(SportsNetwork.com) - Earlier this week, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock compared Texas A&M playmaker Johnny Manziel favorably to two other vertically challenged quarterbacks from the past, Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie.
Mayock threw out the Tarkenton/Flutie comparison after watching film of one of Manziel's signature college performances, a 49-42 home loss to then-No. 1- ranked Alabama last season.
"The first tape I put in was Alabama, and I put the tape down about two hours later and said, 'Wow, that was awesome,'" Mayock said on a conference call. "It was really fun to watch. The kid made throws, he allows other players to make plays, he gave (wide receiver) Mike Evans a chance to make plays. He extended plays. He was a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie. I really enjoyed it, and there were two or three more tapes like that."
Tarkenton, of course, landed in Canton after a brilliant career with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, while Flutie had his moments in the NFL with New England, Buffalo and San Diego after authoring one of the most famous plays in college football history -- the "Hail Flutie" which lifted Boston College over Miami in 1984 -- and developing into a star in the CFL.
Big things weren't expected from either, though. The generously listed 6-foot Tarkenton was a third-round pick by the expansion Vikings in 1961, while Flutie, who was measured at 5-9, was drafted in the 11th round in 1985, 285th overall by the Los Angeles Rams.
Manziel, on the other hand, is in the mix with a few others to be the No. 1 overall pick when the Houston Texans kick off the 2014 NFL Draft on May 8.
Manziel was listed at 6-1 and 210 pounds by Texas A&M in its media guide and assured just about everyone he would reach he 72-inch plateau (6-foot) when he was officially measured in Indianapolis.
Turns out -- and forgive the pun -- the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner came up just short, being listed at 5-11 3/4 and 207 pounds at the combine on Friday, the shortest of the three signal callers believed to be in the mix for the Texans.
Louisville star Teddy Bridgewater was measured at 6-2 1/8 and 214 pounds, while the prototypically sized Blake Bortles of Central Florida came in at an imposing 6-5 and 232 pounds.
So why is Manziel even in the conversation with these two?
Well, the most obvious reason is his natural playmaking ability. Manziel has that rare, uncanny ability to extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield. Most signal callers -- even the most talented ones -- tend to drop their eyes quickly when they get in trouble, taking options down the field off the table.
Not to be overlooked in Manziel's potential is his significant hand size (measured between his outstretched thumb and pinky). Despite being far shorter than Bortles and over two inches shy of Bridgewater, Manziel's hands turned out to be bigger than both, 9 7/8 inches compared to Bortles' 9 3/8 and Teddy's 9 1/4.
"If the quarterback is not tall, look at his hands," Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly once said. "That is the biggest coaching point to finding a quarterback. How big are his hands, and how well can he control the football? The height of the quarterback is not the important thing. No one playing quarterback throws over the line. They throw through lanes in the linemen. The important thing is the size of their hands."
Kelly's views are hardly unique around the league. In fact, the only people who hate small hands more than Austin Powers are NFL scouts. The thought being a bigger hand is a significant advantage when trying to grip the football quickly in questionable conditions, be it weather-related or just the common occurrence of a heavy pass rush. A larger hand also significantly helps when trying to deliver the deep ball.
In case you are wondering, the 5-11 Russell Wilson of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, a player who many believe opened more than a few doors for shorter QBs with his play over the last two seasons, has monstrous 10 1/4-inch hands.
The other shorter signal caller people cite when saying players like Manziel could be successes is New Orleans' Drew Brees, who is just over 6 feet with well above average 10 1/4-inch hands.
"I think the stigma is kind of changing," Brees, who has thrown for 46,598 yards and 327 touchdowns in his superlative run, recently told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when discussing the issue of smaller QBs. "There's not necessarily that same attitude maybe like there was 10 or 15 years ago in regards to the measurables of a quarterback."
Future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who possessed the strongest arm I've ever witnessed, also had enormous hands, measured at 10 3/8 inches, during the scouting combine in 1991. On the other hand, the ultra-talented 6-4, 264-pound Daunte Culpepper had 9 1/2 inch mitts, certainly not small for a normal individual but underwhelming for his size.
To this day, many scouts believe Culpepper would have had a chance to join Favre in Canton if his hands were just a little bit bigger.
Only three quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall were listed at 6 foot or smaller and Michael Vick was the only one selected in the modern era. Vick, who barely reaches 72 inches, also has a small 8 1/2-inch hand and has had significant turnover issues throughout his NFL career.
In the end, though, the hands and height are just supporting cast members to the headliners of work ethic and maturity. And Manziel still needs to prove he has the traits and intangibles to play the game's most important position.
"(Manziel's) different than any quarterback I've (scouted) before," Mayock said. "He's different than RG3 (Robert Griffin III), he's different than Cam Newton, different than Andrew Luck. He's different than Russell Wilson. I believe in the kid. I think he's going to be a top-10, if not a top-five pick."