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The Recruiting Rules: Rule 4 - Size matters

I does.

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Whether you’re talking about Offensive and Defensive line, or a big, strong QB or Red Zone target at WR or TE, teams around the country are looking for special players to help them win.

But, while several factors affect the potential and performance of players at every position on the field, one trait is the center of our next Recruiting Rule:

Size Matters

Now, this might seem trite, but it really matters, and is kind of a double entendre when thinking about recruiting. “Size” for a team in roster construction can mean big/muscular/thick players at interior positions like along the lines, linebacker, or tight end. “Size” could also reference height for skill position players like receivers and defensive backs. No matter how “size” is used when discussing the players a team is recruiting, it matters, you can be sure of that.

Let’s look at the first meaning of the term. When referring to Offensive and Defensive linemen, size is a trait that surely matters. At the highest levels of CFB, players with more size or bulk are largely going to be stronger physically at the point of attack. Since running the ball, and stopping the run, still matter in football, that size and physicality up front matters as well.

J.T. Wilcox of The Miami Sports Tribune, a former Offensive Lineman himself and longtime proponent for OL and DL play at every level of the game, had this to say about recruiting size:

Build through the trenches. Getting a plethora of talented O/D linemen is key to building a strong team. Search and travel eye country to get the guys you want.

Seems pretty clear, no?

Andrew Ivins of 247sports’ Miami site InsideTheU took a different, but interesting, view of things regarding recruiting size, particularly on defense:

Never write off a defensive lineman. There are never enough of those to go around.

Interesting. Go on...

Every spring, schools think that defensive linemen aren’t good enough to only circle back on players they’d written off right before NSD. For Miami, Jamarcus Chatman is an example. Davoan Hawkins another. [Author’s note: Chatman and Hawkins signed with Florida State and Kentucky, respectively] Coaches think they are going to find prospects when in reality those prospects aren’t out there because everyone is looking for those same prospects

I’m sure a similar point could be made about offensive linemen as well, but Ivins brings up a good point: teams have to know who they are, and recruit accordingly. I guess we’ll call that a general idea that goes across multiple recruiting rules, but having a good and clear sense of “self” in terms of recruiting is a good thing for every team to have.

So, we talked about “size” being “bulk”. Now, we have to talk about “size” being “height”.

Across the country, teams most definitely have height preferences or requirements. This comes up every year when teams don’t offer a talented player who might be three inches too short. Obviously, the more prestigious the program, the most strict they can be on their height or size requirements. Michigan, Texas, and USC can overlook players that Appalachian State, Middle Tennessee, and Toledo can’t or won’t.

Back in 2014, Ian Boyd wrote this piece for SB Nation on the optimal way to build a CFB roster depending on the scheme a team runs. Here are just 2 of the charts that he included to make his point:

SB Nation graphic by Ian Boyd
SB Nation graphic by Ian Boyd

You’ll notice the very first thing listed on each chart is the “ideal size” teams are looking for in the players they recruit at each position. Because, like I’ve already said, size matters.

Joe Garcia Jr, a former recruiting writer here at State of the U, was strong in his view of height requirements:

Hit the size requirements. College football elites have NFL bodies all over the field. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a guy that doesn’t fit the “mold” if you think the talent is worthwhile. There’s always room for a Honey Badger type player on any roster. But you can’t have a team full of those guys.

Using DB as an example, today’s game requires DBs in the 6’+ range to cover and be physical with some of these taller and stronger WRs and TEs. That doesn’t mean you can’t add a 5’9” guy that has talent and can make plays. But the minute you have a roster full of 5’9” guys, you will have created a massive exploitable mismatch that teams will use to beat you. You always have to make sure you are eyeing potential NFL size bodies and just sprinkling in everything else as needed.

This makes sense. The majority of the best HSFB teams have College sized players on their roster. And, the majority of the best College teams have NFL sized players on theirs. Bigger, and taller, players are the most coveted for a variety of reasons. And that proves the point that Size Matters pretty well, no?

Now, there are usually players on rosters around the country who don’t have the “ideal size” that a team is looking for. As Joe alluded to, there’s room for a player that lacks ideal height if they offer another thing — usually a physical trait more than developed skill — that is elite.

Trindon Holiday was nowhere near ideal size for LSU, but he had world class speed, and that elite physical trait was enough to earn him a spot on the roster. Baker Mayfield, the most recent #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, is another. While his traits were accuracy, football knowledge, and playmaking ability rather than an athletic gift like Holiday’s speed, his elite skills overcame his lack of height (barely 6’0” tall) for his position.

Think of your favorite team. Miami. Washington. Alabama. Michigan. Texas. Florida State. Penn State. Now, think of your favorite player from that team who stood less than 6’0” tall. I’m willing to bet that, invariably, they, like Holiday or Mayfield, had one exceptional physical trait, that helped them overcome their lack of size.

Still, those players who lack ideal size, whether it be bulk or height, are seldom the difference makers in recruiting. The reason that prototypical size is a thing teams look for is that there is an archetype for players to be successful. In sports, size — mainly height because bulk can be developed — is at the center of that archetype.

He looks at things from a different viewpoint, that of a former player and coach, but Chad Wilson, former Miami Hurricanes CB and father of former and current Florida Gators CBs Quincy and Marco Wilson, shared his view on how size matters in recruiting on his Gridiron Studs Podcast. (embed stripped out of the mobile version so click the link)

That’s a longer segment, sure, but basically, Wilson’s main thought is that size is a quantifiable advantage for recruiting. Height, in spite of other shortcomings the player may have, is something that will propel a player to a higher profile team than maybe his skills would otherwise allow him to play for. The hope being that the team will, in time, be able to help that player develop skills, and all the while use the height that he possesses to their advantage.

Whether it be bulk or height, size matters in recruiting, and that’s a Recruiting Rule that teams, and fans, should always keep in mind.