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Vernon Adams out to prove lack of height won’t impede NFL future

Vernon Adams experienced a ton of success in college at both Eastern Washington and Oregon, but will his short stature keep him from reaching that same level in the NFL?

INDIANAPOLIS — Vernon Adams was a member of the FCS All-America team, a much ballyhooed transfer to Oregon and then, when healthy, a star on the Ducks’ offense. How much does that all matter as he preps for the NFL draft? That depends on how many teams get hung up on the description leading most of his scouting reports.

“I’m still a 5' 11" quarterback, the short quarterback,” Adams said during his scouting combine media session Wednesday, three days before the event’s QBs take the field for their workouts.

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Adams officially checked in at 5' 10 7/8" and 200 pounds, smaller than any of the quarterbacks who participated in last year’s combine. He’ll no doubt be at or near the bottom this year, too, once his fellow signal-callers finish their weigh-ins on Thursday. His hands (9 1/8 inches) also are on the small side, below the 9 1/4-inch mark for which Teddy Bridgewater heard from so many skeptics.

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On the issue of QB hand size, new Browns coach Hue Jackson had this to say: “It matters because we play in a division where all of a sudden there’s rain, there’s snow, and it’s different. I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations, and so we’ll look for a guy that fits what we’re looking for in a quarterback. And is hand size important? Yes, it is.”

For all the drastic ways NFL offenses have changed of late, there is still an obvious lean on the part of most of the league toward the so-called “prototypical quarterback.” Tall, big hands, big arm, heavy experience playing from the pocket.

The successes of those who succeed from outside that window are seen not necessarily as trendsetters, but as outliers.

Hence why quarterbacks of similar size to Adams are usually filtered into one of two groups: the Russell Wilson-types and the Drew Brees-types. Brees, listed at a generous six feet, will go down as one of the most prolific passers in NFL history—he’s currently fourth all-time in yards. Wilson, very close to Adams’s measurements at 5' 11" and 206 pounds, already ranks third in rushing yards among active QBs (behind Michael Vick and Cam Newton) and has thrown for almost 14,000 yards.

The dual-threat Adams lands on the Russell Wilson side, but neither group can escape the short-QB stigma. Even through this past season, misguided or not, there were those questioning if Wilson could win from the pocket. The thinking there is that his skills at breaking contain and making plays are brilliant ... and necessary, because opposing defenses can shut him down if they keep him stationary.

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“I don’t think it’s too much about being a short quarterback, it’s about finding a window,” Adams said. “It’s about your football IQ. If you prepare well, you’re going to do well. There’s nothing against Tom Brady or Brock Osweiler, [but] I see them getting their balls [batted] down a lot. It’s not about being short. You’re going to get the ball batted down if you’re tall or short. It’s just about if you’re getting the ball out on time, at the right time, right pocket, stuff like that.”

Concerns about Adams’s size have been front and center in the discussion over his NFL future. Also in the mix, perhaps working against him, is his limited experience at the FBS level after transferring to Oregon (nine full games plus a brief appearance in a 10th) and his time in a very QB-friendly system.

Adams can be electrifying, as evidenced by his three-TD showing at the Shrine Game and his incredible six-touchdown performance in a win over USC. He is far from a finished product as a passer, though.

The combination of all the potential negatives is why there has been speculation that Adams might have a brighter future in the CFL, with its more wide-open offenses and its lessened amount of physical punishment for quarterbacks in general. “He would be a very good CFL quarterback,” a scout from one of that league’s teams told SI during Senior Bowl week.

Adams would prefer to prove his worth in the NFL. His experience playing at Oregon, within a system put in place by ex-Eagles and current 49ers coach Chip Kelly, could be the ticket.

“If he was running the same thing at Philly,” Adams said, “definitely I got a pretty good feel for that offense.”

49ers GM Trent Baalke on Wednesday announced plans to keep quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, but he also left the door open for adding another option. Kelly could push for that player to be Adams.

That is, assuming another team doesn’t swoop in first.

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​“What Russell Wilson and Cam have done getting to the Super Bowl, the way the spread offense has changed college football so much ... I think the guys that can get you in the end zone is the bottom line,” said new Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter about whether the perception of mobile quarterbacks has shifted recently.

Adams makes for a high variance case, in an uncertain quarterback class. Best-case scenario is a career arc similar to Wilson’s. Worst-case, he cannot withstand the rigors of playing QB at the NFL level and never settles in as a passer.

The game of hypotheticals is not all that far removed from what Adams faced when he jumped from Eastern Washington to Oregon, arriving late for fall camp because of an academic delay.

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“I came in and I didn’t take no days off, even on Sundays I was in there from 6-10 a.m.,” Adams said. “Learned the offense in three weeks, earned the starting spot, earned guys’ trust, coaches’ trust. It was a big jump.

“It could have been hit or miss. Towards the end I thought we really picked it up.”

Was it enough? Adams finished his lone Oregon season with a run of stellar games, reminiscent of his work at Eastern Washington. He kept right on rolling through the Shrine Game, earning Offensive MVP honors.

But he didn’t grow during that time. He’s still an undersized quarterback standing 5' 10" and change.

“I knew I had a lot to prove [at the Shrine Game] because I’m the smaller quarterback,” Adams said. “I knew I had a lot to prove.”