I don't know what The Next Big Thing is, but I do know what it isn't--"run-first" NFL quarterbacks.
I will admit to a certain amount of pro-football snobbery, based on my longevity alone. For now fully four decades I've been hearing half-informed, "know just enough to be dangerous" fans telling me that running quarterbacks are the future of the NFL. Those naive innocents were wrong about Bobby Douglass, Greg Landry and Randall Cunningham, et al. And they are wrong about Vince Young and Tim Tebow. Running ability, while useful, is merely a bonus for an NFL QB, kind of like finding out Jessica Alba can also cook.
Spare me the reflexive Michael Vick rebuttal. Vick's 2010 breakthrough was his willingness to curb his athletic instincts and learn to play quarterback. Just as it was in the mid-90s for Steve Young, and, yes, for even the sainted Roger Staubach circa 1975. Staubach readily concedes he had precious few clues about how to actually play his position at the NFL level until then.
Loving your quarterback exclusively because he can run is like loving your goldfish because he can play "Lady of Spain" on the accordion. Both are novelty acts devoid of practical application.
Raw linear speed will never mean much for an NFL quarterback, because for the first time since he played Pop Warner ball, he will be on a football field with defensive players who are genuinely unimpressed with his speed. Color me, along with those on-field opponents, dismissive.
The key trait is what I call "Functional Mobility"--moving with a purpose. It's not an accident or coincidence that two of the three most "functionally" mobile QBs in the league (Vick now being the third, thanks to his development in the passing game) will square off February 6 at Cowboys Stadium. Aaron Rodgers makes plays with his legs as well as with his very talented arm, and Ben Roethlisberger is one of the most "functionally mobile" quarterbacks in league history. Rodgers is excellent at keeping his eyes downfield while on the move, and Big Ben is now arguably the best ever at that. Roethlisberger, through his size, strength and vision, has extended more broken plays with better results in bigger games than anyone else.
I'm quite certain Roethlisberger can't break 5.2 in the forty. So? Neither can Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but their freakish ability to simply slide-step into an open passing lane is a huge part of their genius. Functional mobility.
Tony Romo has it, and is right on the cusp of moving into that top tier of functionally mobile quarterbacks.
The ability to run is a tremendous asset for a quarterback. What coach, teammate or fan wouldn't want his QB to be able to run when necessary? But running ability is a nice complement for traditional quarterbacking skills. It will never be a substitute for them.
Guys my age can't always identify The Next Big Thing. But we can tell you definitively what "ain't." Keep your 401-K out of "Run-First Quarterbacks."