Johnny Manziel can thank Russell Wilson he isn’t coming up short at NFL Combine
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson showed the NFL that size doesn’t matter if you can play. Now Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel doesn’t have to measure up to the league’s old standards at the NFL Combine.
Seattle Times staff reporter
INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone, it seems, wants to compare Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
There are some similarities — both are escape artists and dual-threat quarterbacks — but that’s not really where the comparisons stem from.
Perhaps the biggest story of the NFL Scouting Combine’s second day was Manziel’s measurements, which revealed his true height to be 5-feet-11¾. That’s an inch taller than Wilson (5-105 / 8), and it means Manziel and Wilson are linked as short quarterbacks in a league not known for them.
Yet the effect of Wilson’s first two NFL seasons is that Manziel’s height is no longer crushing. If Wilson can do it, why not Manziel?
“As an evaluator, as a scout, you’re always looking for visual comparisons,” said Bucky Brooks, a former Seahawks scout and NFL Network analyst. “Because Russell Wilson just came off going to the Super Bowl, you now have a visual picture of a guy at that size with a game that is similar. It does pave the way, and it does make it easier for a team to now entertain the thought because Johnny wouldn’t be the first.”
Wilson hasn’t spawned a rush to draft short quarterbacks. It takes a rare and special athlete to play the position at Wilson’s size. He’s the only starter in the NFL smaller than 6 feet tall for a reason.
But Wilson’s success has, in some way, helped reshape the view of short quarterbacks.
“I don’t even think if Johnny comes out last year he’s considered a top pick,” Brooks said. “I think we would have had a ceiling on him. ‘An undersized quarterback? OK, maybe the second round.’ ”
Said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, “Size doesn’t matter. We’ve learned that Russell’s a great football player and a great competitor and it just doesn’t matter what package he comes in. ... He’s a great football player. ...”
“Prior to the last couple years, the general thinking was that a guy of Russell’s stature couldn’t play, which obviously is wrong. It’s just wrong. ... But not everybody who is 5-11½ can play quarterback. You’ve got to be a great football player. All the elements that make up Russell make him very, very unique regardless of how tall he is.”
The reason Manziel is being considered worthy of a first-round choice — maybe the top selection — is largely because of his playmaking.
“I feel like I play like I’m 10 feet tall,” Manziel said.
But he also offers a small window into how the player-evaluation process works.
Brooks said scouts often look for pro comparisons — successful players who are similar to the prospect in question. Scouts and personnel people didn’t have a very long list for Wilson: Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Joe Theismann, Fran Tarkenton. None of those guys, however, is shorter than 6 feet.
“I think Russell proved that you can play at that height,” said Broncos general manager John Elway.
Long before Seahawks general manager John Schneider selected Wilson in the third round two years ago, he talked to former Packers general manager Ron Wolf. Schneider was groomed under Wolf, who constantly preached a message to his staff: You make one exception, he would tell them, and pretty soon you have a team of exceptions.
Wolf said Schneider also had some concerns about Wilson’s height before the draft. There weren’t many guys his size playing in the league. But Wolf recalled telling Schneider, “If you really like him, take him.”
Manziel entered the combine this year facing a different reality. He is one of the most prized prospects in the draft, and the media horde gathered around him for his 10-minute interview Friday was the biggest of the day.
“Their games aren’t necessarily the same,” Brooks said, “but what you can say is, ‘Look, Russell gave people problems because he had the ability to play off the script. He can run around.’ And then you start looking at their hands. Big hands. So both of those guys can play in inclement weather. That’s not an issue. It helps him a lot because Russell’s success allows people to see Johnny in that way too.”
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