Size Matters: Johnny Manziel and the NFL Combine

Johnny Manziel has faced questions over his height as he prepares to enter the NFL

Every Spring the top prospects in college football assemble in Indianapolis for the NFL combine to be poked and prodded by their potential future employers before they participate in a number of physical assessments. These include the 40 yard dash and the bench press, each of which should give NFL executives an idea of just how fast and strong each prospect is.

However, while the results of these drills often gain all the headlines at the combine this year it’s been the measurements of Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny “Football”, that have caused a stir. The former Texas A & M quarterback was one of college football’s most explosive players during his two seasons in action in Texas and he became the first ever freshman to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy after his excellent 2012 season. NFL legend Brett Favre recently said that watching film of Manziel felt like “watching film of a young me”, and most mock drafts have him pegged to go within the first four picks. Yet despite all of the positive hype surrounding the young QB there remain a few concerns, chiefly his lack of prototypical quarterback size.

Before the combine began Manziel proclaimed that he would measure in at “72 inches on the dot”, which equates to exactly six feet tall. Unfortunately for Johnny Football he came in a mammoth quarter of an inch under that mark, spurring questions about his ability to succeed in the NFL where players are bigger, stronger and faster than in the college game. Traditionally NFL quarterbacks are large physical specimens, tall enough to deliver throws over the pass rush while large enough in the body to absorb hits from ravenous defensive ends. Manziel is neither, unlike NFL contemporaries such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who stand six feet four inches and six feet five inches tall respectively.

While Manziel is certain to face many questions from teams who are sceptical of his ability to succeed in spite of his lack of height, there is hope for the gunslinger. There have been examples in recent years that being tall doesn’t necessarily correlate with success at the quarterback position. Drew Brees has developed into one of the great passers of his generation, winning a Superbowl and eclipsing 5,000 yards passing on multiple occasions. Yet he stands just six feet tall. Russell Wilson has also become a star in the league, winning the Superbowl this past month with Seattle despite dropping to the third round of the 2012 draft because of concerns over his five feet eleven inch frame. Both Brees and Wilson have overcome their lack of size to win titles in the NFL, and as a consequence they might be the biggest reason Manziel is in a position to be selected early in the first round of this May’s draft. It’s also worth noting that while many people are aware of Wilson slipping in the draft, many forget that Brees himself was a second round selection back in 2001. There isn’t much precedent for selecting an undersized QB early on, putting Manziel in a unique position as he prepares to enter the league.

Another positive for Manziel this weekend has been the measurement of his hand size. He measured in at 9 7/8 inches, larger than those of fellow first round QB prospects Teddy Bridgewater (9 1/4) and Blake Bortles (9 3/8). Former NFL passer Daunte Culpepper once fumbled the football 66 times over a three season stretch. Guess what? Small hands. The same could be said of fumble machine Mike Vick: small hands. Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly once said he’s more concerned with a quarterback’s hand size than his height because it promotes ball security. Manziel’s hands would certainly stand him in good stead with a coach like Kelly, and whether or not the executives of teams such as the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars agree could determine if Manziel goes as early as number one overall in a few weeks time. Just the fact that these measurements carry such weight makes this much clear: size matters in the National Football League.

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