He’s not tall enough. His arm isn’t strong enough. He’s a system quarterback.
Keenum had a record-setting career at the University of Houston, but he went undrafted in April before signing with the Texans as a rookie free agent. One of the biggest knocks on him was his height, measured at 6-0 and 5/8 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine. Critics roundly questioned if he was tall enough to succeed in the NFL.
“I’d like to see some statistic where they talk about guys who are less tall,” Keenum said last week at Reliant Stadium. “Obviously, most other quarterbacks are taller rather than shorter, but there’s got to be more than being 6-4 to be quarterback. I know there is. That’s something I’ve had to deal with a lot, especially in the last couple months, but when it comes down to being on the field, I haven’t heard it at all from any of my coaches or anything. It’s about playing to your strengths, and everybody’s got different strengths. I think I’ve got great footwork and can move around in the pocket and find throwing lanes and move around and find my vision and be able to find receivers and get the ball in their hands.
“If you’re moving the ball down the field as a quarterback and breaking records like Drew Brees, nobody says anything about how tall you are, if you’re six-foot or not. If something’s going wrong, then they’re going to look for something. ‘What’s causing this? Oh, well he’s short, so that’s why he can’t do it.’ Or, ‘His arm strength’s not good enough.’ If the ball’s where it needs to be and the offense is moving down the field, I think it doesn’t matter if you’re 5-2 or 6-2.”
Keenum’s height didn’t seem to matter in college. He left Houston as the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) career record-holder in passing yards (19.217) and passing touchdowns (155). He ranked seventh in FBS history in completion percentage (69.4) and eighth in passer efficiency rating (160.6). He finished in the top-10 in Heisman Trophy voting twice and had a 37-14 record as a starter.
And yet, Keenum’s name wasn’t one of the 253 called during the seven rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft.
“That wasn’t a fun day,” he said. “That night was a lot better when I knew where I was going and everything like that. The entire draft process, everything leading up to it, was not a blast, either. I tried to look at it in that there’s not many people that even get this chance, and that’s all I needed was a chance somewhere. I’m truly blessed that it just came down the street from where I live, and I’m blessed that one of the best organizations in the NFL is down the street from where I live.
“When it comes down to it, hopefully, one of these days, it won’t really matter how I got here. I’m here. I’m going to attack each day like it’s my last, and I’ve tried to get as much out of each day and put in as much into each day as I possibly can. I have so far. I’m going to do that the entire time I’m here. Hopefully, it’s longer than shorter.”
The draft experience mimicked Keenum’s college recruitment – or lack thereof. He was a second-team all-state selection at Wylie High School in Abilene, Texas, where he passed for 6,783 career yards and 48 touchdowns, ran for 2,000 yards and had a career record of 31-11. Only one school, Houston, offered him a scholarship.
Six years later, Keenum left the Cougars as the leading passer in NCAA history. He had proven the skeptics wrong.
He’s looking to do the same thing in Houston yet again – this time for its NFL team.
“I tell any high school football player I talk to that it’s not about how many stars you have on Rivals or Scout.com or if you’re invited to the Elite 11 quarterback deal, because I wasn’t,” Keenum said. “I wasn’t one of those guys. There’s a lot of coaches out there that didn’t offer me a scholarship, and I’d be willing to bet that of the 119 Division I teams out there, I bet 118 are maybe thinking twice about that now. That’s the way I see it, and I think that high school kids should see that, too. All that stuff is good to some extent…but it’s not the only way to get into college and to get on even a Division I football program and to go be successful.
“All you need is a chance, whether that’s walking on somewhere or going wherever. Just make the most of that chance, and that’s what I’m going to do here.”