Does size matter? No, this isn’t a NSFW article that will get you in trouble with H.R. We’re examining the assumption that taller/bigger receivers are better prospects, specifically in garnering touchdowns, than smaller receivers.
Note: in case this sounds familiar, I wrote this piece for RotoExperts.com, but I am rewording some of it and adding some information because it’s clear that some points were a bit confusing and/or misinterpreted.
Every season, “team tall WR,” which has morphed into “team big WR” (more on that later) clamors for the big boys, claiming those receivers are the far superior options. Of course, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Emmanuel Sanders are making the case for me, but I’m bringing the data to prove once and for all that size doesn’t matter… again, in the NFL receiver sense only.
On the surface, the premise makes sense. If two equal receivers are attempting to catch the same exact passes, but one is taller than the other is, you would expect the taller receiver to catch more passes and/or touchdowns. Taller is better. Or is it?
For the study, I went back a decade for the Top 100 receivers (103 to be exact with a few tied at the end). This gave me a large sample (lowest receiver on the list had just 14 touchdowns for the decade), and it also hits the point “team tall” tries to make that more tall receivers will populate the top tier than short ones. Each year, I took (about) the Top 25 receivers in touchdowns (actually averaged 22.9 with 229 total receivers). The cutoff ended up six or seven touchdowns each year. Again, the cutoff was to study the “team tall” argument that the receivers totaling the most touchdowns would include more tall receivers than if you took everyone who scored.
The consensus, even straight from the mouths of “team tall WR” guys, is that a “tall receiver” is 6’2 or taller. I said I’d come back to the “tall” versus “big” change, and I’ll now explain. For the past few years, it’s was “tall, tall, tall.” Then, similar to scientists having theories debunked, they adjusted their theory and called the receivers “big.” We’ll tackle the weight issue too, but from a different angle than just “he weighs ___.” The height premise is easier, and we’ll start there.
Taking the yearly leaders in touchdowns, we had 229 receivers as mentioned: 119 “short” and 110 “tall” players. Receivers 6’1 or shorter scored 1,001 times. 6’2 and taller: 1,044 times. The gap looks bigger on a per receiver basis, as the tall receivers average 9.5 per season and short 8.4. But we’re talking about one touchdown for a 16-game season. For the decade’s Top 100, as 6’1 and under had 1,788 touchdowns and 6’2 and up had 1,451. The gap here is 3.9 for tall to short receivers (29.8 for short, 33.7 for tall). That’s a 13 percent boost, or 0.39 touchdowns per year, for tall receivers. That’s far from being a dramatic advantage. The gap narrows more as we segment out the top players, which is supposed to help the “team tall” crowd. Top 10 sees short average 23.7 versus 25.3 for tall (1.6 or 6.8 percent).
The taller receivers don’t make it up in yardage either. For the yearly leaders, 6’1 and under had a YPC touchdown average of 23.9, while 6’2 and taller had a 22.4 average. Decade leaders: 24.3 and 21.9. Top 50: 23.4 and 22.1. Top 10: 23.5 and 22.7.
There is no tangible proof that tall receivers are always better options at registering touchdowns. If anything, the study points to opportunity being a significant factor and that WR height doesn’t matter… much. The Top 10 decade players are Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Marques Colston, Randy Moss, Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Anquan Boldin and Reggie Wayne. Half of those are “short” receivers. Plus, think about the quarterbacks behind these receivers for the majority of their high-end touchdown years. Smith and Marshall arguably have the worst of it, and even their gunslingers weren’t awful.
Before we wrap up this size talk, I want to hit the weight issue, as I was curious what the data would tell us. I found several suggestions to use a bucket grouping of over/under 225 lbs. in weight. Instead, I broke it down into 225-plus and then 10 lb. groupings down to 184-under. Now here is where we see some significant differences in the decade totals.
|Height/Weight||Touchdowns||# of WRs|
|6’1″ or Under||1788||60||Avg per WR||% Diff|
|6’2″ or Over||1451||43||Avg per WR|
The overall average per receiver is 31.4 touchdowns. The obvious advantage is to big guys… or ones who are both tall and heavier. So while only looking at tall versus short receivers results in a 13 percent boost, being tall and big gives a 48.7 percent boost. After the 6’2″ and 225-plus group though, the advantage is small. We have five groups within an 11 percent difference, and four of those come in the short receiver range. The taller and thinner guys are significantly lower. While those are admittedly small samples, we are looking at a per receiver basis. That plus-94 percent guy? It’s Anquan Boldin, just FYI.
Ranking the groups:
1) Short and 215-224… or Anquan Boldin
2) Tall and 225-plus
3) Tall and 215-224
4) Short and 184-under
5) Short and 205-214
6) Short and 195-204
7) Short and 185-194
8) Tall and 205-214
9) Tall and 195-204
10) Tall and 185-194
As I noticed, my main point was often lost.
I am not saying height is insignificant. I am saying height, on its own and as the only metric used, is a flawed valuation and predictor of players. If you factor in weight, we actually see a significant grouping, but only for tall and big. Tall versus short in the 205-214 lb. range actually favors short receivers, as do the 195-204 and 185-194 groups.
In the end, “team tall WR” should be disbanded, but “team big” has merit. However, it’s only “team big” for tall and 215 or heavier. Once you drop to 214 lbs. or less, you actually want the shorter guys.
But let’s not gloss over the main point:
Using any one metric as a catchall for player evaluations or predictions is inaccurate and flawed.
Even “big receiver” talk can only take you so far. It’s the same as if you only cared about fast receivers – Al Davis anyone? Numerous athletic factors in addition to on-field skills (route running, cuts, catching, etc.) and opportunity (Dwayne Allen circa 2014) all need to be utilized when making your decision.