Quarterback Height and Baker Mayfield’s Range of NFL Outcomes

by Mark Leipold ·

Who should be the first quarterback taken in the 2018 NFL Draft? It’s a polarizing group including Josh Allen and his rocket arm, Baker Mayfield with his prolific resume, and the refined NFL “prototype” quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, among others. These are the big four that are seemingly in consideration for the top signal caller taken in the NFL Draft based on their respective advanced stats, metrics, and analytics prospect profiles.

It’s no secret by now that the Underworld supports Baker Mayfield and #NeverJoshAllen, but there is a certain infatuation with Allen among NFL scouts and analysts. The Allen supporters often knock Mayfield’s height, calling him “undersized” at 6 feet and 5/8 of an inch (compare to Josh Allen who is 6 feet 4 and 7/8 inches). The natural question that follows is whether short quarterbacks are outperformed by their taller counterparts in the NFL.

Short Quarterback Archetype

To investigate this, we’ll ask a few key questions. For the sake of this analysis, I’m using 6-1 and under as “short” since that is where Mayfield slots in when rounded to the nearest inch. To quell any concerns of this arbitrary cutoff, the primary driver is data sample size. Since I’m using only quarterbacks drafted in the top three rounds (no more because Mayfield will have a high draft pedigree, no less because sample size). PlayerProfiler also uses data that goes back through 2013, so any quarterback that retired before 2013 does not have the same data available, and they are excluded as a result.

The “short” quarterbacks that meet all of the above criteria (draft pick in parentheses): Michael Vick (1.01), Johnny Manziel (1.22), Drew Brees (2.01), Russell Wilson (3.12), Colt McCoy (3.21), and Cody Kessler (3.31). Having Brees in the “short” sample is going to help, but he was only one pick away from the first round and is shorter than Mayfield. Russell Wilson, although a third round pick, is the only quarterback in this sample under 6 feet tall. That all said, we still have a small sample of “short” quarterbacks, but the results can still be helpful when used in the context of other data. Let’s answer my key questions now.

Short on Opportunity?

The process to answer this one is pretty simple: divide each quarterback’s games played by the number of games they’ve been in the league, discounting any full seasons missed due to injury (e.g., Teddy Bridgewater┬áin 2016). I did not, however, discount Carson Palmer‘s 2003 season, for example, where he was a rookie and never took the field while he was learning behind Jon Kitna. The results are an intriguing start to this investigation.

Height Seasons Games Played Game %
6-1 and Under 48 550 71.6%
6-2 85 840 61.8%
6-3 to 6-4 107 991 57.9%
6’5″ and Over 186 2143 72.0%

It’s notable that a lot of excellent quarterbacks are exactly 6-5 including Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan. The tallest group is brought down only by Charlie Whitehurst, who has somehow been in the league since 2006 and appeared in only 26 (14.8-percent) games. There are undoubtedly a lot of great, tall quarterbacks, it’s not obvious that tall quarterbacks get more opportunities. The two worst performers in the short group are Colt McCoy (35 games over 8 years) and Cody Kessler (12 games over 2 years). Both were late third round picks, so I wouldn’t call that shocking by any means.

Short on Production?

This is a question that we won’t care as much about at PlayerProfiler, so I won’t spend much time on it. To figure this one out, I simply took a crude average of each quarterback’s passing yards per game and summed all passing touchdowns divided by 16 games per season. The same goes for rushing production. I am aware of a few major holes in this method, but the sheer volume of data makes it very cumbersome to compile all the necessary data to do this properly. For example, if Drew Brees threw 250 yards per game in both 2016 and 2017, and Russell Wilson threw 200 yards per game in 2017, we take the average of 233.3 yards per game for that group.

Height PaYds/Gm PaTD/Season Carries/Gm RuYds/Gm RuTDs/Season
6-1 and Under 187.5 16.4 3.3 16.2 1.6
6-2 183.1 12.8 3.0 11.9 1.4
6-3 to 6-4 201.1 13.8 2.8 12.2 1.5
6-5 and Over 201.9 15.5 2.5 9.0 1.1

As with opportunities or percentage of games played, there are no massive differences. The taller quarterbacks certainly have a higher passing output in terms of yardage, but the shorter quarterbacks threw more touchdowns. The shorter quarterbacks also had better rushing output, which makes sense intuitively, as it’s easier to be athletic (speed, quickness, burst) at 6-1 than at 6-6, so it’s not a big surprise that the statistics indicate that the shorter quarterbacks are more mobile. Even with Drew Brees in the short group, the rushing output looks a good percentage better than any other group. This is all fine for our purposes, because Baker Mayfield is mobile — he just scrambles with a pass-first mentality. So far, so good.

Short on Efficiency?

This is one of the reasons why PlayerProfiler exists. Efficiency metrics are much more telling of the quality of a player’s performance than counting statistics, which also depend on volume. This is also where Mayfield shined in college at the University of Oklahoma, as he was incredibly efficient in both of his last two seasons, posing over 11.0 yards per attempt and over 12.0 adjusted yards per attempt (factoring in touchdowns and interceptions). He completed over 70-percent of his passes in both seasons and thew 83 touchdowns to 14 interceptions in that span.

Notes: Play Action Pass Completion Percentage is only available for 2017, and Pressured Completion Percentage is only available for 2016 and 2017.

Height CMP% Red Zone CMP% Deep Ball CMP% Play Action CMP% Pressured CMP%
6-1 and Under 64.6% 50.5% 44.2% 76.9% 30.7%
6-2 60.4% 54.8% 37.1% 60.3% 33.8%
6-3 to 6-4 59.1% 50.7% 32.8% 59.3% 29.5%
6-5 and Over 60.5% 52.2% 32.2% 58.3% 28.2%

When we look at completion percentages, which could be influenced by things like batted balls at the line of scrimmage, the short quarterbacks typically fare as well or better than their taller counterparts. Of the ones with the largest sample of data available (Completion %, Red Zone Completion %, and Deep Ball Completion %), the short quarterbacks stack up well.

Check out Baker Mayfield on the Updated PlayerProfiler Rookie Rankings:

The interesting note here is that the short quarterbacks drop off in the red zone, which can partially be explained away by a lack of red zone weapons for the two biggest players in the sample, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, from 2013-2017. Jimmy Graham was the only real red zone weapon for either of these quarterbacks during that stretch. With the exception of Doug Baldwin in 2015 (14 TDs), no player on either team besides Graham reached 10 receiving touchdowns in a season. Intuitively, taller quarterbacks would be more likely to have stronger arms, and thus more likely to have a good deep ball. However, the numbers favor the shorter quarterbacks in terms of deep ball accuracy, and it gets worse as quarterbacks get taller. Interestingly, short quarterbacks don’t appear to have limitations that hinder their NFL performance.

Short on Metrics?

This being PlayerProfiler.com, we have to look at the advanced metrics to see how efficient players really are. The signature metric of PlayerProfiler.com is Production Premium, which filters out non-standard situations such as the 2-minute drill and “garbage time” to measure a player’s efficiency compared to other players in the same position across the league in standard situations. Positive values indicate above-average efficiency, whereas negative values indicate below-average efficiency. True Passer Rating (available for only 2017) is the familiar Quarterback Rating with non-pressured throwaways and dropped passes factored out. Pressure Attempts Per Game and Receiver Yards After the Catch (YAC) Per Target are also available for only 2017.

Height AY/A Fantasy Points per Dropback Production Premium Total QBR True Passer Rating Pressure Attempts per Game Receiver YAC per Target
6-1 and Under 5.9 0.43 6.2 62.5 89.4 6.1 3.1
6-2 5.8 0.37 -8.7 52.7 88.6 5.5 3.1
6-3 to 6-4 5.8 0.40 -7.2 48.3 86.0 5.5 2.8
6-5 and Over 5.8 0.39 -6.3 52.1 91.8 5.4 2.8

Short quarterbacks don’t seem to be at any disadvantage to their taller peers when it comes to advanced efficiency metrics. The most interesting takeaways in this set to me are Total QBR, Pressure Attempts per Game, and Production Premium. In Total QBR, which isolates a quarterback’s overall contribution to his team’s win probability by measuring efficiency and clutch factor, the short quarterbacks fare very well. This indicates that they are valuable to their teams and also do things to help their team win games, even if it doesn’t show in the passing yardage or other raw counting stats.

While Pressure Attempts Per Game is available for only 2017, it is interesting that there is a noticeable gap between the shortest group and the others. The three short quarterbacks charted (Brees, Wilson, and Kessler) in 2017 also did not invite pressure, which is a positive sign that the short quarterbacks fare as well or better in most metrics while under pressure slightly more.

Even more interestingly, short quarterbacks are the only group with a positive Production Premiums. This isn’t to say that all short quarterbacks are efficient or all tall quarterbacks are not, but it may indicate that short quarterbacks are less likely to struggle at the NFL level, perhaps because NFL front offices are more sure of the short prospects when drafting them. It’s hard to draw that conclusion on a data set of this size, but it’s certainly promising and hints that short quarterbacks are probably not limited by their size at the NFL level.

Baker Mayfield on the Browns

It’s probably their best move to take him first overall, though they may also be well-served to draft the best defensive player available at 1.01 and Mayfield at 1.04 if they think they can do so. Mayfield is one of the most productive and efficient quarterback prospects in the history of the NFL . One of the biggest knocks on him around the NFL community is his height, which doesn’t seem to be a problem given historical trends and the raw data and advanced metrics on PlayerProfiler.com.

All things considered, Mayfield’s resume and the relative success of short quarterbacks in today’s NFL amount to a strong case for him to be the first quarterback taken this year, and the first overall pick. Whichever team ends up taking Mayfield in 2018 is likely to have a short but effective professional quarterback for years to come.