In mid-August, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson gave a scathing critique of people who referred to him as a dual-threat quarterback. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Watson said, "People think, 'Oh, he's a black quarterback. He must be dual-threat.' People throw that word around all the time. It's lazy."
Well, good news, Deshaun: You might have personally played a critical role in making that "dual-threat" label obsolete.
Watson and quarterbacks with similar skill sets have changed college football and quarterback recruiting, and they should change the accepted definition of what a "dual-threat" quarterback is.
Almost exclusively, dual-threat quarterbacks have been those whose scrambling ability far outweighed their talent throwing the ball, while those without that running ability were deemed "pocket passers" and "pro-style" quarterbacks.
What happens now, when agility, mobility and movement in and out of the pocket aren't just bonuses -- they're necessities -- when it comes to quarterbacks? Maybe it's time to slide that "pro-style" designation away from "pocket passer" and over to "dual-threat," where it truly belongs.
Watson threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns in leading Clemson to a win over Alabama in the national championship game. He rushed for 43 yards and another score. And the Tigers aren't the only program heading that direction, as three young signal-callers took over at historic bluebloods and led the way to successful seasons.
With Sam Darnold at USC, Trace McSorley at Penn State and Jalen Hurts at Alabama, three programs where pocket passers have dominated the landscape went to dual-threats this year. None of it involved moving away from pro-style offenses.
"It's been all year we've found his ability to create in the pocket," USC head coach Clay Helton said of Darnold before the Rose Bowl. "We've been able to call our pro-style passing game, knowing his elite arm strength and being able to throw the ball down the field, and in trusting him ... It just gives you so much trust in being able to call those passes -- [not just] run game with perimeter but truly the pro-style offense that we want to be -- and he's been really effective in creating."
That's where the new age dual-threat quarterback separates himself from what we knew of the term. While the "dual-threat" term is separating itself from "run-first," so is "pro-style" from "pocket passer."
"Pro-style is becoming less of just standing in the pocket and making throws," Stanford quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard said.
"You look at the nature of the game and where it's going," Helton said. "I think that one of the things we always have to have here because of the skill players that are around, especially at the wideout position, the first thing you have to be able to do is to be an effective thrower. You could have athletes at the position, but if you're not an elite thrower, it's hard. When you can find both the guy that does have the elite arm and the athleticism -- like Sam Darnold, even I think of [2017 signee] Matt Fink -- that has that quality of athleticism, it makes you a more dangerous weapon at that position. It's kind of where college football has gone to over the last three, four, five years and will continue to go."
There is no question that the ability to throw the football accurately into tight windows anywhere on the field is always going to be priority one for college coaches looking to recruit a quarterback. If a QB can't move around at least a little, his opportunities are dwindling because the pool of signal-callers who can is growing rapidly, and college coaches are taking notice.
In this 2017 class, No. 1 pocket passer Hunter Johnson rushed for 525 yards as a senior. No. 2 pocket passer Davis Mills rushed for 909 yards and 22 touchdowns over his final two high school seasons. Myles Brennan, the pocket passer headed to LSU alongside dual-threat quarterback Lowell Narcisse, rushed for 1,141 yards and 23 touchdowns in his three-year career.
"Guys don't want to be pigeonholed," Pritchard said. "They want to be seen as a guy who can be multidimensional and attack different ways. ... Rather than having that binary system of two different types, there are more guys in the middle."
Stanford is consistently mentioned by quarterback recruits as one of the programs that runs a pro-style offense -- along with Florida State, Michigan and others -- and would seemingly be in the market for pure pocket passers. In the past, a program such as Stanford and a program that runs a true spread offense would very rarely cross paths when searching for quarterbacks. Now, however, overlap is common.
"Those lines are becoming a little more blurred," Pritchard said. "There was a time when we weren't going for the same guy, but I don't think it's the same anymore."
Jack West, Stanford's 2018 quarterback commit, doesn't consider himself anything close to a running quarterback, but he knows that simply standing in the pocket won't get it done, no matter what type of offense is being run. West had offers from programs that run a variety of offenses, including Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Duke, Louisville, Michigan, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Texas A&M, UCLA and USC.
"The game is changing. We see that every Saturday," West said. "I'm not going to go out there and run a 4.5 like other guys, but I work a lot on my feet and being able to be elusive.
"They have a lot of designed runs for quarterbacks, and there are going to be times where you have to make plays on your own," West said of the Stanford offense. "Every quarterback will tell you they want to have that in their arsenal. You want to be able to get away from those D-ends who are 6-[foot]-5, 280, running 4.4."
That isn't by accident, as high school quarterbacks overall are displaying more athleticism just as college coaches are looking for it. Quarterbacks aren't being asked to sprint downfield for 50-yard gains or to outrun cornerbacks on the edge. But the ability to pick up positive yards if a play breaks down on third-and-3 or escape a sack and turn a potential second-and-15 into second-and-5 is becoming necessary when coaches evaluate prospects.
At Michigan, Jim Harbaugh oversees his Ann Arbor Aerial Assault quarterback camp that puts Wolverines quarterback recruits through various challenges that include football as well as soccer, baseball, dodgeball and an obstacle course. Pritchard, who played for Harbaugh at Stanford, doesn't put Cardinal quarterback targets through the same process, but he looks for similar qualities.
"One of the first things I ask about a quarterback is, 'Do they play other sports?'" Pritchard said. "That can help with improvisation and quarterbacks being asked to do different things. How does he swing a baseball bat? How does he shoot a basketball?"
Darnold averaged 14.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for his San Clemente basketball team as a senior. Penn State's McSorley was a standout lacrosse player. Alabama's Hurts was a district champion in the shot put and threw the discus.
In some cases, the athletic quarterback pool among high school seniors is different now because of a shift at the youth football level. Will Hewlitt is a quarterback coach who has spent time with Clemson commit Johnson, Penn State commit Sean Clifford, Oregon State commit Aidan Willard, Washington commit Jake Haener and 2018 Washington commit Jacob Sirmon, among others.
"There's a more athletic kid picking up and playing quarterback, and more people are open to running the quarterback," Hewlitt said. "There's a shift to where a guy that usually would have been a defensive end or wide receiver now says he's going to play quarterback. There's an appeal to have a kid who can run, and he is now getting the same access to coaching that would have gone to a kid who couldn't play any other positions."
Hewlitt said he spoke to a former Pac-12 offensive coordinator who told him that when he evaluates a true pocket passer throwing to wide receivers against air, the ball had better never hit the ground. If he were watching a quarterback who could run, "he's got a couple where I'll let him slide."
"The dual-threat quarterback has become super appealing because it's easy to call the wrong play and still be right because the kid you have back there is super talented," Hewlitt said.
The caveat to that statement is significant, however, and that is why Watson -- because of the skill he has shown in his ability to throw the ball from the pocket -- is incorrect when he pushes the dual-threat term away.
"The thing where guys have to be careful," Hewlitt said, "is if you are defined by your ability to run and that becomes your crutch, then eventually that will become your weakness."