Wisconsin's Wilson aces pro-day evaluation
MADISON, Wis. — There were no NFL linebackers barreling toward Russell Wilson on Wednesday, no massive offensive linemen to see over as he zipped passes around Wisconsin's indoor practice facility.
Only open space, a few receivers and dozens of professional scouts surrounded Wilson as he confidently completed out routes, slants, screens and deep balls down the sideline. He threw every route he could possibly throw as an NFL quarterback, completing 59 of 63 attempts, with two drops.
Yes, Wilson, the former Badgers standout, looked every bit like a player with all the tools necessary to turn a pro day into a pro career.
But the only tool missing from his repertoire isn't measured during drills. It's measured with a ruler. Conventional wisdom — and NFL statistics — suggest Wilson could be in for a rude awakening, no matter how impressively he performed during his pro timing day on Wednesday.
Wilson measured in at 5-foot-11, or 3/8 inch taller than he measured during the NFL Combine and Senior Bowl.
The problem is, even with his slight boost, Wilson's height would make him the shortest quarterback on an NFL roster.
Cleveland's Seneca Wallace, at 5-11 3/8, was the shortest quarterback in the NFL in 2011. New Orleans' Drew Brees was the shortest starter at 6-foot.
The stereotype that short quarterbacks can't excel in the NFL has done little to deter Wilson — who often cites Brees as his idol — from pursuing that dream. And he continued on Wednesday to state his case that conventional wisdom needs to be reconsidered.
"My height's not a factor," Wilson said. "I played this way my whole life. I think I only had three balls batted down the whole season.
"The key is finding lanes and delivering the ball on time. There's not that much of a difference if I was 6-1 or 5-11, to be honest. Playing behind the offensive line you play behind, you don't really see over guys. You throw through lanes, deliver an accurate ball, throw the ball with arc and pace and just make plays."
Wilson certainly made his share of plays during his one season at Wisconsin. He completed 225 of 309 passes (72.8 percent) for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and four interceptions and led the Badgers to their second consecutive Rose Bowl. He broke the school record for single-season passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and pass efficiency rating.
Those statistics occurred while playing behind the Badgers' massive offensive line, which measured 6-5, 322 pounds and was bigger than all but two NFL offensive lines — a point Wilson reiterated on Wednesday to show he was ready for the pros.
Wilson transferred to Wisconsin after playing three seasons at North Carolina State, and he quickly adapted to an entirely different offensive scheme. At NC State, Wilson estimated he was in the shotgun 75 percent of the time in the team's West Coast offense, while at Wisconsin he was under center 90 percent of the time.
His ability to understand and execute Wisconsin's pro-style playbook in a short period of time, Wilson said, should give NFL teams even more reason to pursue him.
"I gave myself three weeks to learn the whole playbook," he said. "That's a huge asset to a team that wants to draft me. Whatever team that drafts me, I'm going to get there and just dive into that playbook and continue to learn as much as I can. That way, I'm always ready."
On Wednesday, Wilson worked with former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, who runs the football program at IMG in Bradenton, Fla., and has helped train Wilson since the season ended. Wilson threw passes from the 20-yard-line down field to former Badgers wide receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath, tight end Jake Byrne and fullback Bradie Ewing.
"He was incredible today," Ewing said. "Showed his arm strength throwing it down field, throwing with pinpoint accuracy. He's anything a team could want in a quarterback."
Wilson also took snaps from Badgers center Peter Konz, a projected first-round pick in the NFL draft this April.
"He's as good as everybody thinks he is and probably even better than that," Konz said. "He just needs his shot."
Most online mock drafts indicate Wilson will at least receive that shot somewhere. He is projected to go anywhere between the fifth to seventh round in the seven-round draft, and his height is the biggest deterrent from him being projected higher.
If Wilson does get picked, it wouldn't be the first time he was selected in a professional sports draft.
Wilson was a fourth round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies as a second baseman in 2010 and played minor league baseball before giving up the sport to return to college football.
This time, there will be no wavering as to which sport Wilson pursues.
"There is no more baseball," Wilson said. "This is what I'm doing. I love to play the game. There's nothing better than getting ready for a huge football game. I'm excited about my future in the NFL for a long period of time. Hopefully, I play 15 years in the NFL and win a Super Bowl. That's the goal."
First, he needs an NFL team willing to defy conventional wisdom by taking a chance on him.
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