A league once dominated by the run and stingy defense, the NFL has become an aerial circus.
With so many restrictions placed on defensive players, strong-armed quarterbacks now stand in the pocket and dissect their opponent with surgical precision. And if quarterbacks are also mobile, they can make life a living hell for defenders. Teams want a signal-caller who can move, escape, and extend a play with his legs. Today we bring you the dozen best running quarterbacks in pro football history.
Bobby Douglass: 2,654 yards, 6.5 yards per attempt, 22 rushing touchdowns. At 6’4”, 225, Douglass was a monster for his position in the 1970s. Easily the worst passer on this list, Douglass threw nearly twice as many interceptions  as touchdowns . He played for woeful Chicago Bears teams that went 13-31-1 during his time as a starter. In 1972 – playing a 14-game schedule – Douglass set a record for most rushing yards by a QB. The strapping southpaw ran for 968 yards and eight touchdowns on 141 carries, a record that stood for 34 years. Douglass and Billy Kilmer are the only two quarterbacks in league history to rush for four touchdowns in one game.
John Elway: 3,407 yards, 4.4 Y/A, 33 touchdowns. The finest and most accomplished quarterback on this list, Elway used his legs as a perfect complement to his 51,475 career passing yards. He knew when to stay in the pocket and when to pull it down and take off. Elway finished his career with 774 rushing attempts. None was more famous than his helicopter dive for a first down to extend a drive in Super Bowl XXXII against the Green Bay Packers.
Fran Tarkenton: 3,674 yards, 5.4 Y/A, 32 touchdowns. Known for his scrambling ability, Tarkenton was also a running threat. As a rookie in 1961, he quarterbacked the Minnesota Vikings in the franchise’s inaugural game, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another. Tarkenton played 13 seasons with the Vikes and five with the New York Giants. A nine-time All-Pro and 1975 NFL MVP, he ranks fifth in career rushing yards among quarterbacks. At the time of his retirement in 1978, Tarkenton owned every major quarterback record.
Donovan McNabb: 3,459 yards, 5.6 Y/A, 29 touchdowns. Along with Tarkenton, Elway, and Young, McNabb is one of four quarterbacks in NFL history to amass more than 30,000 passing yards, 200 TD passes, 3,000 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in his career. One of three Eagles on this list [Cunningham, Vick], D-Mac led Philly to eight playoff appearances and five NFC Championship games. A 13-year veteran, McNabb ranks sixth in rushing yards per attempt and eighth in all-time rushing yards among QBs.
Steve McNair: 3,590 yards, 5.4 Y/A, 37 touchdowns. At 6’2”, 230, McNair was a beast. At 18, he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. McNair opted for football and was offered a scholarship by Florida to play running back but, wanting to play quarterback, chose Division I-AA Alcorn State. A three-time Pro Bowler and 1999 AFC Champion, Air McNair was named NFL MVP in 2003, a season in which he led the league in passer rating. The third overall pick of the 1995 NFL draft who scampered for a 71-yard touchdown run in his second year as a starter, McNair played 13 NFL seasons.
Russell Wilson: 3,651, 5.7 Y/A, 16 touchdowns. One of the NFL’s best at extending plays, the diminutive Wilson has a cannon for an arm and runs like a jackrabbit. He led the NFL in passer rating in 2015 [113.2] and topped the league with more than seven yards per rushing attempt in 2014. The 2012 Rookie of the Year led the NFL in passing touchdowns in 2017. A six-time Pro Bowler, Wilson has started in two Super Bowls and, with Aaron Rodgers, is one of two QBs in history with a career passer rating over 100.
Kordell Stewart: 2,874 yards, 5.1 Y/A, 38 touchdowns. Dubbed Slash because he could play so many positions [quarterback-slash-receiver-slash-rusher], Stewart set a then-NFL record [80 yards] for longest touchdown run by a quarterback, in 1996. Along with Michael Vick, he was one of the most feared runners on this list. Despite only starting 87 games at QB, Stewart rushed for 38 career TDs, fourth all-time among quarterbacks. In 2001, he threw for over 3,000 yards, completed 60 percent of his passes, and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Year. One year later, he was benched, and never played in Pittsburgh again.
Tobin Rote: 3,128 yards, 4.9 Y/A, 37 touchdowns. Rote played ten years with the Packers and Lions, spent three seasons in the Canadian Football League, then returned stateside and finished his career in the AFL. He led the NFL in passer rating, passing yards and was twice the league’s passing touchdowns leader. Rote is one of two quarterbacks to lead his team in rushing four times and is the only QB to lead his team to both an NFL [Detroit 1957] and AFL [San Diego 1963] championship. More than half a century after retiring, Mr. Rote remains tenth in all-time yards and is tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns among QBs.
Steve Young: 4,239 yards, 5.9 Y/A, 43 touchdowns. Arguably the best dual-threat quarterback in history, Young is a two-time NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl champion. He led the NFL in passer rating a record six times in seven seasons between 1991 and 1997. Young is second all-time in rushing touchdowns and third in rushing yards among quarterbacks. Steve Young is a member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Randall Cunningham: 4,928 yards, 6.4 Y/A, 35 touchdowns. Sports Illustrated called him the “Ultimate weapon, the quarterback for the 90s.” A two-time NFL MVP and 1990 NFC Player of the Year, Cunningham could carve up a defense. He had two career runs of over 50 yards and four others over 30. A two-time All-American punter at UNLV, Cunningham twice led the NFL in rushing yards per attempt. He led the NFL in passer rating in 1998 [106.0] and played in four Pro Bowls.
Cam Newton: 4,808 yards, 5.2 Y/A, 58 touchdowns. If he stays healthy, Newton will retire as the most accomplished running quarterback ever to play the game. The biggest signal-caller on this list at 6’5”, 245, he’s fast, elusive and extremely difficult to bring to the ground. Already the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks , Newton is only 1,300 rushing yards shy of all-time leader Michael Vick. As a rookie, Newton led the NFL in yards per attempt and scored a record 14 rushing touchdowns. The 2015 NFL MVP owns three of the ten best single-season rushing performances by a quarterback in history and is the first to throw at least 30 TDs and rush for ten in the same season.
Michael Vick: 6,109 yards, 7.0 Y/A, 22 touchdowns. Vick’s 6,109 career rushing yards are the most ever. In 2006, he became the only QB ever to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season [1,039], still the top single-season performance in history. The speedy southpaw ran a 4.2 in the 40 at the 2001 NFL Combine and was the first player taken in that year’s draft. Vick has the best yards-per-attempt average of any quarterback and three of the top seven best rushing seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. He is seventh on the all-time rushing touchdowns list for a signal-caller.