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NFL teams are more willing to use high draft picks on short corners than receivers

With the NFL’s rules favoring passing, slot receivers are just easier to find.

NFL Draft Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

There's tough news for shorter wide receivers chasing their football dreams: NFL teams are not that willing to invest high draft picks in them.

In this year's NFL draft, teams picked a total of 32 wide receivers. Just nine were listed by the NFL as shorter than 6'0, and of those nine, six were of the 5’11 variety. To put it another way, 91 percent of drafted receivers were 5’11 or taller, according to height data on NFL.com., and 72 percent were 6’0 or taller.

NFL teams have made it clear that if you're a receiver shorter than 6'0, they're not that interested. And they really are not interested in spending a high pick on small receiver when they could easily pick someone taller.

To wit, NFL teams picked 15 6’0 receivers in the first four rounds, compared to just six receivers under 6’0. And no receiver under 5’11 went in the top 132 picks. Eighteen receivers were picked before the first pass catcher under 5’11 went.

Short receivers are not that hard to find, and because of the lack of market scarcity, they are a less valuable resource than their bigger counterparts.

But shorter defensive backs are getting paid

The picture is a lot rosier for short defensive backs. While receivers need to be tall to expect a look in the NFL before the end of the draft, that's not as true for cornerbacks and safeties, on whom teams have demonstrated a consistent willingness to spend high picks despite short stature.

In the last five drafts, 73 defensive backs under 6’0 have gone in the first five rounds, compared to only 32 receivers under 6’0.

While it is true that there are somewhat more defensive backs drafted than receivers, that does not account for the height preference gap we see. And while the 2017 draft did not have quite the disparity of the 2016 draft, the trend continues.

Why do NFL teams have more faith in short DBs than short receivers?

It may not be faith as much as it is supply and demand. NFL teams certainly prefer height and length, but there are fewer good, tall defensive backs than tall receivers playing major college football. It's easier to find big receivers than big corners. Teams are forced to dip into the shorter ranks earlier in the draft when looking for defensive backs than receivers.

There might be a simpler reason, too. It's easier to break up a pass while being short than to go up and actually secure possession while being short because breaking up a pass often takes one hand while catching it takes two.

If you're a short wide receiver recruit, a move to defense could help your NFL chances. But will the trend continue?

There are plenty of talented high school receivers scattered around the country who have huge talent and even bigger dreams, but not big height.

Only seven of the top 40 receivers in the class of 2017 checked in at under 6’0, per the 247Sports Composite Rankings. And that number is probably lower than that as it is fairly common for high school players and coaches to self-report taller heights than their real measurements. That doesn't work in the mechanized world of NFL draft preparation, as we see players "shrink" each year when it comes time to measure in at the NFL Combine.

Most of the shorter elite receiver recruits are rated highly because of their agility and speed, two elements also necessary to play cornerback. If their goal is to maximize their NFL shot, it would make a lot of sense to try to play defensive back in high school or early during their college careers. This isn't to say nobody should play slot receiver, but the NFL is pretty clearly unwilling to invest big bucks with the first contract via a high draft choice, and for most NFL players the first contract is the only one they will ever receive.

But will the trend continue? Will the supply of elite, tall defensive back recruits coming to the college level change?

I examined the percentage of elite (four- or five-star-rated) defensive backs in the 2013-2017 recruiting classes who were 6’0 or taller, finding little change. In 2013, 73 percent of defensive back recruits rated as such were 6’0 or taller. In 2014 that number was 65 percent, but then was 68, 65, and 69 percent in subsequent years. The supply of elite, tall defensive backs does not appear to be changing.

Similarly, there was no significant trend at receiver. In 2013, 76 percent of elite receiver recruits were 6’0 or taller. In 2014-16, the numbers were 85, 82, and 88 percent, which would represent a jump, but in 2017 the number dropped down to 72 percent.

So, who knows? This will be interesting to track moving forward.