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Height doesn't matter: The QB views of George Paton and Nathaniel Hackett show that it's a new era for the Denver Broncos

Andrew Mason Avatar
March 1, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Barely 48 hours after the word of John Elway’s transition to outside consultant became public, two comments from Denver’s top two football minds made it clear that the Broncos are under new management.

Yes, general manager George Paton has called the day-to-day shots since January 2021. But Elway was still technically above him on the flowchart, remaining the team’s president of football operations as his five-year contract signed in 2017 wound to its conclusion.

Now, it’s Paton’s show.

And along with new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, the two key decision-makers in the Broncos’ brain trust made one thing clear in their search for a quarterback:

Height doesn’t matter.

“I think height, as we’ve learned, there’s some quarterbacks that aren’t over six feet who are dynamic,” Paton said. “When I first got into the league, everyone wanted a 6-5 quarterback, right? Who could really throw it. Didn’t matter if they moved. Well, the league’s changed. Now you want a little more [of an] athlete.”

Indeed, the game has changed, and Hackett acknowledged just how his philosophy began evolving on measurables at all positions from the early stages of his coaching career.

“I used to put a lot into that,” Hackett said. “I want to say, earlier in my career, getting to know guys like Ronde Barber, watching guys like Drew Brees, we can say all these things and say there’s a typical size, hand size, weight. But in the end, there’s players, and there’s guys that aren’t as good of players.

“And I think that you just have to go with your gut on those things, because there is nothing specific. I really don’t [think that]. I think that of course, you want the prototypical stuff — oh, this guy’s, whatever — but heck, in the end, you’re a player or you’re not.”

In the Elway era, the Broncos drafted six quarterbacks. Two of them were towering 6-foot-7 quarterbacks, which says a lot: Just five quarterbacks since 2000 were 6-foot-7 or taller when they measured at the Combine, and the Broncos drafted 40 percent of them — Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Only the final pick of the 2017 draft, Chad Kelly, was shorter than 6-foot-3 — and he stood 6-foot-2. The average height of quarterbacks drafted by the Broncos was 6 feet, 4.3 inches.

The Broncos had a type. And it meant that, for example, No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray wasn’t going to be on their radar.

As Elway noted at the 2019 NFL Combine, a shorter quarterback could see better from the shotgun — but for an offense to function, it needed to operate under center.

“Coming out from underneath the center, it’s tougher to see coming out [for a shorter quarterback,” Elway said three years ago. “And shotgun puts you back there, you can see a lot more, those guys are popping up and they’re a lot farther away from you, so they don’t block your view nearly as much as being in shotgun. I think that’s one of the answers.”

A moment later, Elway dismissed the notion of a shotgun-heavy offense, because “I think you can only do so much in shotgun in the running game, and I think being underneath the center, if you want to run the football and have balance, you’ve got to be able to be underneath the center.

“Because when it comes down to the running game, that’s where it helps you. So, that’s why to me, it’s important if you want to have balance, you’ve got to be able to go under the center, too.”

That was then.

This is now, and much has changed.

That being said, one measurable does matter for Paton: hand size.

“But hand size is big,” he said. “You’re always looking at the measurables for every position and you kind of weigh ‘em as you go.”

What that means for Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and his viability as a Broncos quarterback is to be determined; he did not have his right hand measured at the Senior Bowl, as he continues to work on exercises in an effort to get what he believes will be an accurate measurement.

But for quarterbacks like North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Liberty’s Malik Willis — who at the Senior Bowl measured at just 1/4 and 3/8 of an inch above 6 feet, respectively — they won’t find their height used against them.

It’s a new era, indeed.


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