In 2010, the NFL mock drafting world expressed shock and awe that Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga was still available when the Green Bay Packers drafted him at No. 23 overall. Two years later, we've seen similar expressions of surprise that another Iowa left tackle, Riley Reiff, was still available when the Detroit Lions drafted him at, yes, No. 23 overall.
What's the common theme here? I'm almost embarrassed for the game, but here goes: Arm length.
The arms of both Bulaga and Reiff measured at 33 1/4 inches at their respective scouting combines, about 2 3/4 inches shorter than NFL teams would ideally like to see them. I know you might shake your head, but after poking around a bit Friday, I feel confident that Reiff -- who was an excellent player in a major conference of college football -- would not have made it to the Lions' spot if his arms were longer.
You might remember my rant on this topic shortly after Bulaga's arrival in this division. I understand the value that long arms provide -- namely, establishing distance from a pass rusher to help maintain leverage -- but I refuse to believe it is a make-or-break attribute. Footwork and technique should always trump it, right?
The Packers didn't help my argument by moving Bulaga to right tackle, where he presumably faces less talented pass-rushers and thus doesn't need arms quite as long. (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.) Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Reiff projects as a left tackle, but I suppose it's possible he could follow a similar path as Bulaga by filling in and ultimately settling into a different position.
Hopefully we've learned our lesson. Reiff was projected as a top-15 pick because he was considered the draft's second-best tackle, and that's where players of that regard historically are selected. So when filling out our mock drafts in future years, I suggest we take a roll call of arm length before assigning first-round order. But don't forget your dinosaur history. T-Rex was pretty, pretty nasty from what I understand.
In all seriousness, I don't think arm length was the only reason why almost two dozen players were off the board before Reiff was drafted. But you're fooling yourself if you think it wasn't part of the evaluation. Sometimes, NFL evaluators get too caught up in measureables for their own good.
From my perspective, it was the Lions' gain. Even if Reiff isn't the Lions' long-term answer at left tackle, they got a really good player at a value spot in the first round.