We all know that the NFL scouting process is about numbers and measurables. In fact, they've built an entire event (NFL Combine) around it that is now televised four straight days in late-February. It's riveting television that has former college players participating in things like the "shuttle run" and the "three-cone drill."
But recently there has been some rethinking of the scouting process at the quarterback position. The success of smaller NFL quarterbacks like Drew Brees, and most recently Russell Wilson, have talent evaluators and general managers in a quandary. Yes, they all still love the tall, stand-in-the-pocket guy with a big arm (see Andrew Luck)...but what about the little guys that are having ultra success at the position in college? Are they just a product of an offensive system or will their skills translate at the next level? Are the so called "west coast offenses" just a fad and will we soon revert to smash mouth, old school NFL offenses that run the ball to set up the pass?
As the spread offense has made its way into the NFL, the quarterback position has been redefined as well. To make these new offense schemes work, you need someone at the helm that can avoid the rush with designed roll-outs and movement of the pocket. Some NFL teams have opted for bigger quarterbacks that also have mobility: Colin Kaepernick (6 foot 4) and Cam Newton (6 foot 5) are just two examples. But it should be noted that Brees and Wilson each have something neither of those tall, mobile quarterbacks have: a Super Bowl ring.
So what does this rethinking of the quarterback position in the NFL mean to Group of 5 school quarterbacks who happen to be smaller, specifically players in the MAC? I have to believe that means more opportunities and longer looks from NFL scouts. Recently, the MAC has done a decent job of putting quarterbacks on NFL rosters. The list includes Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye and Omar Jacobs to name just a few.
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But too often, smaller MAC quarterbacks that possess great athletic ability have been forced to switch position to make it in the NFL. Both Julian Edelman (New England) and Josh Cribbs (currently a free agent) are former Kent State quarterbacks who have made a pretty good living in the NFL as receivers and special teams players.
Looking over the 2014 team rosters in the MAC, the current quarterback who stands to benefit the most from NFL teams taking a harder look at smaller quarterbacks is Bowling Green's Matt Johnson. Johnson certainly fits into the "smaller" category as he's listed at 6 foot on the official BG team roster; and that may be stretching it a bit.
But you certainly can't argue with the season Johnson put together at BG last year. As a redshirt-sophomore, he took over from the starter during the first game of the season and never looked back, starting the remaining 13 games. He capped off his MAC season with a 393-yard, 5 touchdown performance in the MAC Championship and was named the game's MVP. Johnson threw for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season, while also adding five rushing touchdowns. He had the fourth most passing yards in school history for a single season, and he tied for sixth all-time at BGSU in single-season touchdowns. Not bad for a guy that had thrown a total of 28 passes in his college career prior to last fall.
Even bigger things are expected of Johnson this year as he leads the breakneck paced offense that new BG coach Dino Babers has installed. Johnson has been named to the preseason All-MAC first team and was nominated to the 2014 watch lists of the Walter Camp Award, The Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, and the Maxwell Award.
If Johnson improves each of the next two years and continues to put up video game-type offensive numbers in Babers offense, the pro scouts will have to take notice. And, he'll also need to play well in games against the Power 5 conference teams, like Indiana and Wisconsin this year, to get over the "level of completion" argument.
Those involved in the small quarterback debate will surely be looking to Cleveland this year to see how Johnny Manzie‘s game fits in the NFL. If Johnny Football has any kind of success for the Browns, look out! It just may kick the door wide open for opportunities for smaller quarterbacks, which can only bode well for current and future MAC signal callers.