Does QB height matter?
It’s a question as old as time. A statement every short king looks at and prays is false. A narrative that generations were led to believe was true before the likes of Russell Wilson and Drew Brees came swinging in to flip it on its head.
The short and simple answer: No, QB height does not matter.
Winning as a passer in the NFL requires tons of different traits. Accuracy, arm strength, decision-making, pocket presence, athleticism, off-platform ability, etc.—none of which are inherently related to QB height. Being 6-foot-6 doesn’t mean anything if you can’t process, work through reads, deliver an on-time ball, and throw with pace. I mean, just look at the Yoda-sized signal-caller currently leading the only undefeated team in the league. You can be 5-foot-nothing and excel in the modern-day NFL. Granted, you need to run sub 4.3, get drafted top 10 in baseball, and have an arm that makes Bucky Barnes jealous, but it can be done.
However, there’s a reason this narrative surrounding QBs and height exists and has existed for years. As much as I want to chalk it up to old-school mentality and lazy scouting—I’m 5-foot-8 on a good day—size does matter in sports. Quantifying how much it matters is something else entirely (and that’s often when people underrate smaller players). And that’s where this whole ‘QB height’ thing comes into play. We know that height doesn’t make or break a QB, but taking a step back and analyzing from a more intricate, how exactly does it affect them?
One word: Vision.
No, I’m not talking about that guy Paul Bettany plays. I’m talking about how seeing over 6-foot-5 offensive linemen to find open passing lanes is near impossible when you’re the size of a jellybean. Scrambling out of the pocket, operating on designed rollouts, throwing to the sidelines, and launching deep balls all negate the negative height factor in some fashion, but standing tall (or, I guess small) in the pocket, looking down the barrel of the gun, and throwing a 12-yard dig route requires much, much more anticipation and faith in your wide receivers when you’re 5-foot-10 as opposed to 6-foot-2.
This has been evident with Wilson and others for years, as typically shorter QBs do tend to throw fewer balls over the middle portions of the field. It doesn’t mean they’re necessarily worse at throwing them, it just means that they throw less of them because it’s harder to create windows for them to see. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal if you can throw a brilliant deep ball and achieve success in other areas—as Wilson does—but it certainly restricts your passing offense and certain play designs if a short QB just isn’t willing to be overly aggressive.
Perhaps nothing was better evidence of this than Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ passing offense last week against Tampa Bay. Philadelphia didn’t throw it to the middle of the field once all game, and the infuriating approach made it unbelievably easy for Tampa Bay's defense to scheme for. Not having to account for essentially one-third of the field is a pretty big advantage—and to no surprise, the Buccaneers took advantage.
Using Hurts’ abysmal passing chart in that game (via NextGenStats), as well as what I’ve seen from Wilson over the past decade, I decided to go ahead and look up more QB charts to see if there was any empirical evidence to relate height and this hesitancy to throw to the middle of the field.
Classifying a ‘middle of the field’ throw as an attempt between 8-20 yards and within the middle third of the field, I went on to use the charts of every NFL QB through Week 6 to see the % of middle-field throws each QB has made relative to their overall attempts.
It’s obviously not a perfect sample size, but you can see two main things that stick out. 1) You can be tall and still not target the middle of the field. 2) Height doesn’t seem to have any effect on the percentages until they dip below the 6-foot-2 (or 1.88 meters). It’s at that point where it becomes nearly impossible to be able to use the middle portion of the field at an above-average level (Murray is sort of an exception).
That second point is particularly interesting, as 6-foot-2 is generally the benchmark used to discuss QB height in the draft scouting process. I’ve always thought of that ‘old-fashioned’ mark to be entirely arbitrary—why not 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-3? Well, it might just be luck, or it might show that perhaps there is a legitimate method behind the thresholds scouts use. Who knows?
What I do know is being short does significantly hurt your chances of seeing—and therefore attempting—middle of the field passes.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter when you’re a Wilson or Murray (and comes back around to the simple answer of QB height not mattering), but it will likely factor into opponents' gameplans as they focus on other areas to defend. Throwing deep balls, outs, and check-downs is still a great (and extremely efficient) way to succeed, it's just much, much harder to produce a balanced passing attack.
Keep your heads up short kings, we can still ball. It’s just more likely we’ll be tossing the rock outside the numbers as opposed to within the hashes.
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