The Read Option: A Fad or the Future?

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Published: January 21, 2013

Cam NewtonOne of the biggest topics in the National Football League this season has been the rise of the Read Option offense. What started – at least in the NFL – last year with the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos has grown into the hottest thing in professional football. The biggest question regarding the Read Option for fantasy football is where this style of offense fits in the future. Is the Read Option a fad or the future?

The basic idea behind the Read Option is this: the quarterback lines up in a short shotgun formation with a single running back offset to either his right or left. Usually there are at least three wide receivers on the field to spread out the defense. The quarterback takes the snap and places the ball in the running back’s belly and then depending on how the defensive end reacts either gives the ball to the back  for a run usually off tackle or pulls the ball back, keeps it himself and takes it to the outside.

Although this style of offense has been around for years at the high school and college level, it is new territory in the modern NFL. It has been fueled by the influx of young talent at the quarterback position. Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III have taken the league by storm the last two years making the Read Option – at least for now – a staple in the NFL.

Teams who have successfully run this offense have at best put up ridiculous offensive numbers or at least have made up for a perceived lack of talent on offense to put together a solid offense when a conventional offense would likely bogged down. There is no doubt the offense has been effective up to this point. The Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks made it to the playoffs with some version of this offense in place. The San Francisco 49ers re-invented themselves and may have an offense to keep pace with their ridiculously good defense.

Time will be the true test of this style’s staying power. Once defensive coaches have some film to look at over the offseason, they will make adjustments and will be better prepared next season. The NFL constantly evolves. Right now the pendulum has swung over to the offense and with the rule changes making it harder to play defense it might take a little longer for the pendulum to swing back toward the defense. The thing is, it always does.

Many people say the NFL is a quarterback driven league. While on the face of it the Read Option features the quarterback in even more ways than a conventional offense it also puts the quarterback in a risky position. If your team runs this offense your quarterback is going to get hit – a lot. One of the reasons the Run and Shoot offense didn’t stick around long, was once defenses got used to it, the quarterback was getting killed. With the new concussion rules, quarterbacks are more likely to be out for extended periods of time – even with the rules protecting quarterbacks. Once the defenses catch up to this offense, quarterbacks are going to start to drop.

This offense is not going away soon. The recent hiring of Chip Kelly in Philadelphia will no doubt add another team who will be adding at least a part of this offense to the mix. The NFL is a copycat league. Success will multiply the number of teams running some version of this offense. If and how quickly defenses can counter the Read Option will go a long way toward showing fantasy football owners if it is wise to put faith in this new type of quarterback or if the standard drop back passer will still be the way to go.

There have been unconventional offenses in the NFL in the past, but for different reasons have not lasted long. Over the next couple of seasons we will know if the Read Option’s stamp in the NFL is closer to the West Coast offense or the Run and Shoot.

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