clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Broncos 2015 draft: Arm length and the offensive line

New, comments

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?

Ryan Clady has both long arms and quick feet - having both has allowed him to flourish
Ryan Clady has both long arms and quick feet - having both has allowed him to flourish
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Name Position Height Weight Arms Results
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?)

Name Position Height Weight Arms Results
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
Trenton Brown Florida OG 36
Cedric Ogbuehi Texas A&M OT 35 7/8
Corey Robinson South Carolina OT 35 5/8
T.J. Clemmings Pittsburgh OT 35 1/8
Laurence Gibson Virginia Tech OT 35 1/8
Daryl Williams Oklahoma OT 35
Tyrus Thompson Oklahoma OT 34 7/8
Rob Crisp N.C. State OT 34 1/2
Ereck Flowers Miami OT 34 1/2
Jamon Brown Louisville OT 34 3/8
Andrus Peat Stanford OT 34 3/8
Donovan Smith Penn St. OG 34 3/8
Cameron Erving Florida St. C 34 1/8
Arie Kouandjio Alabama OG 34 1/8
Takoby Cofield Duke OT 34
Tayo Fabuluje TCU OG 34
Chad Hamilton Coastal Carolina C 34
Jeremiah Poutasi Utah OG 33 7/8
Jake Fisher Oregon OT 33 3/4
Rob Havenstein Wisconsin OT 33 3/4
Robert Myers Tennessee St. OG 33 3/4
Adam Shead Oklahoma OG 33 3/4
D.J. Humphries Florida OT 33 5/8
Laken Tomlinson Duke OG 33 5/8
Andrew Donnal Iowa OT 33 1/2
Jarvis Harrison Texas A&M OG 33 1/2
Al Bond Memphis OG 33 3/8
Jamil Douglas Arizona State OG 33 3/8
Chaz Green Florida OT 33 3/8
Ali Marpet Hobart & William Smith C 33 3/8
Brandon Scherff Iowa OG 33 3/8
La'el Collins LSU OT 33 1/4
John Miller Louisville OG 33 1/4
Terry Poole San Diego St. OG 33 1/4
Max Garcia Florida C 33 1/8
Mark Glowinski West Virginia OG 33 1/8
Josue Matias Florida St. OG 33 1/8
Bobby Hart Florida St. OG 33
Darrian Miller Kentucky OG 33
Ty Sambrailo Colorado St. OT 33
Austin Shepherd Alabama OT 32 7/8
Andy Gallik Boston College C 32 3/4
Sean Hickey Syracuse OT 32 3/4
A.J. Cann South Carolina OG 32 5/8
Tre' Jackson Florida St. OG 32 5/8
Jon Feliciano Miami OG 32 3/8
Reese Dismukes Auburn C 32 1/4
Mitch Morse Missouri OG 32 1/4
Hroniss Grasu Oregon C 32 1/8
Brett Boyko UNLV OT 32
B.J. Finney Kansas St. C 32

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

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.