When Case Keenum steps on the field for his first NFL appearance as a starter for the Houston Texans Sunday against the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs, it will be of special interest to those who followed his record-breaking career at University of Houston and have long had one question:
Why was he not drafted?
An Abilene, Texas, native, Keenum left college as the NCAA's all-time leader in passing yardage (19,217) and touchdowns (155). But due to his lack of ideal physical tools, Keenum did not hear his name called in the 2012 NFL Draft and has yet to even play in an NFL game.
He was signed as a rookie free agent by the Texans and spent 2012 on the practice squad. This season he made the 53-man roster as a backup to Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates.
Then Schaub, who was having a bad season already, injured his leg and backup Yates did not look good as a fill-in.
So on Sunday, Keenum's first NFL start comes against the Chiefs in one of the more hostile venues in the league for a visiting team -- Arrowhead Stadium.
Welcome to the NFL, kid.
Texans coach Gary Kubiak said words that college and pro football fans have wanted to hear about their local star.
"I want him to have fun and cut it loose and just play the way he's played to get this far," Kubiak said.
But even as those fans eagerly await his debut, they still repeat that question that bothers them: Why did Keenum go undrafted?
It was no surprise to NFL teams, as evidenced by pre-draft reports by NFLDraftScout.com, which rated him as the 16th quarterback with a seventh-round or free agent projection, in what is fast becoming recognized as one of the best quarterback classes ever.
Keenum will become the ninth quarterback from the 2012 rookie class to start, and the first undrafted quarterback to do so. The others: Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins), Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins), Brandon Weeden (Cleveland Browns), Kirk Cousins (Washington), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), Ryan Lindley (Arizona Cardinals), and Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles).
Now it is Keenum's turn.
Here are some reasons why he fell out of the draft completely:
--Below average size (6-foot-1, 208 pounds).
--Average-at-best arm strength. His passes appear to flutter, especially when he does not have a chance to wind up and step into his throws.
--Took every snap in college from the shotgun.
--Average foot speed (4.82 seconds in 40 yards at combine), although he reportedly recorded a 4.62 in the 40 coming out of high school.
--Below average mobility. He was coming off an ACL injury but even healthy he did not compare to the popular, run-option quarterbacks.
--And, although Keenum holds several NCAA passing records, those numbers came in an offense that inflated his statistics and allowed him to take advantage of a quick passing attack where he did not need to make extensive pocket reads. He was not asked to consistently make NFL throws as the Cougars quarterback and his lack of ideal physical tools were enough for teams to pass.
So why should Texans' fans be encouraged with Keenum at the helm of the offense?
--He is resilient, tough and very smart -- all qualities that cannot be measured by a scale or 40 time.
--He makes quick decisions with astute pre-snap reads to have a clear understanding of what the defense is doing and where to distribute the football.
--He has a natural feel for the field and pocket with good passing vision despite his stature.
--A mature, determined individual, Keenum is the son of a coach and has battled through multiple injuries, including an ACL tear in 2010 that ended his season.
Compared to other quarterbacks in the NFL, Keenum will not match up because his physical tools just are not up to par. But his resolve and heart are why he is still collecting an NFL paycheck and why he will start and play in his first professional game on Sunday.
Are the intangibles enough for him to overcome his shortcomings and find success at the pro level?
The deck is stacked against him, but few thought he would ever start a game in the NFL. So now he at least gets the chance to answer that question that otherwise might haunt him forever: What if?
--Dane Brugler is a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, a division of The Sports Xchange.
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