In the 84 years of the National Football League draft, only one quarterback under six feet tall has ever been taken in the first round. That honor goes to the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray. He was the first pick of the draft in 2019 after putting up eye-popping numbers at the University of Oklahoma on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy in 2018. That Murray’s height might limit his success as a pro signal-caller concerned skeptics, but the Cardinals’ new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, had set his sights on the multi-sport star.
Russell Wilson and others under six feet (or close)
Kyler Murray may stand alone as the only first-rounder who stands under 6 feet tall, but some would argue that Johnny Manziel, a first-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2014, is a generous six foot tall. At the NFL combine in 2014, he clocked in at 5-11-3/4, which was a quarter-inch shorter than he predicted before the draft event.
At the time, Manziel was quick to dismiss the shortcoming, pointing to the success of the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who stands 5-11. “I think he’s kicked the door wide open,” Manziel told the Houston Chronicle, per Sports Illustrated. “You’re seeing more guys being successful avoiding that first wave of pressure — get out and do things outside the pocket.”
Speaking of Wilson, draft experts passed on the University of Wisconsin star in the 2012 draft, allowing him to fall to Seattle in the third round. Wilson’s mobility and rocket arm have led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls, including a win in Super Bowl 48.
Drew Brees is another under-6-footer who led his team to the Super Bowl. Brees, selected by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of 2011, is listed at a generous 6 feet tall. Over the years, Brees has been frank about questions related to his height.
“I’m 6 feet tall, no more, no less. Doug Flutie was 5-9, 5-10 at best, but he was all heart and played for 20 years professionally. Sometimes, you can’t measure the fight in the dog,” Brees told the Austin Statesman.
Other star quarterbacks who failed to hit the six-foot mark include Doug Flutie and two greats from the 1960s — Sonny Jurgensen and Fran Tarkenton.
Quarterback height is not a predictor of success
In Wilson and Murray’s case, great athleticism allows them to evade pass rushers and extend plays. Both men were collegiate baseball standouts, which shows in their ability to throw deep, accurate passes. The Baltimore Orioles drafted Wilson out of high school in 2007, and the Rockies took him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.
Kyler Murray made a bigger splash as a college baseball player. In his senior year at Oklahoma, he had a stellar season as a center fielder, batting .296 with 10 home runs, 47 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases. In the 2018 draft, the Oakland Athletics picked Murray in the first round, and he received a $4.66 million signing bonus.
The truth is, there is no perfect size for a quarterback. The tallest QB to play in the NFL was Dan McGwire (brother of Mark McGwire) at 6-8. A first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 1991, McGwire was a bust as were Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch at 6-7, and 6-6 Mike Glennon, who recently turned in a dismal performance for the Jackson Jaguars against the Bears.
Four active quarterbacks rank among the top 25 tallest to play in the NFL — Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, and Justin Herbert.
Kyler Murray proves the batted ball theory is a myth
Kyler Murray had only five balls batted down by defensive players in his rookie season, putting away the myth that shorter QBs would have more difficulty with batted balls. Daniel Jones, who stands at 6-5, had the most in 2019 with 12, but the 2020 season belongs to Kirk Cousins when it comes to passes getting knocked down. At the midway point, Cousins had 14 passes batted away, per Vikings Territory.
For the record, Cousins is 6-3. Again, height does not keep a quarterback from being a victim of having his passes batted down by opposing players. Earlier this season, New England’s 6-5 Cam Newton had four balls swatted away by the Houston Texans. Rather than take any blame, Newton complimented JJ Watt and the Texans.
“JJ Watt, he’s an all-pro, perennial all-pro,” Newton said after the game, according to Patriots Wire. “He’s a defensive Player of the Year, one of the best players in this generation. So for us, it is what it is.”