|(From left to right) Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III all have strong arms and elite athleticism.|
The man spent years in hundreds of homes across America, scouring high schools for top-tier prospects, searching for those special players he hoped would keep his program on top. And for the most part, Pete Carroll was successful doing it.
After nine seasons of recruiting players to Southern California (up until 2010, when he left the Trojans for the Seattle Seahawks), Carroll has gotten a good look at the prototypical NFL player of the future.
But what does that player look like? Most importantly, where is the quarterback position truly headed? When the doors of the DeLorean swing open 10 years from now, one week away from the 2022 NFL Draft, should we expect to see a dozen clones of Cam Newton smiling back?
"Oh, no," Carroll said. "They're not coming out of hoops. They're all playing basketball. Those kinds of guys, that are 6-foot-6 with all kinds of athleticism, don't play football. There aren't too many bodies like that.
"Cam is an extraordinarily rare athlete because of his natural mechanics, his natural sense for the game and those physical talents."
That might be true. Again, Carroll has been in the homes. He has shaken the hands. But what if he's wrong? What if, as we prepare to watch two more NFL prospects with elite athleticism and throwing ability get drafted No. 1 and No. 2 overall, this is no longer a case of isolated fortune?
Andrew Luck is only one inch shorter than Newton. His unofficial time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine matched Newton's time from one year earlier to the split second. And, as we all know by now, Luck can throw like few other prospects we've ever seen.
"Both (Griffin and Luck) are very athletic," said Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who is expected to select Griffin on Thursday after the Indianapolis Colts pick Luck. "When you take a guy who is 6-4, 240 who can run a 4.6 40 (like Luck), that guy can move pretty good. And Robert is 4.4 or under (in the 40).
"Usually guys that fast can't throw. And these guys can do both."
Of course, athletic or burrowing quarterbacks who also have an arm are not unprecedented. The names of Steve Young and Daunte Culpepper and even Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers will be tossed out to support that perfectly acceptable point. The question is, are we close to the time when that combination is a necessity rather than a luxury?
Tom Lemming, a leading analyst of high school athletes, releases an annual list of the top 100 prep prospects heading into their final seasons. Last year, nine of the top 10 quarterbacks ran the spread offense in high school.
Gunner Kiel, who will attend Notre Dame, is 6-4 and runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. Zeke Pike, who will play at Auburn (Newton's school, by the way), is 6-6 and runs a 4.7 40. Jameis Winston, who will play at Florida State, is 6-4 and runs a 4.56. He's also a stud baseball player.
None of those players is guaranteed college or pro success, but the assumption that elite athletes automatically head straight to sports like basketball might be growing stale already. A change in the culture -- which Newton's success as a rookie for the Carolina Panthers might help manifest -- could change young athletes' aspirations. Heck, we've already seen that phenomenon at work at the tight end position.
This isn't to suggest that we should necessarily anticipate an influx of more athletic quarterbacks. But we shouldn't be surprised to see more signal-callers that can combine able feet with an able arm.
"Look, there are very few guys who are 6-5, 6-6 who are 260 pounds that can run well and throw well and have great mechanics and make the plays (Newton) makes," Shanahan said. "But you see different styles of offense in college now, especially out of shotgun, than you have in the past."
Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey makes a decent point to counter the notion that players like Newton will soon dominate the league's landscape. An athletic quarterback, he says, is also a vulnerable one. And a player -- particularly a passer -- who puts himself in harm's way because of his fast feet is running a serious risk.
As a result, Gailey said, teams will need more than one version of Newton.
"If it goes that direction, you gotta have three Cam Newtons on your team, because they're gonna take such a beating that it's hard to make it through the season," Gailey said. "I feel like it may get to that. It may get to Cam Newton, and RG3, and all those guys, but you better have three of them.
"You better have enough to get through the year."
Whether we're headed for an era ruled by such quarterbacks or we're simply seeing unusually gifted draft classes remains to be seen.
The traditional, drop-back, immobile quarterback is not a thing of the past; to suggest it would be nonsensical. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady. But it also isn't outrageous to wonder, as more young athletes begin to see a road being paved for them at the quarterback position, if quarterbacks will soon be required to do more.
One thing we can all agree on: No matter how you find him -- no matter what qualities he possesses -- the search for a franchise quarterback will continue in cities everywhere.
"We all realized how important it was to have that guy," Shanahan said of his Redskins. "There aren't that many out there. They're hard to find, and they usually give you a chance to get to the big game."
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington