last resort. In college, however, this was not the case. Rodgers had designed run plays that were called for him often:

College Game vs. Pro Game

Overall, the college landscape is dominated by dual-threat quarterbacks and spread concepts. This is why, year after year, the majority of the top QB prospects get labeled as dual-threats. In college, more teams are turning to spread philosophies spearheaded by dual-threat quarterbacks. In fact, this trend has been happening for a long time.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is an excellent example of a head coach who implements a spread-style game plan operated by a dual-threat. Actually, Meyer (and former Florida Gator Tim Tebow) played a major role in ushering in this “dominance” of dual-threat, spread system quarterbacks. Unfortunately, many dual-threat QBs have failed to make the transition to elite starting quarterback. Or, have they?

They have not failed at any higher of a rate than pocket-trained quarterbacks. For every Kaepernick, there is a Jay Cutler. Currently, the roots of the NFL’s most promising star quarterbacks come from the college game’s dreaded dual-threat, spread label.

And yet, the dual-threat label has been cast on many prospects as a way to diminish their future potential in the NFL. Is this honest scouting? Is it fair analysis of a prospect’s true potential? Or is it a way to just box a player into a category?

Former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson thinks it is more, per Bleacher Report:

People think, ‘Oh, he’s a black quarterback, he must be dual-threat.‘ People throw around that word all the time. It’s lazy. The one thing I learned early on as a football player is people have their opinions, and I can’t change them. But I can show them what they’re missing. People have assumed that I have to run the ball before I can throw it most all of my career, all the way back before high school.

This label is a seriously negative knock that some players have to fight hard to overcome. For Watson, being labelled as a running quarterback could cause him to fall. The same label that is associated with Kaepernick and other quarterbackss who have failed as NFL starters. It is unfair and illogical. I am not alone on this belief either.

NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks said in response to Deshaun Watson:

Whenever you hear that dual-threat phrase, the perception is their legs are a bigger threat than their arm. So it diminishes their standing as far as how they are viewed as a pro prospect. Guys like Deshaun Watson and some other quarterbacks have to fight against that stereotype to prove to others that they’re worthy of being a franchise quarterback.

Pocket Passer versus Dual-Threat QB

So what matters when it comes to a quarterback’s skill set? Well that’s the million-dollar question. General managers are charged with projecting which QBs will be able to make the jump from college to pros. From accuracy, to mental processing, to footwork, to arm strength, to pocket awareness, etc., quarterbacks will be evaluated for their ability, right? Not so fast. Draft media and every day fans will tear apart quarterbacks as soon as they hear the dual-threat label.

So what should fans do when they hear that a quarterback is a dual-threat? First, don’t assume that the player is going to be bad in the NFL. Need evidence to contradict that just look at Super Bowl Champs Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, or up-and-coming stars Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott.

Next, look for those who report fair and balanced scouting reports. Find the experts that do not forecast who will be drafted when and to whom nor do they pretend to know what teams are thinking. Theses scouts evaluate talent masterfully, free from bias, and stand by it. Even when they are wrong, which they are on occasion, they come back and explain what they missed in their evaluation.

Closing comments

Last season, 15 starting quarterbacks possessed dual-threat skill sets. This does not mean that these guys used their running ability on a consistent basis. Some, such as Andrew Luck, hung in the pocket trying to give their receivers as much time to get open. Of course, you also have those who made their money by running the rock successfully like Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. The point is, the NFL is evolving. The pro game no longer reflects the 90s or even the 00s for that matter. Still, winning from the pocket matters.

If a quarterback cannot consistently perform from the pocket, then his passing skill set is not equipped to win at the NFL level. If that consistent pocket passing can be combined with elite scrambling ability this takes an average starter to higher levels of offensive performance. Today, quarterbackss who can win based on their arm talent alone are supremely rare. There are two maybe three in the world.

Players of that ilk that come to mind are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. One is a classic pocket passer, the other has dual-threat ability. Both are Super Bowl winners. But ask Brady and even he admits that he wished that he had the athletic ability to run the rock, per SB Nation:

When I’m on the field, I sometimes think, man if I could just run away from everybody, how hard would this game really be?

This is the question that 49ers fans should really be asking? What if Tom Brady ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash? This is what scouts should be trying to find when they go out and evaluate talent. As football fans, we shouldn’t fear the dual-threat QB, we should embrace it.

After all, the 49ers did have a quarterback by the name of Steve Young who could do both. He wasn’t all that bad, right?

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