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Was 2013 Really The Golden Age Of The Black Quarterback?

Charts excerpted from The Big Book Of Black Quarterbacks, published Feb. 6th.

In Week 1 of the 2013 season, nine teams started a black man at QB. The New York Times called it "the beginning of a dynamic new day in the N.F.L." and USA Today wrote that "the NFL is approaching the Golden Age of the Black Quarterback." Was this past season really some sort of historical apex for black quarterbacks?

On numbers alone, it wasn't. The chart below shows the total number of black QBs who attempted at least one pass each season, going back to 1932:

Illustration for article titled Was 2013 Really The Golden Age Of The Black Quarterback?

In 1994, five black QBs attempted a pass in the NFL, as many as had attempted a pass in 1978. Just seven seasons later, in 2001, 18 attempted a pass. This peak was matched in 2003, but hasn't been matched since. That bump you see in 1987 is the player strike; in addition to the five black QBs already in the league, six scabs played in Weeks 4-6, never to return to the league.

Of course, "total" QBs is kind of a silly way of going about this; some of these players threw very few passes. A more telling stat would be "percent of passes," league-wide, thrown by black QBs:

Illustration for article titled Was 2013 Really The Golden Age Of The Black Quarterback?

This past season was a big one for black quarterbacks. The percentage of passes they threw climbed to 19.7 percent of the NFL's total, up from 15.0 percent in 2012 (the least-black year since 1996). In 2000, this figure was 24.0 percent. Here were the black QBs for that season, sorted by attempts:

  • Donovan McNabb (569)
  • Daunte Culpepper (474)
  • Shaun King (428)
  • Charlie Batch (412)
  • Steve McNair (396)
  • Jeff Blake (302)
  • Kordell Stewart (289)
  • Tony Banks (274)
  • Akili Smith (267)
  • Aaron Brooks (194)
  • Randall Cunningham (125)
  • Spergon Wynn (54)
  • Anthony Wright (53)
  • Ray Lucas (41)
  • Warren Moon (34)
  • Michael Bishop (9)
  • Jarious Jackson (1)

This is an impressive group, a mix of solid QBs at the start (McNabb, Culpepper), in the middle (McNair), and at the end (Cunningham, Moon) of their careers. Seven of these guys—Brooks, Culpepper, McNabb, McNair, King, Banks, and Jackson—combined for 300 postseason attempts, 43 percent of the NFL total. In the 2013 playoffs, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and Tarvaris Jackson combined for 176 attempts, 24 percent of the NFL total.


Moon and Cunningham's great careers ended shortly after this high point, but Vick would enter the league in 2001, then David Garrard in 2002, then Byron Leftwich in 2003. In each of these seasons, over a fifth of the passes in a league that's 66 percent African-American were thrown by black guys. The NFL's 2013 couldn't match that; maybe 2014 can.

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