Does Size Matter in the NFL Draft?

Now that the Super Bowl is past, NFL news has moved on to free agency and the draft. The NFL draft is a wonderful event. But with the NFL draft comes Mel Kiper Jr. Kiper is awful. And who is Mel Kiper Sr.? Hopefully he has better hair.

Anyway, there has been a lot of recent draft talk about Baylor QB Robert Griffin III and how his height, or lack thereof, may be an issue. RG3 is 6-foot-2. Or so they claim. We’ll find out for sure at the combine, and according to Kiper, this is a big issue. Kiper believes that shorter quarterbacks struggle to succeed in the NFL. He noted that of the starting quarterbacks in 2011, only four were shorter than 6-foot-2. Those quarterbacks were Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Colt McCoy and Rex Grossman. Fine, two of those quarterbacks aren’t any good. And tecnhincally, Rex Grossman’s terribleness probably cancels out anything good from Brees or Vick. But a 50 percent success rate is hardly proof that a quarterback needs to be taller than 6-foot-2. So I did some research.

Vick is the shortest QB in the NFL at 6-foot even. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I looked at every quarterback drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft since 1998. There were 55. Of those 55, 21 of them were 6-foot-2 or shorter according to Pro Football Reference. That was the easy part. I wanted to see if there was proof that quarterbacks taller than 6-foot-2 were significantly better than shorter quarterbacks. I used Pro Football Reference’s Rate+ stat to determine how each of the 55 quarterbacks compared to the league average. League average for Rate+ is 100. So if a quarterback had a career Rate+ of 99 or less, I determined that they were not successful. If a quarterback had a career Rate+ of 100 or more, I determined that they were successful. I used Rate+ because I don’t care about wins or Super Bowl appearances. Rex Grossman appeared in a Super Bowl, but no one is arguing that he’s a good quarterback. Luckily, Rate+ backs that up as Grossman an 86 Rate+ over his career. But it did reveal a few interesting facts. Eli Manning and Michael Vick are slightly less than average (99), while Charlie Batch and Jason Campbell are average (100). I’m not arguing that Batch is better than Manning, but this was the best way for me to determine success. Interesting note: Ryan Leaf’s Rate+ was 64 for his career, the worst I came across.

What I found actually supports Kiper’s claim. About 23.8 percent of quarterbacks that were both 6-foot-2 and drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft have had successful careers, compared to about a 35.3 percent success rate of quarterbacks taller than that. If we look at only quarterbacks drafted in the first round, shorter quarterbacks have had a 30 percent success rate compared to 41.4 percent success rate of taller quarterbacks. If we remove quarterbacks drafted in the past two years under the assumption that they haven’t had long enough careers to determine if they have been successful, shorter quarterback have a 27.8 percent success rate, compared to a 35.7 percent success rate of taller quarterbacks. Basically, every way I look at it shows that taller quarterbacks are roughly 10 percent more likely to have a successful NFL career. I may not like Kiper, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t prove him wrong on this one. I’ll get you one day! *shakes fist*

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