“Life is just a game of inches. So is football.”
As the regular college football season comes to an end, and many players look ahead to chase their NFL dreams, you will hear the names of several top Pac-12 quarterbacks, over and over again. Those names, Jared Goff, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan have earned the right to be at top of the list. They have put up solid numbers and earned incredible college football resumes.
It turns out though, their performance this season has been closely matched (or in some cases) blown out of the water by another Pac-12 quarterback. A quarterback who quite possibly might be overlooked, and drastically underrated.
In recent games, several NFL scouts have come to Autzen and opposing stadiums to get an up-close look at the opponents’ quarterbacks from Cal, Stanford and USC. Yet in each of those games, it seemed Oregon quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr. put on a better show, perhaps giving the scouts more to think about. A mere glimpse, yes. However, the comparisons are worth a look.
As I made small talk with a scout at a recent home game, I asked a single question: “Hypothetically speaking, what would a 5’ 11” quarterback have to do to get a good look from an NFL team?”
“Grow a few inches,” the scout replied.
It turns out that Vernon Adams Jr.’s football career has been limited, not because of talent, but because of inches.
Though Adams Jr. was a standout high school quarterback in Mission Hills, California, leading his team to a league title in 2010 and being selected as the Sierra League’s Most Valuable Player that year, no FBS programs in the country offered him a scholarship. Why? Because they thought he was too short.
In the end, it came down to two FCS programs, Portland State and Eastern Washington, taking a chance on a couple of inches. . .or lack thereof.
Eastern Washington prevailed and Adams led the team to more than one FCS Championship appearance and earned several honors, including being a two time runner up for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
After three solid seasons with Eastern Washington, Adams Jr.’s chance at the big stage he’d always dreamed of came. Aided by a graduate student transfer rule, Adams, with the help of his former high school coach, reached out to a number of top FBS schools including UCLA, Texas, Boise State and Oregon. Finally, he got the looks he arguably should have received years before. Could it be that his talent finally spoke louder than those pesky inches?
In a what would be a quick process, Adams was offered and accepted a scholarship from Oregon. After a roller coaster of a journey, Adams Jr. made his way to Eugene, in August of this year, taking a chance and leaving behind all that had become so familiar- his automatic starting position, his best friends, and of course, his young son, Kash, All for one shot. One season to pursue a dream of playing in the NFL , just like the young and successful quarterback, Russell Wilson, who Adams Jr. had changed his jersey number to honor, had done just a couple of years prior.
In just eight games with the Oregon Ducks, Adams Jr. has turned heads and proven that despite missing all of Spring practice, Summer workouts and part of Fall camp, he had the talent and charisma to fill some of the biggest shoes left behind by Oregon’s beloved former quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
After leading the Ducks to its season opener against his former team, Eastern Washington, Adams Jr. managed to almost lead the Ducks to victory against a top ranked Michigan State team, on the road. It would later be revealed that Adams had played that game with a broken finger on his throwing hand which would ultimately keep him (mostly) off the field for a couple of games- two of which Oregon lost.
Since returning to the starting line-up fully healthy, Adams Jr. has led the Ducks to several straight victories against top Pac 12 teams including Stanford, Cal and USC- teams that were led by quarterbacks considered to be on the 2016 NFL Draft A-list. In those games, Adams Jr.–dare I say it—matched or even exceeded said quarterbacks’ performances and put on an incredible show.
Sure, these could be considered simple snap shots, but if you look at each of those quarterbacks’ season stats, Adams is right in there. And, in many cases, actually has better looking stats, despite being with his team just a couple of months compared to the 2-3 years each of the other named quarterbacks has been with their respective team. It turns out, Adams Jr.’s current quarterback rating of 179.4 is the highest out of the four quarterbacks and actually just slightly below Mariota’s 2014 final quarterback rating. And, if you look solely at November statistics, Adams Jr. blows all of them out of the water with a 238.2 QBR (Stanford’s Kevin Hogan’s comes in at the next highest with 161.6).
Again, it’s just one season. One snapshot. I get it. The point is, shouldn’t Adams Jr. get a look? At least a consideration?
He might. Quite possibly though, it will again come down to inches.
It turns out Adams Jr. is at least 2 inches shorter than the top three Pac 12 quarterbacks likely to be the front-runners in the NFL Draft. In the National Football League, those inches still matter and any aspiring quarterback 6 feet or under is considered a gamble.
Here’s the thing though. Sometimes that gamble pays off. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks who took a chance on Russell Wilson. Yes, that same young quarterback who many have and continue to compare Adams Jr. to. Sure, Wilson happened to play in a pro-style offense in college, something NFL teams tend to prefer. But should that mean a quarterback as talented as Adams Jr. should be overlooked because he plays in a spread offense? Perhaps it does, if you are a guy like Johnny Manziel, who has proven to lack other important tangibles. But for others, like Adams Jr., who has overcome every obstacle with poise, humility and incredible talent, perhaps it shouldn’t.
Adams Jr. managed to learn a top team’s playbook and build meaningful chemistry with brand new teammates in a matter of a couple of weeks before leading them victory against the team he just left. He then stepped onto the field several more times against top ranked teams and again, led his new team to victory and put them in position to finish the year in the top 10- a position that would have likely been much higher had he been able to start in all games this season.
Tomorrow, Adams Jr. will lead Oregon in the Civil War which will be the final regular season game of his college career. Chances are, he will put up big numbers and lead the Ducks to victory while proving to everyone, including himself, that he was worth the gamble.
Perhaps Al Pecino said it best on the big screen when he spoke to a crowded and defeated locker room.
“Life is just a game of inches. So is football.”
As the season comes to a close, scouts will finish sizing up the top NFL Draft prospects and chances are, for Adams Jr., it will again come down to inches. But just as has been the case in his football life, his God-given talent should speak louder than the lines on measuring stick.