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Cam Newton or Russell Wilson: Who's the better running QB?

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Who's the best running QB? (1:42)

The NFL Live crew debates which franchise QB is a better runner: Russell Wilson or Cam Newton. (1:42)

If you’re going to compare the running styles of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who will meet Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina, then you might as well get the opinion of the best running quarterback in NFL history.

“There’s really not much difference in their games,” said Michael Vick, whose 6,109 rushing yards between 2001 and 2015 is the NFL record for quarterbacks. “One’s just [6] inches taller than the other."

Newton is 6-foot-5, 245 pounds.

Wilson is 5-11, 215.

“Cam, he’s just different, he’s a great quarterback, but he’s also so big,” All-Pro linebacker Von Miller said. “A lot of quarterbacks, you get there and they’re going down as soon as you make contact or whatever. Cam you know you better bring everything with you or you’ll just slide right off when you try to tackle him. And you can’t just commit with everything to sacking him or tackling him because he’ll make you miss. So, when you do get him you have to finish the play because he’s just the whole deal."

Of course, speed kills, too.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, metrics charted since 2016, Newton's top speed in a game was 20.6 mph, while Wilson’s was 19.02 mph.

Newton has reach a max speed of at least 20 mph four times since 2016. That is tied with Marcus Mariota for most among QBs in that span.

That's why, since 2011, they are the league’s top rushing quarterbacks. Newton has 4,674 yards, third on the NFL’s all-time list behind Vick and Randall Cunningham (4,928). His 58 career rushing touchdowns are a league record.

Wilson, in one less season than Newton, has 3,502 yards and 16 touchdowns. He averages 5.7 yards per carry, slightly better than Newton's 5.2.

Newton or Russell have led quarterbacks in rushing in all but two of the past seven seasons (2012, Robert Griffin III; 2016, Tyrod Taylor). Newton was leading quarterbacks in rushing this season until Week 11, when Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky passed him, 363-354.

“They’re a defensive coordinator’s nightmare, similar to when I was playing," Vick said.

Here’s what they do and how they do it.

To design or not design

Wilson always insists that he’s never really trying to run. He only does so, he says, as a last resort and when the opportunity is there.

The number, at least on Wilson’s side, bear that out. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson is averaging a career low in designed rush attempts, at 1.8 such attempts per games.

Newton, on the other hand, is averaging the third-highest rate of his career for designed rush attempts.

Whether it’s a function of cleaner pockets, defenses taking it away or something else, Wilson hasn’t been running nearly as often this season. In fact, his 38 attempts through 10 games puts him on pace for the fewest of his career -- 11 fewer than his current career low, from 2016, when he was hobbled for most of the season by a sprained MCL in one knee and a sprained ankle on his other leg.

Newton, with 905 career rushes, has more designed quarterback runs than Wilson, who has 289 fewer carries.

From that, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Newton has scored 50 career touchdowns on designed rushes. Since 2011, no other quarterback has more than 15. Wilson, by comparison, has 11 touchdowns on designed runs.

Newton, until the past couple of seasons when injuries have become a factor, didn’t mind bowling over defenders. Wilson always has been quick to get out of bounds or slide.

“When you have a guy that can take the pounding as well . . . it’s a ferocious part of the game you present to the defense,” Vick said. “He’s a once-in-a-generation type of player.”

What they do and how

Both are effective at running the read-option, which Vick says he re-invented in 2006 when he set the single-season record for rushing by a quarterback with 1,039 yards while with the Atlanta Falcons.

Vick, 6-foot and 215 pounds as a player, can only imagine what he would have done had he been Newton’s size and run the read-option his entire career.

“They’ve both done a great job of taking advantage of [the read-option]. But for Cam being 6-5, it’s definitely an advantage for the Panthers.’’

Some of Wilson’s recent runs have left longtime observers wondering if he still has the same burst he had before that injury-plagued 2016 season. But he showed in Week 10 against the Rams how dangerous his legs can still be. Wilson rushed nine times for 92 yards -- his most since he topped 100 three times in 2014 -- as the team went for 273 rushing yards in all.

Wilson did some of his damage in that Rams game on read-option keeps, including an 11-yard run that kicked off a fourth-quarter field-goal drive. Those haven’t always been available this season, with defenses often keying on Wilson and forcing him to hand the ball off.

“[Wilson] is the best movement quarterback in this entire league,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “Last year he had the most 10-plus-yard runs as the quarterback, and that kills you -- especially on third downs. We have to have a great, great rush plan to contain this guy. ... When the ball’s snapped, they have to cover the concept, and when he starts scrambling, they have to cover the scramble plays. That makes it difficult, especially on third down. All of the big plays go through Russell, and most of them are outside of the pocket. He’s a dangerous guy.”

Whether it’s a designed run, read-option or just a mad scramble away from the rush, these quarterbacks know how to use their running talents to the best of their abilities. Just watch on Sunday.