Are short quarterbacks the victim of a confirmation bias?

Whenever I mention former Badger QB Russell Wilson, people remind me that short quarterbacks have a poor track record in the NFL?  That begs two questions:

(1) Is the alleged poor performance record for short quarterbacks even accurate?

(2) Assuming arguendo that it is, were the cited quarterbacks ineffective because they were short, or because they were poor quarterbacks?

My hunch is that the rule against short quarterbacks is just one more in a long line of bogus sports beliefs.  Why would height adversely effect quarterback performance?  The often cited reason is because the quarterback “can’t see over his linemen”.  That’s bunk.  First of all, the linemen pass block in a crouched position.  Second of all, linemen are constantly moving — its not as though they form an impenetrable wall. Third of all, a slightly shorter quarterback can always drop back further to get a better perspective.  Finally, to one extent or another EVERY quarterback who stands less than, let’s say, 6’8” has his vision impeded by the 6’5” men standing in front of him.

Besides which, Drew Brees and Fran Tarkenton are both examples of short quarterbacks who have performed well in the NFL.  So height is by no means a bar to excellence.

I’m beginning to believe that short quarterbacks are the victims of confirmation bias — the “axiom” makers in pro football’s past and present decided that you needed to be tall to play quarterback and therefore they overemphasize examples of short quarterbacks who have failed and underemphasize short quarterbacks who have succeeded, because the former reinforces their preconceived notions and the latter doesn’t.

The problem for me is, how do you isolate the effects of height on quarterback performance?  How can one separate bad passing that resulted because a QB is simply a bad passer from bad passing that resulted because a QB was short?

I need to give this matter some more thought…



3 Responses to “Are short quarterbacks the victim of a confirmation bias?”

  1. Jim Says:

    Most of what I think of as successful NFL quarterbacks are indeed over 6′ tall. Starting from historical first memories, Starr, Staubach, Bradshaw, all of the Mannings, Aikman, Elway, Montana, Marino, Kelly, Young, Sims, Warner . . . up to today’s crop . . . Brady, Rothlisberger, Rodgers, etc.

    Even Tarkenton and Brees are listed at 6’0″.

    Of course, there just aren’t enough short QBs to do much analysis.

  2. badgerbucco Says:

    Also, if you look at footballoutsiders,Doug Flutie was a good quarterback. Noone thinks of him that way because he was short. Also, his NFL career didn’t last long because GM’s looked at height rather than production. If he had been given a proper chance, he would be considered one of the best of his generation.

    • TC from Racine Says:

      Few Americans outside of New England and Buffalo, anyway…ask a Canadian (or a Yank who used to watch CFL ball on ESPN2), you’d hear a much different tune.

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