The tectonic plates of the NFL seem to be shifting, and when they’re done moving, all anyone will be talking about is the read option. We wrote about it in 2011 when Tim Tebow and Cam Newton ushered it in with the Broncos and Panthers, respectively. Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers took the read option to a level in the NFL this year few could have expected in the preseason. (It’s criminal they’re not squaring off in the NFC title game, but perhaps next year.) Robert Griffin III in Washington ran the Pistol to perfection, amazingly getting the last place Redskins to the playoffs. Of the running QBs this year, RGIII was the only one to get hurt (concussion, knee, re-injure knee).
Wilson, a 3rd round steal out of Wisconsin (via NC State), rushed for 489 yards this season and led Seattle within :08 of the NFC Title game; Kaepernick rushed for an astonishing 181 yards Saturday night in helping the 49ers run away from the Packers. (See every Kaepernick run against Green Bay here.)
The NFL is speeding up, whether it is an up-tempo offense (see New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, Denver) or a mobile QB. Does this mean everyone has to go out and get a running QB in 2013, whether it’s free agency (Mike Vick, who turns 33 this summer and is coming off a season in which he missed six gamess due to a concussion), or the draft? At least a dozen teams in the NFL could be in the market for a QB, so who might they be targeting in the middle rounds in April?
Here’s a quick look at the QBs with running skills in the 2013 draft, with two stats to keep in mind: Kaepernick ran a 4.53 40 at the NFL combine; Wilson ran a 4.55 in 2012. (For the sake of argument, we’ll leave Jake Locker out of this. Jury’s still out on the Titans QB, who did run a 4.59 40 at the combine.)
Geno Smith, West Virginia – He’s very mobile, but not nearly in the way Wilson/Kaepernick are. He has said he doesn’t want to be a running QB, even though he’s shown some flashes. It’ll be interesting to see how he runs at the Combine. I’ll be stunned if he isn’t taken in the 1st or 2nd round.
EJ Manuel, Florida State – The guy who could soar up draft boards in the coming weeks. (Highest he’s been in any of our mock drafts? 18th.) Manuel has Big Ben size (6-5, 240), and what appears to be Russell Wilson speed (but not on the level of Wilson in reading defenses.) The problem? This year, he came up small in big spots. He was horrendous passing against Florida. Similarly disappointing against NC State. In 2011 he was knocked out of Oklahoma game (loss).
Collin Klein, Kansas State – Intriguing prospect (6-5, 225). When it comes to running, he’s more Cam than Kaepernick. He’ll slay the interviews. The problem is he really doesn’t have an NFL arm. I don’t see how you can’t give him a look, even if it’s in the 5th-6th-7th round.
Denard Robinson, Michigan – He’s going to play (probably) slot receiver at the next level, mostly because he was such a bad throwing QB at Michigan. Think he’s a fascinating draft pick because of the speed, game-breaking ability and the fact that he can play many places: spot QB for read option, maybe some RB (only 6-1, 195 though), and he could even return kicks.
No candidates to go crazy about, but at least Johnny Manziel is eligible for the draft in 2014.