When it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, apparently, size doesn't matter. At least as much as it used to.
In Monday night's matchup of the two best teams in the NFC, 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson led his Seahawks to a 34-7 victory over 6-foot Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Michael Salfino of the Wall Street Journal notes that Wilson and Brees were the smallest pair of starting quarterbacks to face each other since 2001. Their combined height (143 inches) was the shortest for two opposing signal callers since 1970.
The average height of NFL quarterbacks is 6-foot-3, but that hasn't stopped Brees or Wilson from succeeding in the league. Brees, a Super Bowl MVP, has shattered passing record after passing record the past few years. Meanwhile, Wilson nearly led his team to the NFC championship game as a rookie and has been a top-five quarterback this year.
Wilson, 25, says he idolized Brees and followed him since his collegiate days at Purdue.
"When I went to Wisconsin [senior year], I had tons and tons of film on [Brees]," Wilson told ESPN. "I just watched every throw, pretty much that he had thrown in the NFL. I studied his footwork, studied what he does, and obviously, everybody compares our height."
Brees and Wilson have excelled with similar playing styles. They both have rocket arms, excellent vision and, when a play breaks down, are adept scramblers. They remind many of another shorter NFL quarterback who proved he belonged.
At 5-foot-10 Doug Flutie is shorter than both Brees and Wilson, but in many ways he paved the way for them to stick around in the league. Flutie was repeatedly overlooked because of his size, but time and again he proved that he could hang in the NFL. He's said there's still a size bias among NFL talent evaluators, and that likely hampered Wilson and Brees' draft stocks. Despite stellar senior years, size likely played a part in bumping both Brees and Wilson out of the first round of the NFL draft.
For Brees, the NFL's shift towards passing-heavy offenses has allowed guys like Wilson and Brees to succeed.
"I think that when you can spread 'em out, it makes life a lot easier at the quarterback position," Flutie told NFL.com. "You've got five quick receivers, you've got guys out into the route, you're spreading the field, making them defend the whole field and then, hopefully, you're getting a rush that's a little more spread out and there's bigger lanes, so you can see the field better."
And lest anyone think Brees and Wilson are anomalies, doubters need to look no further than 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. The record-setting Texas A&M sophomore is optimistically listed at 6-foot-1.
While he hasn't declared his 2014 intentions, Manziel may choose to enter April's NFL draft. And if he does, talent evaluators should think twice before dismissing Manziel because of his size.