For quite some time, the zone-read has been a very effective running play for college teams operating out of the spread offense. Despite the effectiveness of this play at the collegiate level, it didn't immediately catch on at the next level. That has changed over the last two years. With the emergence of athletic quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick, the zone-read has finally found a home in the NFL.
A few years back, the Wildcat offense was the "new toy" for NFL offensive coordinators. While you might occasionally see the wildcat formation still used in short-yardage situations, the popularity of it quickly waned.
Will the zone-read suffer the same fate? I polled five NFL executives to get their thoughts on the issue. Here's what they had to say:
Executive No. 1: Officials will make call
"I really think it will depend on the officials. If they let guys finish hits on the quarterback, which they should, I think it will slowly disappear from the game. However, if they call unnecessary roughness on the defensive ends that are crashing on the play fakes and drilling the QB, it will survive for a long time."
Executive No. 2: Pocket passers disappearing
"I think it's here to stay. There are only four or five (NFL) teams that have elite quarterbacks capable of carrying their team solely as pocket passers. For the rest of the teams, having an athletic quarterback that can run some of this zone-read stuff can be a great equalizer."
Executive No. 3: It's a 'great offensive tool'
"I believe it's going to be in the pro game for a long time. The college game keeps producing these athletic quarterbacks, and the zone-read is a great offensive tool. We struggled to defend it last year. Our defensive ends couldn't find the football and they played on their heels for the entire game. I don't think you are going to see teams major in this offense, but it's very effective for 5-7 plays a game."
Executive No. 4: Zone-read is not a fad
"It definitely has more staying power than the wildcat offense. You can run this play out of your standard shotgun sets. The wildcat was too predictable. The zone-read is very easy to teach and your quarterback only needs to keep the ball a few times in order to force the defense to account for him. I love the way the 49ers and Seahawks ran their regular offense and just sprinkled a few of these plays in each game. That's the formula that is going to catch on."
Executive No. 5: Keep eye on Chip Kelly
"I don't see it going away any time soon. Several different teams had success running it last year and I'm sure a few more will incorporate it this fall. I'm really looking forward to watching the Eagles' offense this year. I think Chip Kelly is going to throw caution to the wind and run more of his Oregon offense than people think. If it works, and he keeps his quarterback healthy, the NFL will quickly follow his lead."
Verdict: Four votes yes, one vote undecided.
Conclusion: Four of the five executives feel confident that the zone-read is going to be around for a while. The executive that doubted the play's staying power had a legitimate concern: Can you keep your quarterback healthy if you're exposing him to contact consistently? That is definitely something to keep an eye on. One marquee injury could cause offensive coordinators around the league to pull back the reins.
Personally, I believe as long as the college programs keep producing these athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks, you're going to see NFL teams continue to incorporate a little bit of the zone-read into their offenses.