The Pistol Offense: Top 10 Former NFL Quarterbacks Who Would Flourish In It

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Kordell Stewart and Randall Cunningham

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In the history of the NFL, who are the top 10 former NFL quarterbacks that would flourish running the pistol offense?

The pistol or spread formation is the latest offensive trend in the NFL. Though many think that it is something new, the spread has been around since coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and the turn of the 20th century. Unfortunately, some talented quarterbacks never got a chance to run it.

The debate over whether a running quarterback can win a championship has raged for years. Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers came very close to putting the question to bed as he led his team to within 10 yards of a title in 2012. His performance is proof positive that a team can win running the pistol and the formation is here to stay.

The league has seen its share of mobile quarterbacks from Fran Tarkenton to Cam Newton. Tarkenton was ahead of his time while Newton's time is now. Newton has been able to showcase all of his talents running the spread for the Carolina Panthers. His success led to the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks drafting Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson respectively. As Newton did his rookie year, Griffin and Wilson became immediate starters and they led their teams to the playoffs.

Pro football has evolved into a game where rules favor the offense. This has allowed for more creativity in play calling and formations making today's quarterbacks the envy of some of their ancestors. If those ancestors could drink from the fountain of youth which ones would have success running the pistol? Here are the top 10 former NFL quarterbacks who would.

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10. Rodney Peete

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Peete ran the run and shoot for the Detroit Lions during the early 1990's. At the University of Southern Cal he was a good enough passing and running threat to earn Heisman Trophy consideration. If Peete was able to run the pistol in Detroit with Barry Sanders as his running back there is no telling how dangerous the Lions offense would be.

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9. Jeff Blake

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Blake played for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1990's. He was not very tall, but had a terrific arm. Blake was a good runner, but ran only when he had to. His game was throwing the long ball to wide receiver Carl Pickens. However, if Blake were playing today and had a running back like Cory Dillon the Bengals would be dangerous in the pistol.

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8. Jake Plummer

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Plummer was cunning and one of the shiftiest runners to ever play quarterback as his nickname of Snake attests. Some would say that he was more of a Joe Montana type and better suited for the west coast offense, but Plummer was a smooth ball handler. He could fake a defense out of position which is what the pistol is designed to do. Plummer's physical skills and sharp mind would have made him a serious threat in a spread offense.

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7. Roger Staubach

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Staubach is the man who really made the spread formation popular. He and Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry did not invent it as some historians would want us to believe, but did make it a staple of their offense before anyone else. Staubach could play quarterback in just about any formation, but many forget he was not a very accurate passer in his early years. In today's game, he would be allowed to run the pistol until his arm caught up with his legs.

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6. Jim Zorn

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It is a shame that football fans did not get a chance to see Zorn run the pistol with a team like the expansion Seattle Seahawks of 1976 and '77. The offense would have fit him perfectly. The left handed wizard who wore number 10 could run and throw. He did a lot of running as Seattle's offensive line was porous to say the least. Zorn was one of the most exciting quarterbacks to ever play the game and those who saw him know that he would be Russell Wilson today.

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5. Fran Tarkenton

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A quarterback definitely born ahead of his time, Tarkenton brought the term scramble to pro football. He had no choice as like Zorn after him; Tarkenton was the first quarterback of an expansion team, the 1961 Minnesota Vikings. Tarkenton would be able to run the pistol, because he was simply the most imaginative quarterback to ever play the game. The unpredictability of the pistol would be right up his alley.

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4. Donovan McNabb

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McNabb just missed out on the pistol, but probably would not have wanted to run it. He did not want to be labeled as a running quarterback, but a pocket passer. If McNabb could get over not wanting to be stereotyped he would love the pistol. Paired with running back Brian Westbrook, McNabb would be a nightmare for defenses. To show that timing is everything McNabb left the Philadelphia Eagles just three years before pistol running Chip Kelly became their head coach.

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3. Kordell Stewart

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A man nicknamed Slash has to be able to run the pistol. Stewart had all of the skills that Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III show today. When he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers there were those who thought that head coach Bill Cowher did not let Stewart run enough. If Cowher were coaching Stewart today, there is a good chance he would be running the pistol and creating matchup problems for defensive coordinators around the league.

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2. Randall Cunningham

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Sports Illustrated once called him the ultimate weapon. Cunningham could do everything that is necessary to make the pistol go. He could even punt from the formation if necessary. Cunningham thrilled Philadelphia Eagles fans from under center so one can only imagine what he would do from seven yards back. Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers is the quarterback of today similar to Cunningham. If Kaepernick can almost win a Super Bowl then Cunningham could too.

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1. Steve Young

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He loved to run as much as throw and could do both with the best. Steve Young would do whatever it took to move the ball when he was with the San Francisco 49ers. If he were playing today with talent like Jerry Rice and John Taylor at receiver along with Ricky Waters in the backfield, Young would be unstoppable. Even without those players, he would be a handful. It would have been a pleasure to see Steve Young run the pistol against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. The challenge presented by Baltimore would have brought out the best in him and the offense.