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NFL Quarterback Height Isn’t Everything

Despite the scrutiny of NFL quarterback height, short passers like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees have excelled and Johnny Manziel will too.

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson

San Francisco, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) looks towards the sideline for a play call against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Big Foot, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster. All myths and legends perpetuated by the masses and accentuated over time.  As George Castanza once said, “It’s not a lie, if you really believe it.”  Well, recent sentiment suggests short quarterbacks don’t work in the NFL.  They can’t see over their offensive lines, can’t find open passing lanes, and just can’t succeed at a position made for 75-inchers.  Well I don’t believe it, so it must be a lie and there must be some truth buried amidst the stigma surrounding the “shorties” under center.

Questions centering on NFL quarterback height aren’t a new phenomenon. After all, I remember Doug Flutie.  I was a kid at the time, but vividly recall the stink surrounding the 5-foot-10 Heisman Trophy winner from Boston College, and will never forget the attitude that sent him north of the border, and indirectly led to him becoming arguably the greatest player in CFL history.  There was also Joe Theismann before Flutie, Fran Tarketon before Theismann, and Sonny Jurgensen before that.  Since, we’ve seen Michael Vick succeed to a point, Russell Wilson take the league by storm, and Drew Brees become a sure bet Hall Of Famer and one of the best in the modern age of the game.  It can and has been done, so why are we always talking about it whenever a vertically-challenged signal-caller reaches the precipice of the professional game?

Johnny Manziel is that vertically challenged signal-caller.  He’s this year’s college super-star who’ll be dismissed by some, second-guessed by others, and “limited” by everyone evaluating his potential as a pro.  In spite of dominating the college game, “Johnny Football’s” ability to throw, run, and lead on the football field will be dismissed not due to skills or lack thereof, but merely due to an inadequate measurable alleged to be an NFL deal breaker.

Why?  Seriously, why is height such a flaw that it can’t be overcome by intelligence, athleticism, and moxie when it comes to a game who’s foundation is built on guts and determination?

A quarterback isn’t in the trenches facing one-on-one battles with 300 lb. men.  A quarterback isn’t on an island covering world class athletes with top-end speed and elite lateral quickness.  And quarterbacks aren’t being asked to meet a 225 lb. running back in the hole and send him back from where he came.  Quarterbacks are asked get their team in the end zone, by any means possible.  Tom Brady does it one way, Cam Newton does it another.  Peyton Manning does it with preparation, Brett Favre did it instinctively.  And Matt Ryan does it his way, while guys like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Johnny Manziel do it theirs.  There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and it’s a coach’s job to find the best means of doing so, considering the personnel with which he has to work.

While statuesque quarterbacks like Brady and Manning still work in today’s game, today’s game has also made shorter, more athletic quarterbacks viable assuming they have the smarts and work ethic necessary to succeed.  That’s the dirty little secret in regards to NFL success; it’s not so much about elite athleticism, because everyone’s elite.  Preparation is what separates the great from the good, the good from the average, and the viable from the inept.

When people suggest there’s a history of shorter quarterbacks failing in the league, I ask them for examples, then I ask for them to prove to me it was their height that was responsible.  Responses usually range from deafening silence to “pssh…whatever.”  In other words, they’re mindlessly droning on about something they’ve heard countless times from their TV, their radio, or during conversations with friends, but have little proof to substantiate their claim.

“Well, there have been a lot of short quarterback prospects who’ve failed.”  Yep, but not as many as tall ones.

“Well, there are more tall quarterbacks who’ve succeeded.”  True, but more have been given opportunities.

More than 90% of NFL quarterbacks to throw a minimum of 1000 career passes prior to last season, are taller than six-feet.  In addition to that, not a single quarterback under six-feet has been taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft since Ted Marchibroda went No. 5 overall to Pittsburgh in 1953.  So when suggesting numbers in regards to successful or failed quarterbacks, you have to look relatively with percentages, opposed to merely greater or lesser than.

NFL football is a challenging game, and playing quarterback in the NFL may be the most challenging aspect in that game. Is it potentially less challenging if you’re 6-foot-4?  Possibly, but not if you don’t have the arm strength, not if you don’t have the intellect, and not if you don’t have the ability to read defenses quickly, both before and after the ball is snapped.  The point being:  Playing quarterback in the NFL is hard.  Whether or not you’re 5-foot-11 or 6-foot-6, whether or not you have an arm like Brett Favre or Chad Pennington, and whether or not you run like Michael Vick or Peyton Manning.  It’s just hard.  Being short is no different than having an average arm, lacking foot speed, or doing poorly on the Wunderlich Test, they’re all variables in an equation that results in winning.

Fran Tarkenton played in three Super Bowls, six Pro Bowls, and is in the NFL Hall Of Fame.  Joe Theismann played in two Super Bowls, two Pro Bowls, and was a two-time NFL MVP.  And Drew Brees is in the midst of a career that might ultimately land him amongst the top-5 or 10 quarterbacks to ever play the position.  And they are all 6-feet or shorter.  They proved it was possible, players like Brees and Russell Wilson are proving it’s possible, and Johnny Manziel might very well continue to prove it’s possible in the future.  But don’t tell me you can’t play quarterback in the NFL because you’re too short, because the past present, and likely the future are all telling me different.

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