The Quarterback Position: Does Size Matter?

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The Quarterback Position: Does Size Matter?
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Being a man of perfectly average proportions, the insistence of prototypical height and weight at the quarterback position has always been of grave interest, in a sort of macabre, self loathing sort of way.

 

We all know the score.

 

6’4", check. 225 pounds, check. Big hands, check.

 

Let’s draft him!

 

Bearing in mind many, many quarterbacks have probably missed out on having a shot at the NFL, purely because of their height, I was wondering, how much difference does it actually make?

 

Of course, NFL scouts are known for the thorough approach to identifying talent, so putting it all on how tall a guy is probably a bit obtuse, but I think it will be interesting none the less.

 

Here’s how it works. I’ve grouped every league quarterback (who’s started at least 16 games in the last three years) into the following three groups:

 

 

  • Tall  (6’4" or more)
  • Medium (6’2"-6’3")
  • Short (6’1" and under)

From there, I’ve calculated their average (per season):

 

  • Pass completion percentage
  • Touchdown pass made
  • Pick thrown
  • Sack given up
  • Fumble given up

Next, per player and then per group. Hopefully giving us a good average stat for each height range.   

 

Each group of course contained both the studs (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees) and duds (Joey Harrington, Rex Grossman) of the respective sizes, so we will hopefully get a nice average for each group.

 

 

The Findings

 

Short (6'1" and under): 57.0% completion, 15.3 TDs/10.7 INTs, 23.1 sacks, 7.1 fumbles

 

Medium (6'2" to 6'3"): 61.2% completion, 18.6 TDs/12.6 INTs, 25.8 sacks, 6.4 fumbles

 

Tall (6'4" and over): 62.2% completion, 18.6 TDs/11.7 INTs, 28.2 sacks, 8.1 fumbles

 

Analyzing the numbers

 

Completion percentage

 

It’s quite obvious the tall guys held a significant advantage in this particular stat. Although the medium and tall guys had a similar figure, there is a notable disparity between small and tall quarterbacks.

 

And when you think about it, it's probably quite obvious why. Tall quarterbacks are generally the same height, or taller than, most of their linemen, so they have a cleaner line of sight and better passing lanes.

 

Also, taller guys can make throws shorter guys simply can't. In terms of arm strength and trajectory.

 

Peyton Manning throwing a bullet over a lineman’s head, low to the receiver’s ankles—easy. Drew Brees making the same throw—an impossibility. His throw can't possibly start at the required high angle.

 

High schol trigonometry.

 

The smaller guys do seem to struggle greatly with passing efficiency. There is also an obvious difference between guys ranging 6' and 6'2", so scouting prejudice seems to be justified.

 

It seems the minimum height for an efficient quarterback, on average, appears to be 6’2".

 

 

Secondly, touchdowns and picks

 

Again, the medium and large guys had an obvious advantage in terms of the number of six pointers they racked up every year, undoubtedly, because of their size advantage while sitting in the pocket.

 

It could well be that taller guys see things that the smaller guys don’t. That and the fact that, as above, they can make every throw available. Smaller guys are limited to the types of throws they make.

 

Jeff Garcia couldn’t throw a flat ball over Jonathon Ogden’s head, for instance.

 

Funneling though, the smaller guys do hold the higher ground (pardon the pun) in terms of picks thrown—even accounting for Rex Grossman’s average boosting performances.

 

It could be the flip side to the above point. Smaller guys are limited in the type of throws they make, so possibly they don’t make as many risky shots down the middle.

 

Another factor being, with their extra mobility, they traditionally don’t stay in the pocket as long, so they make higher percentage, short, flat throws, on the run.

 

One conclusion could be that sitting in the pocket and throwing over tackles heads, generally gets you more touchdowns, but at the same time, more picks.

 

In any case, the taller group of players has both the highest average touchdown per season figure, as well as the second lowest pick per season figure, so the fascination with QB height is becoming more and more understandable.

 

 

Finally, sacks and fumbles

 

This is a stat where I expect bigger guys to suffer—and the figures don’t disappoint.

 

Small guys hold a big advantage over big quarterbacks, in terms of avoiding the blitz—quite obviously because of the extra speed they hold and their ability to use their feet, and avoid the rush.

 

However, it's not all plain sailing for the pip squeaks. Bearing in mind they get sacked far less than both medium and large groups, they fumble on average about the same as both.

 

This, for me, tells us that there is a significant weight issue, in terms of holding on to the ball. Big quarterbacks do get sacked more, but they are much better equipped to hold onto the ball when it happens.

 

In terms of avoiding the rush and holding on to the ball, the medium group of quarterbacks seems to hold the advantage, on the basis that they are a nice mix of both size and speed.

 

The speed of a Jeff Garcia. The bulk of a Tom Brady.

 

Not that all big guys are sitting ducks. I was amazed to see that Peyton Manning averaged only 19 sacks and three fumbles per season—better than almost every small quarterback on the list—compared to Brady’s 29 sacks and 10 fumbles per year.

 

It seems Peyton’s fleet-of-foot is grossly underrated. And Tom isn’t perfect in every aspect of the game. Although, I’m sure Peyton would take a few more hits per game for another ring!

 

Wrapping it up

 

I went into this thinking there would be little difference in terms of height and performance.

 

I went into this wanting to find little difference between height and performance.

 

I was happy living under the assumption that scouts were just biased towards big guys.

 

How wrong could I be.

 

Agreed, it’s a very small, basic study, but I think the numbers reflect why there aren’t more six foot quarterbacks in the league and why they generally slide in drafts.

 

Statistically, they are going to be less accurate.

 

Statistically, they are going to give up more fumbles per sack.

 

Statistically, they aren’t going to hit as many home runs.

 

Statistically, they are more likely to fail in the league.

 

Statistically, they are a bigger risk.

 

I think it also shows us why the average starting quarterback height in the league actually is 6’3.

 

6’3 is the prototypical height for a quarterback.  Big enough to command the pocket. Big enough to make all the throws. Big enough to take a hit.  But athletic enough to avoid the rush.

 

Unless of course, you are Peyton Manning—who seems to have everything.

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