Fran Tarkenton was an enigma during his Hall-of-Fame career with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. In an age dominated by quarterbacks who stood tall and passed from the pocket, Tarkenton was the original scrambler. His penchant for extending plays allowed him to set the all-time record for passing yards, which stood for nearly two decades before Dan Marino broke it in 1995.
Forty-two years after his retirement, the rest of the league is finally catching on.
"It took them 60 years to figure it out," Tarkenton said by phone Tuesday. "What people don't understand – didn't then, but now they're beginning to – I never scrambled in order to gain yards rushing. That wasn't the purpose. The purpose was to be able to elude the rush and give my receivers more time to get open.
"… It's an interesting thing. I was a pariah. It was sacrilege what I did because the quarterback is supposed to be in the pocket, right?"
While more dual-threat quarterbacks popped up throughout football's history – from Steve Young to Michael Vick to Russell Wilson – only recently have they become the norm. The divisional field in the AFC might offer a glimpse of the position's future, with four young quarterbacks who possess the athleticism to make plays outside the pocket: Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, Buffalo's Josh Allen, Cleveland's Baker Mayfield, and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.
Tarkenton believes Allen might be the best of them all.
"If I had a team right now and they said, 'You take any quarterback you want going forward for the next 10 years, I'd take your guy (in Buffalo)," he said.
The deciding factor for Saturday's game between Buffalo and Baltimore could be which team manages to slow down the other's quarterback. Neither will be an easy task, as showcased during the teams' respective wild-card victories (and the following morning's highlight shows).
Allen put his unique blend of 6-foot-5 size, speed, and world-class arm strength on display with a pair of throws during Buffalo's crucial scoring drive to end the first half against Indianapolis. On the first, he rolled right in his own end zone and lofted a pass down the sideline while still in stride. Play-by-play man Ian Eagle seemed to fairly assume the quarterback was tossing it out of bounds.
Instead, it was a 37-yard strike right into the arms of rookie Gabriel Davis. Later in the drive, Allen rolled left and hit Davis on that sideline, this time throwing against his body as he escaped a pass rusher.
"I've seen Josh Allen hit a golf ball," NBC analyst and former NFL quarterback Chris Simms said. "He can hit it seven miles in the air. He is certainly special as far as that's concerned. As far as a quarterback is concerned, he rivals Cam Newton for size and speed as far as guys we've never seen this big who could run this way.
"… I think this size, this quickness, combined with a superstar Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, John Elway, Patrick Mahomes type of arm, this is a really rare combination. This is a first-ballot Hall of Fame type of talent conversation we're talking about when it comes to Josh Allen."
Jackson, meanwhile, simply burns teams with his world-class speed. The Titans had held him to just 10 rushing yards late in the first half on Sunday when he burst through a hole up the middle and outran their entire team for a 48-yard score. He finished the win with 136 rushing yards.
Look no further than the numbers for perspective on what Allen and Jackson bring to the table.
- Against Indianapolis, Allen became the first player in NFL playoff history to pass for 300-plus yards and rush for 50-plus yards while logging a completion percentage of 70 or higher.
- In 2020, Allen became the first player in NFL history with 4,500-plus passing yards, 35-plus passing touchdowns, and five-plus rushing touchdowns in a single season.
- Jackson is the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He is the second quarterback to reach the playoffs in his first three seasons and win an MVP award, joining Dan Marino.
- Allen is the fourth player with 35-plus passing touchdowns and seven-plus rushing touchdowns in a single season. The others: Young, Newton, and – you guessed it – Jackson.
Former Bills center Eric Wood is well versed in both quarterbacks' careers. As a Louisville alum, he watched Jackson throughout college and still catches most of his games with the Ravens. He is in tune with Allen's game as an analyst for the Buffalo Bills Radio Network and BuffaloBills.com.
Wood also played under Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman when Roman held the same job for two seasons with the Bills, who had their own dual threat in quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
"You can't completely abandon what you do defensively because you can't re-learn a defensive scheme in a week," Wood said. "You won't understand all the different aspects of it. That's what Greg Roman wants you to do. He wants you to get the defense and get your guys into positions that they're not used to playing. So, you'll probably see more base defense from the Bills this week than we've seen a majority of this season."
The Bills were able to contain Jackson when the two teams met during Week 14 of last season. While the Ravens won that game, the Bills held Jackson to 40 rushing yards for his second-lowest total of the season. They pressured Jackson on 26.9 percent of his dropbacks.
"Last year, we saw a good amount of pressure against Lamar," Wood said. "Especially when they were in empty formations, they brought pressure. If they do that again, it'll be interesting because the Ravens will be prepared for it this time."
The Ravens, meanwhile, blitzed Allen 31 times and recorded six sacks. While the Ravens still blitz more than any team in the NFL, Allen and the Bills offense should be more equipped to handle it given another year of growth by the quarterback and the increase in weapons surrounding him.
"Look, the Ravens, (defensive coordinator Wink) Martindale is going to dial up the pressures," Wood said. "He has to see if the Bills are better equipped for it this year. I believe they are when you add guys on the outside like Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis and you combine them with John Brown and Cole Beasley. Now, you have four options on the outside with guys who can get open and you can start to attack matchups as opposed to last year when they didn't have quite as many weapons."
One thing you can be sure: Fran Tarkenton will be watching.
"I think (the Bills) have the best chance to win everything," he said.
Take a look at Josh Allen's best photos from the 2020 season, presented by Toyota.