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Does Height Matter When Evaluating Quarterback Prospects?

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-North Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

With the charismatic 6’, 5/8” Baker Mayfield making a play to become the highest drafted quarterback under 6’2 since Michael Vick went #1 in 2001, the topic of quarterback height and whether or not it matters has become a major discussion. Mayfield apologists point to Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, and contend that his production, accuracy, and leadership transcends his height; citing it as a meaningless factor. Mayfield critics cannot bear to wrap their minds around the idea of their favorite team drafting a six foot passer in the top five of the draft.

So, let’s dive into the raw numbers and see just how much size matters when it comes to finding success as an NFL quarterback.

First off, while Brees and Wilson quickly come to mind when you hear “short quarterback,” understand just how much of an outlier they are. 38 quarterbacks have won 40+ regular season games this century, and only 4 of them are listed at 6’1 or shorter; Brees, Wilson, Vick, and Jeff Garcia.

The sample size of quarterbacks that short chosen in the draft is so small that it is hard to compare that collection to the rest of the QB group. From 2000 to 2014, 165 quarterbacks that measured at the combine ended up getting drafted; only 22 of them (13%) were 6’1 or shorter.

So, let’s raise the bar a bit to give the little guys some company. We’ll compare quarterbacks listed at 6’2 or shorter (69) to quarterbacks listed at 6’3 or taller (96). For the sake of convenience, let’s just call them the “short” QBs and the “tall” QBs.

Though the short QBs make up 42% of the overall draft pool in the 2000 to 2014 range, the tall quarterbacks have been favored heavily at the top of the draft. Only 5 of the 22 quarterbacks picked top 10 have been short QBs (23%), and only 13 of the 41 top 32 picks (using the top 32 filter to make up for years with forfeited R1 picks) have been short QBs (32%).

History suggests that teams have great reason to favor tall quarterbacks at the top of the draft. Let’s consider a “successful” selection a player who has accumulated 40+ AV - approximate value - in their career. To compare, that’s about equal to the career contributions of Tyrod Taylor and Derek Carr, who have been generally solid over 3+ seasons. This metric is certainly not a firm barometer for success, but does a mostly good job of weeding out failures.

Of the 17 tall QBs selected top 10, 11 of them (65%) have accumulated 40+ career AV. Only 2 of the 5 short QBs selected top 10 (40%) have hit that number. If we extend to the top 32 picks, 17 of the 28 tall QBs (61%) have hit the “successful” threshold, only 4 of the 13 short QBs (39%) have.

Short QBs are often known as underdogs, and that is reflected by teams’ increased willingness to make them their late-round flier picks. The selection of short QBs becomes much more common after the top 32 picks, as does their success rate. Of the 124 quarterbacks selected after the top 32 during the span studied, the distribution was much closer, as 56 were short QBs (45%) and 68 were tall QBs (55%). 7 of those 56 short QBs have hit 40+ AV (13%) compared to only 6 of 68 (9%) tall QBs. 6 of those 7 “successful” short QBs have led a team to the playoffs, compared to only 3 of the 6 “successful” tall QBs.

In addition, 3 undrafted short QBs have found at least some success, posting a winning record as a primary starter at least once; Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum, and Tony Romo. No tall QB in the span has found the slightest semblance of success as a quarterback.

Based on the numbers, it seems teams are completely sensible to overvalue taller quarterbacks at the top of the draft. Franchises have leaned overly heavily towards the big guys with their premium selections, yet they still have maintained much improved chances of success selecting the taller passers over the shorter ones.

The short QBs have backed up their dark horse reputations by proving to be more effective late-round gambles than the tall QBs, justifying teams’ increased will to take a chance on them deeper into the draft.

What do you think? Does height matter in a QB?


How big of a factor is height in QB evaluation?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    (54 votes)
  • 25%
    Generally important
    (207 votes)
  • 57%
    A factor, but just one of many
    (475 votes)
  • 8%
    Minimal effect
    (70 votes)
  • 2%
    Does not matter at all
    (17 votes)
823 votes total Vote Now