The one play that swept college football, and now the NFL, by storm

Is the read-option here to stay in the NFL, or a fad?

The age of the drop-back pocket passer is fading, or is it? Professional football is more like college than ever before.  For generations the prototypical National Football League’s (NFL) quarterback’s job was to stand tall in the pocket, step up and deliver an accurate throw to his receiver. That has always been the optimal way to move the chains. Running backs used to play instrumental roles and still do, but every year their contributions are diminished more and more.  Now NFL teams are looking to the college ranks for ideas on how to run their offences.

The Canadian Interunversity Sport (CIS) and National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) alike rely much more on trick plays and other gimmicks. The vast majority of educational institutions simply do not have the calibre of players to run a pro-style offence. The Oregon Ducks for example, whilst never winning a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) title under Chip Kelly, still had tremendous success with the spread offence that they ran. Completion percentage would be abysmally low without the use of the spread offence. While a player can shine and captivate the fans, they do not  always have the measurables or the skill to translate into a good pro player. Denard Robinson of the Michigan Wolverines is the perfect example. Once a star quarterback in college, he is now struggling for playing time as a receiver for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Coaches and players alike always have one eye over their shoulders in fear of getting fired if their team is not performing. The goal is to win, the same as any sport. The key to victory is using  your players to the highest of their ability. The read-option took the NFL by storm in the 2012-2013 season. It was used predominantly by teams that had fast, mobile offence. San Francisco went from a pocket passer in Alex Smith to a read-option with Colin Kaepernick in 2012 and almost ran with it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2012.

The quarterback is significantly more vulnerable to receiving a huge hit the second he breaks the pocket and becomes a runner, which is what occurs when they run the read-option. Robert Griffin III is still not his explosive self that he showed in 2012 since coming back from ACL surgery.  When Kaepernick and the 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2012, he ran the ball for 181 yards and two touchdowns. This season when they played, he only amassed a mere twenty-two rushing yards but tallied up 412 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

Teams in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) often do not fully utilize pocket passing. Instead they prefer to keep the ball in the hands of runners to minimize the chances of turning the ball over. When the quarterback does keep the ball and looks to pass, he often escapes the pocket, even when he has adequate time and space to step up and let it rip. A majority of balls thrown are short, and sometimes intermediate throws, not many down-field. Big plays in the AUS are most often generated from a catch and run. Interceptions are more likely to occur in the AUS because the quarterback’s ability to read a defence and to look off a safety and come back to the receiver is not adequate enough to do often with a high level of success. This is incredibly hard to do, something that NFL calibre quarterbacks still struggle with all the time.

Clearly NFL defences required only one off-season to see how to defend the read-option.  It may soon be used sparingly or may even go the way of the wildcat and become practically extinct. This style of play is not sustainable. Historically, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks have always been pass first and only break containment when all else fails whilst keeping their eyes down-field, looking for the open man at all times. Different styles of offences will come and go but the NFL is and always will be a pass driven league.

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