Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady has some of the longest arms in the NFL at 36.75". How much does that contribute to making him one of the elite left tackles in the NFL?
Why does Arm Length Matter?
On a running play, an offensive lineman fires off the ball and either engages the defender over him or moves to a space that is his responsibility in order to find a defender. Generally the first contact between the offensive lineman and the defensive lineman is made by the shoulder pads (sometimes the helmet), but this should be followed immediately by the hands.
Strong offensive linemen deliver a punch with their hands and then they are supposed to grab the jersey inside the framework of the shoulder pads. Guys who are strong enough can then push the defender back (effectively standing him up) by "bench pressing" him. Once you have your arms extended with grasp of his jersey, the defender is almost completely at your mercy. Arm length helps here because you get a little more distance between yourself and the defender once you have "bench-pressed" him.
Arm length is more critical in pass blocking than in run blocking. At the snap on passing downs, you will see offensive linemen take at least one step backward and get in a body position called a "pass set". In this position your back should be straight, your knees should be bent, your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, your hands should be in close to your chest with your elbows bent and your weight should be on the balls of your feet. You are awaiting the charge of the defensive player. Once he nears you, the first thing that should contact him are your hands, delivering what is effectively a two-handed punch to his chest.
A well-executed punch should allow you to stop his forward momentum and you should grab a hold of his jersey - locking your arms out and keeping him squarely in front of you (if you have quick enough feet). Again having long arms here, gives you more separation from the defender. In a battle where inches and portions of a second matter, the difference between an OT with 32" arms and one with 36" arms gets magnified greatly. Most (but not all as we will see later) OT's in college who have short arms get moved to OG in the NFL.
Analyzing the data
The data only goes back five or six years, and even then some players who don't get combine invites don't get measured. Still, I looked at the guys on the short end and the guys on the long end of the spectrum and took a look at their NFL careers at this point. I defined short arms as less than 32.5" and long arms as longer than 35". About 70% of all offensive linemen fall into the that range of arm length range so we are dealing with the bottom 15% and the top 15% in terms of arm length. For all offensive linemen at the past 5 combines the average arm length is 33.75".
The Short-Arm guys (2010-2014)
So we'll start with the short-armed guys, who happen to be mostly centers. The Results column gives you an idea of what the player has done or not done in the NFL so far.
|Russell Bodine||OC||6' 3"||310||32 1/2||Started 16 games as a rookie|
|Matt Stankiewitch||OC||6' 3"||302||32 1/2||undrafted and never played in NFL|
|Taylor Dever||OT||6' 5"||298||32 1/2||undrafted and never played in NFL|
|Rodney Hudson||OC||6' 2"||299||32 1/2||Has started 35 of 51 NFL games|
|Jason Kelce||OC||6' 3"||280||32 1/2||Started every game of career, 2014 Pro-Bowl|
|Kris O'Dowd||OC||6' 4"||304||32 1/2||undrafted and never played in NFL|
|Andrew Jackson||OG||6' 5"||299||32 1/2||7th rnd pick, never played in NFL|
|Daniel Kilgore||OG||6' 3"||308||32 1/2||started 7 of 40 NFL games, became starter in 2014|
|Eric Olsen||OC||6' 4"||306||32 1/2||6th rnd pick, started 4 of 23 games in 5 NFL seasons|
|Maurkice Pouncey||OC||6' 5"||304||32 1/2||1st rnd pick, All-Pro and Pro-Bowl|
|Mike Johnson||OG||6' 1"||312||32 1/2||UDCFA, 1 start in 18 NFL games in 4 seasons|
|Shelley Smith||OG||6' 3"||300||32 1/2||6th rnd pick, started 13 of 40 games in 4 NFL seasons|
|Mike Tepper||OG||6' 6"||324||32 1/2||UDCFA, 4 starts in 6 NFL games in 1 season|
|Ben Jones||OC||6' 2"||303||32 1/2||4th rnd pick, started 27 of 48 NFL games in 3 seasons|
|Mark Asper||OG||6' 6"||319||32 1/2||6th rnd pick, appeared in 7 games with no starts in 3 seasons|
|Josh LeRibeus||OG||6' 3"||312||32 1/2||3rd rnd pick, started 1 game in 3 NFL seasons|
|Matt Paradis||OC||6' 3"||306||32 3/8||6th rnd pick, practice squad as a rookie|
|David DeCastro||OG||6' 5"||316||32 3/8||1st rnd pick, started 34 of 35 NFL games in 3 seasons|
|Keith Williams||OG||6' 4"||318||32 3/8||6th rnd pick, started 11 of 13 NFL games as a DT in 2012|
|Bryan Stork||OC||6' 4"||315||32 1/4||4th rnd pick, started 11 of 13 games a rookie in 2014|
|Eric Herman||OC||6' 4"||320||32 1/4||7th rnd pick, has not played in two years on Giant's roster|
|Joe Looney||OG||6' 3"||309||32 1/4||4th rnd pick, started 4 of 19 games in 3 NFL seasons|
|Mike Pouncey||OG||6' 5"||303||32 1/4||1st rnd pick, starter and 2-time Pro-bowler|
|Matt Tennant||OC||6' 5"||300||32 1/4||5th rnd pick, never started a game in 3 NFL seasons|
|John Cullen||OT||6' 4"||297||32 1/8||UDCFA, never played in the NFL|
|Corey Linsley||OC||6' 3"||296||32||5th rnd pick , starter all 16 games as a rookie in 2014|
|Conor Boffell||OG||6' 4"||298||32||UDCFA, never played in the NFL|
|Matt Feiler||OT||6' 6"||330||32||UDCFA, HOU practice squad in 2014|
|Brian Schwenke||OC||6' 3"||314||32||4th rnd pick, starter when healthy - 20 games in 2 seasons|
|Justin Pugh||OG||6' 4"||307||32||1st rnd pick, starter for NYG|
|Braxston Cave||OC||6' 3"||303||32||UDCFA, has not played in an NFL game, practice squads|
|Tony Bergstrom||OT||6' 5"||313||32||3rd rnd pick, started 1 game in 3 NFL seasons|
|Justin Boren||OG||6' 3"||309||32||UDCFA, practice squad for 3 teams in 3 NFL seasons|
|Ted Larsen||OC||6' 3"||304||32||6th rnd pick, started 47 of 76 career games at C/G|
|David Molk||OC||6' 1"||298||32||7th rnd pick, 4 starts of 19 career games in 2 seasons|
|Alex Parsons||OG||6' 4"||309||31 3/4||UDCFA, 1 start in 16 NFL games in 3 seasons|
|Tyler Larsen||OC||6' 4"||313||31 1/2||UDCFA, never played in the NFL|
|Michael Brewster||OC||6' 2"||312||31 1/2||UDCFA, never played in the NFL|
|Alex Linnenkohl||OC||6' 2"||304||31 3/8||UDCFA, never played in the NFL|
|Anthony Steen||OG||6' 3"||314||30 1/2||UDCFA, ARI practice squad as a rookie|
|Joe Madsen||OC||6' 3"||310||30||UDCFA, never played in the NFL|
There are some names on that list of particular interest to us - Shelley Smith and Matt Paradis (Justin Boren and Eric Olsen to a lesser extent). Of the 42 offensive linemen (I had data for 238 total) in the past five drafts who had arms shorter than 32.5," only 4 have been taken in the first round - the Pouncey brothers, David Decastro and Justin Pugh. So let's talk about the successful guys here. I define success as being a regular starter (starting 75% of the games you play in). 12 of the 42 short arms guys became regular starters - 9 centers and 3 guards. Larsen was included in the successful guys since he is a regular starter now, but was not for his first two years in the league. Three guys have made it to the Pro-Bowl (Kelce and the Pounceys) and Maurkice Pouncey is the only recently drafted short-armed offensive lineman to be named AllPro. So recently less than 1 in 3 of the short-armed offensive lineman have become regular NFL starters. Let's look now at how this compares to the guys on the other end of the spectrum.
The Long Arms (of the law?)
|Ryan Clady||OT||6' 6"||315||36 3/4||All-Pro and Pro-Bowl|
|Luke Lucas||OT||6' 8"||316||36 3/4||3 starts as a rookie|
|D.J. Fluker||OT||6' 5"||339||36 3/4||Starter|
|Carl Johnson||G||6' 5"||361||36 1/2||never played in NFL|
|Jarriel King||OT||6' 5"||317||36 3/8||only appeared in 1 game|
|Tyron Smith||OT||6' 5"||307||36 3/8||All-Pro and Pro-Bowl|
|Rogers Gaines||OT||6' 6"||334||36 1/4||no games played yet|
|Bruce Campbell||OT||6' 7"||314||36 1/4||no starts in 4 years in league|
|Joseph Barksdale||OT||6' 5"||325||36||currently a starter for STL|
|Josh Davis||OT||6' 7"||313||36||never played in NFL|
|Russell Okung||OT||6' 5"||307||36||Starter for SEA, Probowl 1 year|
|Kelechi Osemele||G||6' 6"||333||35 7/8||Starter for BAL|
|Jamaal Johnson-Webb||G||6' 5"||313||35 3/4||has not played an NFL game|
|Cordy Glenn||OT||6' 5"||345||35 3/4||Starting LT for BUF|
|Cyrus Kouandijo||OT||6' 7"||322||35 5/8||only appeared in 1 game rookie year|
|Kadeem Edwards||G||6' 4"||313||35 1/2||did not play in a game as a rookie|
|Travis Bond||G||6' 6"||329||35 1/2||played in 2 games in 2 seasons|
|Nick Becton||OT||6' 5"||323||35 1/2||appeared in 1 game in 2 seasons|
|James Brewer||OT||6' 6"||323||35 1/2||started 8 games in 4 seasons|
|Nate Solder||OT||6' 8"||319||35 1/2||Starter for NE at LT|
|Tony Washington||OT||6' 6"||311||35 1/2||never played in NFL|
|Morgan Moses||OT||6' 6"||314||35 3/8||started 1 game as a rookie|
|Derek Sherrod||OT||6' 5"||321||35 3/8||started 1 game in 4 seasons|
|Matt McCants||OT||6' 6"||308||35 3/8||3 starts in 24 games in 3 seasons|
|Josh Oglesby||OT||6' 7"||338||35 3/8||never played in NFL|
|Lane Johnson||OT||6' 6"||303||35 1/4||Starter at RT for PHI|
|Lamar Holmes||OT||6' 5"||323||35 1/4||Starter for ATL when healthy|
|Chris Hairston||OT||6' 6"||326||35 1/4||15 starts in 4 seasons|
|DeMarcus Love||OT||6' 4"||315||35 1/4||has not appeared in a game in 4 seasons|
|Charles Brown||OT||6' 6"||303||35 1/4||22 starts in 5 seasons|
|Rishaw Johnson||OG||6' 3"||313||35 1/4||1 start in 3 seasons|
|Greg Robinson||OT||6' 5"||332||35||started 12 games as a rookie for STL|
|Ja'Wuan James||OT||6' 6"||311||35||Starter for MIA|
|Antonio Richardson||OT||6' 6"||336||35||did not play as a rookie|
|Khaled Holmes||C||6' 3"||302||35||started 2 games in 2 seasons|
|Paul Cornick||OT||6' 5"||310||35||4 games started in 3 seasons|
|Bobby Massie||OT||6' 6"||316||35||Starting T for ARI|
|Zebrie Sanders||OT||6' 5"||320||35||never played in NFL|
|Gabe Carimi||OT||6' 7"||314||35||26 starts in 4 seasons after getting picked 29th|
|Orlando Franklin||OT/G||6' 6"||316||35||Starter for DEN and now SD|
Notice that Clady, Cornick and Franklin all appear on this list; also notice how there is only one center on the long arm-list. This is a result of long-armed offensive lineman being used mostly at tackle at the high school and college level. I have short arms by college football standard (I'm 5'11" with a 29" reach) and I almost exclusively played center in college (FCS level).
Of the 40 long-armed players from the past 5 combines, 14 of the above players have gone on to be NFL starters (35%). Interestingly this is only a little better than the success rate of short armed players (12/42 = 29%). So the numbers lead us to the conclusion that most of you probably had before you started reading this article; arm length is an asset, but many other factors go into the success of an NFL offensive lineman (strength, flexibility, balance, quickness, intelligence, work-ethic and tenacity).
I could easily go through every one of the players who in the above list who have "failed" and point out the "flaw" that has more than outweighed the benefit they get from having long arms. For example, Cornick has really slow feet. He is strong and has long arms, but his ability to maintain position in front of a pass rusher after he has delivered his initial punch is poor. If Cornick had Garland's quick feet, he'd probably be an All-Pro.
Why does this matter? (or does it?)
Here are the arm lengths for all of the offensive lineman at the combine this year.
|First Name||Last Name||School||Position||Arm Length|
|Cedric||Ogbuehi||Texas A&M||OT||35 7/8|
|Corey||Robinson||South Carolina||OT||35 5/8|
|Laurence||Gibson||Virginia Tech||OT||35 1/8|
|Rob||Crisp||N.C. State||OT||34 1/2|
|Donovan||Smith||Penn St.||OG||34 3/8|
|Cameron||Erving||Florida St.||C||34 1/8|
|Robert||Myers||Tennessee St.||OG||33 3/4|
|Jarvis||Harrison||Texas A&M||OG||33 1/2|
|Jamil||Douglas||Arizona State||OG||33 3/8|
|Ali||Marpet||Hobart & William Smith||C||33 3/8|
|Terry||Poole||San Diego St.||OG||33 1/4|
|Mark||Glowinski||West Virginia||OG||33 1/8|
|Josue||Matias||Florida St.||OG||33 1/8|
|Andy||Gallik||Boston College||C||32 3/4|
|A.J.||Cann||South Carolina||OG||32 5/8|
|Tre'||Jackson||Florida St.||OG||32 5/8|
If you read my last article, you might remember that Mitch Morse did really well on the bench press at the combine. Despite his shorter arms, his 36" are still impressive when you figure out how much work he did in moving the 225 lb bar up 36 times.
Allow me to do some math (physics) to explain. Work is force x distance. A player with longer arms has to more work to fully extend his arms and complete a rep on the bench because he is moving the bar over a longer distance. A player with 36" long arms does the same amount of work in 27 reps that a player with 31.5" arms does in 31 reps. In doing the same number of reps (31) the 36" arm player does 3550 Joules more work. A Joule is the work done to move one kg one meter (against gravity).
o the most impressive show of strength and endurance by an offensive lineman at the combine this year was Flowers who did the most work on the bench - 32,500 Joules of work to be exact. Morse was second behind flowers. The guy who did the least work on the bench was Rob Haverstein who has shorter arms for a tackle (33.75") and only put up 16 reps. Haverstein did 13,750 Joules of work on the bench - almost 20,000 fewer than Flowers. Haverstein's 16 reps looks even worse than it did when only comparing number of reps when you figure out how much less work he did on the bench.
Here are the tackles from the All-Pro and Pro-Bowl teams from the last five seasons and their arm lengths
|Ryan Clady||36 3/4|
|Tyron Smith||36 3/8|
|Jake Long||35 7/8|
|D'Brickashaw Ferguson||35 1/2|
|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|
|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.