What’s the ideal size for a cornerback?

What’s the ideal size for a cornerback?


November 12, 2010

In response to a recent discussion over on MGoBlog about preferred heights for cornerbacks, I figured that I would do a little bit of research into the heights of cornerbacks.  In general, I am not a big fan of short cornerbacks.  That has factored into my assessments of several Michigan recruits or potential recruits, including Cass Tech Technicians Boubacar Cissoko, Dior Mathis, and Delonte Hollowell.

Presumably, Michigan coaches, players, and fans would like to see Michigan products have success at the NFL level.  Of course, not every Wolverine will make it to the NFL or have success there, and college production is separate from the impact on the professional game.  However, I think it’s relevant to look at Pro Bowl cornerback size.  After all, trends in the NFL generally trickle down to college and then high school.

On to the data . . .

I looked at the cornerbacks selected for the Pro Bowls over 10 seasons, from 2001-2010.  Overall, there were 69 cornerback selections for those Pro Bowls (3 per conference each year, plus injury replacements).

The tallest cornerback to make the Pro Bowl was Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor at 6’3″.

The shortest cornerbacks to make the Pro Bowl were the quartet of Aaron Glenn, Antoine Winfield, Cortland Finnegan, and Dre Bly, all of whom measured in at 5’9″.

Over 46% of the selections for the Pro Bowl came from players who were 5’10” or 5’11”.

I presume that most players who are 6’3″ or taller get steered away from the cornerback position; most are probably either steered toward safety or told to put on weight and become a linebacker.  Of course, there’s also a trend of tall wide receivers in football, so many skilled, tall athletes probably don’t play defense.  On the other hand, I would venture a guess that there is a much larger group of athletic kids who are 5’8″ or 5’9″ and get steered toward cornerback in college and the NFL.  For every 6’3″ wanna-be cornerback out there, one could probably find ten 5’9″ wanna-be corners.  So the pool of taller players is likely much smaller than that of short corners.

In summary, NFL Pro Bowl selections over the last decade support the idea that diminutive cornerbacks don’t have great success at the NFL level.  That doesn’t mean that shorter players are precluded from being successful in college or even the NFL, but the ideal height for cornerbacks tends to be anywhere from 5’10” to 6’1″.

13 comments

  1. Comments: 21395
    MEZMAN
    Nov 12, 2010 at 5:24 AM

    I mean I'm all for UM guys going on the great NFL careers and all (yay Woodson, Law, Hall, et al!). But I'm more interested in having good college football players who help the team win. So I guess I'd be more interested in an analysis of all-conference (Big Ten) or all-american conerbacks. The NFL stuff is interesting none-the-less though.

  2. Comments: 21395
    Anonymous
    Nov 12, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    I tend to think that part of what Magnus is showing here is that successful CB's tend to be around a certain height. If a guy is drafted or is good enough to make a pro bowl, it stands to reason he was very good/great in college.

    That said, you've given me something to work on now, if Magnus doesn't beat me to it. I'll have to see what I can find for AA and AC players.

  3. Comments: 21395
    Nov 12, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    @ Anonymous 8:25 a.m.

    Exactly. I would venture a guess that most Pro Bowl cornerbacks were All-Americans or all-conference selections when in college. Of course, there are some All-Americans or all-conference players who never replicate that success in the NFL, and sure, some of those guys are probably in the 5'8" or 5'9" range.

    But if you look at Michigan's corners over the past 15-20 years or so who have made it to the NFL (Leon Hall, Ty Law, Charles Woodson, Morgan Trent, Marlin Jackson, etc.), those were good college corners who translated well to the NFL game. I think that's ideally where Michigan should be – churning out NFL players. So if a 5'8" kid has little chance of playing well enough to make it to the NFL, then I'd prefer to bring in taller guys who not only have the ability to make it to the NFL, but also won't get outjumped/"outphysicalled" by NFL-bound wide receivers in the Big Ten (plus Notre Dame).

  4. Comments: 21395
    Anonymous
    Nov 12, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    @ Magnus

    Yea, I'd rather see a corner like Marlin Jackson or Leon Hall trying to cover Michael Floyd than Bobo Cissoko or Delonte Hollowell.

  5. Comments: 21395
    MEZMAN
    Nov 12, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    @Thunder
    I'd venture a guess that most all-conference guys don't make an impact in the NFL and probably a majority of all-americans don't. The probability for AA's to make an impact at the NFL level is higher of course but it's not a given by any means. I guess what I'm saying is that looking at these players gives you a far larger pool of players who could make an impact on the college level.

    Like I said having NFL guys coming out of the program is awesome. But winning games is awesomer. The two aren't mutually exclusive of course but I'd think that finding guys who can be effective in the college game and getting them on campus is much more likely than finding future NFL All-Pro's and getting them on campus. Though Michigan used to do that latter fairly regularly… competition for those players didn't seem quite as fierce back in those days though or at least we didn't know it was as fierce (what did people do before the interwebz?).

  6. Comments: 21395
    Anonymous
    Nov 12, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    Going back several years, the distribution of talent in that position group at Michigan has been really odd. A handful of upper-end guys (Woodson, Law, Hall, Jackson somewhat), a few solid guys (Trent, Warren, LeSeur {spelling}, Tommy Hendricks), and a pool of guys who are, at best, average Michigan players.

    How would you rate it overall? I'm not sure … I just know that it has often been the weak link of the defense ever since the D-line got some recruiting attention (late '90s, maybe).

  7. Comments: 21395
    Nov 12, 2010 at 5:50 PM

    Interesting poll – the majority of all-pros are under 6'. I would have guessed them to be a little taller in general. Since all-pro CB's don't come around every year, the relevant question for Michigan recruiting is whether they are better off pursuing quicker 5'9"-5'10" CB's or stiffer 5'11"-6'1" guys. While height has some obvious advantages, your analysis shows that shorter players frequently become the most elite players in the NFL. So I would conclude that skill trumps height and the coaches should not obsess over whether a recruit is 5'9" or 5'11".

  8. Comments: 21395
    Nov 12, 2010 at 7:33 PM

    Top NFL CB's are shorter than I thought, and they are dealing with taller receivers than in college on average. If a majority of all-pro's are in the 5'9"-5'11" range, it would make sense to put college recruiting emphasis on skill and not to over-emphasize height.

  9. Comments: 21395
    Anonymous
    Nov 12, 2010 at 7:51 PM

    Another factor for taller CB being steered toward S is their hips and the ability to backpedal quickly without losing speed. Tall CBs who have loose hips and can backpedal low and quickly are the one who tends to be an elite CBs. Nnamdi Asomugha, Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey are tall CBs who can run. Smaller CBs have an easier time on getting low in backpedaling.

  10. Comments: 21395
    Nov 12, 2010 at 8:07 PM

    Isn't the WR chart just as important? The issue here is height difference, not absolute height.

  11. Comments: 21395
    ironman4579
    Nov 12, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    Ok, so in regards to the CB height chart. Someone else basically mentioned the same thing as Brian, ie. that the All Conference breakdowns are actually shorter. So I figured I'd go ahead and check it out. I'm not done yet, as honestly I'm having trouble remembering what position some of these guys played in college, so it's a little more research than I figured on (for some reason I was thinking the All Big 10 teams had CB's and safeties broken up, but they're lumped together as defensive backs).

    HOWEVA, I figured I'd get some preliminary numbers up here. So far, contrary to what Brian said above, the All Conference CB's appear to trend EVEN MORE towards taller CB's (or at least CB's taller than the 5'9" guys we've been recruiting lately).

    Also, I've really only been able to find good lists from 2004 on, so over a six year span. I realize that isn't much, but it gives a decent sample size. This also includes both first and second teams.

    CB's found so far: 22

    CB's 5'10" or over: 21 (95.5%)

    CB's 5'9" or under: 1 (Scott Starks 5'9")

    6'1"- 3

    6'0"- 5

    5'11"- 12

    5'10"- 2

    5'9"- 1

    Now that's just a total number. Of course several guys made multiple teams. So:

    Individual CB's found so far- 14

    6'1"- 2

    6'0"- 3

    5'11"- 7

    5'10"- 1

    5'9"- 1

    Per year list:

    2004-Marlin Jackson (6'0"), Kelvin Hayden (6'0"), Ukee Dozier (6'1"), Alan Zemaitis (6'1"), Scott Starks (5'9")

    2005-Leon Hall (5'11"), Alan Zemaitis (6'1")

    2006-Leon Hall (5'11"), Malcolm Jenkins (6'0"), Justin King (5'11"), Tracy Porter (5'11"), Jack Ikegwuonu (5'10")

    2007-Vontae Davis (5'11"), Tracy Porter (5'11"), Malcolm Jenkins (6'0"), Charles Godfrey (5'11"), Justin King (5'11"), Jack Ikegwuonu (5'10")

    2008-Vontae Davis (5'11"), Amari Spievey (5'11")

    2009-Amari Spievey (5'11"), Donovan Warren (5'11")

  12. Comments: 21395
    ironman4579
    Nov 12, 2010 at 11:03 PM

    ***Update with full numbers from 2004-2009 (6 seasons)

    Ok, so in regards to the CB height chart. Someone else basically mentioned the same thing as Brian, ie. that the All Conference breakdowns are actually shorter. So I figured I'd go ahead and check it out.

    Basically, while the difference isn't as pronounced as it is for pro bowl selections, it's still a pretty wide gap. I'd also point out that no CB 5'9" or shorter has made multiple All Conference teams, while 9 CB's 5'10" or taller have. Also, I've really only been able to find good lists from 2004 on, so over a six year span. I realize that isn't much, but it gives a decent sample size. This also includes both first and second teams.

    Total CB's: 34

    CB's 5'10" or over: 29 (85.3%)

    CB's 5'9" or under: 5 (14.7%)

    6'1"- 4 (11.76%)

    6'0"- 6 (17.65%)

    5'11"- 15 (44.12%)

    5'10"- 4 (11.76%)

    5'9"- 5 (14.71%)

    Per year list:

    2004-Marlin Jackson (6'0"), Kelvin Hayden (6'0"), Ukee Dozier (6'1"), Alan Zemaitis (6'1"), Scott Starks (5'9")

    2005-Leon Hall (5'11"), Alan Zemaitis (6'1"), Jovon Johnson (5'9"), Ashton Youboty (5'11"), Marquice Cole (5'10")

    2006-Leon Hall (5'11"), Malcolm Jenkins (6'0"), Justin King (5'11"), Tracy Porter (5'11"), Jack Ikegwuonu (5'10"), Antonio Smith (5'9")

    2007-Vontae Davis (5'11"), Tracy Porter (5'11"), Malcolm Jenkins (6'0"), Charles Godfrey (5'11"), Justin King (5'11"), Jack Ikegwuonu (5'10"), Terrell Vinson (5'9")

    2008-Vontae Davis (5'11"), Amari Spievey (5'11"), Malcolm Jenkins (6'0"), Allen Langford (5'11"), Lydell Sargeant (6'1"), Traye Simmons (5'9")

    2009-Amari Spievey (5'11"), Donovan Warren (5'11"), Sherrick McManis (5'11"), Brandon King (5'10"), David Pender (6'0")

  13. Comments: 21395
    MEZMAN
    Nov 13, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    Nice, Ironman. Looks like the over 5'10 trend is holding in all-conference as well.

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