- Former NFL safety Matt Bowen is a veteran of four teams over seven seasons, and now provides analysis for ESPN Insider.
Imagine playing defense in the NFL and trying to stop elite passers from either finding talented pass-catchers downfield or handing off to dynamic running backs on every play. Now imagine doing it while also needing to consider a quarterback’s scrambling ability when he is given an opening. Scrambling is an underrated element of a signal-caller’s arsenal, but who are the best of the best?
To be clear, we aren’t just talking about the top running QBs. It doesn’t just mean tucking and running, or picking up big chunks on designed runs. There’s a difference here. Instead, scrambling is all about picking spots, finding openings and creating positive yardage when there is nothing else there — or when it all breaks down. Successful scramblers need high-end movement traits in the pocket, awareness and vision. They need the speed and physicality to beat defenders when leaving the pocket and hitting the open field. And they need to be able to do it in the most critical moments of the game.
I dove into the tape to find the 10 quarterbacks who stand out from the rest in this area, with some help from advanced statistics and expected points added (EPA) — the number of points the offense is expected to score on average at the start of the play versus the end of the play, based on factors such as down, distance, yard line and the clock. Again, this isn’t just a listing of the best rushing quarterbacks but rather a look specifically at opportunistic scrambling. I also included three young quarterbacks who aren’t quite there yet but have a good chance to join this list in due time. Let’s begin my top 10 with the obvious No. 1 scrambler.
1. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
EPA per scramble in 2019-20: 0.46 on 53 scramble rushes
Since the start of last season, Jackson leads all quarterbacks with 497 rushing yards on scrambles, and his 23 first-down conversions — which include nine on third-down attempts — rank third in the league.
On tape, Jackson is an effortless mover, a glider in the open field, with the high-end foot speed to simply erase second- and third-level pursuit angles. And with those natural traits as a runner, opposing defenses are limited in terms of what coverage schemes they can toss at him because of the threat of Jackson pulling the ball down. You want the best scrambling quarterback in the game right now based on tape, numbers and overall impact? It’s Lamar.
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