by Harris Oates
Originally Publish on April 25, 2019
Throughout the NFL Draft process, the most athletic prospects in the universe are under a microscope. With an offseason full of vigorous tests and drills that mold the future for these athletes – naturally the stakes are at an all-time high. During the NFL Draft process, they undergo high pressure tests of speed and strength, as well as intense interviews and evaluations of their intangible skillsets.
Although all questions about arm strength and accuracy are generally answered with game tape and passing charts, Quarterbacks are still evaluated on the results of a rehearsed throwing workout next to their closest competitors. Both arm talent and mental processing are two extremely important traits in the makeup of a prospect, but there is also one additional factor that it totally out of their reach.
Typically, more hyped by the media but also a common trend we have seen within NFL Front Offices, height has played a large role in the draft stock of these young prospects. In a year where a sub six-foot Kyler Murray stands atop the class, he can thank NFL Veterans for paving the way. Having a sturdier quarterback who can absorb repeated hits seems to be much preferred, but does height really matter that much in the success of NFL Quarterbacks?
Welcome to the new NFL – a league where mechanics and mentality outweigh everything else.
All players come in different shapes, sizes and skillsets while the game is evolving every season. Even though successful shorter quarterbacks make up a fraction of the league, there remains one typecast that will never be broken for football purists. That is shorter quarterbacks come with a lot more risk than taller quarterbacks.
I dove deeper into this theory and explored exactly how much size factors into the success of quarterbacks by analyzing the NFL careers of every quarterback drafted in the 1st Round since 2008.
Draft Night – First Round History
From this point on we will break the quarterbacks into two categories. Every Quarterback that is under the height of 6’3” will be categorized as a Smaller QB. Likewise, Quarterback’ 6’3” and above will now be known as the Taller QBs.
- Smaller QB – Under 6’3″
- Taller QB – 6’3′ or Above
It is rare that a Smaller QB is given a first-round grade and since 2008 only 11 have been drafted in the 1st Round. Smaller QBs have had all levels of success, as they have become NFL Pro Bowlers and All Pros, fallen to free agency, and several even leaving the game of football to become minor league baseball players. Out of those 11 only one has been is under six feet tall, which was Johnny Manziel (5’11¾”). 2018 was a big year for Smaller QBs, as Baker Mayfield was the first overall pick in the draft and Patrick Mahomes was awarded the 2018 MVP.
On the other side, there have been 21 Taller QBs drafted, which accounts for two thirds of the sample size. Five of the Taller QBs were selected with the first overall pick (Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Jared Goff). Although it has been much more common for Taller QBs to be selected with first round picks, the NFL is adapting and now a league where quickness and creativity are beginning to outweigh height and accuracy. In the past two draft classes five of the eight quarterbacks drafted have been Smaller QBs, all who seem to be long term solutions for their organizations.
By the Numbers
When it comes to production, the numbers initially may seem misleading. The Taller QBs have averaged 13,788 yards and 83.2 touchdowns per career, compared to just 9,006 yards and 54 touchdowns by the Smaller QBs. The Smaller QBs, who are headlined by younger, emerging NFL Stars, have not come close to scratching the surface and have played 20 games fewer on average.
However, on a per season basis the Smaller QBs have been a hair more productive, averaging 100 yards and half a touchdown better than the Taller QBs (3,816 yards and 23.1 Touchdowns per season). The Smaller QBs also have a winning percentage of 53%, which is 10% higher than the Taller QBs. This is an outstanding statistic considering their average age is only 26.
This emphasizes that the most underrated qualities are those that cannot be quantified because it is often harder to find a player who checks the intangible boxes. (How does he study film? Lead a locker room? Respond to adversity? Get along with the organization? Etc.) What matters most is what is on the inside of the quarterback.
These qualities cannot be measured, which is why selecting a quarterback is as much of a guessing game as anything in professional sports. There is not a scout in the world that can accurately predict the success of any prospect because of the number of moving pieces that occur inside an NFL Organization. Smaller QBs for years to come can thank this new generation of stars for paving the way, as they have proven that any strong-armed prospect who can process defenses, grow as a leader and work harder than anyone else in the building should be deemed worthy of a first round pick.
What About Health?
Contrary to popular belief, size has had very little impact on injury. The NFL is a violent game that can injure even the largest behemoth on the field. Taller QBs like Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz have all struggled to stay on the field. An injury can occur to any player at any time, despite of how well built their frame appears. A couple of extra inches or pounds may not make a big difference for many guys. But where do we draw that line? Although Murray draws many comparisons to Super Bowl Champion Russell Wilson it is a bit of a stretch.
Wilson, who stands at just 5’11”, is the only quarterback under six feet tall drafted in the 21st century. They indeed have similar measurements, but Wilson’s game relies so heavily on his pocket ability and football awareness, a trait that cannot be easily replicated.
Before making history, NFL executives must decide if a top pick is worth the risks carried along with taking a smaller option, even if history shows that height might not have as big of an impact on injury as some may imagine. Throughout the process Murray has checked all the necessary boxes. He could potentially pave the way for other natural dual threat quarterbacks that stand under six feet tall. The truth is that both Murray’s and Wilson’s game can not be compared to anybody as they both have extremely unique and rare skillsets.
Smaller or Taller?
Work ethic is an extremely underrated quality that cannot be easily distinguished in the draft process. Genuine leaders only come around every so often and certainly cannot be determined by their physical attributes, which is evident when reading Tom Brady’s scouting report.
Poor build. Very skinny and narrow. Ended the ’99 season weighing 195 pounds and still looks like a rail at 211. Looks a little frail and lacks great physical stature and strength. Can get pushed down more easily than you’d like. Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush. Lacks a really strong arm. Can’t drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral. System-type player who can get exposed if he must ad-lib and do things on his own. (Forbes)
Nowhere does it mention his work ethic or intelligence – which undoubtedly has made him the best to ever play the sport of football. A teams top rated quarterback is the guy they feel most comfortable with changing the culture of the organization – the guy who can lead a group to success in any given circumstance. That role comes in all sizes.
How Does this Class Rank?
1. Daniel Jones – 6’5” – 220 lbs
Jones possesses the intangibles I look for and is also one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in this class. He is one of the few quarterbacks that has the unique combination of size, athleticism, accuracy and IQ. He is a team player who has worked his way from gray shirt to Senior Bowl MVP. Jones will be a successful starter in this league for years to come. I’ve heard all sorts of NFL comparisons, but I will settle on Matt Ryan. He is confident and calm in the pocket. Although he does not have the strongest arm in the game he will make the throws when it counts.
2. Kyler Murray – 5’10” – 207 lbs
Murray offers off the wall athleticism which was displayed at Oklahoma during his Heisman Campaign. One of the most explosive players we have seen in years, Murray will almost certainly make it work at the next level. He has a monster arm and by far the quickest quarterback we have seen since Mike Vick. Murray did have an incredible offensive line and wide receivers (several of whom will be drafted.) However, I still think he was responsible for most of his team’s success.
3. Drew Lock – 6’3” – 228 lbs
Lock has the purest arm in the draft, but his head holds him back from the top spot. He has shown weaknesses when processing defenses, but made up for it in college with the deep ball. He played in a very pro friendly offense, but usually posted very inconsistent numbers. What if Lock’s junior season was an outlier? To me, he compares a lot to Matthew Stafford. Although he has a cannon, he may have trouble winning games – especially the big ones.
4. Dwayne Haskins – 6’3” – 231 lbs
In my opinion, Haskins is the most overrated prospect in this quarterback class. He had a phenomenal season posting 50 touchdowns at Ohio State, but a lot of that has to do with a weak year in the Big 10. Also, you must consider the probability that at least four of Haskins targets (Paris Campbell, Mike Weber, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon) will be drafted this weekend. I like Haskins, but after just 14 games I think he could have really benefited from staying another season at Ohio State. I predict that if Haskins starts in 2019 he will struggle to adjust to the speed of the NFL. He compares to Jameis Winston due to his frame and pocket tendencies. Although he did not throw many interceptions in college (like Winston), he will find it much more common in the NFL.