they got little baby legs
that stand so low
you got to pick 'em up
just to say hello
"Short People" Randy Newman
Remember the angst that accompanied RGIII's combine. What would he measure? Would it be below the dreaded "Mendoza line" for NFL quarterbacks of 6'2". I am sure his agent was relieved that Robert came in at 6'2 1/8". It was generally believed that 6'2" is a minimum for NFL QB's and preferably 6'3" or better. They just keep getting taller and taller Joe Flacco and Josh Freeman at 6'6" 5 years ago and now Mike Glennon and Brock Osweiler at 6'7". The average height has increased by 2.5" in the last 50 years.
Average Height (Inches)
We have heard Bill Polian talk breathlessly about "wanting a Field General that can stand tall in the pocket and survey the field". We have heard that a quarterback must be tall to throw over the OL and DL. We have heard all the reasons that QB's must be tall. Yet despite this Russell Wilson and Drew Brees seem to be thriving despite the fact they apparently can't see a damn thing and and should only be able to throw the ball over an OLine made up of third down RB's blocking a DLine made up of slot receivers.
Football at it's heart is game of deception. The offense disguises what it intends to do with motion and misdirection. We run play action, use ball fakes, head fakes and pump fakes. The defense feigns a blitz uses amoeba looks and stunts. All of these things have one intention, to obscure the true intent of one side from the other.
I am here to tell you than Johnny Manziel has something that can't be taught or learned. Something Peyton, Brady and Bortles can never have. That secret weapon is not being burdened with an overabundance of height. You may snicker at that statement, after all, we know the benefits of being a tall QB. Have you ever pondered the advantage to being a short QB? OK, neither did I until a few days ago when I read this on PFT on one of my 5 time daily checks for Josh Gordon suspension news. You can click on the link but this is the money quote that piqued my interest, Earl Thomas is talking about Terelle Pryor:
"I just think he’s a great model for me, as far as practice," safety Earl Thomas told reporters. "He’s a tall guy, I can get a good read on him. When Russell is back there, you can’t really see him because he’s so short and I can’t get good breaks on the ball. But when Terrelle’s back there, I can get great breaks on the ball. He’s a great guy — he’s throwing on target but I can get a great read on him."
Hmm, DB's can get a great break on the ball when watching a 6'6" QB but not on a 5'11" QB. Wait could this be advantage short guy!!!! The short QB is actually concealing his intentions by virtue of being difficult to see. This actually seems like a desirable trait. How would this show up statistically I mused. It seems that the most obvious way this would show up would be a decrease in Interception percentage. It makes sense that if a DB can not get as good of a break on the ball it would show up as less interceptions.
A quick googling led me to this article by Scott Kacsmar from which I borrowed the table above. Scott did a fascinating study examining QB height correlated to various metrics: YPA, comp%, int%, TD% and passer rating. One thing you will note is that interceptions have really decreased over the years. It was not uncommon to see guys with percentages in excess of 5% in years past which rarely happens now. This makes it difficult to look at players from different eras.
I looked at all QB's with at least 1000 attempts since 1985 (with the exception of Russell Wilson who was included with only 800 attempts because of the scarcity of QB's under 72 inches). The following tables are the data I compiled, under totals the "debut year" is the average of all QB's in the table and the height is in inches:
Ok so not many QB's 72 inches or less to choose from, an admittedly small sample size. The 6'1" guys are a little sparse too not much below the "Mendoza line". This group is just kind of f'ugly, when Jeff Garcia and Jeff Blake are the two best guys in your group that is not good.
|Billy joe Tolliver||73||1989||1707||64||3.7%|
The 6'2" group looks pretty good. Some HOFers here.
We are starting to get into "normal" sized QB's with the 6'3" group only Cutler, Henne and Ponder are still active in this group.
Ah, the Brady bunch 6'4" QB's:
This seems to be one of the most popular groups for active QB's. We could call this the Manning Group but I'm going to go with the Kosar Group. The 6'5"ers.
The new kids on the block the 6'6" guys. Remember Scott Mitchell? He was the Matt Flynn of the 1990's.
I then used linear regression to arrive at a correlation coefficient of 0.223. Basically, this means there is a mild positive correlation with height and interception percentage, as one increases the other does also. Not the smoking gun I had hoped for but mildly suggestive at least. Given the low interception percentages of the active small QB's Vick, Wilson, Brees I am hopeful that this hunch will turn out to be valid especially with Manziel. I think the outlier 6'1" group which has no active players and is plagued by mediocrity really screws up the correlation. I mean look at that group, yuck, is there one guy in the whole group that was ever a franchise QB.
Someday I hope to hear an announcer say "Yeah Bortles needs to crouch down a little in the pocket and make himself a little smaller like a Manziel or Wilson so the DB's can't see him and get a break on the ball." . Until then I just hope Johnny becomes the most hated man in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati.