Wilson faces an issue of stature

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Ron Green Jr.
Monday, April 23, 2012
— In the micro-managed world of the NFL draft, where players are evaluated in extreme detail, there is a mold for every position.

Height. Weight. Speed. Jumping ability. Strength. Arm length.

One-hundredth of a second here. Eight pounds there. An extra seven reps on the bench press.

And then there is Russell Wilson.

He is, by every measure, too short to be an NFL quarterback.

At the NFL Combine, Wilson measured 5 feet, 10.7 inches tall. Or short, if you believe pro quarterbacks have to be tall enough to see and throw over lines that are almost as tall as some NBA frontcourts.

And yet ...

“He’s not typical and he’s too short and all those things,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “However, to me, he’s a winner.

“Doesn’t matter where you plug him in. He finds a way to win ... I think he’s the kind of guy that might develop more than people think.”

What does that mean for Wilson, a three-year star at North Carolina State before transferring to Wisconsin, where he led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl in his only season?

It means he’ll definitely get drafted, probably around the fourth round, by a team intent on believing what Wilson can be, not what he isn’t.

“Can he make it? I think so,” long-time Colts president now ESPN analyst Bill Polian said. “Where will he be drafted? I can’t tell you. Does he have a future in the NFL? Absolutely. Is it as a starter? I can’t say that.”

For all Wilson did as a college player—and there have been few more productive—the NFL plays a different game. It starts at quarterback. Just ask the Carolina Panthers.

It also starts with first-round picks. Over the last eight years, 23 quarterbacks have been first-round picks, and 15 of them are now starters.

In that same time, 82 quarterbacks have been drafted in the second round and beyond. Only seven of those quarterbacks have become NFL starters.

That doesn’t work in Wilson’s favor.

Still, Wilson was named offensive captain at Wisconsin in his only season in Madison. He set an NCAA single-season passing efficiency record (191.7) last year, completed 72 percent of passes, throwing 34 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also holds the Football Bowl Subdivision record of 379 consecutive passes without an interception.

He played behind what ESPN’s Jon Gruden said was the biggest offensive line in college football and he had only three passes batted down last season.

“He gets in the throwing lanes and has a high arc on his passes,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.

The obvious comparison in Wilson’s case is with New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees, who is officially listed at 6 feet tall.

“If you just look at one inch or an inch and a half, that’s the height difference in Russell Wilson and Drew Brees,” Gruden said. “But he’s got a lot of questions and answers. He’s going to have to answer those questions. Hopefully, the right guy gives him an opportunity and he takes advantage of it because when you watch the tape at N.C. State or Wisconsin, the results are similar. It’s exciting.”

As Wilson has prepared and waited for the draft, he’s done his own homework.

“We’re watching tons of film on Drew Brees. He’s my favorite player,” Wilson said recently on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” “Watching a guy like that, who’s this much taller than me, there’s not too much of a difference.

“(My height) hasn’t hindered me at all. I can make every single throw. I play tall in the pocket. I have a high, quick release. My height doesn’t define my skill set. I play like I’m a 6-2 or 6-3 quarterback.”

Like Cam Newton, Wilson is more than a dropback passer. He was a running threat in college, carrying 79 times for 338 yards and six touchdowns last season at Wisconsin. He lacks Newton’s size but Wilson’s ability to get outside the pocket and take off is one of his many assets.

Mayock said he can see Wilson being a “change of pace” quarterback, a player who can come into the game and force opponents to adjust to a different style because of his ability to get out on the edge and throw the ball.

Wilson has a believer in Bielema.

“When people ask me about Russell, I tell them three things,” Bielema said. “One, his leadership skills. He can walk into a huddle and he has instant credibility with the way he works and the way he handles a game.

“Two, his amazing physical skill. He can throw every pass. High, low, long, short, outside, inside. His arm capability is the best I’ve seen in my 18 years of coaching. And third, he plays on the big stage as well as anyone. When we got beat at Michigan State, everyone was taking the woe is me path. Russell said playing in that environment was the most fun he’d had. He refuses to go down a negative path.”

While other quarterbacks will be chosen before Wilson, few may be more intriguing. Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III are locked in as the first two picks in the draft, their stardom assured. Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State will be the next quarterbacks chosen.

Wilson will wait and wonder when his name will be called.

“Is Russell Wilson the exception?” Polian said of the height concerns. “All the qualities he has ... he’s fast, he’s mature beyond his years, he’s smart, he’s a leader. Those things are all A-plus.”

Last updated: 8:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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