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Can you be an above average offensive tackle in the NFL with ‘short’ arms?

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I profiled potential Bronco draftee Teven Jenkins.

Jenkins is the most technically sound offensive tackle in this Draft, but many think he will be unable to play right tackle in the NFL (he played right tackle at OSU). The reason they give for this is his arm length.

Jenkens’ arms are only 32 7/8 inches long. The average for offensive tackles who have been drafted since the folks at the Combine started measuring is 34 1/8 inches. Most guys with arms that are shorter than 33 inches end up playing guard (or even center) in the NFL.

So let’s look at the arm lengths of the guys who have made first or second team All Pro as offensive tackles over the past six seasons. I could have gone back further, but I got lazy.

There have been 19 men to earn this honor, including Garett Bolles in 2020. Sixteen different men have earned the honor as offensive guards and eight as centers. Here are all of them along with their arm lengths sorted by position and by arm length from longest to shortest.

I studied this back in 2015 as well. Note that Joe Staley was named Second Team All Pro by PFF, but was never named All Pro by the AP despite being selected as a First Team Pro Bowler six times during his career.

POS Offensive Lineman Arm Length
C Alex Mack 33.0
C Travis Frederick 33.0
C Jason Kelce 32.5
C Rodney Hudson 32.5
C Ryan Jensen 32.5
C Maurkice Pouncey 32.5
C Joe Berger 32.1
C Ryan Kalil 31.5
G Kelechi Osemele 35.9
G Mike Iupati 34.8
G Joel Bitonio 33.9
G Quenton Nelson 33.8
G Andrew Norwell 33.7
G Rodger Saffold 33.7
G Brandon Brooks 33.4
G Brandon Scherff 33.4
G Zack Martin 32.9
G Kevin Zeitler 32.8
G Marshal Yanda 32.5
G David DeCastro 32.4
G Richie Incognito 32.4
G Joe Thuney 32.3
G T.J. Lang 32.0
G Josh Sitton 32.0
T Alejandro Villanueva 37.8
T Tyron Smith 36.4
T Ronnie Stanley 35.6
T Lane Johnson 35.3
T Andrew Whitworth 35.0
T Jack Conklin 35.0
T Laremy Tunsil 34.3
T Duane Brown 34.3
T Trent Williams 34.3
T David Bakhtiari 34.1
T Terron Armstead 34.0
T Marcus Cannon 34.0
T Garett Bolles 34.0
T Taylor Lewan 33.9
T Ryan Ramczyk 33.8
T Joe Thomas 33.8
T Mitchell Schwartz 33.5
T Joe Staley 33.5
T Donald Penn 33.0

If we use an eighth of an inch “fudge factor,” you can see that only six offensive tackles have made All Pro over the past six seasons with “below average” arm length. Those six are Taylor Lewan, Ryan Ramczyk, Joe Thomas, Joe Staley, Mitchell Schwartz and Donald Penn. You should note that none of those six have arms that are as short as Teven Jenkins (although Penn is close).

If you look at the guards who have made All Pro over the past decade, you find that many had arms that are as short or shorter than Jenkins including elite guards, David Decastro, Zach Martin, Kevin Zeitler and Marshal Yanda.

So the conclusion from this is that in the recent NFL, elite offensive tackles have longer arms than Jenkins. What if we extend this to Pro Bowl selections? Can you make the Pro Bowl as an OT with “short arms”?

Looking at first team Pro Bowl selections, we have had 15 different guys earn that honor who were drafted as offensive tackles. Of course, many guys who were drafted as tackles end up as guards in the NFL.

Brandon Scherff was drafted as a tackle, but he has spent his entire career as a guard. He has been first team All Pro once and first team Pro Bowl four times.

Kelechi Osemele was also drafted as a tackle but has spent almost his entire NFL career playing guard. His All Pro and Pro Bowl honors were for his play as a guard in 2016 and 2017.

Ditto for Andrus Peat. He has made the Pro Bowl in the last three seasons as a guard for the Saints despite being drafted as a tackle. Peat, at 6-foot-7, was thought to be too tall to play guard in the NFL, particularly with a short QB in Drew Brees. So have there been any short arm tackles who made the Pro Bowl recently?

There were six tackles selected to the Pro Bowl for the 2020 season. The shortest arms of them are on Terron Armstead, whose arms are 34 inches. You have to go back to the 2017 Pro Bowl to find an OT with shorter arms, Joe Staley with his 33 1/2” arms. In 2016 Jason Peters made the Pro Bowl. He has the shortest arms of a ProBowler going back six seasons. Peters arms are listed as 33 1/8 inches. So we are getting closer to arms that are as short as Jenkins’ arms.

Peters is probably the best example you can find from recent history of a “short arm” elite offensive tackle in the NFL. He has been named to the First Team Pro Bowl nine times and First Team All Pro twice (most recently in 2013).

What made Peters, who went undrafted out of college, elite in the NFL? Five things:

  1. Strength
  2. Quickness
  3. Technique
  4. Intelligence
  5. Drive/desire

From what I can tell, Teven Jenkins has all five of those things. That doesn’t mean that he is going to be the next Jason Peters. There may never be another Jason Peters, but I would not assume that Jenkins can’t play tackle in the NFL just because he has “short” arms. Remember, Peters’ arms are one quarter of an inch longer than Jenkins’ arms.

And yes, Ty Sambrailo (33 inches) has arms that are about the same length as Jenkins. There are plenty of examples of short-arm guys who are or were below average OTs in the NFL. I only mentioned Sambrailo because the Broncos maddeningly spent the 59th pick in the Draft on him.

I know that draftniks like to dissect the numbers, but I think it’s silly to pigeon-hole Jenkins as a guard because his arms are one quarter of an inch shorter than Jason Peter’s arms. If I had to bet money on it, I’d bet that Jenkins spends most of his career as a RT in the NFL.

If we do draft Jenkins, I’ll spend the time to look at PFF grades for the tackles that have been drafted in the past decade to see if there are any other above average short arm tackles in the NFL.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports