The Elite 11 program, which runs each summer in conjunction with Nike’s The Opening, was started in 1999. It is a quarterback competition that pits the best high school signal-callers in the nation against one another. The competitors get NFL-style coaching, go through a myriad of drills, watch film and compete for the competition’s MVP.
The 2016 MVP? Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Michigan starting quarterback Shea Patterson was the 2015 MVP and this year’s Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray was a competitor in 2014 (the MVP went to South Florida’s Blake Barnett). All three quarterbacks have the Elite 11 in common, but all three also have something else that is noteworthy. They all fit the new mold of an elite quarterback, which surprisingly could care less about height.
“Pro-Style” Quarterback What exactly is a “pro-style” quarterback? For decades, evaluators of NFL talent looked for certain characteristics in a college quarterback. First on the list was size. A close second was strength and power that translated into arm strength. The typical pro-style quarterback then was someone with a rather large frame and had a rocket arm. Joe Montana considered one of the great college and professional quarterbacks of all-time was actually a little small at 6-2 and less than 200 pounds. Scouts also worried about Montana’s arm strength.
A guy like Trent Dilfer, who stands 6-4 and won a Super Bowl with Baltimore back in 2000, fits the mold – tall, big frame, and a strong arm (which Dilfer and his Elite 11 colleagues now refer to as “arm talent”). Colleges looked for quarterbacks that were at least 6-2 and preferred the 6-4 and 6-5 types like Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, for example. More recently though, those preferences have changed.
Selling Short The 2016 NFL Draft featured two college quarterbacks taken with the first and second overall picks. California’s Jared Goff went first to the Rams and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz went No. 2 to the Eagles. Goff checks in at 6-4 and Wentz measures 6-5. While still in demand, the old pro-style quarterback is giving way to a new era.
The 2018 NFL Draft featured a college quarterback as the No. 1 overall pick. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was listed at 6-1 while playing for the Sooners. He measured 6-0⅝ at the NFL Combine. Cleveland overlooked Mayfield’s height because they knew he could play and he proved it in his rookie season.
The short college quarterback has been drafted before. The Seattle Seahawks went short in 2012 when they selected Russell Wilson in the third round. If Wilson would have been 6-3, he likely would have been a first-round pick. Instead, the 5-10⅝ Wilson was the 75th overall pick and later led Seattle to a Super Bowl championship.
The San Diego Chargers (as they were known then) overlooked the 6-0¼ height of Drew Brees in 2001. New Orleans did the same when they signed Brees in 2006. He led Purdue to a Big Ten title and has won a Super Bowl with the Saints. Oh, and Brees holds the NFL’s career record for passing yards.
The New Breed Tagovailoa, who helped lead Alabama to an undefeated season, an SEC title, and another shot at a national championship, is listed at 6-1. He’s likely shorter. Penn State’s Trace McSorley, who accounted for nearly 12,000 total yards and 107 touchdowns in his career, is generously listed at 6-0. Murray, the Heisman winner, and a first-round MLB draft pick is listed at 5-10 and might be just a bit shy of that.
The 2018 Elite 11 MVP was Spencer Rattler from Arizona. He signed with Oklahoma during the early signing period and is viewed by many as the next Murray. He is listed at 6-1. As the game continues to change, less emphasis will be placed on quarterback height. As long as guys can make throws and make enough plays with their feet, size will no longer matter. And with that, we welcome the new elite college quarterback.