American Football

Bryce Young is trying to change the NFL – sort of


Bryce Young Mater Dei Senior Season
Photo by Aubrey Lao /Getty Images

Quarterbacks in mirror are smaller than they appear.

When Russell Wilson was entering the NFL draft, the prevailing wisdom was that he would have been a first round pick if he were taller. Russell Wilson measured as 70.6” at the NFL combine. That’s 5 foot 10 and 5/8ths. At that time there were only four shorter QBs who had ever been invited to the combine. The shortest of those was Chris McCoy who played at the Naval Academy and was measured as 69.8”. If you plot the height and weight of every QB ever invited to the NFL combine you get this

Bryce Young was measured as 70.0” inches at the combine, making him the second shortest QB ever invited to the combine (1/8” shorter than former first overall pick, Kyler Murray).

Zooming in on the short QBs you get this:

70” is not just short for a QB, it’s short for ANY NFL position. The shortest RB ever at the combine was/is 62.3” (Deuce Vaughn from KSU in this draft). The shortest WR ever at the combine was 65.3” former Bronco, Trindon Holliday. But both of these guys are outliers. Most RBs and WRs are 5’9” or taller.

For QBs who need to see over their gargantuan offensive lineman (and throw over the arms of massive defensive linemen), height is essential, or at least to be thought of that way.

The success of Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa, and to a certain extent John Wolford, PJ Walker and (gasp) Doug Flutie helps Young. Flutie is listed as 5”10, but that’s generous. I’ve stood next to him. I’m 5”11 and he was easily two inches shorter than me.

The fact of the matter is that the prevailing wisdom has changed. Short QBs can prosper in the NFL. If Russell Wilson were coming out of college right now as a 22 year old kid, he’d be in the conversation to be the first overall pick as many think Young will be and as Murray was.

The shift away from “pure pocket” QBs in the NFL to mobile QBs who can beat you with their legs and their arms has given smaller shorter and lighter QBs like Young a chance to show that they belong.

Of course there are still plenty of worries how a QB who has a small frame like Young will hold up in the NFL, but rules that have been tweaked to protect QBs from injury and then tweaked again to protect QBs from injury have created an environment where a 200 lb NFL QB might be able to not only survive, but thrive.

I’m sure lighter QBs who are now NFL OC’s Jason Garrett (192 lbs at the combine) and Kellen Moore (197 lbs) see a little of themselves in the svelte Young.

Of the 756 QBs invited to the NFL combine Young is 755th in height and 660th in weight. Many QBs who were lighter than Young went on to have long and successful NFL careers including Steve Beuerlein (203), Jim Harbaugh (203), Jeff Blake (202), Jake Plummer (195), Rich Gannon (193) and Chris Miller (190). FWIW Miller, who was the 13th overall pick, bulked up to 210 lbs to play in the NFL.

If Young is the first overall pick, then I think it’s a continuation in the trend of NFL offenses moving away from the pocket passer-based offenses and more towards the RPO offenses that have taken over the college game. Of course the success of Jalen Hurts with the Eagles and Justin Fields with Bears in 2022 and the successes of Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray in previous years lend credence to the argument that Bryce Young could follow in their footsteps.

The key difference between Young and most of the other QBs in the NFL who have had great success running the ball is that they have larger frames that can support more muscle, but Russell Wilson was only 204 lbs at the combine and I have seen him listed as 220 lbs in the past (in previous seasons with the Seahawks). So maybe Young can add the needed muscle to survive the punishment that all NFL QBs taken – even in this era of hyper-sensitivity defenders breathing too hard on the QB.

But wait, you made the same assumption that I did before I started to look into Young. I thought he was a runner. He’s not. Kyler Murray is a short QB who excels at running AND passing, while Young is the rarest of QBs – a small, short pocket passer. Because sacks are counted as runs for negative yards in college. Young had 139 runs for 162 yards in college and 7 TDs. He didn’t even run the ball enough to offset his sacks. For comparison Kyler Murray finished his college career with 207 carries for 1478 yards and 13 TDs. Fellow former Bama QB, Hurts, finished his college career with over 3000 rushing yards much of which happened in his final college season at Oklahoma. Russell Wilson had over 1400 yards rushing in college and 23 rushing TDs. At least in college Young didn’t show the ability (or willingness) to run the ball that Murray, Hurts, Wilson and Flutie all did.

Maybe he has the quickness and the skill to be a running QB in the NFL much like Murray, Hurts, Jackson and Josh Allen are, but he hasn’t developed that much and I’m not sure that “on-the-job” training will work in the NFL where the defenders are stronger, bigger and faster than 90% of the guys he faced in college.

If Bryce Young does succeed in the NFL, he could usher in an era of “small” pocket passers. We haven’t seen that since the 60s. If you go look at the elite QBs in the NFL in the 70s and 80s, most of them were 6’2” or taller. If you go look at the heights for every QB who has ever been named first team AP All-Pro in the NFL, you’ll find very few who are shorter than 6’1” (listed height at PFR) since the merger. Here’s the list:

  • Joe Theismann 6’0”

Yep. That’s it. One QB.

Now you can talk about shorter QBs who made the Pro bowl (before it became a joke), but the fact remains, the best of the best QBs in the NFL have been 6’1” or taller since the merger. Old timers will note that Len Dawson was only 6’0”, but he didn’t make All-Pro after the merger – his second and final season as a first team All-Pro was 1966.

If Young or Baker Mayfield (72.6”) they will be the first short QBs to do so since Theismann. And before you ask, Michael Vick (who was/is 72.0”) never made first team AP All-Pro.

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