Fattest NFL Teams

When you think of NFL players, you naturally expect them to be big people. After all, they have to compete with guys who are just as big, if not bigger, particularly while on the offensive or defensive line. It's important to note, however, that BMI measurements don't always apply to athletes the same way they do average Americans. Not to mention, people have become heavier over the last several decades. It's no surprise, then, that NFL players are following the same path.

With that said, we decided to explore the BMI patterns of NFL players over the last 50 years. Let's take a look at the NFL's heaviest players to see how they "measure up" against other professional athletes.

Movin' On Up

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Here, when we take a look at the average BMI of NFL players over the last 50 years, it's easy to see that players have increased in heft. The lowest point on our chart for those in the NFL happened in 1976 when the average BMI of an NFL player was 28.39 (still "overweight," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention {CDC}). The average player was 6'2" and weighed 221.9 pounds.

Things have certainly changed since then – and for the bigger. The highest point on our chart was in 2004. The average BMI at that time was 31.51, with an average height of 6'2" – the same height as our 1976 average player. But in 2004, the average player's weight was 246 pounds. The average player in 2004, with that BMI, is in the "obese" category, according to the CDC.

An even more interesting tidbit is that the average American male in 2018 is technically heavier than professional NFL players were in 1967. The average BMI today is 29.8, while NFL players were in the 28.5 range 50 years ago. Does that mean today's "regular" guys could have suited up for an NFL team in the '60s? Well, maybe some, but not all – after all, playing in the NFL back then did still require a whole lot of athleticism, speed and strength.

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Jonathan Ogden was selected fourth overall in the 1996 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens, which is where he remained for his entire 12-year playing career. Ogden helped shore up an offensive line when the Ravens went to the Big Game in 2000 and brought home their first Lombardi Trophy. Ogden is a beast of a man, weighing in at 340 pounds, and he's extremely tall as well, towering over regular folk at 6'9". Ogden was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2013.

Getting Bigger for Over 50 Years

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Next is how height and weight have fluctuated in the NFL from 1967 to 2018. It's no mystery that players continue to increase in bulk, but it's not fair to say that these pros are shoveling in a buffet just to pack on some pounds. The majority of players have a strict diet that is usually custom-tailored to the individual player's needs. For example, Noah Spence, a defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has added 35 pounds (and not a ton of extra body fat) by following a customized 9,000 calorie-a-day diet.

The Buffalo Bills squad is also known for plowing through food. A 2017 report notes that they eat 700 pounds of chicken every week. They also devour 600 pounds of imported, grass-fed beef from New Zealand and 300 pounds of salmon. Don't forget the produce, though – they're good for 60 pounds of broccoli, 56 pounds of strawberries and 50 bunches of asparagus every day.

Different positions usually have different typical sizes and shapes as far as body weight and height go, and there is no one-size-fits-all mentality for the roster of each NFL franchise. While bigger is not necessarily better, clubs have realized that there needs to be heft along the line of scrimmage, and even shorter and lighter players still have a need to be very muscular and strong, especially when compared to their peers of the past.

High BMIs Across History

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We then looked at the heaviest rosters of the past 50 years to see which squads had the highest BMIs. First, let's take notice that every single one of these top-10 heaviest teams came around 2000, which goes to show that the increase in BMI is on par with recent trends. The heaviest team was 2004's Baltimore Ravens with an average BMI of 32.51. They went 9-7 during the season and missed out on the playoffs.

The second heftiest team – the 2003 San Diego Chargers – checked in with an average BMI of 32.42. Their massive BMI, unfortunately, didn't help them out a ton during the season, as they went 4-12, which also didn't qualify them for the playoffs.

However, in 2009, the Chargers were back with the third highest team average BMI (32.35) and notched a nifty 13-3 season. They won the AFC West but lost their first playoff game in the divisional round to the New York Jets.

The seasonal records weren't great overall for any of these top-10 squads. The only exceptions were the 2009 Chargers, the 2006 Baltimore Ravens (a divisional round playoff loss), the 2012 Indianapolis Colts (lost in the wild-card round after an 11-5 year), and the 2008 Philadelphia Eagles (who made it to the NFC Championship but ultimately fell to the Cardinals).

So while teams have gotten larger, this doesn't necessarily mean the most colossal teams are destined for the Big Game.

aaron-gibson-body-type

Another mountain man who played in the NFL is offensive lineman Aaron Gibson, a giant of a guy whose weight topped out at 410 pounds during his NFL career. He was even bigger in high school, weighing around 420 pounds. Drafted 27th overall in the 1999 NFL draft by the Lions, he played in the NFL for five seasons, but only once played all 16 games.

Today's Massive Players

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Here, we looked at the average BMI of every team for the 2018 NFL season. The Seattle Seahawks took the No. 1 spot with an average BMI of 32.02. Third on the list, you'll find last year's AFC champions, the New England Patriots, with an average BMI of 31.78. Interestingly, the current defending champion Philadelphia Eagles were second to last with a BMI of 30.74. Last on the list, with the smallest average BMI, were the Los Angeles Rams.

In between, you'll find the rest of the 2018 teams, with the Carolina Panthers coming in second with an average BMI of 31.99, the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 11 with an average BMI of 31.28, and the Green Bay Packers tied with the New York Jets with an average BMI of 31.

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Trent Brown is another extremely tall offensive lineman who also tips the scale. The 6'8" Brown weighs a very sturdy 380 pounds. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 and currently plays in New England, helping protect Tom Brady and opening up running lanes for Sony Michel (or whoever wants to dart through the line and get a first down).

Size Does Matter in the NFL

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Here's a breakdown of the players with the highest BMIs on each team, compared to the players with the lowest BMIs. It's immediately apparent that linemen on both sides of the line of scrimmage usually pack on the most pounds. Those players with the lowest BMIs, however, can be just about anywhere on the field, from lithe special teamers to thin, tall and muscular wide receivers.

The team with the biggest BMI disparity across their entire roster looks is the Baltimore Ravens. Defensive lineman Michael Pierce tops the BMI for the Ravens at 46.11, while kicker Justin Tucker is at the other end of the spectrum at 23.75. There is a large 160-pound weight differential between these two players.

Speaking of big weight difference, check out the New York Giants. The guy with the highest BMI (42.62) is Will Hernandez, an offensive lineman. The player with the lowest BMI lines up in the defensive backfield – Donte Deayon, with a BMI of 24.07.

Kicker Justin Tucker has the lowest BMI on the Ravens (23.75) compared to defensive lineman Michael Pierce with an enormous 46.11 BMI. The weight difference between the two is 160 pounds.

Where's the Beef?

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Finally, here are the positions you tend to find the heaviest players on the field and where the ones with the lowest BMIs tend to play. Those who need to run around quickly, such as wide receivers and cornerbacks, are usually a lot thinner than the guys on the line. It's no surprise at this point that offensive linemen are generally the tallest and heaviest guys on the field, just a bit ahead of those who play directly opposite of them – defensive linemen. Defensive linebackers are in the middle of the pack, while special team players are often on the shorter and lighter side.

We also looked at where the biggest and smallest guys were per position around the league. The quarterback with the highest BMI is Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys (30.55), while Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins has the lowest BMI (25.19). At the running back position, Anthony Sherman of the Kansas City Chiefs comes in on top with a BMI of 34.72 (not a surprise, as he's known as "The Sausage" among teammates. Meanwhile Trenton Cannon of the New York Jets is the halfback with the lowest BMI.

The position that has the player with the highest BMI overall is the defensive line. There, Baltimore's Michael Pierce is sitting hefty with a BMI of 46.11. Interestingly, the DL with the lowest BMI is Arizona's Markus Golden, whose BMI is only 27.8 (and he's still producing at that position).

Sizable Similarities and Differences

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From professional league to professional league, the average heights and weights of players definitely differ, and in some cases, differ drastically. For example, NBA teams have rosters that are chock-full of very tall men with an average height of 6'7", while the NFL features athletes who have the biggest average BMI, which is a hefty 31.16.

We took a look to see how players compared from league to league and found a few interesting similarities.

  • Despite their four-inch gap and 30-pound weight difference, Mike Trout and Rob Gronkowski share a staggeringly high BMI just above 30 – both of which the CDC classifies as "obese."
  • Although Ben Simmons stands at a towering 6'10" and looks down on Evgeni Malkin at 6'3", they share the same low BMI (24.05 and 24.37, respectively).
  • Eli Manning and James Harden share the same body measurements each standing at 6'5", weighing 220 pounds and having a fairly normal BMI of 26.09.

Down, Set, Heavyset

The NFL is an unusual workplace for the players where size often does matter. While BMI definitely does not tell the whole story of a player's abilities, you can often guess where a guy is going to line up based on his size. However, that doesn't mean smaller guys can't produce at that position or that the perfect beefy lineman will always work out.

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Methodology

For this analysis, our team utilized a web scraper tool to crawl pro-football-reference.com and pull NFL player profiles, which included height, weight, team, season, and age from 1967 to 2018. Team records were pulled during this process as well. After compiling each player's personal data, we utilized their heights and weights to calculate body mass index (BMI), which enabled us to calculate the average BMI by team, season and position. These calculations include full team rosters over the past 50 seasons.

When analyzing BMI by position, we collated common positions into groupings that include: wide receivers, defensive backs, running backs, special teams, quarterbacks, tight ends, linebackers, fullbacks, defensive lineman and offensive lineman. If an athlete played two, or more, positions, they were placed in the position grouping they played most often. All teams were analyzed by team franchise rather than host city.

To create BMI visuals, we tapped the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems – the Perceiving Systems Department – to utilize their online BMI visualizer tool. The BMI visualizer uses a combination of statistical modeling of human body shape (created by laser range scanning thousands of human bodies) as well as gender, age, weight and height to conceptualize the human body shape in 3D. From here, we leveraged actual depictions of BMI to design our graphics.

Limitations

The main limitation of this project is that weight fluctuates over time, whether it be from game to game or over an entire season. This means we were only able to determine BMI calculations based on the recorded heights and weights of players on pro-football-reference.com. Additionally, athletes who played multiple positions were only counted once for their primary position.

Sources

Fair Use Statement

Down, set, heavyset? We encourage the noncommercial distribution of our "big" findings and graphics presented on this page. Before walking off the field, simply provide a link back to this page so that your fans can view our study in its entirety and our contributors receive the huge amount of credit they deserve.