One of the more popular discussions among fantasy football circles is the tall wide receiver. It’s thought that a wide receiver’s height gives him an inherent advantage in the passing game by typically having a wider range against defenders, which gives him the ability to catch more passes and score more touchdowns. But is that true? Is there a trend of the taller receiver performing better than his shorter colleagues?
I looked at several pieces of information that are relevant to both fantasy and actual NFL teams to see if there was a discernible trend of taller players achieving greater numbers. I looked at basic statistics like yards, touchdowns and fantasy points, as well as yards per route run (YPRR) to see if there was a correlation between height and receiver efficiency.
The first angle was yards in a season. I counted every 1,000-yard season since 2008, of which there were 135, providing the most data points of any other stat I analyzed. There are several clusters of these seasons at every height, starting at 69″ with no obvious trend upward. Additionally, there are almost as many receivers who achieved 1,000-yard seasons who measure 73″ or shorter (65) than taller (71). When it comes to 1,000-yard seasons, height doesn’t appear to be an indicator. Case in point: A season by a 6'5″ receiver (e.g. Calvin Johnson) was as common as one by a 5'9″ receiver (e.g. Steve Smith).
Touchdowns have long been considered the validation to the tall receiver argument. Conventional wisdom indicates a taller receiver has a better chance to win contested passes at or near the end zone when teams are knocking on the goal line.
I took all seasons where a receiver totaled eight touchdowns or more for a healthy average of at least 0.5 per game. In all, there were 105 such seasons, of which 55 were tallied by receivers measuring 74″ or less (e.g. Keenan Allen), while the remaining 50 were 75″ or taller. The few elite touchdown seasons skewed to the taller player, but the overall correlation was very small. Much like the yardage analysis, a height isn’t necessary to accomplish this particular feat, and there is no significant trend upward in relation to height.
For fantasy points, I looked at all receivers who had seasons of 160 fantasy points or more in a standard-scoring league, good for at least a 10.0 PPG. While providing the least amount of data compared to the others, it still had 89 seasons to plot. Much like touchdown totals, about half (44) checked in at 74″ or taller (e.g., Dez Bryant), while the other 45 were 73″ or shorter. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as standard scoring leagues consist of the two stats above (yards and touchdowns), but also like those two, there is no clear trend that indicates a taller receiver scores more fantasy points.
Yards per route run
The last stat I plotted was Pro Football Focus’ own yards per route run (YPRR). It measures a receiver's performance on a deeper level than either yards per reception (YPR) or even yards per target (YPT). The higher the number, the higher production on every single pass attempt while comprising a large part of the offense.
For this, I looked at those receivers who had at least 320 snaps while achieving at least a 2.0 YPRR. Similar to the other data, there were 120 such seasons. And much like the others, roughly half of the seasons (63) were achieved by a receiver 73″ or shorter (e.g. DeAndre Hopkins), while the remaining 57 were achieved by a receiver 74″ or taller. Furthermore, the better YPRR seasons were actually achieved by the shorter receivers.
When 73″ or 74″ is the median for all four tests, with no obvious trend indicating a taller receiver correlates to better production or stats, I can’t support the tall receiver thinking. The data indicates a 6'1″ receiver has just as good a chance at fantasy success than one who stands at 6'3″. Height on a receiver is nice, but is by no means the most important indicator of success. Since the height of successful wide receivers varies so much, be sure to weigh other factors when drafting your fantasy team.