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Slings and arrows Drew Brees has been passed over, discounted and written off since his high school days. Too small? Too serious of an injury to overcome? Few are questioning the Saints QB now.

Drew Brees has made a career out of proving people wrong.

No Division I college in his home state of Texas wanted anything to do with him coming out of high school, but he went on to a highly successful college career at Purdue.

He was passed over in the first round of the 2001 draft because of concerns about his lack of height, but became a Pro Bowler with the San Diego Chargers.

He was written off again after suffering a bad shoulder injury at the end of the 2005 season, but has been resurrected in New Orleans.

So to all those people who thought Brees couldn't measure up: How do you like him now?

"I guess I've heard it ever since I was in high school," the 6-foot Brees said of the knocks against him. "Certainly as I was not getting recruited by the Texas schools, they could have said he's too short, too slow, not a strong enough arm, all those things. And then coming out into the NFL you hear some of the same things as well.

"I'd like to think that I've proven that the height is not an issue at this stage of my career. But whatever creates that little bit of a chip on your shoulder is OK. I'm sure there are those out there who will continue to think you've got to have certain prototype attributes in order to play at a high level in this league. If that is the case, then hopefully I can prove them wrong."

He already has.

Few players in the history of NFL free agency have impacted their team like Brees has with the Saints. He has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each of his three seasons in New Orleans. His 14,579 passing yards, 97 touchdowns and 1,260 completions (including an NFL-record 440 in 2007) since 2006 are the most in the league.

In 2008, Brees joined Dan Marino as the only players in league history to top 5,000 passing yards in a season. Brees finished with 5,069 yards, just 15 shy of Marino's 1984 NFL record.

If you think that's good, get a load of what Brees is doing this season.

After throwing for 358 yards in the opener against Detroit and 311 last week at Philadelphia, he is on pace for 5,352 yards, which would smash Marino's mark. Brees' nine touchdown passes in two games tied an NFL record Charley Johnson set with the St. Louis Cardinals back in 1965. At his current rate, Brees would throw for 72 touchdowns this season, an outlandish total that would obliterate Tom Brady's NFL-record 50 TDs in 2007.

Brees also has completed 75 percent of his throws and his 132.9 passer rating is by far the best in the league.

When people talk about the top quarterbacks in the league, Brady and Peyton Manning are the first names mentioned. But Brees is showing he now belongs in that conversation.

"I put him up there certainly as one of the top quarterbacks in this league," said Saints head coach Sean Payton. "I think sometimes people confuse height with athleticism. With Drew, he's got good quickness and does a good job of moving in the pocket and still being ready and prepared to throw. He works extremely hard at it.

"He processes, decides and delivers and that helps him in a lot of areas. It helps reduce sacks and his location on throws is very good. Obviously, he's playing with confidence right now."

Payton is admittedly biased toward Brees, but impartial observers think Brees is pretty good, too.

"He's the best quarterback in the league based on the way he's playing," said Bills strong safety Bryan Scott, whose team must deal with Brees and the Saints today. "He's got everybody's attention right now."

That wasn't the case in high school. A 28-0-1 record as a two-year starter and a Texas state Class 5A championship at Austin's Westlake, Brees didn't get a sniff from in-state colleges.

Purdue benefited from the snub as Brees set numerous Big Ten Conference records, including career passing yards (11,792), touchdowns (90) and total offense (12,693), and won the Maxwell Trophy as the top college player in 2000.

Brees wasn't drafted until the second round in 2001 in part because of his size and questionable arm strength. But he broke out with a Pro Bowl season and won NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2004, the same year the Chargers obtained quarterback Philip Rivers in a draft-day trade with the New York Giants for top pick Eli Manning.

Then came another obstacle. Brees suffered a torn labrum and damaged rotator cuff in his right (throwing) shoulder trying to make a tackle in the 2005 finale. He was uncertain about his recovery from surgery. So were the Chargers, who opted let him become a free agent.

"There was some worry just because it was a pretty serious throwing shoulder injury," Brees said. "But [after the surgery] I was confident that I could come back and be better than I was before."

Has he ever.

Brees' passing yards and touchdowns increased in each of his first three years with the Saints. He has become the face of the franchise and its unquestioned leader on and off the field.

But he has something else to prove -- that he can make the Saints a championship contender. They are off to a good start, but Brees said it is just one of many steps toward their ultimate goal.

"Winning breeds confidence, and obviously the success that we've had the last two weeks, that breeds confidence," he said. "You constantly need to remind yourself of the formula that is allowing you to be successful. For us, it's the way that we practice and the way that we prepare throughout the week and it's never taking anything for granted.

"Every week is your opportunity to kind of leave your signature on the game, and you're only as good as your next performance."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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