Name a Mobile Quarterback Who Won the Superbowl Besides Russell Wilson

Stumped? That’s because you’d have to go all the way back to Steve Young in 1994, some 20 years ago, to find another “mobile quarterback” who led his team to a championship. Despite this fact, there has been a growing excitement in recent years about the influx of young, dual-threat QBs like Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, and Wilson entering the league. This prompted us to explore a few questions: What exactly is a “mobile” quarterback? How do mobile quarterbacks differ from pocket passers? And why haven’t mobile quarterbacks won more Super Bowls?

The term “mobile QB” is more pop-culture than science — it’s undefined and unrefined. What does it really mean to be a mobile QB? Broadly, categorizing a QB as mobile implies that he has the ability to gain large chunks of ground with his legs, and thus is going to rush (or attempt to rush) more often than QBs who prefer to stay in the pocket. Using this logic, we employed a data classification technique called cluster analysis1 to analyze 481 QB seasons, from 2001-2014, to try and objectively define “mobile QB”. To limit our analysis to QBs who actually influenced their team’s season, we looked only at QBs who played in at least 3 games and attempted at least 200 passes.

The cluster analysis created three distinct groups of QB seasons based on their rushing attempts in a given season. To be clear, this way of grouping QB seasons does not take into account the quality or success of their runs; it only splits them based on how many times they attempted to rush the ball in a given season2. The result was three distinct groups of QB seasons that we labeled Mobile QBs, Semi-Mobile QBs, and Pocket QBs (see table below). Keep in mind the cluster also groups QBs by their rushing attempts per season, for example a QB could be grouped as “Semi-mobile” in one season and “Pocket” in another depending on his rushing attempts.

Mobile QBs: Donovan McNabb (2001, 2003), Steve McNair (2002), Alex Smith (2009),

RGIII (2012, 2013), Colin Kaepernick (2013), Russell Wilson (2013, 2014).
Semi-Mobile QBs: Ben Roethlisberger (2004, 2009), Mark Brunell (2001, 2002, 2005), Andy Dalton (2014), Jake Plummer (2002, 2004, 2005), Tom Brady (2002-2004, 2006, 2011).
Pocket QBs: Brett Favre (2003-2008), Kurt Warner (2001-2005), Nick Foles (2012), Drew Brees (2007-2012), Eli Manning (2005-2009), Peyton Manning (2006-2010)

How do mobile quarterbacks differ from pocket passers?

There seems to be a difference between rushing and evading. Mobile QBs rush for way more yards than Semi-Mobile QBs and Pocket QBs, however they don’t seem to be as evasive. You’d expect Mobile QBs to evade would be sackers, but it looks like they get sacked, and fumble, the most often. A lot can be said about offensive lines. Developing a team around a Pocket QB might mean protecting him with a decent offensive line. Perhaps organizations who have Mobile QBs don’t feel as though they need to recruit the same caliber of offensive lineman because they’ve mistakenly associated “mobile” with “evasive”?

Typically, we think of Pocket QBs as the ones who attempt more passes — something that should lead to them throwing for more yards and touchdowns than their run-prone counterparts. However, counter to this logic, we found that Pocket QBs throw for less yards and passing touchdowns per season than Mobile and Semi-Mobile QBs. Again, there are many contributing reasons why this difference may have emerged, including play-calling and the quality of the other offensive personnel. But this sizeable difference suggests that the ability of Mobile and Semi-Mobile QBs to keep plays alive with their feet may lead to bigger downfield plays in the pass game as well.

Why haven’t mobile quarterbacks won more Super Bowls?

From these results, it appears that having a truly mobile QB seems to be worth the investment when it comes to winning in the regular season. Mobile and Semi-Mobile QBs win, on average, about one whole regular season game more per year than Pocket QBs. But this also begs the question: if Mobile QBs are so successful during the regular season, why haven’t we seen more of them win the Super Bowl?

Actually, the number of Mobile QB Super Bowl wins since 2001 is a little misleading. Mobile QBs win at least one playoff game in nearly half of their seasons, and win the Super Bowl in 4% of their seasons. So, proportionally, Mobile QBs win more playoff games and Super Bowls than Semi-Mobile QBs and Pocket QBs.

Perhaps we haven’t seen more Mobile QBs win the Super Bowl because there have been so few truly Mobile QB seasons.

1 Cluster analysis uses a statistic — in this case, rushing attempts — to create groups of cases. The aim is to have clusters that are as distinct from each other as possible, but for the cases in each group to be as similar as possible. For more information, see: Han, Kamber, & Pei (2012): Data mining concepts and techniques.

2 To get a more accurate picture of QB tendencies, we used only QBs who had played at least 3 games and who had attempted at least 200 passes in a season.

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