Is Russell Wilson The Greatest Dual-Threat Quarterback Of All Time?

The first thing we have to ask is: what constitutes a true Dual-Threat Quarterback? I think it’s pretty easy to whittle things down on the Eye Test alone. For starters, we’re talking about quarterbacks who can also run with the football. So, we’re not talking about the greatest Running Quarterback, because if you looked at just the 2018 season, you’d have to say Lamar Jackson was the best Running Quarterback in the league. But, Dual-Threat means he can beat you with his legs AND his arm, and it’s pretty safe to say Jackson hasn’t built up that arm half of his game just yet.

So, I went into Pro Football Reference and played around with the numbers. First, I separated all the quarterbacks into a list of those who’ve run for 1,000 yards in their careers. But, that’s not quite good enough, because Tom Brady has 1,003 rushing yards in his career, and he is NOBODY’S idea of a Dual-Threat. So, I went ahead and bumped it up to 1,500 career rushing yards (mostly to knock him the hell off of a GOAT list, because he has enough GOATs in his life).

When you list them by rushing yards, you’ll find someone by the name of Tom Matte, who is listed as a quarterback and a running back. Among all quote-unquote Quarterbacks in NFL history, Matte has the 4th highest rushing yards total with 4,646. But, he only threw for 246 yards, so he’s obviously got to go. To be considered as the Greatest Dual-Threat Quarterback Of All Time, I figure at a minimum you need 20,000 passing yards. That drops our total from 53 to 38, which is a number I can get behind.

Such a list includes favorites like Jim Zorn, Andrew Luck, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Archie Manning, and even Ryan Fitzpatrick! But, it also includes such stiffs as Vinny Testaverde, Boomer Esiason, Jay Cutler, Johnny Unitas, and Brett Favre. While they’re all pretty good-to-great, I don’t think you’d ever fear for your life if they were running with the football. Those guys mostly just hung around long enough to qualify for my arbitrary cutting-off point.

So, to whittle it down further, I had to put a limit on Yards Per Game. Yards Per Attempt isn’t worth a damn for a quarterback, because most guys scramble once or twice per game, and with the defense not expecting it, they tend to rack up a lot of garbage yards in the process. We need to focus on guys opposing defenses are specifically game-planning for. Setting it at 10 yards per game gets us down to 30 guys, and just barely keeps Jim Zorn on the list. But, it also keeps Jay Cutler on the list, and I just can’t have that. So, I increased it to a minimum of 13 yards per game, which also managed to cut off Joe Theismann, Ken Anderson, and Mark Brunell (who had 12.5 yards per game). While I like Brunell an awful lot, I don’t mind lopping him off because I don’t think he belongs in the conversation.

1,500 career rushing yards, 20,000 career passing yards, and 13 rushing yards per game put us at 25 quarterbacks. But, a couple of names still bothered me, because mediocre quarterbacks like Jeff Blake and Aaron Brooks were still hanging around. So, I made the cutoff 22,000 passing yards, and we’re left with a Top 23. This fits better with my idea of a Dual-Threat Quarterback.

For what it’s worth, I was going to be more strict with the Rushing Yards Per Game, and set it at 20, to really separate the wheat from the chaff, but that ended up cutting off guys like John Elway, Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Aaron Rodgers. While I don’t consider A-Rod to be a “running quarterback” per se, he’s still lumped into that Dual-Threat mold, even though his arm is VASTLY superior to his running ability (I’d put it at somewhere like 90/10, or 80/20 at the very most). And, while Elway certainly slowed down on running in his old age, you just can’t have this conversation without him.

There are a number of ways to go about ranking these guys, but I’m just going to go by Who I Would Most Want On My Football Team, at the beginning of their careers, for the duration of their careers.

I’m also going to split them up even further, because ultimately I have a Top 4 REAL Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.

There’s no perfect way to rank these guys, because all of the ones in the aforementioned Top 23 are much more passers than runners. But, I would argue that the vast majority of them are more “scramblers” than actual threats to run downfield with the football. So, if I had to pick a Top 10, I would definitely include guys like Andrew Luck (10), Donovan McNabb (9), Steve McNair (8), Fran Tarkenton (7), John Elway (6), and Aaron Rodgers (5). Those guys have a ton of rushing yards, pretty solid Yards Per Game averages, and a ton of passing yards. But, to me, they’re not REAL Dual-Threat Quarterbacks in the sense I’m defining here.

Just outside my Top 10, I might add, we have Alex Smith, who I wouldn’t have expected to show up here, except he has over 34,000 passing yards, over 2,600 rushing yards, and averages over 15 rushing yards per game. I’m also leaving out Michael Vick, because his passing game was far too weak to be considered, even though he leads all QBs in total and per game rushing yards.

My Top 4 includes Randall Cunningham (4) and Cam Newton (3). I LOVE me some QB Eagles, and if their careers both ended today, he’d actually rank ahead of Cam. But, given Cam’s age and the fact that he has so much left in the tank, he’s easily the superior option. Even though I don’t love the way he reacts in losing situations, it would be idiotic to keep Newton outside of the Top 3.

My Top 2 should come as no surprise. In some order, it’s Russell Wilson and Steve Young. Young has over 33,000 passing yards, over 4,200 rushing yards, and over 25 yards per game. He’s right in that sweet spot of elite passer and elite runner, and if you just count his prime (from 1991-1998), you’re talking about eight Hall of Fame seasons where he averaged nearly 4,000 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns, with an average of over 400 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns. I mean, just unstoppable production, and his total career could’ve been so much better if he A) wasn’t saddled behind Joe Montana for so long, and B) didn’t succumb to head injuries (among other maladies) late in his career.

So, if we’re just talking about today, I have Steve Young at #1 and Russell Wilson #2, but it won’t be too much longer before Russell Wilson is the All Time Greatest Dual-Threat Quarterback, with Cam Newton coming in at #2 (in other words, we’re watching the two greatest Dual-Threat Quarterbacks while they’re in their primes, and that’s pretty amazing).

Not for nothing, but if you compare Young’s best 7 years to Wilson’s only 7 years, you can see what I’m talking about:

  • Steve Young 1992-1998: 24,266 passing yards, 178 TDs, 68 INTs, 66.9% completions; 2,450 rushing yards, 29 TDs, 5.8 yards per attempt
  • Russell Wilson 2012-2018: 25,624 passing yards, 196 TDs, 63 INTs, 64.2% completions; 3,651 rushing yards, 16 TDs, 5.7 yards per attempt

As I said, it’s only a matter of time before Wilson surpasses him in all career numbers. And, considering Wilson’s best statistical years might still be ahead of him, it could be sooner than we think.

Finally, I know nobody likes talking about superficial things QB Winzzz or Pro Bowl/Playoff appearances, but I’m sorry, you just can’t have this discussion without bringing those into the mix. Young’s record as a 49ers quarterback was 91-33 over 13 years; Wilson is 75-36-1. Young was in 7 Pro Bowls to Wilson’s 5, and he was on 3 First All Pro Teams to Wilson’s 0. Young has 14 Playoff Games Started to Wilson’s 13, with an 8-6 record to Wilson’s 8-5. Young, of course, has 3 rings to Wilson’s 1, but two of Young’s were as a backup to Montana. Finally, Young has 2 MVPs to Wilson’s 0, and 1 Super Bowl MVP to Wilson’s 0. Wilson is RIGHT THERE in so many areas, but just not quite over the hump.

Not yet, that is.