Steelers Like 'Em Big, and Other Data on Snap-Weighted Size by Position

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Vance McDonald
Pittsburgh Steelers TE Vance McDonald
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Last week, we introduced snap-weighted size for offense, defense, and special teams, finding the biggest and smallest NFL clubs as measured by height, weight, and BMI, accounting for how many snaps each player was actually on the field. Today we're going to look at things in more detail, one position at a time. We're also going to check for correlations between size at each position and some of our most common offensive and defensive statistics to seen if any trends emerge. We'll go ahead and start with everyone's favorites, the quarterbacks.


OFFENSE

Quarterbacks

Snap-Weighted Size, QBs, 2020
Offense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
NE 76.7 5 240.9 1 28.8 5
PIT 77.0 2 239.4 2 28.4 8
BUF 76.9 4 236.9 3 28.2 13
LAC 77.7 1 235.6 4 27.5 21
PHI 75.9 11 232.5 5 28.4 9
NYJ 75.8 14 230.1 6 28.2 14
KC 75.0 18 229.5 7 28.7 7
IND 77.0 3 228.3 8 27.1 25
CHI 75.9 10 228.0 9 27.8 16
DEN 75.8 15 225.8 10 27.7 20
JAX 75.6 16 225.7 11 27.8 18
DAL 74.2 22 225.5 12 28.8 6
TB 76.0 8 225.5 13 27.4 22
GB 74.0 23 225.2 14 28.9 4
MIA 72.9 30 222.1 15 29.4 3
LAR 75.8 12 221.5 16 27.1 26
HOU 74.0 24 221.0 17 28.4 10
DET 74.8 21 220.3 18 27.7 19
WAS 75.8 13 219.3 19 26.9 27
NYG 76.4 6 219.0 20 26.4 29
ATL 76.0 7 217.2 21 26.4 28
CIN 74.8 20 216.7 22 27.2 24
SEA 71.1 31 215.1 23 29.9 1
SF 73.4 27 215.0 24 28.0 15
CLE 73.0 29 215.0 25 28.4 11
NO 73.0 28 214.9 26 28.4 12
CAR 73.7 26 214.8 27 27.8 17
BAL 73.9 25 211.7 28 27.2 23
LV 75.0 17 210.9 29 26.3 30
ARI 70.1 32 207.2 30 29.6 2
TEN 75.9 9 207.1 31 25.2 31
MIN 75.0 18 202.0 32 25.2 32
Avg. 74.9   221.8   27.8  

We won't waste much of your time talking about height—if you're reading Football Outsiders, you're probably well aware that Justin Herbert, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Josh Allen are tall, and that Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Tua Tagovailoa, and Baker Mayfield are relatively short. Remember, though, that short does not mean small—the Seahawks, Cards, and Dolphins took gold, silver, and bronze in SWBMI. Seattle's quarterbacks (mostly Wilson, plus 18 snaps by Geno Smith) had a SWBMI higher than that of any defense's secondary … and a few teams' linebackers. The trailers in SWBMI are the three teams we discussed earlier: the Vikings, Titans, and Raiders.

There is a strong tendency for short quarterbacks to scramble a lot, but this is mostly driven by four outliers. The Ravens and Texans were first and second in scrambles as a percentage of all dropbacks, and their quarterbacks were both 6-foot-2 or shorter. The Seahawks and Cardinals were next in scramble rate, and they had the shortest quarterbacks in the league. Remove those four teams and the trend of shorter quarterbacks scrambling more still exists, but it's much weaker.

On a likely related note, teams with small quarterbacks tend to run more often, and they tend to be more effective when they do run; the correlations between SWW and run rate, and between SWW and rush offense DVOA, are in the -.300 range.

Running Backs

The following table shows statistics for running backs only; we'll get to fullbacks in a minute.

Snap-Weighted Size, RBs, 2020
Offense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
TEN 72.9 1 229.7 1 30.4 10
PIT 71.6 7 225.7 2 31.0 6
CHI 70.9 11 223.7 3 31.3 2
NO 72.0 5 220.2 4 29.9 23
CIN 70.4 20 220.1 5 31.2 4
DAL 72.0 4 219.9 6 29.8 25
HOU 71.8 6 219.7 7 30.0 20
LAC 72.1 3 218.6 8 29.6 28
SEA 70.8 17 217.5 9 30.5 9
BAL 70.4 21 216.5 10 30.7 8
NYJ 70.8 16 216.5 11 30.4 11
CLE 70.8 12 216.4 12 30.3 12
LV 69.8 29 216.4 13 31.2 3
ATL 72.2 2 216.2 14 29.2 29
DEN 71.5 8 215.9 15 29.7 26
DET 70.8 13 215.5 16 30.2 15
TB 71.1 10 215.0 17 29.9 21
IND 70.4 22 213.7 18 30.3 13
NYG 70.8 14 213.4 19 29.9 22
KC 69.1 31 212.7 20 31.4 1
GB 70.6 18 211.6 21 29.8 24
LAR 70.1 25 211.4 22 30.2 16
WAS 70.8 15 211.3 23 29.6 27
CAR 70.0 27 210.7 24 30.2 14
NE 70.2 24 210.7 25 30.1 18
JAX 70.1 26 210.5 26 30.1 17
PHI 69.2 30 210.2 27 30.9 7
MIN 70.0 28 209.3 28 30.1 19
ARI 71.2 9 209.0 29 29.0 30
BUF 68.7 32 208.4 30 31.0 5
SF 70.3 23 201.1 31 28.6 31
MIA 70.6 19 200.3 32 28.3 32
Avg. 70.8   214.6   30.1  

At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, Derrick Henry is the latest in a long line of powerhouse running backs in Oilers/Titans franchise history. He's the (ahem) biggest reason Tennessee runners finished first in both SWH and SWW. Most of his backups (like all other running backs) were much smaller, though the Titans also got 42 snaps from 6-foot-1, 233-pound D'Onta Foreman.

The Dolphins were at the other end of the scale. Unlike Tennessee, they used a committee backfield, with four running backs getting at least 200 snaps … and unlike Tennessee, they didn't have any power backs of note. The biggest of those four runners was Patrick Laird (6-foot-0, 205 pounds). The Dolphins had the league's smallest running backs by both SWW and SWBMI.

The league's thickest running backs were in Kansas City; the Chiefs used five running backs last year, and four of them had BMIs in the 30s. Clyde Edwards Helaire led the way with 500-plus snaps at 5-foot-7 and 207 pounds, with a BMI of 32.4.

The Bills had the league's shortest running backs, with Devin Singletary going 5-foot-7 and Zack Moss standing 5-foot-9.

Here are the fullback numbers for the 17 teams that listed players at that position last year. The Vikings led the league with 627 fullback snaps; the Cowboys were last (among teams in this table) with 35.

Snap-Weighted Size, FBs, 2020
Offense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
BAL 75.0 1 311.0 1 38.9 1
NE 75.0 1 255.0 2 31.9 10
CAR 74.0 4 255.0 2 32.7 5
SEA 73.0 8 250.0 4 33.0 3
JAX 74.0 4 248.0 5 31.8 11
LV 73.0 8 242.0 6 31.9 8
KC 70.0 17 242.0 6 34.7 2
MIA 73.0 8 242.0 6 31.9 8
SF 73.0 8 240.0 9 31.7 12
ATL 72.0 13 240.0 9 32.5 6
NO 72.0 13 240.0 9 32.5 6
DAL 75.0 1 240.0 9 30.0 17
CLE 73.1 7 238.4 13 31.4 14
MIN 71.0 16 235.2 14 32.8 4
DET 73.0 8 235.0 15 31.0 15
PIT 74.0 4 234.0 16 30.0 16
TEN 72.0 13 233.0 17 31.6 13
Avg. 72.9   247.1   32.7  

Not surprisingly, teams with big running backs (including fullbacks) tend to run more often, while smaller backs tend to get more targets. What is surprising is how much more effective those bigger backs were on the ground. Snap-weighted weight had a positive correlation with rush offense DVOA and most of our offensive line stats … including second-level yards and open-field yards, the big-play metrics where you'd think smaller backs might have an edge. Oddly, the only offensive line stat that had little correlation with weight was efficiency in short-yardage situations, which is the area where you'd expect bigger backs to dominate.

Wide Receivers

Snap-Weighted Size, WRs, 2020
Offense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
GB 74.7 1 212.6 1 26.7 17
LAC 73.9 4 210.4 2 27.1 10
PIT 72.4 21 208.0 3 27.9 1
ARI 72.5 17 208.0 4 27.8 2
CIN 74.7 2 207.1 5 26.1 29
WAS 73.7 6 206.8 6 26.8 16
IND 73.2 9 206.4 7 27.1 8
JAX 74.5 3 205.5 8 26.0 31
SEA 72.4 19 205.4 9 27.5 5
CHI 72.5 18 205.4 10 27.5 6
TEN 72.2 24 205.3 11 27.7 3
TB 73.6 7 204.9 12 26.6 19
NYJ 72.9 12 204.5 13 27.0 11
DAL 73.7 5 204.5 14 26.5 24
MIA 73.2 10 204.0 15 26.8 14
CAR 72.5 16 202.7 16 27.1 9
NO 72.8 14 200.9 17 26.6 18
SF 71.4 30 199.9 18 27.6 4
BAL 71.9 28 199.7 19 27.2 7
MIN 72.9 11 199.4 20 26.4 26
CLE 72.3 22 199.1 21 26.8 15
NE 72.2 23 199.0 22 26.8 13
PHI 72.4 20 198.2 23 26.6 20
DET 72.6 15 197.9 24 26.4 25
KC 71.9 27 197.3 25 26.8 12
LAR 73.3 8 197.1 26 25.8 32
DEN 72.9 13 196.5 27 26.0 30
NYG 72.0 26 195.4 28 26.5 21
LV 71.8 29 194.3 29 26.5 22
ATL 72.0 25 192.7 30 26.1 27
BUF 71.3 31 191.4 31 26.5 23
HOU 71.1 32 187.6 32 26.1 28
Avg. 72.8   201.7   26.8  

Aaron Rodgers won the MVP and enjoyed one of the best seasons of his brilliant career in part because he was throwing to an army of giants. The Packers finished with the highest SWH and SWW among wide receivers. Each of their top five wide receivers in snaps played—Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Malik Taylor (who saw the bulk of his action on special teams) and Equanimeous St. Brown—stood at least 6-foot-1 and weighed at least 207 pounds.

Mind you, small wideouts can be productive in the NFL too. Take the Houston Texans, for example, the smallest in the league by both SWH and SWW. Each of Houston's top four wideouts—Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, and Keke Coutee—stood 6-foot-0 or shorter and weighed 192 pounds or less. Yet the Texans still finished eighth in pass offense DVOA.

The Pittsburgh Steelers narrowly edged out the Arizona Cardinals for the league's thickest wide receiver corps. Diontae Johnson (5-foot-10, 181 pounds) was on the slender side, but otherwise Ben Roethlisberger was throwing to wideouts nearly as thick as he is: Juju Smith-Schuster (6-foot-1, 215 pounds, 28.4 BMI), Chase Claypool (6-foot-4, 229 pounds, 27.9 BMI) and James Washington (5-foot-11, 213, 29.7 BMI).

The skinniest wideouts in the NFL played for Sean McVay in Los Angeles. The Rams used five wide receivers last year, and the thickest of those was Cooper Kupp, who stands 6-foot-2 at 208 pounds, which works out to a BMI of 26.7. And now they have drafted someone even smaller. Second-round draftee Tutu Atwell weighs in at only 155 pounds; even at 5-foot-9, that works out to a wafer-thin BMI of 22.9

There's not a lot of connection between the height and weight of wide receivers and other offensive trends, but there are some correlations with SWBMI. Teams with thick wideouts tend to run more often, which is no surprise. However, they also tend to give up fewer sacks—the correlation between SWBMI and sack rate is -0.231. Correlation does not equal causation, however, and while that may be interesting, it's still likely just random noise.

Tight Ends

Snap-Weighted Size, TEs, 2020
Offense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
BAL 76.8 12 261.2 1 31.2 3
PIT 76.1 29 258.8 2 31.4 1
HOU 77.7 3 257.6 3 30.0 16
CAR 76.3 28 257.2 4 31.1 5
IND 76.5 20 256.6 5 30.8 8
TB 77.7 4 256.6 6 29.9 19
MIA 78.0 2 256.3 7 29.6 21
KC 76.5 19 256.3 8 30.8 10
SEA 76.4 24 256.1 9 30.9 7
BUF 76.3 25 255.2 10 30.8 9
NE 76.4 21 255.2 11 30.7 11
NYJ 76.6 17 255.0 12 30.5 12
CIN 75.9 30 255.0 13 31.1 4
CHI 78.1 1 253.7 14 29.3 28
MIN 75.7 31 253.3 15 31.1 6
LV 77.1 9 253.0 16 29.9 18
PHI 76.7 13 252.9 17 30.2 13
DEN 76.7 14 252.6 18 30.2 14
NO 77.3 8 251.4 19 29.6 23
JAX 76.7 15 250.6 20 29.9 17
WAS 77.5 6 250.5 21 29.3 27
NYG 76.8 11 250.2 22 29.8 20
TEN 74.9 32 249.6 23 31.3 2
ATL 76.4 22 249.0 24 30.0 15
DET 77.6 5 248.3 25 29.0 30
LAR 76.6 18 246.1 26 29.5 24
DAL 77.3 7 245.7 27 28.9 32
GB 76.7 16 245.5 28 29.3 26
CLE 76.3 26 245.4 29 29.6 22
SF 76.3 27 244.0 30 29.5 25
LAC 77.0 10 244.0 31 29.0 31
ARI 76.4 23 242.1 32 29.2 29
Avg. 76.7   251.8   30.1  

The Ravens didn't use tight ends very often—only New England gave fewer snaps to the position—but when they did, those tight ends were huge. All of their tight ends weighed at least 254 pounds, and they got more than 600 total snaps from Nick Boyle (270 pounds) and Eric Tomlinson (263). Meanwhile, in Arizona, Kliff Kingsbury used his tight ends a little more than you probably expected in his Air Raid offense, but those tight ends were tiny. Of their four top tight ends, Darrell Daniels was the biggest at 256 pounds; Dan Arnold, the leading receiver at the position, weighed just 220.

The league's tallest tight ends played in Chicago, where Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, and Demetrius Harris all measured in at 6-foot-6 or taller. The shortest played in Tennessee. Four tight ends played at least 300 snaps for the Titans; they ranged in height from 6-foot-2 (Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt) to 6-foot-4 (Geoff Swaim).

From there we turn to BMI, which means once again we find ourselves looking to Pittsburgh. You'll recall that the Steelers had the league's thickest wide receivers; it turns out they were first in BMI among tight ends too. Almost all their tight end snaps went to Eric Ebron (6-foot-4, 253 pounds, 30.8 BMI) and Vance McDonald (6-foot-4, 267 pounds 32.5 BMI). The Dallas Cowboys had the league's skinniest tight ends; Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell, and Sean McKeon each stood at least 6-foot-5, but none weighed more than 252 pounds or had a BMI higher than 29.2.

There is no apparent pattern between an offense's overall stats and the height or weight of its tight ends, but we do learn something when look at tight end height—specifically, the taller a team's tight ends, the less often that team runs. The correlation between SWH and run rate is -0.400. It's also notable that teams with taller tight ends usually fared worse in our offensive line stats. That's especially true when looking at second-level yards; the correlation between that category and tight end SWH is very strong at -0.488. That's not a stat that is thrown off by a small number of outliers; most teams with tall tight ends fared poorly in second-level yards, while most teams with short tight ends fared well.

Image 1

This would suggest two interesting theories. The first is that short tight ends, in general, are better blockers than their taller peers; the second is that second-level yards are a better metric of tight end blocking than we have ever realized. It's important to remember that these results only reflect one year; we would need to see a similar pattern emerge over several seasons before putting too much faith in them going forward.

Offensive Line

Snap-Weighted Size, OL, 2020
Offense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
LV 77.1 11 328.8 1 38.9 2
BAL 77.2 8 324.9 2 38.4 4
SEA 76.5 27 323.2 3 38.8 3
BUF 77.1 9 320.3 4 37.9 8
WAS 77.3 5 319.0 5 37.6 14
PHI 77.0 14 318.7 6 37.8 10
MIA 77.2 6 318.4 7 37.5 16
JAX 76.9 18 317.2 8 37.7 11
PIT 77.8 1 316.8 9 36.8 26
TB 77.0 15 316.7 10 37.6 13
NYG 76.6 25 316.1 11 37.9 7
NYJ 76.6 24 316.1 12 37.9 9
NE 75.2 32 315.9 13 39.2 1
CIN 76.7 22 314.9 14 37.7 12
TEN 76.8 19 314.7 15 37.5 17
CAR 76.2 30 314.5 16 38.1 6
IND 77.1 10 314.4 17 37.2 21
CHI 76.0 31 314.1 18 38.2 5
HOU 77.0 16 313.5 19 37.2 20
LAR 77.3 3 313.2 20 36.8 28
NO 76.9 17 312.7 21 37.2 22
CLE 76.5 28 312.2 22 37.5 15
KC 77.0 13 311.9 23 37.0 25
DET 77.2 7 311.7 24 36.8 29
LAC 76.7 20 311.4 25 37.2 19
DEN 77.4 2 310.8 26 36.5 30
GB 76.4 29 310.7 27 37.4 18
DAL 76.7 21 310.3 28 37.1 23
ATL 76.6 23 309.7 29 37.1 24
ARI 76.5 26 306.7 30 36.8 27
MIN 77.0 12 306.5 31 36.3 31
SF 77.3 4 303.6 32 35.7 32
Avg. 76.8   314.6   37.5  

Derek Carr quietly had a very good season in 2020, making the top 10 in both DYAR and DVOA and setting career highs with 7.94 yards per pass and 11.79 yards per completion. That's thanks in part to the NFL's biggest offensive line, which gave him plenty of time to hit deep passes downfield. Eight offensive linemen played at least 200 snaps for Las Vegas, and seven of them topped the position's average weight of 314.6 pounds. Then, because they are the Raiders and they can never stick to a plan, they blew up the whole thing, trading away starters Trent Brown (380 pounds), Gabe Jackson (336 pounds), and Rodney Hudson (315 pounds).

The Raiders' counterparts were their former Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. The biggest of San Francisco's top six linemen was 320-pound Trent Williams; the lightest, technically, was Daniel Brunskill, but here is an example where our database is inaccurate as a player's weight has changed. A tight end at San Diego State, Brunskill was initially listed at 260 pounds in our database, which has not changed since he entered the league in 2017. The 49ers website lists Brunskill at 300 pounds; so does Brunskill's player page at NFL.com. Changing Brunskill's weight to 300 pounds boost's San Francisco's offensive line SWW to 311.3 pounds and their BMI to 36.6, a significant difference in both categories.

And now it's time to look again at the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose offense is just full of outliers. The Steelers' offensive line had a SWH of 77.75 inches; the second-tallest line, the Denver Broncos, was closer to 15th-place Kansas City than they were to Pittsburgh. The Steelers' top three linemen in snaps included two players at 6-foot-6 (Matt Feller and Chukwuma Okorafor) and one at 6-foot-9 (Alejandro Villanueva).

While the Steelers' line stood head and shoulders above the rest of the league, the rest of the league stood head and shoulders above the Patriots' offensive line. New England's SWH at the offensive line was 75.23 inches; only two other teams were even within an inch of that total. The second-shortest line, Chicago, was closer to the 13th-place L.A. Chargers than they were to the Patriots. Eight linemen played at least 100 snaps for New England last year, and none of those were taller than 6-foot-5 (Joe Thuney and Justin Herron); the shortest was Shaq Mason at 6-foot-1.

The top two offensive lines in SWBMI were either very short (New England) or very fat (Las Vegas), but either way we have already discussed them. So let's instead discuss the Seattle Seahawks. Five of Seattle's top six linemen had BMIs higher than the positional average of 37.5; the biggest were Damien Lewis (6-foot-3, 332 pounds, 41.5 BMI) and Jordan Simmons (6-foot-4, 339 pounds, 41.3 BMI). The league's skinniest line played in San Francisco, but in the interest of discussing as many teams as possible, let's move on to second-place Minnesota. Four of the Vikings' top six linemen had below-average BMIs: Brian O'Neill (6-foot-7, 297 pounds, 33.5 BMI), Riley Reiff (6-foot-6, 305 pounds, 35.2 BMI), Ezra Cleveland (6-foot-6, 311 pounds, 35.9 BMI), and Dru Samia (6-foot-5, 308 pounds, 36.5 BMI).

In general, high-BMI lines tend to fare better in the run game; they were especially effective at preventing stuffs, where the correlation with SWBMI was -0.396. However, they tended to give up more pass pressures; the correlation between SWBMI and sack/scramble rate was 0.407.


DEFENSE

Defensive Linemen

In Part I of this series, we pointed out that teams that the more defensive linemen a team uses, the smaller those linemen tend to be. For that reason, we've color-coded this table. Teams that use linemen more than linebackers are shaded yellow; teams that use linebackers more than linemen are shaded blue.

Snap-Weighted Size, DL, 2020
Defense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
CHI 76.3 3 317.8 1 38.4 2
ARI 75.8 16 315.4 2 38.6 1
NYG 75.9 15 312.7 3 38.2 3
GB 75.9 12 301.2 4 36.7 7
BAL 76.0 8 300.7 5 36.6 8
TB 75.9 11 299.9 6 36.6 9
TEN 76.0 6 298.1 7 36.3 11
MIA 76.8 1 298.0 8 35.5 18
PIT 76.7 2 297.9 9 35.6 17
NYJ 76.0 7 297.0 10 36.2 12
SEA 74.7 30 293.6 11 37.0 5
LAR 75.0 29 293.5 12 36.7 6
DET 75.3 25 293.0 13 36.3 10
DEN 74.5 31 293.0 14 37.1 4
HOU 75.4 23 290.5 15 36.0 13
CIN 75.3 24 289.3 16 35.8 15
LAC 75.8 18 288.9 17 35.4 20
SF 75.8 19 288.6 18 35.4 21
NO 75.9 14 287.8 19 35.1 23
CLE 75.1 28 285.8 20 35.6 16
CAR 76.0 9 285.0 21 34.7 25
DAL 75.2 27 284.8 22 35.4 19
KC 76.2 5 284.8 23 34.5 27
IND 76.3 4 284.1 24 34.3 31
WAS 75.8 17 283.9 25 34.7 24
PHI 75.2 26 283.3 26 35.2 22
LV 75.9 10 282.5 27 34.4 29
ATL 74.4 32 282.1 28 35.8 14
MIN 75.9 13 281.9 29 34.4 30
JAX 75.6 21 281.9 30 34.7 26
NE 75.5 22 279.7 31 34.4 28
BUF 75.6 20 279.0 32 34.3 32
Avg. 75.6   290.2   35.7  

Based on these numbers, it appears the Chicago Bears may have had actual bruins patrolling their defensive line. This is mostly due to Akiem Hicks—at 352 pounds, he was the heaviest defender in the NFL to play at least 500 snaps. He led Chicago's linemen with 795 snaps; second-place Bilal Nichols played nearly 700 snaps at 313 pounds, which was also bigger than average for most teams in the league.

While the Bears were big, the Bills were bantamweights. Seven of their eight top linemen in snaps played weighed less than 300 pounds, the lightest of them 253-pound Darryl Johnson. Their top two linemen in snaps, Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes, both weighed 260 pounds or less.

In Miami, the Dolphins had the league's tallest defensive line. Every defensive lineman who played a snap for Miami stood at least 6-foot-1; the four who played at least 600 snaps all stood 6-foot-4 or taller, peaking with the 6-foot-7 Raekwon Davis. One state to the north, the Falcons had the shortest line in the NFL. Snap leader Grady Jarrett goes 6 feet even; their top five linemen were all 6-foot-3 or shorter.

It was a flock of a different feather, the Cardinals, who had the NFL's thickest defensive line. The average defensive line had a SWBMI of 35.7, but seven of Arizona's top eight linemen were bigger than that. The exception was Zach Allen (6-foot-4, 281 pounds, 34.2 BMI), but three of them—Corey Peters (6-foot-3, 335), Trevon Coley (6-foot-1, 310), and Domata Peko (6-foot-3, 325)—had BMIs north of 40.0.

The skinniest line was technically that of the Buffalo Bills, but since we already talked about them, let's look instead at the team that finished in second place by just a few decimal points: the Indianapolis Colts. Only one of Indy's top six linemen (the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Grover Stewart) was above-average in BMI for the position. The others, in order of snaps played: DeForest Buckner (6-foot-7, 300 pounds, 33.8 BMI), Denico Autry (6-foot-5, 285 pounds, 33.8 BMI), Al-Quadin Muhammad (6-foot-4, 250 pounds, 30.4 BMI), Justin Houston (6-foot-3, 270 pounds, 33.7 BMI), and Tyquan Lewis (6-foot-3, 277 pounds, 34.6 BMI).

There are subtle trends suggesting that better defenses have bigger defensive lines, but it's not a one-size fits all solution. Taller defensive lines usually result in better pass defenses (correlation with pass defense DVOA: -0.306), while heavier lines play better against the run (correlation with run defense DVOA: -0.353).

Linebackers

Snap-Weighted Size, LB, 2020
Defense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
NE 74.5 5 253.7 1 32.1 1
GB 75.1 2 252.0 2 31.4 8
TB 74.3 9 249.2 3 31.7 4
DET 74.1 14 248.6 4 31.9 2
DEN 74.1 13 247.5 5 31.7 5
NYJ 74.4 6 246.8 6 31.3 10
HOU 75.0 3 245.2 7 30.7 20
PIT 74.3 8 244.6 8 31.1 11
CHI 73.9 18 244.2 9 31.4 7
LAR 74.9 4 244.0 10 30.5 22
BAL 74.3 7 243.1 11 30.9 15
JAX 73.3 27 242.9 12 31.8 3
NYG 75.2 1 242.8 13 30.2 28
DAL 74.0 16 242.0 14 31.1 12
MIA 74.3 11 241.8 15 30.8 18
SEA 73.6 23 241.5 16 31.3 9
BUF 74.0 17 240.0 17 30.8 17
NO 74.2 12 239.7 18 30.6 21
ARI 74.3 10 238.5 19 30.4 26
TEN 73.5 25 238.4 20 31.1 14
CLE 73.5 24 237.8 21 30.9 16
WAS 72.7 32 236.4 22 31.5 6
CIN 73.8 19 236.2 23 30.5 24
KC 73.1 31 236.1 24 31.1 13
PHI 73.4 26 235.7 25 30.8 19
LAC 73.7 22 235.5 26 30.5 25
LV 74.0 15 233.6 27 30.0 29
MIN 73.3 28 232.8 28 30.5 23
IND 73.3 29 231.3 29 30.3 27
SF 73.7 21 229.1 30 29.6 31
ATL 73.8 20 226.0 31 29.2 32
CAR 73.2 30 225.5 32 29.6 30
Avg. 74.0   240.6   30.9  

The Patriots didn't use linebackers often (only 2,157 snaps; every other linebacker corps was over 2,900, maxing out at 6,132 for Arizona), but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in bulk. Their top three linebackers—Ja'Whaun Bentley, Anfernee Jennings, and Shilique Calhoun—all weighed 255 pounds or more. Not surprisingly, New England also ranked first in SWBMI at the position.

The Patriots' polar opposites were the Panthers. Every linebacker who saw the field for Carolina weighed 241 pounds or less. Note that this does include 212-pound rookie Jeremy Chinn—though he wears jersey No. 21, the Panthers do list him as a linebacker. Going forward, he should probably be listed as a safety—his average run tackle came 7.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which would rank last by a full yard among linebackers but merely below average in the defensive backfield—but we'll leave him here for now. For the record, he's not quite the smallest linebacker in the league. Akeem Davis-Gaither (Cincinnati) and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (San Francisco) each checked in at a porterhouse north of two bills.

New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman likes his defensive linemen big (ranking in the top three in both SWW and SWBMI), and he likes his linebackers tall, with the highest SWH in the league. The Giants' top 11 linebackers (!) were all at least 6-foot-2; three of them (Kyler Fackrell, Cam Brown, and Lorenzo Carter) stood 6-foot-5. New York's divisional rivals in Washington had the league's shortest linebackers; the Football Team's top seven linebackers were all 6-foot-1 or shorter.

The Falcons had the league's skinniest linebackers by SWBMI (stunning, considering the Varsity is right there). Their top three players at the position: Deion Jones (6-foot-1, 227 pounds, 29.9 BMI), Foyesade Oluokun (6-foot-2, 215, 27.6 BMI), and Mykal Walker (6-foot-3, 227, 28.4 BMI).

We couldn't find any correlation between linebacker size and any of our defensive stats. Tall, short, heavy, light, none of it seems to matter—just get good players.

Defensive Backs

Snap-Weighted Size, DB, 2020
Defense SWH Rk SWW Rk SWBMI Rk
NYJ 72.2 6 202.5 1 27.3 11
DET 72.9 1 202.3 2 26.7 27
DAL 72.3 4 202.0 3 27.2 18
LV 71.8 17 202.0 4 27.6 3
LAC 72.0 8 201.7 5 27.4 10
ATL 71.8 12 201.6 6 27.5 6
IND 71.7 21 201.5 7 27.6 4
NE 71.7 19 201.1 8 27.5 5
BAL 71.9 11 201.0 9 27.3 13
NYG 71.8 16 200.8 10 27.4 9
CAR 72.2 5 200.7 11 27.1 23
TEN 71.3 31 200.7 12 27.8 1
SEA 71.8 13 200.4 13 27.3 12
MIA 71.9 10 200.3 14 27.2 16
TB 71.4 29 200.3 15 27.6 2
HOU 71.5 27 199.5 16 27.4 7
PIT 72.0 9 199.5 17 27.1 22
CLE 71.7 22 199.1 18 27.3 14
CIN 71.4 28 199.1 19 27.4 8
LAR 71.7 23 198.8 20 27.2 15
WAS 71.8 15 198.7 21 27.1 21
MIN 72.8 2 198.6 22 26.4 32
GB 71.7 20 198.6 23 27.2 19
JAX 72.4 3 198.4 24 26.6 28
NO 71.6 26 198.0 25 27.1 20
CHI 71.4 30 197.3 26 27.2 17
KC 71.8 14 197.2 27 26.9 24
SF 72.1 7 196.4 28 26.6 29
ARI 71.6 25 195.5 29 26.8 25
DEN 71.7 18 194.2 30 26.5 30
BUF 71.6 24 193.4 31 26.5 31
PHI 70.9 32 191.2 32 26.7 26
Avg. 71.8   199.2   27.1  

You won't find the New York Jets at the top of many tables from 2020, but they can put a bow on the season knowing full well that they had the biggest secondary in pro football. Marcus Maye, second among all defensive backs in the league with 1,186 snaps, clocked in at 207 pounds. Bryce Hall, Brian Poole, and Lamar Jackson (no, the other one) each topped 200 pounds as well, while Blessuan Austin and Pierre Desir were in the 190s.

If you're looking for the league's tallest defensive backs, you'll find them in the Motor City. At 6-foot-1, Duron Harmon led all defensive backs with 1,221 snaps; 6-foot-2 Amani Oruwariye added over a thousand snaps himself. Other prominent Detroit defensive backs included Jayron Kearse (6-foot-4) and Tracy Walker and Will Harris (both 6-foot-1).

The Philadelphia Eagles and their itty-bitty secondary pulled off the rare feat of having the shortest and lightest players at the same position group. None of the Eagles' top six defensive backs stood more than 6 feet tall, and only one topped 200 pounds. Nickell Robey-Coleman was the smallest at 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds.

The Tennessee Titans secondary had a SWBMI of 27.8, highest in the NFL. Notably thick Titans defenders include Kevin Byard (5-foot-11, 212 pounds, 29.6 BMI), Kenny Vaccaro (6-foot-0, 214, 29.0 BMI), Amani Hooker (5-foot-11, 210, 29.3 BMI), and Desmond King (5-foot-10, 201, 28.8). The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, liked their defensive backs to be long and lean, like Anthony Harris (6-foot-1, 202, 26.6 BMI), Jeff Gladney (6-foot-0, 183, 24.8 BMI), and Cameron Dantzler (6-foot-2, 185, 23.8 BMI).

(Out of curiosity, I went back and checked the Legion of Boom Seahawks to see if their defensive backs were as large as their reputation, and the answer to that question was a resounding yes. In 2013, the year Seattle won the Super Bowl, they had a SWH of 73.21 inches and a SWW of 205.7 pounds, both of which would have comfortably led the league in 2020—and that's with Earl Thomas clocking over a thousand snaps at 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds.)

In general, defenses with taller secondaries tended to struggle (you'll recall that the Lions were dead last in defensive DVOA). Curiously, height was most strongly correlated with those stats that are usually associated with defensive linemen and linebackers. Teams with tall secondaries tended to get fewer sacks (correlation with sack rate: -0.343) and stuffs (correlation with stuff rate: -0.319) while giving up more adjusted line yards (correlation with ALY: 0.405) and more first downs in short-yardage runs (correlation with POWER%: 0.423).

Comments

10 comments, Last at 30 May 2021, 8:31pm

1 Yeeeeeep

GB likes nothing but trees at WR. Maybe Lafleur is starting to turn things around with Amari but man they sure refused to diversify their WR room a couple years ago.

9 Yeah and most of those are…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Yeah and most of those are Gutekunst guys, though what LeFleur wants for receivers is still a bit unknown. Lazard, ESB, and MVS all arrived in 2018, Gutekunst first draft and Adams of course was already there. After LeFleur showed up in 2019 we got Taylor, who is listed as basically the same size as Adams (6'1'', 215-116) was 2019. They tried to get Funchess who is Lazard like in height weight stats (6'4'' 225 vs 6'5'' 227). MVS and ESB are skinny (6'4'' 206 and 6'5' 215 both are lighter than Adams while being 3-4 inches taller).

So yeah Amari Rodgers is the first receiver who isn't at least 6'1'' that Gutekunst brought in. OK Darrius Shepherd was a smaller dude but he wasn't really brought in to play WR, he was an FCS talent FA flyer that they thought might help in the return game (he didn't). Same goes for Tavon Austin, brought in to try and help the return game (also failed). Wasn't Shepherd waived to make the roster spot for Austin? Neither are currently on the expanded roster so doesn't much matter.

It feels like the LeFleur offense would do well with various styles of receivers, so maybe that helped push Rodgers up the board a bit. I know I'm excited to see what he can do. Though maybe LeFleur wants the trees over other options too. Still hard to saw

It's almost June 1st so we might actually get some clarity on who will be throwing passes to the trees in 2021. Everyone who knows anything about NFL contracts knew nothing was going to happen with the Rodgers contract until after June 1st anyway. So I may actually start paying attention to the rumors about him I glance over now.

10 Don't forget JMon

6-3, 205-207lbs. And that's on the small side! Jake Kumerow was 6-4, 209. Travis Fulgham was 6-2, 215. Of course didn't re-sign 5-10, 192 Cobb (didn't offer a courtesy contract either, sidenote: what Rodgers might have been talking about). 

Yeah he was waived "for" Tavon. Or rather they finally and mercifully ended the Shepherd experiment that shouldn't have even gotten that far anyway. And Tavon was the closest thing to him to fill that role and was available at the time (I certainly hope their mentality wasn't "we'll hold onto this unathletic FCS guy until a Tavon is available.")

I'm a big proponent of diversity in position rooms. Unless you're getting like 2 Jerry Rices. Even then I would rather have a Jerry Rice AND Don Hutson! So Amari certainly not as high for other teams but for us we have the rest of WR types already and at that point, Amari was good for us. 

Imagine Lafleur just wants blocking (McVay connection) but I couldn't give a hoot about WR blocking (sprinkles not ice cream trait) but that's another topic for another time. 

A. Rodgers to A. Rodgers would be nice...

2 I think I found an error

I think I found an error in two of your tables. You list New England as having had both WR's and TE's on their team last year.

3 I'm not sure

You said:

"There is a strong tendency for short quarterbacks to scramble a lot, but this is mostly driven by four outliers. The Ravens and Texans were first and second in scrambles as a percentage of all dropbacks, and their quarterbacks were both 6-foot-2 or shorter. The Seahawks and Cardinals were next in scramble rate, and they had the shortest quarterbacks in the league. Remove those four teams and the trend of shorter quarterbacks scrambling more still exists, but it's much weaker."

I'm not sure that 4 strongly correlated data points out of 32 qualifies as an "outlier". Unless there's significant evidence that a significant number of teams with short quarterbacks rarely scramble, or a significant number of teams with tall quarterbacks also scramble (which is doubtful given that you said the trend still exists).

Any time one variable is correlated to another in a data set, if you remove the 1/8 of the data where the correlation is the strongest, of course the resulting trend will be weaker.

4 "The Ravens didn't use tight…

"The Ravens didn't use tight ends very often—only New England gave fewer snaps to the position—but when they did, those tight ends were huge."

I was surprised by both parts of this.

I thought of the Ravens as a team that used their TEs a lot, but I guess that was true in 2019 but not 2020. They traded away Hurst, and were missing Boyle for almost half the season, so they gave more snaps to the WRs & FB.

And Mark Andrews is a receiving TE but he's pretty big -- 256 pounds at the combine.

7 Also surprised at idea the Ravens don't use TEs very often

I was surprised too.  By reputation and the eye-test, Ravens are a TE-centric offense.  Over the past two seasons Mark Andrews leads the team in targets, with TEs Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst at 4th & 6th.  And Greg Roman uses TEs extensively in the run game, roving chess-piece blockers.

The only things I can think of, are:

  • Nick Boyle went to IR after game 9. 
  • Andrews missed a couple games due to covid; maybe initially had limited snaps on return.
  • Some of what I perceive as TE usage is actually FB / H-back Patrrick Ricard moving around the formation.

So – what the Ravens wanted & planned to do with TE usage, or what they were doing at the start of the season, may not match what they wound up doing.  I'm still a little surprised.  The Ravens grabbed Eric Tomlinson & Luke Willson after Boyle's injury, in an attempt to keep using TEs.

 

5 Ah, now I get it.You said…

Ah, now I get it. You said that the Cowboys had 35 fullback snaps last year. Turns out, the fullback, Sewo Olonilua, only played his snaps at Special Teams. According to PFR he didn't line up at offense at all, so be careful when you use this to measure correlation with offensive and defensive effectiveness.

Well, at least the Cowboys pay only 1/6 of what the Steelers pay Derek Watt.

8 LB and DLs

The defensive lineman and linebacker weighted numbers are getting confounded by the fact that some teams list their edge rushers as DEs and some list as OLBs, I think. The analysis of both positions would be clearer and more interesting if edge rushers were consistently grouped with the lineman (or perhaps accounted for separately?). Understood that this would require some manual coding on the part of the person doing the analysis.