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Seahawks' Russell Wilson: A Deep Analysis of Height, QBs, the NFL Draft, and Bucking the Trend part I

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"You have to be this tall to ride the NFL rollercoaster"
"You have to be this tall to ride the NFL rollercoaster"

Never let it be said that I don't believe in or support Russell Wilson. He's got loads of talent, projectability, potential, wisdom, smarts, and leadership. I don't follow as much college football that's outside of the Pac-12, but I do know when it's time to take notice of a player in another part of the country and Wilson came out of near-obscurity (I speak for myself) to become a Heisman-candidate and nearly lead the Wisconsin Badgers to the national title game.

I would never doubt what he did as a college football player. But it's important to recognize that there is a big difference between being a star in college and being a star in the NFL. The game is different (literally, different rules), the speed of the game is different, and the size of the players are different. Smaller players can succeed on that level whereas size and speed become a different issue once you get to the pro level.

That doesn't make it the be-all, end-all for a player that graduates to the next level. If we knew for a fact that a quarterback under six feet tall couldn't succeed in the NFL, then Wilson just would not have been drafted as a quarterback. Especially not in the third round.

But he was drafted as a QB and he was drafted in the third round and there were a number of teams that really wanted Russell Wilson. Seattle won that battle and now Wilson is a Seahawk, the highest drafted QB by Seattle since Rick Mirer in 1993.

However, when considering the future of Wilson we have to look at a number of things:

1. The success rate for QBs drafted in the third round or later.

2. The success rate for QBs at a height disadvantage.

What is going to separate Wilson from the majority of players in that group and what does history tell us about the majority of players in that group? Remember that I'm not here to tell you about the future, I'm here to tell you about the past.

Russell Wilson doesn't have the size of the boat in his favor, but does he have the motion of the ocean? Here is a comprehensive look at college football QBs from the modern era and a comparison to how they succeeded in the NFL:

First, I want to look at a number of college quarterbacks from the 2000s. Which ones were the most successful at the pro level? Here are some of the most interesting names to look at from each season, Heisman winners get a *.

NOTE: If you like having a whole lot of information, obsessing over the NFL draft, college football, and quarterbacks, then this is the article for you! However, if you might have a baby being born in the six hours then you should probably put this off until the little one has popped out. With deep regret, I have split this into two parts so that it's more enjoyable for the fans. I like "one stop shops" but I kept adding stuff and finally had to split it up. Enjoy! Or, Congratulations on the new kid, name him or her after me!

The 2000 Draft

Chad Pennington 1 6'3"
Giovanni Carmazzi 3 6'3"
Chris Redman 3 6'3"
Tee Martin 5 6'2"
Marc Bulger 6 6'3"
Spergon Wynn 6 6'3"
Tom Brady 6 6'4"
Todd Husak 6 6'3"
JaJuan Seider 6 6'1"
Tim Rattay 7 6'0"
Jarious Jackson 7 6'0"
Joe Hamilton 7 5'10"


The one that obviously stands out in terms of height is Joe Hamilton. At Georgia Tech, Hamilton set ACC records for total offense, TD passes, total TDs, was a first-team All-American, won the Davey O'Brien Award as the top QB in college, and finished runner-up to Ron Dayne in the Heisman trophy race. But at 5'10", Hamilton was the last QB selected in the draft, going 234th overall to Tampa Bay. He never threw a pass in the NFL.

The tallest quarterback drafted in 2000? Mr. Tom Brady. One theme you'll find is that sometimes players won't be highly touted based on college numbers (and some will never even start) but they'll be given a long look if they're tall. Brady stands at 6'4 and after bulking up, working hard, being put into a great situation in New England, he became the best QB drafted this decade.

The last four quarterbacks drafted were short guys and how many have you remember JaJuan Seider and Jarious Jackson? Tim Rattay had a decent career for a six foot tall player drafted in the 7th round. Yes, he had a decent career when you put it in those terms. Not when you put it in terms of having an actually good career.

2001 Draft

Michael Vick 1 6'0"
Drew Brees 2 6'0"
Marques Tuiasosopo 2 6'1"
Quincy Carter 2 6'2"
Chris Weinke 4 6'4"
Jesse Palmer 4 6'2"
Sage Rosenfels 4 6'4"
A.J. Feeley 5 6'3"
Mike McMahon 5 6'2"
Josh Booty 6 6'3"
Josh Heupel* 6 6'1"


The 2001 draft is the major outlier for obvious reasons if all you were looking at was height: Mike Vick and Drew Brees. Vick is the only QB at 6' or shorter to be drafted in the first round in at least the last 15 years. The only two quarterbacks since 2000 to be drafted at that height or shorter in the second round are Brees and Pat White.

As a three year starter for Purdue, Brees set a number of Big Ten records, led Purdue to the Rose Bowl and twice finished in the top four of the Heisman voting. He was drafted 32nd overall in 2001 and has done quite well. The myriad of reasons as to what makes Drew Brees into Drew Brees deserves 3,000 words on it's own but he's one of the most special quarterbacks in NFL history for those reasons. He has overcome his height. It didn't happen right away (it's easy to forget what a player was like before he became great) but on the right team with the right players around him and the right attitude, Brees became great.


Michael Vick is able to do things athletically that nobody else can do. Vick doesn't get drafted 1st overall just because of his arm. He throws lasers but his passing game was, is, and probably always will be flawed. As a runner that can drive the ship, that's what makes him special.

Chris Weinke was tall but old and ended up being a fourth round pick in 2001. Josh Heupel won the Heisman the year after Weinke and never played in the NFL. Marques Tuiasosopo had two career NFL TD passes. I can't help but note that the best QBs drafted after Brees were probably Rosenfels and Feeley, two of the taller ones in this draft.


College Players of the Era

Notables 1999-2001
Bart Hendricks -6'0"
Casey Printers -6'2"
Major Applewhite -6'0"
George Godsey -6'2"
Casey Clausen -6'3"
Eric Crouch* -6'0"
Jeff Smoker -6'3"
Chris Rix -6'4"
Ryan Dinwiddie -6'1"
Cory Paus -6'1"


Here are some notable college players of the era that didn't get drafted. With the exception of Crouch, who was drafted by the Rams in the third round, but as a wide receiver. That did not work out. I have heard such things as "maybe teams just aren't giving these guys a chance based on perception of height." Well... other teams have given Crouch a chance. Like when he was the fourth-string QB in the CFL behind Damon Allen, Micheal Bishop, and Spergon Wynn. (Allen and Bishop, college stars, are each 6'1")

Either you recognize most of those names or you don't but if you look them up, you'll see some impressive college numbers. Some more than others, but the more common statistic among them is height.

One of those names that you might not recognize is Ryan Dinwiddie. At Boise State he led the nation in Y/A in 2002 and 2003 and in passing efficiency in 2002, but he has spent almost his entire career in the Canadian Football League. There are a lot of factors that can cause a player to be a college star (Dinwiddie held the career efficiency record for five years until Colt Brennan broke it) that couldn't get drafted but certainly being 6'1" was one of them, not to mention the inferior competition and style of offense.

Does a 6'4" Dinwiddie get drafted? Shouldn't then, have Chris Rix been drafted? He is the only four-year starter in Seminoles history, and he went to three bowl games, but he was overall considered to be a disappointment. He was described as not having his "head in the game," couldn't beat Miami (0-5 against in his career) and had physical tools but never showed much else. They might have been right.. Rix quickly quit football and went into broadcasting after a short stint in Chargers camp.

2002 Draft

David Carr 1 6'3"
Joey Harrington 1 6'4"
Patrick Ramsey 1 6'2"
Josh McCown 3 6'4"
David Garrard 4 6'1"
Rohan Davey 4 6'2"
Randy Fasani 5 6'3"
Kurt Kittner 5 6'2"
Brandon Doman 5 6'2"
Craig Nall 5 6'3"
J.T. O'Sullivan 6 6'2"
Steve Bellisari 6 6'3"
Seth Buford 7 6'3"
Jeff Kelly 7 6'1"
Wes Pate 7 6'2"


This is a pretty awful class of quarterbacks but it turns out that the 6'1" Garrard turned out to be the best of the bunch. There were 15 QBs selected and they combined for 1 Pro Bowl (Garrard) and not a single QB taken after Garrard turned into a starter in the NFL for even one season. The closest being J.T. O'Sullivan.

You'll still notice that teams look at height: The top four picks average 6-foot, 3 and a quarter inches.

2003 Draft

Carson Palmer* 1 6'5"
Byron Leftwich 1 6'5"
Kyle Boller 1 6'3"
Rex Grossman 1 6'1"
Dave Ragone 3 6'3"
Chris Simms 3 6'4"
Seneca Wallace 4 5'11"
Brian St. Pierre 5 6'3"
Drew Henson 6 6'4"
Brooks Bollinger 6 6'1"
Kliff Kingsbury 6 6'4"
Gibran Hamdan 7 6'6"
Ken Dorsey 7 6'4"


The 6'5" Heisman-winning Palmer and the 6'5" Leftwich were the top two QBs off of the board, but later on Grossman became only the 2nd under 6'2" QB to be drafted in the first round since 2000 and not another has gone off the board in the first since.

Palmer is easily the best in what is a relatively weak class of quarterbacks. Leftwich would be the 2nd best while Boller and Grossman both toiled in mediocrity with very small spurts of success. (Edit: Or they all suck if that helps!) The other anomaly in this class is Wallace, the only other under 6'0" QB drafted at all since 2000 alone with Joe Hamilton and Russell Wilson.

That's right, since as late as 1997 (as far back as I can be sure), the only QBs drafted that didn't reach 6 feet in height are Hamilton, Wallace, and Wilson and Russell is of course the highest drafted of them all.

You have to give credit to Wallace for lasting as long as he has in the NFL as a backup QB that's had his occasional starts and occasional success, (31 TD/18 INT, career) but he was never quite good enough to keep a job as a starter.


The tallest QB in the draft was Hamdan, a 6'6" QB that didn't have a very notable career at Indiana but was drafted anyway. Would he have been even considered if he was any shorter? Or what about Henson, the player that had only entered the draft after he flamed out from baseball? Henson was once considered a first round pick in the NFL but that was years earlier. The physically-gifted athlete that stood at 6'4" was taken in the 6th round.

College Players of the Era

Notables 2002-2003
Tony Romo -6'2"
Brad Banks -5'11"
Timmy Chang -6'2"
Scott McBrien -6'1"
Ryan Schneider -6'2'
Bryan Randall -6'2"
Darian Durant -5'11"
Jason Gesser -6'1"
Josh Fields -6'2"
Jason White* -6'3"
Asad Abdul-Khaliq -6'0"
Stan Hill -6'3"
Bill Whittemore -6'1"
Rod Rutherford -6'2"
Buck Pierce -6'1"
Chance Mock -6'3"


Normally, a player coming out of Eastern Illinois wouldn't be notable, but Tony Romo wasn't "too small" nor was he extremely tall. But a fair amount of good NFL QBs (Rodgers, etc.) are 6'2". Romo broke a bunch of records, got noticed, was invited to Cowboys camp, and the rest is history.

The rest of these players, including the oft-injured Jason White, are just history.

The most obvious comparison to Russell Wilson (though not a straight comparison) is Brad Banks. As a senior at Iowa, Banks threw 26 touchdowns and 5 INTs with 5 rushing TDs as an exciting dual-threat player but was undrafted and then signed for a very short time with the Washington Redskins but has played his career in other football leagues. Of course, Wilson possesses skills, experience, and success that Banks did not enjoy as much of, however the comparison is interesting.

I also want to point out something that you probably didn't notice since this is an article about the best cheeses around the world: all of these players are under 6'4". That doesn't have anything to do with gouda, but it's gouda to know hardy har har kill me now hey look how long this article is already.

2004 Draft

Eli Manning 1 6'4"
Philip Rivers 1 6'5"
Ben Roethlisberger 1 6'5"
J.P. Losman 1 6'3"
Matt Schaub 3 6'5"
Luke McCown 4 6'3"
Craig Krenzel 5 6'4"
Andy Hall 6 6'3"
Josh Harris 6 6'1"
Jim Sorgi 6 6'5"
Jeff Smoker 6 6'3"
John Navarre 7 6'6"
Cody Pickett 7 6'3"
Casey Bramlet 7 6'4"
Matt Mauck 7 6'1"
B.J. Symons 7 6'1"
Bradlee Van Pelt 7 6'2"


17 quarterbacks taken in a single draft is a lot and not only were 17 drafted but there were four players in this draft that are great and two of them have won multiple Super Bowls. :(

Then of course, there are the other 13 QBs. Once you get past Schaub and throw out J.P. Losman from the first, basically all of these quarterbacks failed. Well, failed on some level. If you're a 6th or 7th round QB, you're fighting for a job to start your career and 10 of these guys were drafted after the fifth. The most successful of which has a claim to fame of being Peyton Manning's backup.

The four QB's worth mentioning are: 6'5", 6'5", 6'4", and 6'4". The 6'5" Jim Sorgi lasted longer than any other QB picked past the fourth round by at least four seasons.

2005 Draft

Alex Smith 1 6'4"
Aaron Rodgers 1 6'2"
Jason Campbell 1 6'5"
Charlie Frye 3 6'4"
Andrew Walter 3 6'6"
David Greene 3 6'3"
Kyle Orton 4 6'4"
Stefan LeFors 4 6'0"
Dan Orlovsky 5 6'5"
Adrian McPherson 5 6'3"
Derek Anderson 6 6'6"
James Kilian 7 6'3"
Ryan Fitzpatrick 7 6'2"
Matt Cassel 7 6'5"


Welp, here comes an exception again: The 2nd-shortest QB in this draft is Aaron Rodgers and he's tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who wasn't bad for a 7th round pick! The height-exceptional QBs, Smith and Campbell, have had rather underwhelming careers.

Perhaps this is where height can not only be a factor to help a QB use his physical gifts to his advantage, but conversely be used to sway an NFL GM away from a better player simply because of height. The Packers haven't shown much interest in height (Brett Favre, Rodgers, Flynn, Brohm are all 6'2") and weren't swayed at all from grabbing Rodgers when they had the chance and he's been a perfect fit.

Then again, look at the last QB drafted. Cassel didn't make a single start at USC. His career numbers: 0 TD/1 INT. He hadn't started since high school but here's what New England new about Cassel: He has the size to play QB, he was highly touted enough to play at USC and given time we know that he at least the physical capabilities to be molded into a starting QB, maybe. And what happened? After a few years of sitting behind Brady in wait, Cassel was molded. He's not a great QB, but he's a good one.

You can't teach what Cassel has. You might be able to teach a 6'1" QB how to be accurate on a roll-out to his left side, but you'll never teach him to be 6'5". Being tall doesn't automatically make you good, just like having a 99 MPH fastball doesn't automatically make you good, but teams know that at least you possess a gift that can't be taught. That's why a QB with no experience at 6'5" gets drafted and an All-American 5'11" QB often is not.

Then you see the players that are under 6'2" and many of them didn't play in the NFL: Mauck, Harris, Symonds and LaFors.

College Players of the Era

Notables 2004-2005
Jared Zabransky -6'2"
Jared Allen -6'2"
Darrell Hackney -6'0"
Justin Holland -6'2"
Chris Leak -6'0"
Brock Berlin -6'1"
Rudy Carpenter -6'2"
John Stocco -6'2"
Brian Johnson -6'1"
Phil Horvath -6'3"
Bryan Cupito -6'2"
Sonny Cumbie -6'4"


Like I was saying, Berlin and Leak were big college names on the biggest stages but you have to be more than just a "big name," you have to be big. Berlin and Leak were not. Sure, if Berlin had possessed more skill in other areas, 6'1" isn't short enough to automatically not be drafted, but if he were 6'3" even, would that make the difference? The 6'4" players like Sonny Cumbie that don't get drafted, are undrafted mostly because they are seen as system QBs (which they are.) See: Brennan, Colt.

Coming up next (and soon because I've already written it) is Part II of this series. (Part 2 is up!) I will be looking at the 2006-2009 drafts, QB height relative to NFL success, and how first round quarterbacks have fared compared to quarterbacks drafted in every other round.

In the meantime, why aren't you following me on Twitter? Then you'll know right away when the goods are posted! Plus I tweet when I'm drunk like three times a week.