Contrary to popular belief, the National Football League isn’t only about the biggest and most naturally gifted athletes. In many cases, it is these players that are given the credit for leading their team to victory, but in most situations, it is the unsung heroes that usually help give teams those crucial victories. Not every player is going to be sculpted into a 6’3” frame and, as we have seen throughout history, there are hundreds of players that have produced in a big way despite not being granted the longest legs in the world.
One notable quarterback that has fared extremely well in what is otherwise considered a tall-man’s position is Drew Brees. Brees, the 35-year-old native of Austin, Texas, has reached the Pro Bowl eight times, was the Super Bowl XLIV MVP as the New Orleans Saints knocked off the Indianapolis Colts, won the Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year award twice, and also holds numerous NFL records including most 50,000 yard passing seasons (4), most consecutive NFL games with a touchdown pass (54), and being the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach 50,000 passing yards. He has been able to achieve all of these honors while standing just 6’0.” In comparison to other stars at that position, Ben Roethlisberger is 6’5”, Tom Brady is 6’4”, and Peyton Manning is 6’5.”
Being a short professional football player isn’t a death sentence in terms of longevity in the league. Over the years, there have been many short players that have succeeded in the most popular American sport, but who are the shortest of all-time?
T13. Buster Davis – 5’9”
Of all the players on this list, the one that is least likely to be known throughout the league is linebacker Buster Davis. Davis played his college ball at Florida State and played well enough to warrant selection in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He never played a game with the Cardinals and would only go on to play in seven NFL games with the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts. He last played in the NFL in 2008 and finished his career with just 18 tackles. He’s listed as both 5’10” and 5’9″ on different sites, but we chose to go with the lesser amount.
T13. Brandon Boykin – 5’9″
24-year-old Brandon Boykin, cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles is one of the shortest active players in the NFL today. Boykin was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Georgia and spent most of his successful rookie season as a kick returner. He’s mostly used as an extra defensive back but has recorded six career interceptions including one that was returned for a touchdown.
T13. Doug Martin – 5’9”
Current Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was considered a top bounce back candidate for the 2014 season. After a remarkable rookie season in 2012, Martin played in just six games a year ago, but has gotten off to a terrible start thus far. He is averaging just 2.5 yards per game through his first three games this season. The Buccaneers are still hoping to see Martin turn things around this season, and in the future, and if he can, he will use his small and stocky frame to run over defenders and score at will like he did as a rookie.
T9. Dexter McCluster – 5’8”
The current Tennessee Titans wide receiver, running back and kick returner is one of the shortest and most agile players in NFL history. The former Mississippi product was a second round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs and came into the 2014 season with high hopes for another solid campaign. Things haven’t been great for him as of yet, but there’s still hope he can revert to his 2011 form when he combined for more than 800 yards as a receiver and runner. Through his first four games with the Titans in 2014, he has been used more as a running back than in the passing attack.
T9. Wes Welker – 5’8”
To some, Wes Welker is a future Hall of Fame wide receiver. He has done well enough throughout his career to bring up the discussion. While he played with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers before joining the New England Patriots, it was during his time in New England that he became a star. Along with Tom Brady, the short wide receiver had a remarkable run with the team despite being in a position that is usually dominated by players that are more than six inches taller. He’s now catching passes from another future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning.
T9. Steve Jackson – 5’8”
Steve Jackson, the defensive back, not the running back that is currently with the Atlanta Falcons, is one of the shortest players in the history of the league. Born in 1969, the former Purdue player was drafted in the third round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers and spent his entire career with the franchise. He last played in 1999 and while he didn’t have a legendary career, he did record 13 career interceptions with a single touchdown.
T9. Ray Rice – 5’8”
To say that Ray Rice is one of the most hated players in the NFL right now would be an understatement. Ray is currently suspended indefinitely for hitting his then-fiancé in an elevator, in an incident that has changed the way the league looks as domestic abuse situations. Prior to the incident, the former Rutgers player was one of the top rushers in the NFL, totaling more than 6,100 yards on 1,430 carries with 37 touchdowns. He was also one of the most lethal players catching passes out of the backfield, adding 369 receptions for six touchdowns.
T6. Maurice Jones-Drew – 5’7”
Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the best players in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise. He turned heads after being the top back for UCLA and did enough to warrant a second round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft from the Jaguars. He played the first eight seasons of his career with the team before making his way to the west coast with the Oakland Raiders. In 2011, he led the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards, but injuries and inconsistency have hurt him since.
T6. Mark McMillian – 5’7”
Another short defensive back makes the list with Mark McMillian, who spent most of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He last played in the NFL in 1999, but the former Alabama standout had a stellar run in the NFL, including his 1997 season with the Kansas City Chiefs that saw him grab eight interceptions and return them for a league-best 274 yards and a league-high three touchdowns. He finished his career with 23 total interceptions and 1.5 sacks.
T6. Brandon Banks – 5’7”
Brandon Banks spent three seasons in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. Standing at 5’7” he is one of the shortest players in the history of the sport and while he can’t be compared to the great Devin Hester, he will be remembered by Washington fans as a reliable option in the kick return game. The team never got the former Kansas State player into the offense like they should have, but he was still able to lead the NFL in kick returns and kick return yards in 2011 with 1,174 yards on 52 returns.
T3. Jacquizz Rodgers – 5’6”
Jacquizz Rodgers is the definition of a change of pace back for the Atlanta Falcons. He was drafted by the Falcons in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Oregon State. He hasn’t been the No. 1 guy for the Falcons since being drafted, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a reliable and trusted rusher for the team. In his career, the speedy back has averaged 3.7 yards per game on the ground and has been an even bigger threat in the air, bringing in more than 50 receptions in each of the past two seasons.
T3. Jim Breech – 5’6”
Jim Breech was never one of the most physically imposing players you would come across on the football field, but then again, he wasn’t a linebacker. The kicker began his NFL career with the Detroit Lions after being selected in the eighth round of the 1978 NFL Draft. He would go on to spend 14 years in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals and never played a game with the team that drafted him.
T3. Darren Sproles – 5’6”
In the modern NFL, Darren Sproles is as good as it gets. The short running back has been under appreciated and disrespected, but throughout his career, has been proven to be a threat. Sproles is currently a major factor in the high-powered and high-scoring Philadelphia Eagles offense. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers with the 130th overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft and hasn’t disappointed. He is averaging more than 5.2 yards per carry throughout his career and has also added more than 9.1 yards per reception.
2. Trindon Holliday – 5’5″
In the 2010 NFL Draft, Trindon Holliday was selected with the 197th overall pick by the Houston Texans. In the years that have passed, he has also played with the Denver Broncos and is currently on the New York Giants roster. He is the second shortest player in the history of the NFL and the wide receiver is still looking for his chance to break out. In 2012, he had his best season, leading the league in punt return yards with 481 and he reached the end zone twice.
1. Jack Shapiro – 5’1″
Back before the NFL was even a shell of its current self, Jack Shapiro made history. At the time, he was by far the shortest player in the NFL and more than 80 years later, he is the still the shortest player to ever play in the league. He weighed only 119 pounds, which is less than half the weight of most kickers in the current NFL. He played with the Staten Island Stapletons and will likely be the man at the top of the list for the rest of time.
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