“If You’re Looking For The Next Russell Wilson…”

It's okay to look for the "next Russell Wilson," you might not find him - but I bet you'll eventually find a prospect worth the search if you keep an open mind. tPhoto by Neal D.
It’s okay to look for the “next Russell Wilson,” you might not find him – but I bet you’ll eventually find a prospect worth the search if you keep an open mind. Photo by Neal D.

WARNING: This is a post is about to engage in a severe form of nitpicking of two quality analysts of football – one whom I know and respect greatly. I only know the true intention of one of the two statements below about NFL quarterback prospects and that one came with Doug’s response after originally posting this peice – and it wasn’t what I was thinking. Even before posting this addendum, I had a feeling these quotes didn’t match the thoughts of the speakers.

What was more important to me about these quotes wasn’t the thoughts behind the speakers, but the general attitude I’m seeing in other contexts. Attitudes that – regardless of the intent of these quotes – sound dismissive.  And it’s the conclusions these statements appear to make that are as dead wrong as Marion Crane opting for the secluded Bates Motel rather than continuing to drive on a rainy night

If you’re looking for the next Russell Wilson this year, ask yourself this: How long did it take to find the “next Drew Brees?”

-Doug Farrar, Via Twitter (See note at end of post)

Russell Wilson, you’re not going to find Russell Wilsons every year. You’re not going to find Russell Wilsons every 20 years, 5-10 ½ quarterbacks that can play at the level, you’re just not going to find. We haven’t had them before. So if you count them, forget one hand. One finger, two fingers. I mean you don’t need more than a couple of fingers to figure that out.

So at the end of the day, don’t try to find that guy. He’s not there.

– Mel Kiper

I know Doug. He’s a terrific football analyst. He’s also right about looking for Russell Wilson in the respect that there’s a microscopic likelihood of finding a player of Wilson’s overall excellence this year. I just think his statement about how long it took to find Brees represents a thought among some to not to even look.

That’s how it sounds when you read Kiper’s comment. He begins with the same statement. Then he pulls the lever for the quote machine allegedly hidden somewhere in that coif [Suggestion to any marketing managers affiliated with ESPN: the next network commercial should have a “bald Kiper.” Make it happen. You’re welcome.] and he has dismissed any attempt out of hand. Next thing you know Drew Brees wasn’t drafted in 2001 and Doug Flutie wasn’t drafted in 1985.

Flutie doesn’t belong on this list, you say? Why not? No team gave him a long-term shot. They dismissed him because he was short. Brees and Wilson have proven it’s a mistake:

I’d keep watching the NFL and see quarterbacks whom I knew I was much better than. I didn’t ever feel I got a fair shot before. The game had changed down here. The success Steve Young had. Mark Brunell. Kordell. Steve McNair. You don’t think Brett Favre plays the way I do? All those guys paved the way for me to come back. In my heart, I’ve always known I could play in this league.

– Doug Flutie

The Curry Kirkpatrick article with this quote also provides a good one from the late John Butler, the former Bills GM who also drafted Drew Brees in San Diego:

Last year, Doug would come to me with dismay on his face,” says Bruce Smith, the Bills’ equally grizzled future-Fame defender. “He didn’t think he would get his shot. But I told him to hang in, it would come. I have to root for us old guys, you know. Now, I guess he figures, ‘What have I got to do?’ If it were me … I don’t know what I’d do. But he has to keep working to prove himself every day.”

So size never hasn’t mattered. Especially when he has disappeared. “With Doug, I guess some of it was out of sight, out of mind,” says Buffalo GM John Butler, almost sheepishly. “People search in vain for a guy like this to run your team, and he’s sitting up there in Canada all along. I guess we should all be ashamed. The league was cheated out of his greatness for eight years.

Let’s not forget Charlie Ward at Florida State, either. Many of my older and savvy readers will say that Ward probably wasn’t good enough to play in the NFL and I have also had my doubts over the years. But the only thing we can really say for sure about Ward is that no one gave him a real chance to prove it.

And at least among some in tight football circles, there aren’t open minds about quarterbacks under six-foot after Russell Wilson broke the rookie touchdown record and nearly overcame a bad half of Seattle football to reach the NFC Championship Game. That’s the real issue.

You don’t dismiss Russell Wilson and Drew Brees as generational anomalies, because it’s not just about short quarterbacks. It’s about quarterbacks who aren’t deemed worthy of a first-round pick and given a two- or three-year shot to be the franchise.

These players are considered generational anomalies in NFL terms for a variety of reasons:

  • Russell Wilson – 3rd round/too short, 2012
  • Tony Romo – UDFA, 2003
  • Drew Brees – 2nd round/too short, 2001
  • Tom Brady – 6th round, 2000
  • Marc Bulger – 6th round, 2000
  • Matt Hasselbeck, 6th round, 1998
  • Kurt Warner – UDFA, 1994
  • Jeff Garcia – UDFA/too short/too light/small school, 1994
  • Brett Favre – 2nd round (his coach said it would take a plane crash for him to put Favre in a game) 1991
  • Rich Gannon – 4th round, 1987

This list isn’t filled with great quarterbacks by any means, but all of them were good starters for a period of time. Some were MVPs and Super Bowl Champions. All of these players have made a Pro Bowl at least once and earned it.

They have also have led their teams to the playoffs. Only Romo, Wilson, and Garcia haven’t led their team to a Super Bowl. That’s 10 quarterbacks since 1987 – 5 in the past 12 years – for a league that has been dismissive of picks not earning the “franchise” selection.

Imagine if media, draft analysts, and most of all, NFL organizations were more open-minded about the idea of “looking” for potential every year rather than dismissing the possibility out of hand. The list would be a lot bigger.

I’m not saying greatness comes along every year at the quarterback position, but there’s a lot of ego behind the decision to spend a high draft pick on a quarterback and that influences the dismissive tone that’s even reflected in the media who interact with NFL organizations and get sucked into the same notion.

This is why when I hear the phrase,  If you’re looking for the next Russell Wilson…[forget it] it bothers me. It’s nitpicking, because I know neither Farrar nor Kiper are truly this dismissive. However, the language is a reflection of the culture they’re observing .

If you’re an NFL team or analyst and you’re not looking for the next unsung quarterback with potential to develop into a winning starter then you’re not doing your job.

Note: As mentioned early and late in this piece I imagined the intent of Farrar’s statement was not a dismissive one and if anything, I was nitpicking the tone of the comments. Farrar explains that he wished he had an opportunity to respond, considering the brief nature of Twitter and the limited space for analysis. Here is Farrar’s explanation:

“Wilson was that rarest of all prospects – maxed out in all possible attributes, but one (height) – and had discovered best ways to overcome that liability. In addition, [Wilson] was given the advantage of a perfect scheme fit in Seattle, who runs frequent two-back sets out of power zone with a west coast passing game. [This] fit Wilson perfectly from N.C. State (WCO) and Wisconsin (a two-back zone offense). Everyone who interviewed him said that at 6-foot-2, he would have been a top-5 pick. In a way, he was rarer than Brees, who needed time.to develop. What I meant by that little Twitter quote was that in a QB class with a bunch of questions and no outliers, people will look for the outlier. And they’re hosed as a result.” 

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11 responses to ““If You’re Looking For The Next Russell Wilson…””

  1. Well, one fairly obvious thing is that NFL QBs only come from one place, really. No matter size or shape, they come from US colleges, and originally from US high schools. So, in broad strokes, whatever is working in the high schools will–eventually–be what works in the NFL.

    NFL culture is often surprisingly narrow about its notions of what “works”. QB height is just one of the things people can be narrow about. It’s not that there are NO concerns about a sub-6.0 player. As Dilfer said, a guy that size has to be special in every other facet of the game. But now, people have been giving shots to flat out bums who weren’t even good in college JUST because they are 6’4.

  2. Good work Matt.

    It’s not like there are no legitimate concerns about a sub-6.0′ QB. But I thought Dilfer said it best. A guy that size has to be special on every other attribute. It’s that GMs have been predisposed to not even look for that. Instead, they’re looking for any 6’4″ who is merely reasonable on a few attributes.

  3. […] .@MattWaldman denounces the dismissive language that implies you can’t find another Russell Wilson.  This line of thinking keeps thoughts on franchise QBs close minded and prevents non traditional players from getting chance to prove otherwise.  A self fulfilling prophecy.  “If you’re an NFL team or analyst and you’re not looking for the next unsung quarterback with potential to develop into a winning starter then you’re not doing your job.”  Link […]

  4. Love it! My favorite thing in the NFL is seeing guys who weren’t given enough credit get their shot and prove people wrong.

    My favorite football player: Darren Sproles. How many RBs were taken ahead of him that year? San Diego drafted him, but even they didn’t give him a chance to show how good he was.

    There’s no denying it takes some luck to get a shot if you don’t have the perfect measurables. But you’d think more teams would catch on that there’s more to it than ideal size/strength/speed/etc.

  5. You could easily add Jon Kitna to your list. There were a couple of other NFLE QBs who would might have made it into NFL without the chance they got there: Brad Johnson, for example, or would not have, like Shaun Hill, or Jay Fiedler (who quit rather than play for one coach, and whose next coach told me he couldnt play even at that level). You need reps to show what you can do, and reps are hard to come by at QB, for obvious reasons. The point being not that these are great QBs, but that serviceable QBs are still worth developing

  6. I feel like this article was perfectly written in that the sentiment being that quarterbacks who don’t fit the mold of an accepted stereo-type are the only players undrafted. It happens all the time with players deemed too small or not built right for the position they play, running backs, wide receivers and defensive ends all come to mind. Perfect examples were used, but I also feel like Kellen Moore is another example of someone who could make the best of a bad situation were Mathew Stafford to ever be hurt which could happen given his injury history. It only takes on event for something like that to happen, just ask Drew Bledsoe. Point being, the obsession over tangibles often clouds the quality of the intangibles, the drive and will to win, the leadership qualities that are not present on tape in between downs and the knowledge to go over tape and do the extra work to win, all of these things should be examined more closely but aren’t and it’s a damned shame too.

  7. Did nobody give Charlie Ward a chance? I was under the impression he *chose* basketball, although it may have been a “choice” in the sense that he knew the NFL didn’t value him enough to give him a legitimate shot at a starting job.

    • Your comment about the nature of the “choice” was the real deal. Ward had enough brains to see the nature of the NFL and realize there were still enough people who were ignorant about race that choosing football was a losing proposition and even if he was white as opposed to a dark-skinned black man then the height issue was also a factor of ignorance.

  8. Late to the party with this thought, but Dilfer seems to miss the bigger picture: ANY quarterback needs to be special in multiple areas to succeed in the NFL — not just <6ft ones.

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