Every year, NFL prospects strip down to their underwear and are paraded around in front of NFL scouts and executives in an event known as the weigh-in. This is the first time official heights and weights are taken on each player. But two other important pieces of information are also recorded that have as much bearing on how “big” a potential NFL prospect can play: reach (the length of a prospect’s arm) and hand size (the length from the pinkie finger measured to the thumb).
Football is a contact sport in which collisions take place on every play. Most NFL players are asked to win battles at the point of attack, and the players with the biggest frames and longest reaches have a clear advantage when engaging an opposing player.
The reach or arm length of a prospect is a key attribute to any position, especially those playing on the line of scrimmage. However, at no position is reach more vital than at the offensive tackle spot. To explain how offensive linemen can be affected by length, I want to take a look at two former prospects with similar height/weight numbers who have taken different paths in their NFL careers.
OT Adam Terry (Baltimore Ravens) and OT Marcus McNeill (San Diego Chargers) are former second-round picks (Terry in 2005, McNeill in 2006) who each measured 6-8 and weighed about 330 pounds at their combine appearances. However, the key difference at each player’s weigh-in was the discrepancy in the length of their reaches. McNeill’s measured 35½ inches; Terry posted a reach of 32¼ inches. So we have two men who are roughly the same size, but McNeill has the length to match and maximize his 6-8 frame, while Terry’s length forces him to play like a tackle closer to 6-3.
There are other variables to be considered when judging a prospect’s potential, but the facts are that McNeill has been the Chargers’ starting left tackle each of the past four years, while Terry, who’s coming off a season-ending injury in 2009, looks more like a reserve-type offensive lineman for the Ravens. Again, there are other variables that go into comparisons like these, but you have to figure the 3-inch-plus reach advantage has to be a significant reason why one player has been so successful in the NFL and the other has not.
To put this into perspective, I broke down this year’s top left tackle prospects to give you a better idea which linemen have NFL-worthy arm length and which ones will likely struggle playing to their listed size. But before we get to that, I constructed a range of arm lengths for the OT position only to put each measurement into context.
“Great” Arm Length (35-plus inches)
D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets, 2006 (35½ inches)
Ryan Clady, Broncos, 2008 (36 inches)
“Good” Arm Length (34 inches - 34 7/8 inches)
Jammal Brown, Saints, 2005 (34¼ inches)
Jeff Otah, Panthers, 2008 (34 5/8 inches)
“OK” Arm Length (33 inches - 33 7/8 inches)
Michael Roos, Titans, 2005 (33 5/8 inches)
Levi Brown, Cardinals, 2007 (33 1/8 inches)
“Below-Average” Arm Length (32 inches - 32 7/8 inches)
Robert Gallery, Raiders, 2004 (32 ¼ inches)
Chris Williams, Bears, 2008 (32 ¾ inches)
With an eye toward the 2010 draft class, let’s rank the nation’s top offensive tackles according to their arm length/reach and break down what each measurement means in relation to the player’s potential at the next level.
Bruce Campbell, Maryland (6-6, 314) (Arm Length: 36¼ inches)
Once again, Campbell shows that from a pure physical standpoint he has the quintessential body you look for in an NFL left tackle. He’s a tall, lean kid with impressive athleticism and elite length for the position. He isn’t quite the lateral athlete that some make him out to be, and he will lose his balance and get overextended when asked to redirect in space. However, the type of length he possesses can go a long way toward covering up a lot of flaws at the next level, and he’s going to need it because at this stage he’s still very raw.
Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (6-5, 307) (Arm Length: 36 inches)
There’s a reason Okung is able to play with a little more base strength and power than you’d expect from a guy his size. With 36-inch arms, he makes it difficult for opposing linemen to get into his frame and generate much of a push on their bull-rush. Plus, the fact he’s fluid and balanced when asked to redirect in pass protection makes me feel confident that Okung is this year’s top left tackle prospect.
Charles Brown, USC (6-5, 303) (Arm Length: 35¼ inches)
Like Okung, Brown might lack ideal girth in his lower half, but because of his length, he makes it extremely difficult for opposing pass rushers to generate power trying to bull-rush him on contact. Add in the fact that Brown is a former tight end with impressive range and lateral fluidity for his size, and he might end up being the third-ranked offensive tackle in my book come draft time, ahead of Anthony Davis and Bruce Campbell.
Anthony Davis, Rutgers (6-5, 323) (Arm Length: 34 inches)
In previous years, Davis’ 34-inch arms would have been near the top of just about any tackle class. So just because he ranks fourth on this list doesn’t mean there’s any concern about his length. Physically, the guy has the ability to win in both the run and pass game at the next level. The question is: Does he want to? Davis comes off as very passive and seems to lack the willingness to put in the work to be great at the next level. The skill set and length are certainly there, but he might be better suited to playing on the right side in the NFL.
Bryan Bulaga, Iowa (6-6, 314) (Arm Length: 33¼ inches)
Finally, Bulaga’s 33¼-inch arms aren’t great, but they’re certainly long enough for him to project nicely to the left side in the NFL. He never really got on track this year after battling through some thyroid issues during the early parts of the season, but his sophomore tape is impressive, and besides Okung, Bulaga looks to me to be the safest tackle in this year’s draft.
Overall, the measurement of a prospect’s arm length is another tool to help scouts determine the caliber of the player they’re evaluating. Arm length helps determine the “true” size of a potential NFL player and allows scouts to establish just how big an offensive lineman can play. As I said before, there are always exceptions to the rule, and simply measuring the arm length of an offensive tackle will not guarantee success. But when scouting offensive tackles, it’s important to consider the length/reach of a prospect in correlation to his height and weight.
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