Are NFL Linemen Too Big for Their Own Good?

Jeremy KaufmanSenior Analyst IJune 5, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 26:  Kareem McKenzie #67 of the New York Giants guards the line during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 26, 2008 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

As an athlete for the majority of my life, I have always believed that a key component to the life of an athlete was to work towards an optimal level of health and conditioning so that you are best able to succeed in sport as well as in life.

For the most part, this basic principle seems to hold true, as a great number of the world’s best athletes are in incredible physical shape, regardless of their sport.

However, it has come to my attention that one of the sports that I love the most may be encouraging a lifestyle that simply doesn’t put its athletes in a position to live a healthy lifestyle.

The sport is football, and the victims are the offensive and defensive linemen.

It is my firm belief that these athletes are being forced to reach a size that simply isn’t fit for most human beings, and as a result, their quality of life is being dramatically cut short.

Therefore, I now intend to explore this deeply disturbing issue in hopes of identifying the problem, as well as formulating a solution that can save the lives of countless NFL athletes.

In the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, an article was written in which the lives of several college linemen were explored following their departure from football. In most cases, it was found that these linemen ballooned up as heavy as 400 pounds, and many of them suffered some severe health problems following their graduation.

For the lucky few who managed to lose the weight that they had to gain during their football days, they made it clear to those who covered the story that they felt much happier and healthier in their natural state.

In fact, Brett Byford, a former center at Nebraska, actually turned down an NFL tryout because he never wanted to have to gain back the weight that was required to play on an offensive line in football.

While many of these linemen held playing weights that exceeded 300 pounds, their natural weights often lie between 200 and 230—significantly less than the playing weight that they were essentially forced to maintain.

However, what about the players who make it to the NFL? In the NFL today, both offensive and defensive linemen commonly exceed 300 pounds, with the largest players weighing in close to 400 pounds.

In fact, in the contemporary NFL, it is almost impossible for a lineman under the playing weight of 290 pounds to make it in the league, regardless of talent level.

So, in order to gain a better understanding of the super-sized offensive lines that are found all across the NFL landscape, let us take a look at my favorite NFL team, the New York Giants.

The left tackle of the Giants is David Diehl, who weighs in at a hefty 319 pounds.

At left guard the Giants have Rich Seubert, who can almost be considered skinny for an NFL guard at 310 pounds. At center the Giants have captain Shaun O’Hara, who weighs in at a mere 303 pounds.

At right guard the Giants boast All-Pro guard Chris Snee, who weighs in at 317 pounds. Finally, we find right tackle Kareem McKenzie, who packs a punch at 327 pounds.

Notice anything unusual about the measurements on the New York Giants’ offensive line? That’s right—every single starting lineman weighs over 300 pounds. Unfortunately, this is becoming an overwhelming trend in the NFL, as coaches continue to look for bigger and bigger offensive linemen to counteract the effects of ever-growing defensive linemen.

While the size of these players may help win ball games, accounts by many of them indicate that their standards of living are not as high as they should be, and following their NFL careers, their health will almost certainly fall into jeopardy.

This issue has not been seriously discussed by NFL officials at this point in time, but I believe that this is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly. Otherwise, the NFL will be forced to mourn the loss of some of its most beloved athletes much sooner than any of us would like.

Now that the problem has been sufficiently identified, how may we go about fixing it? Well, I have a couple of suggestions.

1) Place a weight limit on offensive and defensive linemen

I believe that taking this action would save the lives of countless athletes. By placing a weight limit at these positions, the unnatural growth of these athletes will be limited, and their physical health, as well as the quality of football that they play, should increase as a result.

After all, if an NFL center doesn’t have to worry about blocking a 350-pound defender, then he would be freer to utilize his speed on pulls and counters at a lean 280 pounds. For me, this would be a win-win situation.

However, certain obstacles would likely prevent this from happening. For instance, what would the weight limit be? I would suggest 300 pounds, but a case could be made for a lighter weight. In that case, what should be done about very tall athletes who naturally come in at a higher weight?

Also, what should be done about shorter athletes who are able to make the weight limit but are still what one would consider fat? This brings me to my next suggestion.

2) Establish a maximum body fat percentage, or height to weight ratio

By stating that NFL players may not have a body fat percentage over a certain amount, offensive and defensive linemen would no longer be able to eat themselves to death.

Also, by establishing a height-to-weight ratio on such requirements, 7'0" athletes won’t have to worry about slimming down to an unnecessary extent, while a 5’8" lineman wouldn’t be able to get around any loopholes by gaining 50 pounds of bulk.

However, some issues apply here as well. What would be done about non-linemen who happen to exceed the required weight limits? Some fullbacks, such as Jon Bradley, actually reach 300 pounds in weight.

Also, one trend that is forming in the NFL today is the use of extremely large running backs to pave their way through the defense. Should their weights be limited as well? As a big-time fan of the likes of Brandon Jacobs and Reagan Mauia, I would like to say no.

However, with smaller defensive lines, opposing coaches will inevitably start to take advantage by searching for bigger running backs, both for the purpose of running through the defense as well as for extra blocking help.

If this happens, some type of regulation would have to be made to counteract any unfair advantages that opposing offenses would gain as a result.

In the end, I believe something absolutely has to be done about the weight of NFL offensive and defensive linemen.

While size has always been a positive advantage in football, the obesity of today’s linemen is ruining the game of football, and even more so the lives the players who work in the trenches.

By slimming down, the offensive line in the NFL can once again become a position of skill in which centers sprint towards the outside of the hash marks to make blocks, and guards run towards the secondary to take out a safety.

In order to effectively establish the necessary changes, the NFL should take the example of the sport of Sprint Football.

In this college-level game, football players of all positions are required to weigh in at under 172 pounds, and as a result, the speed of the game is faster and more exciting. Sprint football teams have had an extensive history of beating even full-sized Division I football teams in exhibitions.

In today’s NFL, there may be no more important issue than the size of its linemen. Let’s just hope Roger Goodell gets the message before it's too late.


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