Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer is the latest former NFL player to prove that playing in the league does not automatically make someone a good football analyst.
In ESPN’s Bullies of Baltimore documentary, Dilfer said modern NFL quarterbacks have it too easy.
“The modern-day game does not impress me,” Dilfer said. “It is super easy when you do not get hit as a quarterback, and when you cannot reroute receivers. And when you cannot hit guys across the middle. I love Tom Brady, I love Aaron Rodgers. I love these guys. It is not impressive.”
That is a lot of talk from a guy who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, 129 and 113 respectively. Maybe the criticism is more reasonable coming from a quarterback like Dan Marino, Joe Montana or Warren Moon. However, taking the statement seriously from a guy who had the career Dilfer had is difficult. Outside of the Super Bowl victory, Dilfer’s entire career could be described as unimpressive.
Dilfer’s comments are ignorant to the extraordinary quarterback talent in the NFL today. If Dilfer wants to see impressive modern-day quarterback play, it will be on full display in the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. Jalen Hurts has had a remarkable season in his own right for the Eagles, but no quarterback symbolizes the thrilling and impressive play of the modern quarterback like Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
Patrick Mahomes is one of the most impressive quarterbacks in NFL history
In five seasons as a full-time starter, Patrick Mahomes has appeared in five AFC Championship games and three Super Bowls. He is a Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP. He has thrown for 24,241 yards and 192 touchdowns compared to 49 interceptions. Mahomes has more passing yards and touchdowns in six years in the NFL than Dilfer had in his 13-year career.
Mahomes has the arm strength to throw the ball all over the field. There is no throw he cannot make. There are few quarterbacks in the history of the NFL with the arm talent Mahomes possesses, let alone in the league today.
He has changed the way NFL teams evaluate quarterbacks and what traits teams prioritize in the draft. Every quarterback-needy team hopes to find the next Mahomes in the draft. The Buffalo Bills found theirs with Josh Allen. In this year’s draft, one NFL team will hope they find theirs in Anthony Richardson. Of course, there are teams that still prioritize NFL readiness when evaluating and drafting quarterbacks, but every year, more and more teams turn to place more value on Mahomes-likes traits, even if it is in a rawer prospect.
Patrick Mahomes changed the way defense is played
Mahomes has changed the way NFL defenses are run. Early in Mahomes’ career, defensive guru Vic Fangio found success in slowing the star quarterback down with quarters coverages. The Fangio-style defense prioritized limiting explosive plays with four deep zone defenders and three shallow zone defenders. While cover four is the base defense in a Fangio scheme, there is a healthy mix of other coverages as well.
In some instances, the Fangio-style defense worked on Mahomes. Under Fangio, the Denver Broncos held Mahomes to 200 passing yards or fewer three times. Although, one of those times Mahomes left the game due to injury. Mahomes was sacked 10 times in six matchups against Fangio’s Broncos.
It was a mild success. The Broncos went 0-6 against Mahomes under Fangio, but that did not stop NFL teams from running the Fangio defense as if it was the answer to stopping explosive quarterbacks like Mahomes. It has not worked. In 2022, four NFL defensive coordinators and one head coach, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Brandon Staley, had ties to the Fangio coaching tree, all ran quarters heavy coverages. All five ranked 21st or worse in points per game this past season.
The perception of limiting quarterbacks like Mahomes and Allen was enough to entice teams to turn to a Fangio-style defense. Unfortunately, it has not worked. Quarters heavy coverage leaves underneath routes easier to target. As Mahomes’ career as progressed, he has shifted to taking what defenses give him and not needing to take the deep shot nearly as often. He has evolved to beat the defense built to stop quarterbacks like him. These defenses are failing to evolve with him.
The modern quarterback is nothing short of impressive
Yes, NFL rules have shifted to give the offense an advantage. Yes, quarterbacks are more protected than they were 20 years ago. That does not mean what modern quarterbacks do is not impressive.
NFL offenses have evolved and become more complex than they were in the era of Dilfer. As the passing game becomes more and more dominant in offensive scheming, quarterbacks have been asked to do much more than what was asked of them in eras gone by. The modern quarterback has become more athletic and more talented than those of the past.
Very few quarterbacks in NFL history can pull off electrifying runs like Lamar Jackson. Few have the arm talent of Mahomes. Few can navigate a broken pocket and throw a pin-point accurate dart like Rodgers. None have enjoyed the longevity and dominance of Brady.
Dilfer’s comments are simply wrong. The modern NFL quarterback is very impressive.
(Featured Image Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK