It was April 27th, 2012, my Dad and I were watching the NFL Draft. The Seattle Seahawks were on the clock and we were discussing quarterbacks who were in the draft. Then coincidentally, the Seattle Seahawks ended up selecting “undersized” QB Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin with the 75th pick in the draft.
I remember hearing all the draft analysts saying he’s too short to be a starting QB in the NFL and I just remember thinking that he’ll just be a backup to Matt Flynn. My Dad then told me that Russell Wilson would be the 2nd best QB in this draft.
At the time I was thinking, “Woah! Better than Robert Griffen III? But he’s so short, and what about Tannehill?” He turned to me and said “Nick, I’ve watched him every year, from when he played at NC State to Wisconsin, he’s one of the best QBs I’ve watched, regardless of height. He’s going to be playing on Sundays for a long time.”
Then the very unknowing me responded with, “I get Drew Brees was successful in the NFL despite his short stature, but at least he was at the six-foot threshold, Wilson might be too short to see over NFL linemen.”
Russell Wilson then went on to become the starting QB his rookie year, helping lead the Seattle Seahawks to the postseason, and winning a playoff game. From there on, I vowed to never judge a prospect by their height again.
Since then, I still hear the same thing regarding every prospect that’s of a short stature. “He’s too short to play in the NFL.” or “He’s too undersized for the position.” My initial response to all this jargon was “Who cares? There’s plenty of examples of short players in the NFL.”
I went from not caring about it to now talking about the benefits of being short.
Come on people, doesn’t anyone know the benefits of being short because I could name at least three.
- We could fit into smaller spaces that others couldn’t
- We could fake getting kid discounts even when we’re thirteen or fourteen years old
- We’d have more space for our legs while sitting down as well
When people talk about being short or “undersized” in regards to football, it’s normally always brought up in a bad light and that honestly is missing the point.
When I first thought about this I immediately thought about Ray Rice or Maurice Jones -Drew. They were built shorter, but what really made them so damn tough to go up against was how their low center of gravity. A reason for this was because not everyone is that short, so it’s less area for defenders to hit. The problem that then soon comes is taller defensive players have to go very low on them, or else they’ll flat out whiff on the tackle.
There’s even more benefits to this as well. When they’re being handed the ball on inside runs, think about all the tall offensive linemen and defensive linemen. Think about how tough it is to see a guy that short coming through on inside runs and how easy it is to lose him. That no doubt led to many defensive linemen just flat out missing them when they were running up the gut.
It isn’t just the running back position this could be applied to though. Think about the front seven and how games are won and lost in the trenches. When we watch the games and we see James Harrison executing that rip move, while bending around the edge, what do we notice?
Well, first we immediately shout out “He’s being held!” Well, he is, but holding will go unnoticed a lot of the time. What doesn’t go unnoticed by my eyes is seeing the six foot five plus tackle trying to bend lower than he should just to get his hands on six foot James Harrison.
There’s less area for the tackle to punch, and they have to get much lower to get his hands on the guy. James Harrison though doesn’t, he knows it’s much harder for tackles to get their hands around them and he’s probably thinking, “Just execute a rip move, utilize my flexibility and my natural leverage, odds are it’ll force the tackle to hold and they’ll get flagged.”
Natural leverage and pad level. Short front seven players don’t have to worry about that because they’re built so low to the ground and when it comes to the trenches “The lower man always wins.” That’s why I found it so bizarre that we bash a prospect in the front seven for their height, it goes against the principle of winning against the guy across from you.
Then we get to the secondary position and this is where this narrative undersized begins to make more sense, but is still flawed. Teams like tall length CBs because they generally have more length and they have more room for error because of it. That said it seems like every single CB listed at five ten or below is often considered a nickel CB.
There’s nothing wrong with being a good nickel CB but often time a lot of these CBs end up playing on the outside. A recent example of this is one of my favorite prospects from last year’s draft, Tavon Young.
This is what was said about him in his NFL.com Draft profile
BOTTOM LINE Right off the bat, Young's lack of size is going to take him off draft boards for teams. While he's small and doesn't have as much quick-twitch or high-end speed to make up for it, he does play with decent ball skills and competes hard against consistently bigger targets. He will have to transition into the slot, but the quickness and separation ability of those NFL receivers could be challenging for Young to match.
First, I have a plethora of problems with this, but the fact he’s being taken off draft boards due to size is just absurd. Tavon Young ended up starting plenty of games for the Ravens as a CB, who could actually play in both the slot and on the outside. It’s kind of hard to find CBs who can play both inside and outside, so teams that took him off their board due to size just missed out on that.
Tavon Young also was taken in the 4th round and ended up having one of the best seasons out of the rookie CB crop.
Then we get to Safety.
Safety is an interesting position because some of these safeties often get tasked with covering large Tight Ends like Travis Kelce and of course Gronk. That said, this position doesn’t receive nearly as much height biase. Many safeties who are undersized typically don’t get undervalued because they’re typically very athletic, have good instincts and can also be tasked with guarding slot WRs.
That is where we get to the final position I want to discuss, wide receiver. This position has it’s benefits and flaws for being tall or short. If you notice a lot of short successful WRs in the league, they typically have very good short area quickness, are good chain movers and are typically considered slot WRs.
Tall/big WRs generally are very good boxing out CBs and are a much bigger target to throw to into the red zone due to their exceptional wingspans. These WRs make their money in the red zone and typically (not always) produce a lot more touchdowns than their shorter counterparts.
Height is a double edged sword, each side comes with their own benefits and flaws. This is something people must understand rather than just say what a prospect’s short stature limits them to.
The point to all of this is that height is not what should judge the prospect or player. It’s the other important traits like short area quickness, bend, ability to the hold the point of attack, etc.
It’s time to stop calling prospects undersized for their position because each player comes in all shapes and sizes with their own unique traits. No one is undersized for their position, regardless of what draft experts and analysts will tell you.