Pro football is a pretty physical game. One of the game’s main focuses is to hit your opponent till they fall down. Stay on your feet and the play stays alive, get hit and fall and the play’s done. The biggest guys on the field have to be the linemen. Both offensive and defensive linemen are typically goliaths whose job it is to clash against one another. Every position has its desired height and weight. It can be pretty intimidating for some of the smaller players to get on the same field as the taller ones. But imagine how the smallest men in the league feel.
Right off the bat a player who is classified as “undersized” is seen to be at a disadvantage. Unless they possess some kind of unique skill set it can be hard for them to stand out, literally. But there are a bunch of small guys who’ve found some sort of success in the league. At 5’9″ former QB Doug Flutie wasn’t always looked at as a viable option at his position. But Flutie’s pro bowl career lasted over 20 years in the NFL, CFL and USFL.
However there are instances where shorter athletes just couldn’t find success in the league. The smallest player to ever play in the NFL, Jack Shapiro (5’1″) only played one season in the pros for the now defunct Staten Island Stapletons. Whether a player is 6’5″ or 5’6″ the ones that will excel are the ones who have the talent to do so. Hands down, that’s the way it’s been in sports and that’s the way it’ll always be.
These are ten of the smallest players in the NFL.
10. Ray Rice — Baltimore Ravens — 5’8″
Part of the same draft class that gave them Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens got themselves a pro bowl player when they drafted Ray Rice in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft. A powerful runner, Rice has the ability to slip through the gaps and get the tough yards by barrelling over defenders. Since entering the NFL Rice has rushed for over 6,000 yards, second in Ravens history behind Jamal Lewis. But Rice’s talents aren’t just effective on the ground; he’s also proven himself to be a versatile pass catcher with over 300 receptions and 3,000 yards to his name.
9. Kendall Hunter — San Francisco 49ers — 5’7″
In his first three seasons as a San Francisco 49er Kendall Hunter rushed for 1,202 yards and 7 touchdowns behind San Francisco’s star back, Frank Gore. Hunter nabbed his first and only start as a 49er during his rookie year when Gore – who at 5’9″ barely misses this list – missed a week 4 match-up against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hunter’s shifty running style coupled with his ability to fit in-between the gaps has made his size a non-factor when running behind an o-line typically consisting of guys that are close to a whole foot taller than he is.
8. Jeff Demps — Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 5’7″
The Florida speedster went undrafted in 2012 after skipping out on the combine in favour of preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Despite questions of his commitment to football, the New England Patriots signed Demps to a three-year deal in August of 2012 and he was placed on I.R. only a couple weeks after and was traded to the Buccaneers a season after signing with the Pats. A track star, Demps has exceptional speed – proven by his silver medal earned in the 2012 Summer Olympics – and has shown flashes while in Tampa. Demps returned only four kicks last season but averaged 23 yards per return with a long of 29. His skills are raw but if he hones them Demps can join the ranks of little guys in the NFL proving size isn’t everything.
7. Ace Sanders — Jacksonville Jaguars — 5’7″
When you think of an NFL wide receiver, guys like Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas may come to mind. Both are talented pass catchers, and both are huge! Jacksonville’s Ace Sanders might not have the luxury of towering over defensive backs, creating match-up problems but the second-year wide out caught 51 passes in his rookie season and showed his versatility as a return man. Sanders threw a 21-yard TD pass on a trick play to running back Jordan Todman. So maybe the Jags have a back-up plan in case Blake Bortles plays Blaine Gabbert?
6. Isaiah Trufant — Cleveland Browns — 5’7″
After going undrafted in 2006 Isaiah Trufant signed with the AF2 Spokane Shock, thus beginning one of the many stops in his long journeyman career that has brought him to seven different teams and two different leagues. Trufant got his first shot as a member of the Jets in 2010, contributing mainly on special teams and scoring his first career touchdown. With two other brothers in the league Marcus (5’1″) and Desmond (6’0″) Isaiah is the shortest of the family.
5. Andrew Hawkins — Cleveland Browns — 5’7″
Before he found success in the NFL, Andrew Hawkins won two Grey Cup Championships with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. Hawkins signed with the team after going undrafted in 2008 and spending almost a year out of football. Hawkins eventually ended up on the Cincinnati Bengals roster and managed to put together a breakout year in 2012 playing behind the massive AJ Green. Despite his size Hawkins found the end zone 4 times and hauled in 51 receptions. After missing the majority of last season due to an ankle injury Hawkins signed with the Cleveland Browns. With star receiver Josh Gordon’s year-long suspension, Hawkins adds much needed depth to a shallow receiving corps, albeit one full of young talent and veteran playmakers.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew — Oakland Raiders — 5’7″
Although incredibly talented coming out of UCLA, Maurice Jones-Drew was overlooked by most NFL teams due to his size. Drafted late in the second round by the Jaguars as a successor to Fred Taylor, Jones-Drew excelled with the Jags. He became a three-time Pro Bowl player in Jacksonville and was the lone bright spot on a number of bad Jacksonville offenses. In 2011 he led the NFL in rushing yards and now will be suiting up for the Oakland Raiders after 8 seasons in Jacksonville.
3. Jacquizz Rodgers — Atlanta Falcons — 5’6″
Entering the 2011 NFL Draft Jacquizz Rodgers was seen as one of better prospects at running back. In Atlanta Rodgers has been used as a runner, receiver and returner, and excelled in his limited role in the offense. Entering his rookie year he was used mainly as a change-of-pace back, but was quickly integrated into the passing game and return game later on in his career. Rogers has piled up 859 yards both receiving and rushing and has averaged close to 25 yards per return since he started returning kicks two years ago. After the retirement of Jason Snelling, Rodgers is expected to get a larger piece of the pie this year behind Steven Jackson.
2. Darren Sproles — Philadelphia Eagles — 5’6″
Darren Sproles started off his career as a return specialist, showing the league flashes of the athleticism and playmaking ability that he would become synonymous with over the course of his career. While with the Saints, Sproles showed off his skills as a running back as well as a return specialist. In 2011 he broke the NFL record for most all-purpose yards in an NFL season with 2,696. That season was also his best showing as a runner, with him putting up 600 yards coupled with 700 yards receiving and 1,089 return yards. Now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, Sproles will be paired up with LeSean McCoy and provides head coach Chip Kelly with a versatile new weapon for his explosive offense.
1. Trindon Holliday — New York Giants — 5’5″
Having the distinction of being the shortest man in the league, Trindon Holliday was selected by the Houston Texans in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Holliday has been used primarily as a return specialist throughout his career and has caught just two passes in four seasons. While he has shown great things as a return man, he’s had a problem with fumbling. Particularly on punt returns where he’s fumbled the ball 10 times as compared to once on kick returns. Now with the New York Giants, Holliday has been kept out of practices with a leg injury for the majority of training camp and isn’t even a lock to make the team.