Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ideal Big Ten Cornerback Height

Over 85% of All-Big Ten cornerbacks are taller than 5'9".

Last week I put together a post about the ideal size for cornerbacks.  That was in response to a discussion that arose on MGoBlog, and MGoBlog author Brian felt it worthwhile enough to reference.

Well, commenter ironman4579 did some further research and looked up the All-Big Ten teams from 2004-2009.  Six years is probably less representative than a ten-year sample, but regardless, the trend continues - taller cornerbacks earn all-conference selections more frequently.

As you can see from the chart above, 5'9" cornerbacks make up slightly less than 15% of the sample.  Cornerbacks who are 5'10" or 6'1" make up slightly less than 12% each, but the difference between 15% and 12% is likely negligible.  Besides, there aren't too many 6'1" cornerbacks out there. 

The thing to note here, I think, is that the biggest set of All-Big Ten cornerbacks is 5'11".  The same held true (sort of) for Pro Bowl selections in last week's study, where 23% of Pro Bowl cornerbacks were 5'11" and 23% were 5'10".  Those heights seem to be somewhat consistent in studying these two groups of cornerbacks.

I do not think these bits of research suggest that Michigan should completely avoid recruiting cornerbacks who are 5'9" or shorter.  Obviously, there will be exceptions.  But it seems that Michigan has made a habit of recruiting short cornerbacks in recent years (Boubacar Cissoko and Delonte Hollowell, among several others they pursued but who never committed), and the statistics suggest that's unwise.

Thanks to ironman4579 for the research!


  1. Just a quick note Magnus. The only reason I didn't go back and look at a 10 year sample is because All Conference teams prior to 2004 are difficult to find and even tougher to find accurate first and second teams.

    I thought I might go ahead and take a look at the Walter Camp All American teams as an example of the All American height spread as well, just to see if the numbers hold up there as well, although the Big 10 AC teams are probably more representative of what most pertains to Michigan.

  2. I would hope our recruiting staff puts less weight on how tall a cornerback is and more weight on how good they are at football.

    From what I've seen of Hollowell and Crawford, I think they both could be solid players at Michigan regardless of how tall they are.

  3. @ Anonymous 10:41 a.m.

    I guess statistics aren't for people like you, then.

  4. You could probably make an even more convincing case if you performed this same analysis for QB height. I'll take uncommonly short guys like Drew Brees and Denard Robinson though...

    If you performed the same analysis for WR you might find that WR above 6'4 are rarely all-pros/all-conference. But, Plaxico Burress was pretty good and Jonathan Baldwin would look great in a Wolverine uniform.

    This blog is excellent at critical analysis, strong opinions, and the insight that comes from being a coach is highly valued. However, the occasional instance of drawing questionable conclusions from statistics and henceforth taking it as unassailable fact isn't a strong point.

    Its sort of obvious that there is a prototypical (or at least typical) height for certain positions. When most CBs are 5'11, most QBs are 6'2, and most WR are 6'1, you should expect to find most all-pros and all-conference picks to be the same size.
    Without knowing what the composition of the full player pool, this data doesn't tell you much.

    For example, I could have pulled a stat of skin color and all-pro/all-conference QBs from 1985-1995 and concluded that White QBs are far more likely to be all-pro/conference than Black QBs. That would, of course, be ridiculous. Black QBs were uncommon then, so they were rarely all-pro/conference. The stat told you nothing. All you needed to know was that black QBs were less common, which you already knew.

    Now, if you told me that X% of 5'9 CBs become all-conference and Y% of 6'0 CBs become all-conference and Y was greater than X, I'd be more convinced.

    All that said, it doesn't disprove the hypothesis either. Short CBs are intuitively and logically at a disadvantage. Tall WRs are prized for a reason. The shorter the CB the bigger the disadvantage in that element of the game, but obviously a lot more goes into it than just height. Awareness, speed, tackling, agility, technique all play into CB effectiveness. I generally trust the coaches to make personnel decisions but atypically short player will always come with an extra grain of doubt, fair or not.

    I don't disagree with the hypothesis, but it hasn't been proven as a fact either, whether statistics are for you or not.

  5. @ Lankownia

    I realize the statistics aren't entirely conclusive. But the evidence strongly suggests that shorter cornerbacks have less success. Doing a comprehensive study would require looking at the height of every cornerback in the NCAA over the last several years, and I doubt many people around these parts have the time or inclination to do so.

    I have seen plenty of talented kids who are 5'7" to 5'9" who never even get a sniff of college ball because they're too small. And even when they are talented enough to play college ball, they make up only a small portion of All-Americans and Pro Bowlers.

    I don't think you can only look at the number of cornerbacks in college and the NFL, though. Because as I said above, there are scores of 5'8" kids who don't get scholarships just because coaches and recruiters say "Thanks but no thanks." When you look at the number of short cornerbacks making an impact, you have to consider those who never got a shot simply because of their height.

    For example, let's say my hypothesis was that 7' centers are more successful in basketball than 6'8" centers. We would probably all agree that's true, right? There might be a good 6'8" center out there (Ben Wallace and Elton Brand, maybe), but it has to be considered that a bunch of 6'8" guys out there went undrafted, got cut, etc. precisely because they're only 6'8". Just because the only two 6'8" centers in the NBA are good (and I know the numbers are off; it's just an example) doesn't mean that 100% of 6'8" centers are good.

  6. Good points, all. There are definitely prototypical heights for a reason. Generally, taller is better, but in some spots it just doesn't matter much compared to other characteristics.

    Your point about most 5'7 guys not getting looks from colleges is a fair one. But going back to my example, the same went for black QBs prior to the 90s. If they were recruited it was usually for another position. Recruiters were making mistakes based on faulty assumptions and were ultimately proven wrong...maybe the same is true for shorter CBs...maybe not...

    I agree that recruiting short CBs is questionable. I thought Cissoko looked promising though (before he looked awful) for a freshman and I'm optimistic about Hollowell given his positive recruiting reviews.

  7. @ Lankownia 1:56 p.m.

    See, we differ on Cissoko. He had amazing footwork, but I was never a big fan of his playmaking ability - and that was even before he got burned a couple times in the Army All-American Game.