Wednesday, November 18, 2009

5 comments But I Thought Only Really Tall Players Could Play In The NFL?

We here at Bottom of the Barrel just absolutely love little guys. We love small, gritty, hustling type of players (all white of least in baseball. Not because we are racist but because only white guys are given the term of being "gritty" and "talent maximizing" except for Juan Pierre for some reason.) who maximize their talent but can never maximize the amount of love we can have for them and their effort. After all, we do sponsor the David Eckstein page at Baseball Reference and he is our official/unofficial mascot for this blog. Ok, maybe we like these guys more tongue-in-cheek than anything else.

One thing we definitely don't like though is journalism that talks about little guys because the author of said journalism always ends up making the little guy sound more special or important than he truly is. In the face of these sportswriters who write puff pieces on them, anything positive these players do is a smack in the face to the insurmountable odds they face on a daily basis. Mostly, you find this type journalism in baseball and it always refers to the player "grinding out at bats" or "not having that much talent, but what he lacks in talent he makes up for in heart." Suffice to say, I find it annoying because they are puff pieces that acts as if these players are not world class athletes, which in many cases they are. In the case of David Eckstein he is given by sportswriters the mysterious ability to affect his team in a positive way with his mere presence on the field.

Today, Sam Farmer introduces a new concept to everyone, the idea that short people are not supposed to be able to play football very well, and those that do are real odds beaters. It's like a cliche wrapped in a hyperbole. The title is "They're the Little Big Men Of the NFL." I want to give credit to Fred for finding this article and being kind enough to pass it along to me. Therefore I didn't have to do any work, other than just mock the author and disagree with him, which is how I prefer going about my business.

Some of the NFL's tallest timber this season are mere bonsais in comparison to their football counterparts.

This is different from every other NFL season when every single NFL player has been 6-foot-3 inches and taller. This is really why the NFL wants to expand it's games to the international arena, so they can secure smaller football players. All we have here in America are tall failed basketball players to choose from for our NFL teams. A great example of this is the completely unknown and unpublicized Antonio Gates.

The league leaders in touchdowns (Maurice Jones-Drew), yards rushing (Chris Johnson), receptions (Steve Smith) and sacks (Elvis Dumervil) are all sub-6-footers.

Holy shit. This must not be a coincidence of any type and must be the beginning of a trend! Alert anyone who is anyone and tell them all about this new trend of short people taking over the NFL. Where's Muggsy Bogues when you need him?

Steve Smith of the New York Giants is 5-foot-11 inches tall so it's not exactly like he is a midget out there. This is like someone claiming they aren't overweight because they weigh 400 pounds but are tipping the scales at 390. They may as well be 400 pounds and Steve Smith may as well be 6 feet tall. He is one inch off of 6 feet tall and is taller than the average man's height in the world.

Same thing for Chris Johnson. He is 5-foot-11 inches, so he may as well be 6 feet tall. There isn't a huge difference. I feel like Sam Farmer was just cruising the NFL statistics one day desperately trying to find an article to write since there is no Los Angeles NFL team and just decided he may as well give up trying to find an actual interesting article to write and write a "short people are taking over the world and are gritty too" article.

You can include Elvis Dumervil in this discussion of players who may as well be 6 feet tall. He is also 5-foot-11 inches tall. That's not exactly short, even in the realm of football. Maybe for a pass rusher he is short, but he is also a standup linebacker so he isn't just responsible for sacking the quarterback.

And at 6 feet, New Orleans star Drew Brees, a most-valuable-player candidate, is the NFL's shortest starting quarterback.

What else does Brees, Jones-Drew, and Dumervil have in common? They were all drafted later than their skill set shows they should have been drafted because they were short. Does this mean the NFL hates short players or does this mean these are incredibly skilled athletes who just happen to not be "tall enough" to play in the NFL yet will have success because they are skilled? I vote for the second option, though the NFL does hate short players sometimes. If given the choice between a potential-laden unproductive taller receiver and a potential-laden productive shorter receiver, the team will usually always choose the unproductive, taller receiver.

Since we are having fun with numbers and Sam Farmer is claiming that short people are taking over the NFL, let's take a brief look at the height of the Top 5 players as of Sunday November 15, 2009 in passing yardage, rushing yardage, sacks and receiving yardage. Then we will take a brief look at the Top 5 all-time leaders in each of those categories, just to give a frame of reference.

There have always been shorter NFL players in the league. It's not like this is the first year really short players have led the league in defensive or offensive categories. Emmitt Smith wasn't exactly the tallest guy and he seemed to do fine in the NFL, just like guys like Marvin Harrison aren't the tallest guys in the NFL. Little guys are not taking over the NFL. Yes, there are certain players who are so supremely talented it doesn't matter how tall they are, they are still going to be quality NFL players, but I don't know if this 10 week sample is the beginning of a league-wide trend.

There is no reason to write puff pieces about little guys as if every statistical category in the NFL is being taken over by little people AND it should not be shocking there are guys who aren't tall that can lead the NFL in any statistics. I would agree NFL teams look for taller players now more than they used to, but that doesn't necessarily mean taller players are better players...which is what this article is just assuming. Basically this article is worthless any way I look at it. On to the statistics that show the Top 5 in the NFL in passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards and sacks:

Passing yardage:

Matt Schaub: 6'5"
Peyton Manning: 6'5"
Tom Brady: 6'4"
Jay Cutler: 6'3"
Drew Brees: 6'0"

Obviously in regard to passing yards and being an quarterback in the NFL, Drew Brees is in the minority in being as short as he is for a quarterback (though he isn't short), but Brees is 6 feet tall so its not exactly like he is a midget.

Let's look at the Top 5 passing yard leaders of all-time:

Brett Favre: 6'2"
Dan Marino: 6'4"
John Elway: 6'3"
Warren Moon: 6'3"
Fran Tarkenton: 6'0"

Most of the most successful quarterbacks of all-time have been 6 feet or taller. Because Drew Brees is 6 feet tall, I would say he fits into this category pretty well. He's shorter for a quarterback but it's not like he is Doug Flutie back there. Really, his height and success in the NFL is not a revelation or too shocking to anyone...except to Sam Farmer.

Obviously when I compare the Top 5 of all-time in each category to the Top 5 ten weeks into the 2009 NFL season I know it is a fairly flawed sample. I just want to show everyone that none of the players Sam Farmer mentions (which are Steve Smith (NYG), Chris Johnson, Elvis Dumervil, and Drew Brees) has height that sticks out in any fashion. Basically the height of the players Farmer mentions as leading the league this year doesn't stand out too greatly from some of the players in the past who have accumulated great statistics.

Rushing yardage:

Chris Johnson: 5'11"
Cedric Benson: 5'11"
Steven Jackson: 6'2"
Adrian Peterson: 6'1"
DeAngelo Williams: 5'9"

Let's look at the all-time leaders in rushing yardage:

Emmitt Smith: 5'9"
Walter Payton: 5'10"
Barry Sanders: 5'8"
Curtis Martin: 5'11"
Jerome Bettis: 5'11"

In fact Chris Johnson is probably taller or as tall as many of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL. From this information I can assume height has never really caused a running back in the NFL to be disadvantaged in any fashion from what I see here. Obviously really short running backs, which Barry Sanders would be one of these, are more of an anomaly. Most really short running backs can be used as a change-of-pace running back, because it is assumed smaller running backs can stand the pounding a larger back could stand. Still, 5'10" is considered a larger back, so it's not like a player has to be a giant at the running back position to be considered tall. In fact, for running backs, being tall may actually hurt them in some cases.

Receiving yardage:

Andre Johnson: 6'3"
Reggie Wayne: 6'0"
Vincent Jackson: 6'5"
Steve Smith (NYG): 5'11"
Randy Moss: 6'4"

I tackled this issue previously on this blog when Andrew Perloff insisted that 6'5" inch receivers were a necessity for a player to be successful, which I believe I sufficiently disproved. Let's look at the Top 5 receivers of all-time.

Jerry Rice: 6'2"
Tim Brown: 6'0"
Isaac Bruce: 6'0"
James Lofton: 6'3"
Marvin Harrison: 6'0"

Steve Smith (NYG) is 5 feet-11-inches tall. Three of the top receivers of all-time are 6 feet tall even. I don't consider that one inch to be terribly important as to cause a receiver a disadvantage in football. The wide receiver position is a position where height is more important than at any of the other positions we are talking about here (except defensive end), but to indicate a 5 foot-11-inches tall player is beating the odds because of his height is just incorrect.


Jared Allen: 6'6"
Elvis Dumervil: 5'11"
James Harrison: 6'0"
Dwight Freeney: 6'1"
Antwan Odom: 6'5"

As you can see, the top sack leaders for this year have been tall individuals for the most part. This is probably because they have to be bigger to deal with the bigger offensive linemen. Now if you will notice the two smallest individuals on this list are both guys who play a standup linebackers in a 3-4 system. I don't want to generalize, but most of the time these guys are blitzing and are able to use their speed to try and get to the quarterback, as well as sometimes dropping into coverage.

So neither Harrison or Dumervil can lumbering big guys due to the fact their job responsibilities vary more than a normal defensive ends would. What I am trying to say is that Dumervil is impressive in how many sacks he has accumulated for how tall he is, but he also isn't a traditional defensive lineman so it may be difficult to compare him to a traditional 4-3 defensive lineman.

Bruce Smith: 6'4"
Reggie White: 6'5"
Kevin Greene: 6'3"
Chris Doleman: 6'5"
Michael Strahan: 6'5"

Historically the more successful down linemen have been bigger guys and that is because they generally have to deal with bigger offensive linemen. So the smaller a guy is, the worse chance he has generally of going one-on-one with an offensive lineman and winning the battle.

So from the preliminary look we have learned that Sam Farmer really is incorrect in assuming little guys don't have the opportunity to succeed in the NFL. Little guys with skills will always have a chance to succeed even at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and at certain defensive positions. His revelation that the NFL is just now seeing that little guys can contribute is also mostly incorrect because the NFL has always noticed this. Granted, smaller guys may not be traditionally drafted as high as the "prototype" player at each of these positions, but the history of the NFL is littered with examples of well-skilled little guys who have succeeded in the NFL.

From 5-foot-6 Darren Sproles in San Diego to 5-8 Ray Rice in Baltimore,

I have always been a little irritated by the Darren Sproles obsession many NFL analysts and sportswriters seem to have. I like Darren Sproles but he is paired up with one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL in LaDainian Tomlinson. It's not like he has to be the feature back for the Chargers. Believe it or not, Sproles has touched the ball 297 times TOTAL in his entire NFL career. To put that in perspective Tomlinson has had a career low of carries last year with 292 rushing attempts. Tomlinson has had more carries and receptions in one year in EVERY SINGLE YEAR OF HIS CAREER than Sproles has had in his entire 5 year NFL career.

Sproles is a change of pace back, pure and simple. I know it sounds like I am demeaning him as a person and player, but he is a great change of pace back, but that's all he is. Let's not act like he is out there carrying the ball 25 times in a game. Sportswriters like Sam Farmer can never let reality get in the way of a good story, so of course Sproles is going to be portrayed like he is the feature back for the Chargers, which isn't true. He is a valuable player, but he isn't built to be a franchise back at 5'6".

from 175-pound DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia to 185-pound Wes Welker in New England, pros all around the country are proving there's a place for the little man in America's biggest game.

DeShaun Jackson is 5-foot-10 inches and Wes Welker is 5-foot-9-inches. Really their weight should have nothing to do with whether they are "big" or not. Randy Moss is a thin guy but that doesn't make him small.

"What we've seen is as the players in the league get bigger and bigger, some of these smaller guys who have great quickness are almost impossible for some of these big guys to catch," said NBC's Cris Collinsworth, among the NFL's taller and lankier receivers when he played.

What Collinsworth means by "what we've seen" is what we have seen through the entire history of the NFL and not just this specific season. Little guys have often done well in the NFL, it's not like this 10 week season is showing a complete revolution in how football players are viewed.

"These guys were almost forbidden fruit at one time for NFL guys. They loved them when they saw them, they'd watch them on tape and say, 'Gosh, look how fast and quick this guy is, but he's only 5-7 or 5-8.'

I don't know what is up with this fairy tale "once upon a time" stuff because this type stuff still goes on. The reason Ray Rice went in the 3rd round is because he was too short. DeShaun Jackson would have been a Top 15 pick if he were a little taller. DeAngelo Williams re-wrote record books at Memphis but he lasted longer than other running backs in the 1st round because he was only 5'9" and was seen as not durable. This still happens and the reason is that for every DeShaun Jackson who got drafted too low because of his height, there are 3 other short guys who actually couldn't have made it in the NFL because of their height.

The knock on Glenn Dorsey coming out of college was the he wasn't extremely tall (he is allegedly 6'1" but I recall that height being slightly disputed) and he hasn't exactly blossomed quite yet in the NFL. He seems to be catching on a little bit more this year, though I also believe he got switched to a defensive end in a 3-4 system which has helped him, while previously he was playing defensive tackle in a 4-3. Could the reason he struggled in the beginning be because he is not a huge guy (comparatively)? It could be. It's about talent, not height at the end of the day.

But this season, it seems, in a league where 6-7 tackles are commonplace and 300 pounds is a jumping-off point for linemen, the number of pint-sized playmakers is remarkable.

There is absolutely no comparison that can be drawn between how offensive linemen are huge now and how running backs don't have to be so huge. They aren't related and the fact there are big offensive linemen doesn't make smaller players more remarkable. It's not like a running back has to block an offensive tackle, generally he has to run behind him so there is no correlation in remarkability that one position is getting bigger while the other is not. Simply because there is a trend in the NFL at one position doesn't mean the trend is taking place at every position. Because teams are looking for heavier and taller offensive linemen doesn't mean this is going on at every position in the NFL. Teams want taller guys at some positions but that doesn't mean the entire NFL is looking to get taller necessarily.

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, now a "Monday Night Football" commentator, said part of that is because of more spread formations that allow skill-position players such as running backs and receivers to operate in open spaces rather than the more confined spaces of more traditional schemes.

What a great way for Sam Farmer to muddle his own point all up by acknowledging part of it has nothing to do with the player. So it's not that the NFL has smaller guys who are more talented, it's that the schemes are allowing smaller guys more chances to show their skills? So basically Sam Farmer wants us to just ignore everything he is saying when he talks about the influx of "little" talent and pay more attention to how the schemes of coaches have made the players successful.

"Hey, you know all this stuff I have said about new, talented little guys doing well in the NFL? Well, it turns out there have been guys who have excelled in the NFL in the past who were as tall as these guys and it's not really the players, but the schemes that are causing the little guys to lead the NFL in some of these categories. But hey, what's up with those USC Trojans?"

"With the introduction of all these spread offenses where you're seeing shotgun formations, one-back sets, wide receivers, tight ends and backs spread all over the field, there are needs and traits that guys are looking for. Guys who can work in space and use their quickness."

Again, so it's the NFL that's changing and not the players? What happened to all this talk about little guys in the NFL changing the landscape? It sounds to me like the landscape changed in the NFL and allowed the little guys to be successful.

Denver's Dumervil, the league's shortest defensive end at 5-11, has 10 1/2 sacks. That ties him for the NFL lead with Minnesota's Jared Allen, who is 7 inches taller.

Sam Farmer is kind of trying to compare apples and oranges here. Dumevil is a defensive end in passing situations, but he is a standup 3-4 linebacker in most other situations. Jared Allen is a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme where his job is to get to the quarterback, while Dumervil has other priorities at times in the 3-4 scheme he plays in. Kudos to Dumervil for having 10.5 sacks but he and Allen have slightly different job responsibilities to just blindly compare them.

To compare Allen and Dumervil is like comparing LaDainian Tomlinson catching 65 passes in a season and Randy Moss catching 63 passes in a season and then saying that Tomlinson is as good of a receiver as Moss because they caught nearly the same amount of passes. Well yes and no. Tomlinson has a different responsibility when he has to catch the ball compared to the responsibilities of Randy Moss, which makes it harder to compare the two players.

"When you're smaller, a lot of people look down on you and think you can't get the job done because of your size," said Pittsburgh Steelers running back Stefan Logan,

Who? Is this Stefan Logan the same Stefan Logan who has zero carries and zero catches on the year? The Stefan Logan who is primarily a kick returner, a good kick returner, but just a kick returner nonetheless? I know he is a little guy and all of that but he also has never carried the ball in the NFL. He's not exactly a Jackie Robinson-type example for other short people who want to play football to follow. Again, all due respect to Stefan Logan I am pretty sure short guys returned kicks prior to him making it in the NFL.

Mel Gray is 5'9," Dante Hall is 5'8," and Allen Rossum is 5'8." They all returned kicks with success in the NFL. I could go on but you get my point. Logan is short, but short guys have returned kick offs and punts prior to him being in the NFL.

At the University of South Dakota -- where he might never have been recruited if not for a highlight tape his dad helped him compile -- Logan earned the nickname "Joystick" for his rub-your-eyes speed and dazzling abilities with the football in his hands. He set school records in yards rushing (5,958) and all-purpose yards (7,859), but still had to prove himself for a year in the Canadian Football League before the Steelers came calling.

I find it deeply ironic that Sam Farmer is writing an article about how short guys are finally getting a chance to contribute in the NFL and he uses as one of his examples a guy who has accumulated no NFL stats on offense and his only football opportunities outside of returning kicks was in the CFL and as a lightly recruited kid who went to the University of South Dakota. I would think Farmer would want to interview someone who actually has shown little guys can contribute on a regular basis in the NFL on offense or defense, but I guess I would think wrong.

What I find also interesting is that Sam Farmer is acting like short NFL players have never been given the chance before this year to do anything in the NFL. There have been plenty of short guys who are fast and can return kicks, so what makes Stefan Logan so special, other than the fact Sam Farmer wants to force this "little guy" angle down our throats and Logan consented to an interview?

Of course, there are distinct advantages to being a smaller player...In Baltimore, where the average height of those linemen is almost 6-5, Rice can vanish behind a wall of blockers a head taller than he.

This is absolutely true, which is why the NFL has had other running backs like Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders have success in the NFL. Seriously, there really have been other height challenged players who succeeded in the NFL prior to this year. As we saw above, most of the NFL greats at the running back position have been below 6 feet tall. As we saw above in regard to the current Top 5 running backs in rushing yards, "smaller" running backs are still the norm. Tall running backs are not a bad thing at all, but the NFL tends to have a problem with exceptionally tall running backs because it is perceived they can be tackled by their legs easily or don't have the quickness a shorter running back does.

What makes running backs like Brandon Jacobs and Steven Jackson so hard to tackle is that they are just so damn big coming from the running back position. Running backs have traditionally not all been 6 feet tall, but many successful running backs have been between 5'9"-5'11" tall and they are generally smaller, sturdy built guys who can run the ball effectively behind the offensive line.

The smaller, smaller running backs generally are 5'5"-5'8" feet tall and are "change of pace" backs that are in there to run around the edges and get in open space. This generally has not changed. No matter how much we would like to believe it has, the most popular example of Darren Sproles shows that this really hasn't changed. Though Sproles had a wonderful playoff game last year, he is still used as a change-of-pace back for the Chargers.

In San Diego in January, after Sproles amassed 328 all-purpose yards in a playoff victory over the Colts -- the third-highest total in NFL playoff history -- Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was asked a tongue-in-cheek question:

Could he tackle Sproles if the two were locked in a broom closet?

Philip Rivers shouldn't have to tackle anyone anywhere because he is a quarterback. I know the question was tongue-in-cheek but Rivers is not really supposed to know how to tackle.

"No," Rivers said with a smile. "Or a phone booth."

I get it! Darren Sproles is Superman! His 1,386 total yards from scrimmage (yes, that is all he has totaled) for his career is just an incredible amount that no one will ever be able to match. Unless you want to count his own teammate LaDainian Tomlinson or many of the other running backs in the NFL.

And considering some of the running back's Superman-like performances, you occasionally get the feeling Sproles just might know where the nearest phone booth is..

Let's look at the Superman-like numbers. Sproles is 58th in the NFL in rushing yardage behind guys like David Garrard, Aaron Rodgers, Glen Coffee, Jerome Harrison, and just ahead of Jamaal Charles. Again, I like Sproles but this isn't as impressive as many in the media would make you believe he is. I know he is stuck behind Tomlinson, but I can't argue with his statistics.

Sproles is tied for 76th in the NFL in receiving yards with Dustin Keller and behind immortals such as Jabar Gaffney, Josh Morgan, and Justin Gage...but he is still ahead of Terrell Owens.

Sproles game log is here. Tell me when you find a Superman performance. Let's not lower our standards simply because he is short. Sproles is a great change-of-pace back but that's really all he is. He is a weapon for the Chargers but he isn't changing the way the NFL running back is perceived.

Long story short (get it?) there have been shorter players in the NFL in the past, this year is no different, and there will be shorter NFL players in the future. The success of the players is because of their skill, not necessarily because of how tall they are. There have been successful players at many of the skill positions in the past in the NFL, just because shorter guys are leading the league this year in some categories doesn't make this a new, huge, important trend. Also, 5-foot-11 inches is not short for a wide receiver or a running back. That's just stupid to think.

These "shorter" NFL players are not any more spectacular than the other NFL players who have succeeded in the NFL simply because they are short. They still have NFL level skills and that is all a player really needs to find a place in the NFL on a team. Little guys aren't really coming up any bigger this year than they have in the past and there is never an excuse for a little guy puff piece.


KentAllard said...

Rivers couldn't tackle Sproles in a phone booth but he could annoy him until he dove to the ground to make the pain stop.

We don't need an NFL team in L.A. Can you imagine the insufferable Los Angeles sportswriters obsessing over their team?

In tragic news, the raiders have benched Jamarcus. I am beside myself.

Bengoodfella said...

You mean not everyone likes Phillip Rivers? I don't believe it. He annoyed people at NC State. My father being an alumni thought Rivers was a god, but NC State fans tend to cling to players more than other schools so I understand that.

No team in LA? But then how would Bill Plaschke write 19 paragraphs containing 21 sentences? Right now, it is nice they have USC to obsess over and I think that is all they need for the time being. I do think the NFL will be back in Los Angeles soon and I think Jacksonville is the team will go out there.

So Cable announced that Gradkowski is the starter? I can only pray he does horrible and Russell is put back in the starting lineup. Who knows maybe we could end up with a 3 person race for worst quarterback of all-time with Anderson, Gradkowski and Russell?

They would form the worst QB ever JaDeBruce Gradussellson.

KentAllard said...

Cable says Gradkowski is his QB for good. Then again, Cable also said Al Davis doesn't have any input on personnel decisions, so there.

I hated Rivers in high school, I hated him in college, I hate him in the pros. An obnoxious human being. And his brother, who will probably be playing for NC State in a year or two, is worse.

Bengoodfella said...

I am crying tears of agony that JaMarcus Russell is not able to finish his historical year. This is a travesy of the worst kind. I can't believe this is happening. How can Cable let a quarterback start the year off like he has and then not let him finish it.

No one likes Phillip Rivers. I think that is a general consensus.

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