Wildcat Review: The Best of 2010

| June 30, 2011

After our looks at how teams produce when in the wildcat, the logical next step is to sort them into some kind of order, right? So today I’ll show the league’s top wildcat players and teams, judging them by usage and success. It should be no surprise who the Top 3 are, with them employing the formation far more often than anyone else.
 
The fourth team on the list may not be as expected, and because they used multiple wildcat quarterbacks, we’ll feature them as a unit. Another six teams used the wildcat on at least five plays, and they’ll get a quick look too.
 
After we’ve crowned the best wildcat quarterback & team of 2010, we’ll look at the wildcat in 2011 and how, even though its usage may be waning, it won’t die out completely.
 

5. The Best of the Rest

When it rains, it pours, as the Carolina Panthers were the worst team with the wildcat in 2010. Two of their runs went for negative yards, their lone pass went for no yards, and they had an aborted snap. The only positive play they had from the wildcat was a seven yard run by Armanti Edwards.
 
The Eagles, Cowboys and Chiefs all struck gold on passing plays as we saw in the last installment, but on running plays each team averaged less than three yards.
 
While the Bills rarely used the wildcat, they found some success with it. On five plays, the Bills had direct snaps to Fred Jackson or Marshawn Lynch, and each time they took the snap and ran up the middle or to the right end, gaining 9, 7, 4, 4 and 1 yards.
 
Oakland was similar to Buffalo in that they called on the wildcat sparingly, but when they did it proved useful, gaining five yards per run. The Raiders used Darren McFadden as the quarterback five times and Jacoby Ford once, and neither passed the ball.
 

4. Da Bears

The Bears went to the wildcat more often than anyone outside of the top three teams (10 times), but they land a clear step behind the group that was more committed to it. Matt Forte, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester all took snaps as the wildcat quarterback for Chicago.
 
On four of the plays, the player who took the snap ran the ball, with all three players doing this at least once. Another five times, the ball was handed to Matt Forte or Chester Taylor. On eight of those nine runs, the Bears gained between 3 and 9 yards. Holding them back was the one time they decided to throw the ball. That came in the playoffs with Forte throwing an interception to the Seahawks in the fourth quarter.
 

3. Ronnie Brown and the Miami Dolphins

The man that made the current incarnation of the wildcat quarterback popular didn’t find much success in 2010. 36 of his carries came from the wildcat, but he picked up just 92 yards and a touchdown, or 2.5 yards per carry. Things went a bit better when he handed the ball off to Ricky Williams, who had runs of 28, 23 and 14 yards.
 
Unlike the top two wildcat quarterbacks, Brown was unable to complete a pass and Brandon Marshall’s throw failed as well. The Dolphins also had the most penalties on wildcat plays.
 

2. Josh Cribbs and the Cleveland Browns

Injuries to Josh Cribbs during the season limited the team’s ability to use the wildcat, but, when able, he produced more consistently and in a more varied fashion than Brown and that was enough to push him into second place on this list.
 
He had 16 runs for 59 yards which put him at 3.7 yards per carry – not an amazing number – but the team found additional success when Cribbs handed the ball off – including an 11 yard rushing touchdown by Chansi Stuckey against the Patriots. Cribbs also showed off his throwing skills, completing two of three passes for 19 yards.
 

1. Brad Smith and the New York Jets

While most NFL fans are familiar with Ronnie Brown and Josh Cribbs, the best wildcat quarterback in 2010 was by far the lesser-known Brad Smith. The backup receiver ran the ball from the wildcat 30 times for 212 yards and a touchdown … 7.1 yards per run. Half the time he handed the ball off, and the Jets other rushers had 4.0 yards per carry and a touchdown.
 
He didn’t try to pass often, but did complete a pair on three attempts for 3 yards each; one of them going for a touchdown. As the season progressed, the Jets used Smith in the wildcat more and more often. In Week 17 against the Bills, when the Jets had their playoff spot secured, they used him at QB 13 times, and in those plays he managed runs of 20 and 40 yards.
 

Future of the Wildcat

There’s enough evidence to show that the wildcat’s usage is going downhill. As an example, in 2009, there were 313 wildcat snaps and that number dropped by 101 in 2010. The wildcat’s most prominent players also have questions heading into next season.
 
Ronnie Brown is a free agent, and with the drafting of Daniel Thomas it’s unclear if he will return to Miami and, if so, in what role. If he leaves in free agency, it could be to a team that just doesn’t use the wildcat. Brad Smith is also scheduled to be a free agent, and the not-yet-announced rules of free agency will decide if he is restricted or unrestricted. He hasn’t quite panned out as a receiver, and with the Jets’ offensive line, its not crazy to think someone else could succeed as their wildcat quarterback if he’s not available. In Cleveland, new Browns coach Pat Shurmer has made it sound like the Browns will use less of the formation rather than more, with Cribbs spending more time as a receiver.
 
We only saw one player who really thrived in the wildcat in 2010, but there were plenty of teams that mixed it in occasionally and they were able to find some success with it. That’s likely enough to keep it in most playbooks and where it may settle – as a change of pace, situational option that more and more teams go to a handful of times each year.
 
 
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed too: @ProFootbalFocus
 
 

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