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Arm Length @ Tackle

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  • Arm Length @ Tackle

    Does Arm Length Affect OT Play?

    By Nate Washuta • Aug 6, 2013

    Editor’s note: Guest contributor Nate Washuta was invited to share his thoughts on the subject.

    Every year, draft picks rise and fall because of their physical attributes. College kids show up at the combine or their pro days, strip down to their underwear, and are poked and prodded and critiqued to determine how they measure up to their peers. NFL teams test everything with even a remote connection to football performance. Some of these make logical sense. A wide receiver that’s faster or can jump higher has a competitive advantage over smaller defenders. While the actual validity of things like the 40-yard dash and the vertical leap are widely debated, the one metric that has always perplexed me the most is the arm length of an offensive tackle.

    It’s often argued that guys with longer arms are better able to keep defenders at bay and that a player with short arms simply can’t be successful. This is especially confusing when considering that there is no real consensus on what are considered “long” or “short” arms. I quite often see a scouting report where 34” arms are called long, while 33 ¼” arms are considered short by the same scouting service. Look at a ruler and measure out ¾ of an inch. Does it seem logical that such a small distance makes such a big difference in holding off defenders?

    With that in mind, I decided to look at PFF data to see how much of a difference arm length truly makes in offensive lineman performance. If the popular narrative is correct, there should be a significant drop-off somewhere between 33 and 34 inches.

    In this figure, I’ve included the PFF data of every offensive tackle that played over 25% of his team’s snaps in any season from 2010-2012 whose arm length I could find online. I’ve also plotted the data as PFF grade per 500 snaps so that guys with different amounts of snaps are directly comparable. With a linear fit, we actually see a negative correlation, where guys with longer arms perform worse in general. But as you can see from the R-squared value on the chart (1.00 is perfect, 0 means there is no correlation), the fit is pretty terrible, so there’s essentially no direct correlation between arm length and performance. Another interesting thing that you’ll note is that about half of qualified tackles in the NFL have arms that are 34 inches or shorter. So not only are “short” arms not necessarily a disadvantage, but they’re also not uncommon.

    I can also break this down as pass blocking or run blocking. Since they’re fundamentally different techniques, it would stand to reason that arm length might have a different impact on each of them.

    These charts are pretty similar to the first one. There’s still a negative correlation in both sets of data and neither correlation is even close to significant.

    A good counter argument that you might make is that including right tackles might bias the data. The best offensive tackles are often charged with protecting the “blind side” of the quarterback. This also coincides with the position of the opposing team’s best pass rusher (again, to get at the quarterback’s blind side). If the better offensive tackles are going up against the better pass rushers, then the data sets could potentially be very different. PFF has listed the number of games played at left or right tackle, so I’ve simply sorted them depending on which position each player has played more.

    These graphs convey the same information. Still, there’s no correlation between arm length and performance. Another interesting thing that you can see from these charts is the wide variation in arm lengths for right tackles vs left tackles. Looking at the left tackle chart, all but 4 of the qualified players had arms between 33 and 36 inches long. Looking at right tackles, that number jumps to 13, and is apparent on both ends of the spectrum. So not only are the guys with tiny arms stuck on the right side, but so are the “long-limbed athletes”.

    Any way I break it down, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between arm length and performance. Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to the limitations of this analysis. First of all, the sample is limited to players whose arm length was available online. In most cases that means they attended the combine or a pro day at a big school, and most likely biases the sample somewhat against lower draft picks and undrafted free agents. The other consequence of this limitation is that old web pages that list arm length for some of the older draft classes are no longer available online. This excludes some of the oldest qualified players. Also of note is that I used a simple linear regression, without controlling for other variables. This means that other variables (age, height, strength, college conference, etc.) could very well be the most important factors in predicting performance that would account for the large variance seen in all the data. If arm length was a huge factor, it should still show up in this analysis, but a more minor effect might become clouded.

    Moving to LA is not a good business decision, it’s a death sentence.

  • #2
    There has been some discussion here on arm length. So here's a study saying there's no correlation between arm length and playing ability.

    Interesting, because I've always though longer arms allowed the player to keep the other player out of his chest and getting leverage over him.
    Moving to LA is not a good business decision, it’s a death sentence.


    • #3
      Broncos 2015 draft: Arm length and the offensive line


      In recent years a great deal of scrutiny has been leveled at the arm length of offensive linemen. Can you be a successful offensive lineman with "T-Rex" arms? Are all NFL linemen with freakishly long arms successful NFL starters?

      By Joe Mahoney@ndjomo76 Apr 9, 2015, 1:00pm MDT

      Here are the tackles from the All-Pro and Pro-Bowl teams from the last five seasons and their arm lengths
      Name Arm Length
      Ryan Clady 36 3/4
      Tyron Smith 36 3/8
      Russell Okung 36
      Jake Long 35 7/8
      D'Brickashaw Ferguson 35 1/2
      Andrew Whitworth 35
      Jermon Bushrod 34 1/2
      Trent Williams 34 1/4
      Matt Kalil 34 1/4
      Michael Roos 33 5/8
      Brandon Albert 33 5/8
      Joe Staley 33 1/2
      Duane Brown 33 1/4
      Sebastion Vollmer 33 1/4
      Jordan Gross 33 1/4
      Matt Light 33 1/4
      Jason Peters 33 1/8
      Chad Clifton 33
      Tyson Clabo 33
      Donald Penn 33
      Joe Thomas 32 1/2

      So we see that while Tyron Smith and Ryan Clady have used their long arms to earn multiple All-Pro selection, guys like Jason Peters, Tyson Clabo and Joe Thomas have done so as offensive tackles with relatively short arms.

      The takeaway is this - while having long arms helps at tackle, there are good, even elite, offensive tackles who compensate for shorter arms by being quicker, tougher, smarter and better technicians.
      Moving to LA is not a good business decision, it’s a death sentence.


      • #4
        Formula, Mahoney forgot one dude.

        David Bakhtiari.

        GB 2013 pick #109.
        6'4"/ 310#
        Arm length 34".

        An interesting anomaly
        and a great value pick.

        All-Pro & ProBowler.
        We play modern defensive football...with a few old fashioned wrinkles.


        • #5
          I think the arm length thing is misleading. Of course, all things being equal, if you have longer arms, it would be harder for a player to get around your OT. All things are rarely equal, or even close to equal.

          It has long been known that technique is far more important for OL, then probably any other position. So, judging a player on their technique is what is important. Only if your body is in position can you take advantage of the long arms.

          One thing that is interesting, many of the best OT are at the bottom of the arm length list.

          The flip side of the argument would be that if the arm length thing were really true, then why wouldn't it be true of defenders. They use their arms to keep the OL from getting their arms extended. So, the long arm thing would be similarly important for them. Of course, it is not. The height thing got debunked in a hurry about the time we drafted Ingram. For years there had been almost zero 10 sack in a season performance for players with 33 or shorter inch arms (might be a different length, but it doesn't matter). Then a bunch of players all gets 10 sacks in a season, and the whole theory goes to hell. There are just very few NFL sized guys who are big enough to play DL or OLB and don't have arms that size. The fact that no one ever has, doesn't mean it can't happen (necessarily), it could mean it hasn't happened yet. (

          Last edited by Steve; 04-14-2019, 09:17 AM.


          • #6
            What about narrow shoulders?


            • #7
              I don't know but I've been told... No wait that was for marching but I did hear that the military had some sort of inspection for short arms. So maybe longer arms do make a difference in some things.


              • #8
                I don't think anyone is saying that it makes no difference at all. It makes a very minor difference.

                But if you are looking for key measurables for an OT, and looking for the ones that are best going to indicate who can play, arm length is way down on the list.

                Again, if you think it is so important, look at Joe Thomas with the shortest arms on the list. He was the best LT in football for virtually his entire career, and for most of that time, it wasn't even close. Clearly, his arm length was not a problem, or if it was, it was so minor that he overcame it.


                • #9
                  Steve, what are the key measurables in your view?


                  • #10
                    There isn't a measurable that really that key for OL.

                    The best OL are the guys who have good technique and understand angles. Those are things that come out when you play. The technique will get better once they start working with pro coaches, but guys who have some technique clearly get it, and have such a big head start, it is a tangible advantage.

                    The bench press is important indirectly I guess. It shows if you have been preparing for the combine. But I am always suspicious since 225 lb is such a light weight for those guys, and who really cares how many times you can do weight repeatably? One rep max would be a better indicator of bulk strength, but it takes too long to find, you would have to make the bench press a real competition and it would take forever, plus someone would get hurt.


                    • #11
                      So I don't understand the hating on Tevi. He seem an ideal prospect to learn those things even though he would have been better served to be a backup longer. It seems to me that unless they can draft o-line very, very early development in the system is a wiser move.