Behind the measurements: Height vs. arm length
Every year at the NFL scouting combine, draft prospects strip down to their underwear and parade in front of scouts and executives in an event known as the weigh-in. This is the first time official heights and weights are taken on each player. However, two other vital pieces of information are also recorded that have just as much importance in determining how “big” a potential NFL prospect will play. Those numbers are reach (the length of a prospect’s arm) and hand size (the length from the pinkie finger to the thumb).
Football is a contact sport in which collisions occur on virtually every play. Most NFL players are asked to win battles at the point of attack, and the players with the biggest frames and longest reaches have a clear advantage when engaging opposing players.
The reach or arm length of an NFL prospect is a key attribute to any position, especially those on the line of scrimmage. However, no position is more crucial when it comes to reach than offensive tackle. To put into perspective how offensive linemen are either helped or hindered by reach, I want to look at two former prospects with similar height/weight numbers whose paths in the NFL have been markedly different.
Offensive tackles Adam Terry of the Baltimore Ravens and Marcus McNeill from the San Diego Chargers are former second-round picks (Terry in 2005, McNeill in 2006) who weighed in during their combine appearances at around 330 pounds. However, the key difference during each player’s weigh-in was the discrepancy in reach. Even at an inch shorter than Terry (6-foot-8), McNeill had the longer reach: 35½ inches; compared to 32¼. So we have two men who are roughly the same size, but McNeill has the length to match and maximize his 6-7 frame. Terry’s length forces him to play like a tackle closer to 6-3.
There are other variables that go into an equation like this, but the fact is, McNeill has been the Chargers’ starting left tackle each of the past three years, while Terry has bounced back and fourth between starter and back up the past four years and looks to be limited to the right tackle position. Again, there are other variables to be considered, but you have to figure the 3-plus-inch reach advantage McNeill has over Terry must be a significant factor why one player has been successful and the other has not.
To put this into perspective, I broke down this year’s top left tackle prospects in order to give you a better idea what linemen have NFL-worthy arm length and what prospects will struggle playing to their listed size. But first, I constructed a range of arm lengths for the OT position in order to put each measurement into context.
With an eye toward the 2009 NFL draft class, we can now rank the nation’s top offensive tackles according to their arm length/reach and break down what each measurement means.
Andre Smith, Alabama (6-4, 332), arm length: 35 5/8 inches
Although Smith is a bit short for the position by NFL standards, his length more than makes up for his height. Smith actually plays more like a tackle who is 6-8. He possesses great feet for his size, but he lacks the kind of explosion needed on his kick step to consistently reach the corner vs. speed rushers. However, it’s his length that will allow him to hold his own in pass protection and engage long-armed defensive ends on the outside and drive them off the ball.
William Beatty, Connecticut (6-6, 307), arm length: 34¾ inches
Beatty does a great job getting out of his stance quickly and extending his long arms in pass protection. He showcases impressive hand placement on the outside and is consistently able to engage quickly and keep defensive ends off his body. Beatty possesses the coordination, foot speed and length to man the left tackle spot in the NFL.
Eugene Monroe, Virginia (6-5, 309), arm length: 34 inches
Monroe displays good patience in pass protection and has the length to consistently keep linemen off his body. He does a great job extending his arms and plays even longer than his wingspan indicates. There’s no question in my mind that Monroe has the length and overall athleticism to become one of the top tackles in the NFL the next couple of years.
Jason Smith, Baylor (6-5, 309), arm length: 33¾ inches
Smith relies on his pure athletic ability and body coordination in pass protection, but he also has enough length to keep defenders off his frame. He will play a bit short-armed at times, but that’s more a result of his lacking technique and continued development as a left tackle. He’ll learn to use every bit of his 33¾-inch reach at the next level once he gets some NFL coaching.
Michael Oher, Mississippi (6-5, 309), arm length: 33½ inches
Oher is a big, athletically-gifted tackle who has all physical tools to make it in the NFL. He’s raw from a technique standpoint, and longer arms could help him make up for his consistent false steps and missed assignments. However, 33½ is right around the average length for an NFL starter and is more than enough for Oher to get by.
Eben Britton, Arizona (6-6, 309), arm length: 32½ inches
Britton’s lack of length is a concern for me, especially if teams are looking at him as a left tackle prospect. Britton is a polished pass protector who showcases good technique and does a great job extending his arms and getting every bit out of his 32½- inch reach. However, that length is a concern for a left tackle and could force Britton into a right tackle role on some NFL teams.
Overall, the measurement of a prospect’s arm length is just another tool to help scouts determine the caliber of player they’re evaluating. Arm length helps determine the “true” size of an NFL player and allows scouts to establish how big an offensive lineman can play.
As we said before, there are always exceptions to the rule, and simply measuring the arm length of an offensive tackle will not guarantee success. But when scouting offensive tackles, it’s paramount to consider length/reach in direct correlation to a player’s height and weight.
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