Short arms. The one knock against New York Giants’ first round draft pick Justin Pugh is not as superfluous a measurement as it may seem. Offensive tackles need long arms to excel in today’s NFL, where edge rushers like J.J. Watt, Jared Allen and Von Miller wreak havoc. Arm length serves as a predictor of future success for offensive tackles.
Pugh’s arms measure out to 32 inches, which is undesirable for offensive tackles (at this year’s Senior Bowl, his arms were measured at 31.5 inches). The preferred arm length for them is between 33 and 35 inches. Offensive tackles with arms longer than 35 inches are said to possess great arm length.
“Long arms give a player a leverage advantage; the shorter-armed players can have a hard time keeping his opponent off his body,” wrote Greg Gabriel in an article for the National Football Post.
Long arms are particularly helpful when a lineman is pass protecting; having longer arms allows tackles to initiate contact with oncoming defenders by first. Additionally, longer arms allow tackles to ride speed rushers out of plays.
According to NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock, “The shorter your arms are, mathematically, the quicker that defensive end can get the edge on you. Doesn’t sound like much, a difference in an inch or two, but it really is the difference between sometimes being able to push or rush a quarterback…”
It’s no coincidence that the game’s top tackles have the arm length teams covet. All-Pro offensive tackles Duane Brown of the Houston Texans and Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos possess arm lengths of 33 1/4 inches and 36 inches, respectively.
The measurements also become a primary determinant of draft position. The first three offensive tackles drafted ahead of Pugh, Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson, have the desired arm lengths of 34, 34 1/4 and 35 inches, respectively.
But what if you played offensive tackle in college and have short arms, then what? You switch to an interior offensive line position, usually at guard. Because of the limited playing space of interior linemen, the premium is on power rather than arm length.
Recently-drafted offensive tackle prospects like Robert Gallery, Marshal Yanda, and Chris Williams all had “short” arms and were shifted from offensive tackle to guard at some point.
Gallery, who was drafted No. 2 overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2004, has an arm length of 32 1/4 inches. Yanda, who was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens, has an arm length of 31 1/2 inches. Williams, who was drafted 14th by the Chicago Bears in 2008, has an arm length of 32 3/4 inches.
It’s worth noting that Williams is a peculiar case: his arms were an anomaly in that one was thought to be longer than the other. One team found that Williams’ left arm was measured at 31 1/4 inches and his right at 33 1/2, according to a Chicago Tribune article.
While Williams’ arm length wasn’t an impediment, it didn’t help either. “With his arm length, hand placement became critical,” a front office source said in that article. “He let players get into his pads and he got pushed some.”
Out of the three players, only Yanda was named to the All-Pro team as a guard. Gallery retired from football last year. And Williams, recently re-signed by the St. Louis Rams, will be fighting for a roster spot when camp opens.
To be fair, there are short-armed offensive tackles that have attained success at the position. But Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas (32 1/2 inches) and Rams left tackle Jake Long (32 7/8 inches) both have longer arms than Pugh.
Giants GM Jerry Reese said that on tape, Pugh’s short arms were not an impediment to his ability to play tackle due to his mobility and intelligence, noting that the lineman would be “in the mix” to start at right tackle.
Yet the fates of those offensive linemen who have shorter than normal arm length will likely inform where Pugh ultimately ends up playing. With stalwart right guard Chris Snee having injury issues, Pugh would be his ideal replacement. Snee’s arms are shorter than Pugh’s, measuring out to 31 3/8 inches, but that did not stop Snee from becoming a four-time pro-bowler.
Based on the very necessary arm length measurement, right guard will probably be the best position for Pugh in the long run.
Tacuma R. Roeback is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TacumaRoe, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+