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Player Size Over Time

One of the things we hear a lot is “players are a lot bigger now than they used to be”. That line of reasoning has been used to justify everything from additional safety precautions are needed (theoretically, bigger players hit harder) to the better quality of play league-wide (bigger, more athletic guys can perform better than smaller, less athletic guys). While it’s undeniable that some players are significantly bigger than those from yesteryear, the size gains are surprisingly small for some positions.

Here are the average weights of players who started 6+ games for their team in a particular year:

And their height:

Finally, their BMI [(wt*703)/(ht^2)]


A few things jump out at us here:

The biggest gains have come from OL, and the gains are mostly weight related. A lot of that is probably muscle gains from advancements in workout routines and training regiments. As a group, OL have only gotten taller by less than an inch (0.8 inches to be exact), but they have seen significant weight gains – 56.5 lbs on average.


The guys they are blocking have also gotten bigger, but in a less uniform manner. Interior DL have actually gotten shorter by nearly an inch and a half, but are heavier by nearly 50 lbs. Defensive ends have gotten taller by a tiny amount (0.3 inches) and have only added half as much weight (22 lbs).


Wide receivers and DB’s have grown similarly, both positions being a bit shorter but a bit heavier.


The really interesting changes, or lack thereof, come from the RB and LB positions. Running backs have seen very little change, an inch shorter and less than 10 lbs heavier than their predecessors 40 years ago.  However, all of that change came in the early part of the 1990’s. Since 1990-1994, RB’s have remained surprisingly consistent in size. Similarly, linebackers have not changed much over the last 40 years and all of their change seemed to occur in the early 90’s. As a group, they got a bit heavier in the late 90’s/early 2000’s but that change is most likely a result of teams shifting to the 3-4 and DE’s becoming LB’s. As sub-package defenders and pass-rush specialists become the norm, linebackers have trended a little to the lighter side. As the spread offense and high powered passing attacks continue to prosper, we should see lighter LB’s.

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