FUTURE OR FANTASY: ARE 300-POUND SKILL POSITION PLAYERS ON THE WAY?

August 10, 2015

There are no 6'7", 400-pound players in the NFL, but there are two that huge playing or committed to play college ball; Baylor junior tight end LaQuan McGowan and BYU offensive/defensive lineman Motekiai Langi, who will suit up in 2017 after a two-year Mormon mission in Arizona. Each has athleticism that belies his size. McGowan ran the 40 in 5.42 seconds last year, when he weighed closer to 440 pounds. BYU has never seen Langi, 18, on a football field, but Cougars coaches offered him a scholarship after watching him play basketball and rugby in his native Tonga, during which he showed impressive speed and coordination.

Does the emergence of these two behemoths suggest that Baylor coach Art Briles is right in predicting a rise in 300-pound skill-position players within 20 years? The average height and weight of quarterbacks, receivers, running backs and tight ends in the NFL has increased by 3.7 inches (to 6'1.7") and 45.3 pounds (to 224.8) since the league's inception in 1920. But even allowing for that growth, McGowan and Langi would still be extreme physiological outliers.

While there are taller players in both college and the NFL, there are none heftier. McGowan weighs 142 pounds more than the next heaviest tight end in the Big 12, Iowa State freshman Cole Anderson. And Saints tackle Zach Strief, who has lined up at tight end in some formations, weighs in at 349 pounds, 43 fewer than McGowan.

However, the future for McGowan's physical type—gargantuan and fast—as a skill player would be at tight end if anywhere in the NFL. In the last 10 years the average QB added 0.3 inches and lost 1.1 pounds; running backs shrank by 0.6 inches and 9.4 pounds; and wide receivers dropped 0.3 inches and 7.8 pounds. But tight ends have been steadily growing since the position was invented in the middle of the last century. In the last 55 years players at that spot have added an average of 1.7 inches and 42.4 pounds. If that trend keeps going, by 2035 the average tight end will weigh 270. That's a few pounds shy of Briles's prediction, but it is also an average, implying there will be a fair number of players above that figure.

But it's about more than size. What separates McGowan is not simply his height and weight, or his speed, but the combination of those. Averaging the stats of 29 defensive backs at the 2015 NFL combine provides a profile of player who's 5'11", 192 pounds with a 40 time of 4.52. When McGowan hits top speed, his momentum (over 17,000 pound-feet per second) will be 34.5% greater than an average NFL tight end's and 70.5% greater than the composite DB's from the combine. Jumping in McGowan's way when he's at full rumble would be roughly equivalent to getting hit by a motorcycle going 25 mph. So McGowan might be easy to catch, but he'll be hard to stop.

PHOTOCOURTESY OF BYU ATHLETICS (LANGI)SIZE MATTERS Langi (above left) towers over his fellow missionary, and McGowan dwarfs part-time Saints tight end Strief (right). PHOTOJIM MAHONEY/AP (STRIEF)[See caption above]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)