Culpepper and Cunningham – ahead of their time?
In today’s NFL the quarterback is King. Manning, Brady and Brees amongst others wow fans on a weekly basis. But the emergence of the genuine running threat from the QB position and the increasing importance of the read option offence has meant that the role of a quarterback in the NFL is evolving and changing.
Think of effective QBs to enter the league in recent seasons and the names roll off the tongue: Cam Newton, RG3, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck have all taken on the mantle of starting QB in the past couple of years and looked comfortable doing so. Not only are they comfortable sitting in the pocket and picking off passes downfield, but they also offer a genuine threat while moving around; be that scrambling for a first down or using their feet to try and buy extra time to pick out a pass. Add Michael Vick, EJ Manuel, Terrelle Pryor and even Geno Smith to that list and it is clear to see that the emphasis in the NFL is moving towards a more mobile QB.
Which begs the question, how would two great mobile quarterbacks of the past – Daunte Culpepper and Randall Cunningham – have fared in today’s NFL of read options and mobility?
Both played in an era where the league was still primarily a run first offence. Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders were big name players and quite often took the limelight in a way that quarterbacks do today.
Randall ‘the Scramble’ Cunningham lived up to his nickname throughout his career, which was primarily spent with the Philadelphia Eagles before a successful swan song in Minnesota. Passing for nearly 30000 yards and over 200 TDs is in itself impressive, but when you add in his 4928 rushing yards at over 30 yards per game it is clear to see what a threat he was on the ground. In 1990 he rushed for 942 yards at 8 yards per carry – which many running backs would be pleased with! Success in the modern read option style of offences and the pass first league would surely have been even more impressive!
Prior to a serious knee injury in 2005, Daunte Culpepper was a star in the purple and gold of the Minnesota Vikings. In 2004 he achieved a QB rating of 110.9, 4717 yards passing and 39 TDs. Add to that the fact that he rushed for over 2300 yards between 2000 and 2004 and this highlights what a two pronged threat he was. Only Vick, Cunningham and former Titans QB Steve McNair have managed more yards in a similar length of time. Unfortunately the injury curtailed Culpepper’s career, meaning that we can only imagine what he could have achieved had he stayed healthy.
Both players rushing stats hold up when compared to QBs who have played later in the league – the Eagles’ Michael Vick has more yards with 5858 yards (to date) at an average of 46.5 yards per game and more modern players such as Newton, Kaepernick and RG3 look like surpassing even this total, but this is in a league that allows QBs with these talents more time and space to thrive.
Ultimately we are left to admire Cunningham and Culpepper on highlight reels when they were at their peak and can be thankful that they (and Michael Vick) helped pave the way for the generation of mobile QBs that we are enjoying today. In another era at another time they could have been even more impressive but as it this they remain players that can inspire the likes of Newton and Kaepernick to continue to impress and entertain fans of the NFL.
And for that we can only thank them!