The Reiff Stuff: Lions rookie in good company

After his recent retirement, the career of Pro Bowler Matt Light can put some of the criticisms of Riley Reiff in perspective.

New England Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light officially announced his retirement during a ceremony in Massachusetts earlier this week, ending an 11-year career that included five Super Bowl starts and four Pro Bowl appearances.  

The news of Light’s retirement is an outstanding opportunity to place hindsight on the often overblown value on pre-draft measurements. 

One measurable in particular comes to mind: arm length.

Lions’ fans are no stranger to this highly-scrutinized, pre-draft measurable.  

Recently, the Lions drafted Iowa tackle Riley Reiff with the 23rd overall selection in the NFL draft.  The biggest knock on Reiff?  His 33¼-inch arms.

Reiff was considered to be a top-15 prospect by many and was widely viewed as the draft’s No. 2 left tackle prospect.  Despite his apparent skills, Reiff slipped in the draft, enabling the Lions to acquire him at a point in the draft where he wasn’t projected to be available.

Reiff wasn’t the first offensive lineman whose draft status suffered as a product of lacking arm length. 

Light was drafted with the 48th overall pick in the 2001 draft.  As a productive Big 10 big man, the converted tight end probably demonstrated enough on tape to be drafted fairly higher but his 33½-inch arms played a role in his slip to the second round.

Former tight end and Big 10 offensive lineman. Sound familiar?

There are some pre-NFL comparisons between Light and Reiff, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their careers are destined to share similarities, rather, it’s an illustration that the same short-comings that can drive down a player’s draft grade won’t necessarily serve as a detriment to their NFL career.  

For confirmation of that notation, Reiff needs to look no further than the player the Lions brass is expecting him to eventually replace – Jeff Backus

Backus entered the NFL – again from the Big 10 – with concerns surrounding his 32½-inch arms.  Backus has since started an NFL-leading 176 consecutive contests, proving to be a capable NFL left tackle. 

The truth is, arm length is simply a spice in an ingredient-rich recipe for productive left tackles in the NFL. In fact, some consider hand quickness a far more crucial characteristic, a quality Reiff possess. 

Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas is developing into a perennial Pro Bowler and is an arguable option as the game’s best pass protector.  Among Thomas’ strengths is great hand speed, which he has leveraged to overcome his 33¾-inch arms.  

Head coach Jim Schwartz can personally attest to a tackle’s ability to overcome a questionable wingspan. 

Formerly the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, Schwartz witnessed left tackle Michael Roos (32½-inch arm length) reach the Pro Bowl as well as become an All Pro selection in 2008.  

Donald Penn (33), Jason Peters (33) and Jordan Gross (33¼) all represent successful starters at left tackle with shorter arms than Reiff.  

Reiff has very good size (6-foot-6, 313 pounds), agility, athleticism and strength. Those skills should not be blemished by an attribute that can be overcome.

Ultimately, arm length doesn’t translate to career length -- and as first round picks are being prematurely projected as draft busts or future models for Hall of Fame busts, look no further than Light to anchor any thoughts drifting too far from immediate reality.

Before he was drafted, Light was subject to much judgment that had no relation to what he accomplished on the football field.  Now that his career has come full circle, he will be remembered for only his on-the-field accomplishments.  

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