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MNF Review: Short QBs can thrive

12/3/2013
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has the ability to create passing lanes when protection breaks down. AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

The quarterback duel between Seattle's Russell Wilson and New Orleans' Drew Brees didn't materialize. But it was still a good Monday night for the small guy. At a shade under 5-foot-11, Wilson is the shortest starting quarterback in the NFL and, with significant playoff implications on the line, he outplayed Brees, the second-shortest at 6-foot.

Brees ran into a buzz saw last night, but his resume speaks for itself. He is a Super Bowl MVP who broke Dan Marino's single-season passing record in 2011, and he's close to becoming the first quarterback in league history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. He had also thrown for at least 200 yards in 43 straight games before getting stymied by the Seahawks, and came within two games of breaking Dan Fouts' record 200-yard streak, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Although not as accomplished at this early stage in his career, Wilson has started every game since Seattle drafted him in the third round in 2012, and he's 22-6 the past two seasons. Brees and Wilson aren't the only quarterbacks who measure 6-foot or shorter and have succeeded in the NFL, either: Y.A. Tittle, Len Dawson, Fran Tarkenton and Joe Theisman all fall into that mold.

Looking ahead to the 2014 draft, there are three undersized quarterbacks worth keeping an eye on. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd all are listed at 6-1, but don't put too much stock in that one inch. The Texans' Case Keenum is the only other starting NFL quarterback who is shorter than 6-2.

The three biggest obstacles shorter quarterbacks need to overcome are the ability to locate the open man, the ability to create passing lanes and the ability to stay healthy. Let's take a look at how these prospects fare in each of these areas.

Locating the open man

Manziel flashes above-average patience and the ability to get through his progressions from within the pocket. He just needs to get more consistent and avoid forcing the ball into coverage. In addition, he has superior instincts and an uncanny ability to find receivers when he's forced to improvise. He compares favorably with Wilson in this regard.

Murray makes sound pre-snap reads and arguably shows the best anticipation of the three, but he doesn't appear to see the whole field and he's not as effective finding receivers outside the hash marks.

Boyd is the least consistent of the three in this area. Though he, like Murray, flashes the ability to get through his progressions, he locks onto receivers and struggles to locate check downs too much.

Creating passing lanes

In terms of creating passing lanes, Manziel has the clear edge, and it's not just his rare athletic ability that sets him apart. Boyd and Murray are athletic enough to extend plays. However, Murray is too stationary at times and he can stand in the pocket waiting for a receiver to break open over the middle instead of using his quick feet to create a passing window. Boyd does a great job of adjusting his release point to avoid oncoming pass-rushers but he is too quick to tuck and run when he gets space.

Staying healthy

Durability, regardless of the position, is important. Having a solid frame is important as well, and injury history factors into it. Listed at 225 pounds, Boyd has adequate bulk for the position, but Manziel is listed at 210 pounds and Murray is listed at 208 pounds, raising concerns about their ability to stay healthy in the NFL, where they will face bigger defenders and play longer seasons.

Murray ranks a distant third in this area. Tearing the ACL in his left knee against Kentucky obviously plays a big role, but there's more: He doesn't sense backside pressure as well as Manziel does, and he holds onto the ball way too long at times, so he takes too many big hits.

All three also need to do a better job of protecting themselves when they run. While there is a lot to like about their toughness, they all take too many big hits. Wilson, who rushed for 47 yards on eight carries, used the sideline to avoid big hits and didn't try to do too much on designed quarterback runs against the Saints.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that it's not just size that's a concern when it comes to these three prospects. As talented as he is, Manziel needs to show better accuracy throwing from inside the pocket and to learn to take what the defense gives him. Murray's footwork is sloppy at times and it affects his touch. Boyd needs to improve his ability to read coverage and in his decision-making in the face of pressure.

Wilson and Brees are successful because they are consistent, accurate and smart.