“The teams are looking for the drop-pass passer, quick out of their hands,” said James Harris, known as “Shack,” who was the first black quarterback to start in and win an N.F.L. playoff game. “The rule changes to protect the quarterback more from hits, that philosophy has changed to allow more quarterbacks with mobility.”
Harris, like his protégé, Doug Williams, the former Washington Redskins player who was the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, is one of the predecessors who emerged without the benefit of a rising tide, facing loaded questions whether he would be better suited for another position. . Like Williams and Harris before him, Jackson, too, faced pressure to switch positions before he went pro, which he hinted at in September when, after throwing five touchdowns, he quipped, “not bad for a running back.”
Whether this generation compels other franchises to copy this new quarterback design will be seen soon enough, in the N.F.L. draft in April.
The trajectories of two elder statesmen, Russell Wilson and Cameron Newton, who led their teams to Super Bowls with thrilling displays of accuracy and contact-busting runs, force us, however, to reckon with the limits of this sea change.
After the 2014 season, Wilson became only the second black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, 27 years after Williams’s landmark win. Wilson, at 31, is now the undisputed leader of the Seattle Seahawks whose authority there derived at least in part from his game-defining runs when there were no passing options left.
But Newton, 30, the first black quarterback to outright win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award — when he led the league in touchdown percentage and game-winning drives in the 2015 season — faces a rebuild in Carolina, an uncertain rehab for his injured left foot, and a contract that expires this year. After nine seasons, some pundits have questioned whether Newton’s team wouldn’t be in better hands with its second-year undrafted quarterback, Kyle Allen.
Still, the true indication of whether this is an era-defining shift won’t just be determined by their fates or whether the new generation gives immediate rise to copycats.