How tall is James Harrison?

        Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009

Could the secret to James Harrison's success be that he's really 5-9?

Harrison, an undrafted player from Kent State viewed as special teams material, was cut from the Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens, early in his career because he apparently struggled with the complexities of an NFL defense, and coaches decided they couldn't afford the luxury of teaching Harrison to be an NFL linebacker because someone of his height would not succeed at the position.

Exactly how tall is James Harrison? The Steelers officially list him as being 6-0.

But consider this quote from Baltimore Raven Trevor Pryce on Nov. 7, 2007, after the Steelers clobbered the Ravens 38-7, as heard by Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Pryce acknowledged it was not the Ravens' night, "when a little 5-9 linebacker gets four sacks. That will never happen again in his life. He knows that."

We think Pryce was exaggerating about the 5-9. But every NFL player's height is probably exaggerated.

Our guess? Harrison is probably somewhere between 5-10 and 5-11.

Maybe less.

How tall should an outside linebacker be? Here are just about all the guys the Steelers have used at the position over 30 years, including several draft picks who proved to be busts. Keep in mind these players are likely not as tall as listed, but that Harrison is only listed at 6-0:

LaMarr Woodley, 6-2 (believed to be 6-1.25 at combine). Bruce Davis, 6-3. Arnold Harrison, 6-3. Clark Haggans, 6-4. Joey Porter, 6-2. Alonzo Jackson, 6-4. Jason Gildon, 6-4. Mike Vrabel, 6-4. Carlos Emmons, 6-5. Steve Conley, 6-5. Kevin Greene, 6-3. Greg Lloyd, 6-2. Jerrol Williams, 6-4. Chad Brown, 6-2. Mike Merriweather, 6-2. Bryan Hinkle, 6-1. Robin Cole, 6-2. Jack Ham, 6-1. Andy Russell, 6-2.

Only when you get to Dirt Winston (who was viewed as middle linebacker material) do you find a 6-0 in the last 30 years.

It's clear that until James Harrison forced them to take notice, the Steelers never envisioned one of their OLBs standing anywhere near 6-0 — let alone below it.

Some may point to Lawrence Timmons. He is listed as 6-1 and measured over 6-0 at the combine, but has effectively been moved inside and might've been pegged as such before the draft.

Also, Timmons possesses remarkably long arms that Harrison does not.

Around the league, Shawne Merriman is listed 6-4. Terrell Suggs, 6-3. DeMarcus Ware, 6-4. Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas went 6-3 apiece.

So what James Harrison is doing is remarkable ... if not revolutionary. An amateur football watcher might even be inclined to think that Harrison might benefit from his height — that left tackles all go 6-5 now, and that James simply burrows underneath them, and it's too hard to block someone who has that much lower leverage and is that strong. We saw all kinds of holds and hear-holds by the Ravens' Willie Anderson and the Cardinals' Mike Gandy once Harrison got under the shoulder pad.

What's significant about the quote from Trevor Pryce is that NFL players rarely, extremely rarely, call each other out by height. James Harrison is undoubtedly below 6-0. The fact a person of his size could win the NFL defensive player of the year and deliver the Super Bowl's most staggering individual play ever is as remarkable as a 5-11 quarterback breaking Dan Marino's records.


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