Jonathan Baldwin, Tall Receivers and the Steelers

We’ve spent some time over the past couple of days, particularly on our most recent podcast, talking about the (unlikely) possibility of the Steelers using their first-round draft pick on Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin. The topic was sparked by a mock draft from, of all places, Bleacher Report that justified the selection of Baldwin by saying the Steelers need somebody long and tall to complement Mike Wallace.

Ignoring for a second that Wallace was one of the most dominant wide receivers in the NFL this season without anything close to a long-and-tall receiver to complement him, Baldwin joins a list that includes Martin Nance and Matt Jones to be projected to the Steelers over the years all because of some perceived need for a tall receiver. This has become an annual event ever since Plaxico Burress left via free agency after the 2004 season. In past years Ben Roethlisberger has been one of the people pushing the agenda, but even he’s piped down on the topic. Perhaps because he’s been to three Super Bowls in the past five years (winning two) throwing to a bunch of guys that are under 6-foot-1.

(On those three Super Bowl teams, for what it’s worth, the Steelers received just six catches from a wide receiver taller than 6-foot-1 — all of them coming from 6-foot-5 Limas Sweed during the 2008 season.)

Back in the early days of Football Outsiders Ryan tackled this topic and found that size in a receiver is overrated. I decided to re-visit it for the 2010 season and take a quick look at the top-30 receivers in the NFL using FO’s DVOA (as always, you can read up on it here). The results: Of the top-30 receivers only 12 of them are listed as being 6-foot-2 or taller, including only two of the top-11. Here’s the complete list…

Top Wide Receivers 2010 By DVOA
Player DVOA Height Weight
Mike Wallace 48.9% 6′ 0 199
Austin Collie 28.5% 6′ 0 200
Kenny Britt 28.1 % 6′ 3 215
Robert Meachem 22.7% 6′ 2 210
Deion Branch 20.3% 5′ 9 195
Greg Jennings 19.7% 5′ 11 198
Brandon Lloyd 19.2% 6′ 0 194
Jeremy Maclin 15.4% 6′ 0 198
Johnny Knox 14.7% 6′ 0 185
Lance Moore 14.6% 5′ 9 190
Jordan Shipley 14.1 % 5′ 11 193
Kevin Walter 14.0% 6′ 3 218
Derrick Mason 13.6% 5′ 10 197
Andre Johnson 13.6% 6′ 3 225
Mario Manningham 12.3% 5′ 11 183
Miles Austin 12.1% 6′ 2 215
Dwayne Bowe 11.8% 6′ 2 221
Mike Sims-Walker 11.4% 6′ 2 214
Calvin Johnson 11.2 % 6′ 5 236
Mike Thomas 11.0% 5′ 8 198
Jordy Nelson 9.9% 6′ 3 217
Earl Bennett 9.3% 6′ 0 204
Hines Ward 9.1% 6′ 0 205
Malcolm Floyd 9.1% 6′ 5 225
Stevie Johnson 8.7% 6′ 2 202
Marques Colston 8.5% 6′ 4 225
Roddy White 8.3% 6′ 0 212
Jason Avant 8.2% 6′ 0 212
Wes Welker 7.9% 5′ 9 185

This doesn’t mean that you avoid tall receivers. Not at all. You would have to be a blithering idiot, in a football sense, to not want Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson on your team because they’re too tall. That’s nonsense. What you shouldn’t do, however, is draft a receiver simply because he is tall (and I don’t think there’s a team in the NFL that does this), or avoid one because he isn’t. It’s a nice advantage, but it’s not a necessity for being a productive player or having a productive passing offense.

UPDATE: Just because we’re feeling a little nerdy today (which is no different than any other day), Ryan ran a quick correlation on DVOA and Height and got -0.09, indicating there is virtually no relationship between the two, which is about what we expected.

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  • Cols714

    This exactly. For some reason draft people are always talking about getting a big tall receiver and then they mention the fade in the endzone. Which isn’t a play that’s run all that much unless you have someone super talented like Fitzgerald, Johnson, or Johnson on your team.

    So get a good WR if you can, but don’t worry that they aren’t over 6′ 1″. Someone 5’11″-6′ is perfectly fine.

  • The Dominator

    The biggest thing I’m seeing here is that Mike Wallace absolutely destroyed the NFL in 2010.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      The gap between Wallace and #2 is greater than the gap between #2 and #28. That is completely crazy.

    • RoB D

      …and he’s still a pup.

  • Randy Steele

    As far a pass-catching is concerned, if height were really such a critical component, tight ends would be the dominant group of receivers.

  • Ted

    Excellent post, Adam. I was one of the many fans clamoring for a tall WR after Plax left. However, the game has changed and even the traditional Steelers have followed suit in spreading the field much more, and often employing 3- and 4-WR sets. When you do that, quickness and speed is much more needed than size. Back when we use two-wide, from I-formation, had a good line and an immobile QB, then a tall WR was needed to win potential jump balls. But now we have Ben running behind a poor pass-blocking line and playing sandlot football. We will eventually need a possession WR to replace Ward over the middle and getting someone with both size and toughness would be nice. But that is not needed in this draft, since we will have least 8 solid WR roster candidates in camp this fall. All six of our WRs from last year (Wallace, Ward, Sanders, Randle El, Brown and Battle) return regardless of what happens in free agency, along with Sweed and Grisham. As such, I think we should just ingore WR in this draft (unless we get great value at some point from round 4 on) and plan on taking one in the first 2-3 rounds in 2012.

  • Dr Obvious

    I think someone in San Diego is in love with tall receivers ( On one hand, it kind of does makes sense to load up on the same ‘type’ of receivers. Many teams have CBs that can cover one [tall - SD/shifty - PHilly /speedster - Chi, Pitt] receiver, but how many can cover 3 [tall/shifty/speedster] receivers.

    On the other, you don’t want to pass up a good receiver just to stay with type. Moss/Welker, Holmes/Ward, and Fitz/Bolden where also recent 1-2 punches with very different types of receivers.

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