Say goodbye — hopefully once and for all — to the still lingering, antiquated, potentially rooted-in-racism notion that black quarterbacks can’t be successful (passers) in the NFL.
The black starting quarterbacks in 2015 — Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston and Tyrod Taylor — aren’t just subtly overcoming the stereotype. They’re demolishing it.
At the time of this article’s publication — prior to Week 14 — we’ve witnessed the finest collective season for black quarterbacks since the forward pass was made legal in 1933.
They boast five of the Top 14 Pro Football Focus overall grades at the signal-caller position. In PFF’s pass metric, the No. 4, No. 7, No. 11, No. 17 and No. 19 graded quarterbacks, out of the 38 who’ve been under center for at least 200 plays this season, are black.
While Bridgewater’s 83.0 quarterback rating is 31st and Winston’s 85.6 is 28th in the NFL, Newton’s 93.0 is 15th and Taylor and Wilson are in the Top 5.
Here’s a visualization of their collective effectiveness:
|Name||PFF Overall Grade (Rank)||PFF Passing Grade(Rank)||QB Rating (Rank)|
|Cam Newton||+29.6 (4th)||+18.2 (4th)||93.0 (15th)|
|Russell Wilson||+25.4 (5th)||+14.9 (7th)||106.2 (2nd)|
|Jameis Winston||+10.2 (11th)||+6.4 (11th)||85.6 (28th)|
|Tyrod Taylor||+8.2 (13th)||+1.3 (17th)||104.3 (4th)|
|Teddy Bridgewater||+6.5 (14th)||-0.2 (19th)||83 (31st)|
Though the number of black quarterbacks is still low in comparison to the number of white quarterbacks starting in the NFL, this is not to say general managers, coaches and other NFL decision makers are opposed to having black quarterbacks on their rosters. Quite the opposite, actually.
Over the past five years, half the league has started a black quarterback for at least one game. It’s just that the vast majority of those starters have helped to support the age-old idea that black quarterbacks can’t flourish in the NFL. And really, that thought may not come from calculated, deep-seeded racism. It might be an unintentional byproduct of how black players dominate the skill positions across the league.
There are currently no white cornerbacks in the NFL. None. Zero. That’s been the case for a while.
Of the 186 wide receivers who’ve registered a pass reception this season, just 15 have been white players. That’s right at eight percent. Danny Woodhead is the only white running back out of the 110 who’ve carried the football at least 10 times in 2015.
Over the past 50 years, professional football’s most common offensive structure on offense has been: white quarterback, black running back, black wide receivers.
So it’s no wonder many people still expect that setup, or push — consciously or not — to see it.
After recent failures of black quarterbacks taken early in the draft —Jamarcus Russell, Josh Freeman, Robert Griffin III, EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, and Colin Kaepernick — skepticism surrounding black quarterbacks thriving in the NFL has received more support.
Michael Vick was a new millennium, souped-up Randall Cunningham — and was downright unfair on Madden — and although he may have “revolutionized” the position mainly due to his incredible running ability, he ultimately failed inside the pocket, the time-tested place that separates the good signal-callers from the bad and fosters longevity in the starting lineup.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there have been 71 quarterbacks who finished with a rating of 100 or better in a single season. Eight of those impeccable years have come from black quarterbacks.
Cunningham in 1998, Steve McNair in 2003, Daunte Culpepper in 2004, David Garrard in 2007, Vick in 2010, Griffin III in 2012 and Russell Wilson in 2012 and 2013.
As a whole, black quarterbacks, while undoubtedly given much more opportunity over the past 30 years than they ever had before, have been evaluated as gimmicky flashes in the pan and, at the very best, adequate-not-great throwers who can be relied to make plays with their legs, not necessarily their arms.
Heck, the best black quarterback of this century, Donovan McNabb, wasn’t appreciated nearly enough as he deserved in Philadelphia.
Even if there’s been no underlying (or overt) racism when we’ve labeled black quarterbacks as something other than just “quarterbacks”, or opined on how long they should keep a starting job, the fact is, they haven’t routinely “won” from the pocket on a game-by-game and year-by-year basis.
However, any thought that they were simply “incapable” of playing the position from the pocket due to some mysterious lack of intelligence or information processing has always been preposterous.
Newton, Wilson, Winston, Taylor and Bridgewater have pieced together an unprecedented banner year for black quarterbacks, and their efforts warrant appropriate recognition.
Though almost universally adored by #DraftTwitter — an exponentially expanding contingent of diehard, film-watching internet football scouts who go by the “draftnik” moniker — Bridgewater wasn’t viewed as fondly by NFL scouts.
After a “shaky” pro day, a performance in which he chose not to wear his customary throwing-hand glove, Bridgewater’s stock plummeted.
A handful of quarterback-desperate teams passed on him in the first 31 selections of the 2014 draft before the Minnesota Vikings made him the last pick in Round 1.
While Bridgewater wasn’t exactly designated as a “athletic runner playing quarterback” by the masses, following discussions with an assortment of front office members and scouting personnel, NFL Network’s revered draft analyst Mike Mayock, after criticizing his accuracy during his pro day, said the following on Bridgewater before the 2014 draft:
“When you draft a quarterback in the first round you expect him to be the face of your franchise, you expect him to embrace the moment. I think people had some concerns about whether or not this young man is ready to step up and be the face of a franchise.”
Ok? Did subtle racism play a role in such a sweeping, intangible knock on Bridgewater? We’ll never know. And, yes, he is one of the more noticeably reserved quarterbacks in the NFL today. Then again, if Bridgewater was candid with his emotions and flashy on the field, he’d be hit with two major red flags. Just ask Cam Newton.
In the end, Bridgewater was picked after fast-rising white quarterback prospects Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel.
It’s hard to look back on Bortles monumental rise up draft broads and see much fault — white, tall, pocket passer, clean off the field. But Manziel, well, his outstanding career at Texas A&M clearly fit the stereotype of black quarterback’s style of play. He was playing street ball in the SEC and was miles ahead as a runner than he was a stand-in-the-pocket distributor. And there were obvious off-field, maturity concerns. The Cleveland Browns thought he could be the face of their franchise though.
After a rocky yet not unexpectedly rocky rookie season, Bortles has become a high-volume producer for the still struggling Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s attempted the fourth-most passes in the NFL and has the third-most touchdown passes. However, he’s also tossed the second-most interceptions and his 6.95 yards-per-attempt average is in the bottom fourth of the league.
Manziel has been…Manziel. He barely played as a rookie and struggled mightily when he did see the field. After a stint in rehab for his alcohol issues, he’s bounced back and forth from the starting lineup to the third-string quarterback spot during a disastrous season in Cleveland.
Bridgewater was easily the most impressive rookie quarterback in 2014, and while he hasn’t taken a step in his sophomore NFL campaign, he’s fully embraced the game-manager role in Minnesota with Adrian Peterson as the focal point and a top-level defense.
Beyond that, the Vikings offensive line might be the worst in football. No quarterback has been under duress more frequently than Bridgewater — he’s been pressured on a 47.4% of his dropbacks this season. If that stands, it’d be the highest pressure percentage any signal-caller has faced in at least the last five seasons.
Winston was never labeled as a typical black “runner who can throw, kind of” quarterback, but after he led the Florida State Seminoles to a national title from August 2013 to January 2014 as a redshirt freshman, an 18-interception second college season led many scouts to believe that, while being a beyond-his-years talent, Winston might never become a consistent pocket passer.
Through the scrutiny — that included a serious off-field allegation — Winston was picked No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team with a black head coach, Lovie Smith.
Winston didn’t start fast, but over the last three games, he’s amassed a rating of 102 with eight total touchdowns and just two picks. At this point, he’s squarely in the Offensive Rookie of the Year discussion with Amari Cooper, Thomas Rawls and Todd Gurley.
After overcoming the “too short” criticism he faced as a prospect, Wilson has been as steady as any quarterback in football since his rookie year in 2012, but he’s always played second fiddle to the Seahawks defense.
This season, Seattle’s Legion of Boom hasn’t been nearly as intimidating.
In the four games since the Seahawks’ Week 9 bye, Wilson leads the NFL with a QB rating of 128.5. He’s tossed 12 touchdowns to just one interception and has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes at 9.5 yards per attempt.
To me, he’s a dark-horse MVP candidate.
Taylor’s story is the most unique of them all.
Though he improved the majority of his passing statistics in each of his three years as the Virginia Tech starter — which culminated with an ACC Player of the Year designation in 2010 during a season in which he threw 24 touchdowns and five picks — many suggested he move to wide receiver or running back in the NFL because of his tremendous ability as a runner.
In the 2011 draft, 10 quarterbacks were taken ahead of Taylor — guys like Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett, Ricky Stanzi, T.J. Yates and Nathan Ederle — before he was snagged by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round.
What’s funny here too — Locker and Gabbert were simply not exceptional college passers. Like Taylor, they were mainly considered “projects.” But they both went in the Top 15.
Taylor sat behind Joe Flacco for four seasons before being signed by the Buffalo Bills. He was named the starter after winning a three-way quarterback battle in training camp this past August.
Since then, all Taylor has done is complete just under 65 percent of his passes at 8.01 yards per attempt with an impressive 104.9 rating that’s the fourth-highest in the NFL. He’s gone 6-4 as the Bills starter and hasn’t thrown a pick since early October.
Then there’s Cam Newton, the improbable MVP front-runner.
With a shoddy offensive line and arguably the least threatening receiving corps in football after a training-camp injury to Kelvin Benjamin, Newton and the Panthers defense have directed Carolina to a 12-0 start, and have already clinched a playoff berth.
While his basic stats don’t jump off the page, just watching a Panthers game illustrates how important Newton is to his undefeated team.
Actually, his numbers are improving. In his last five contests, Newton has fired 14 touchdown passes, two interceptions and completed 64 percent of his throws. Newton has also run for two scores during that time frame.
Time will tell if this quintet forever banishes the negative stereotypes surrounding black quarterbacks in the NFL. And, sure, all five of them have excelled as scramblers this year when needed. But the 2015 season has provided the most profound testimony to date that black quarterbacks can be cream-of-the-crop, ultra- proficient pocket passers in the NFL. And probably, if things continue, the MVP.