The NFL Scouting Combine is designed to predict how well a player will do in the league by taking every possible measurement. Players are poked and prodded for days while NFL staffers measure everything from hand size to vertical leap. There’s no measure for drive and determination and over the years there have been players who wouldn’t measure up at the Combine but turned out to be great in the NFL. This is a short list of short NFL stars who shouldn’t exist if we only relied on the physical measure of a man. They are in no particular order.
Barry Sanders – Running Back (5 foot 8 inches)
Barry Sanders was a wonder to watch and is a member of both the NFL and College Football Halls of Fame. He played his entire professional career with the Detroit Lions and averaged 1,500 rushing yards per season. The NFL ranked him as the most “Elusive” runner in the history of the league. Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in 1988 after rushing for a ridiculous 2,628 yards in his junior year at Oklahoma State. Only Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith have more rushing yards and what’s curios is that Barry Sanders retired only 1,500 rushing short of surpassing the all-time rushing record in the NFL. Some say he had too much respect for Walter Payton to break his record and others say that Barry Sanders just couldn’t take another year of the losing culture at the Detroit Lions.
Wesley Carter “Wes” Welker– Wide Receiver (5 foot 9 inches)
In college at Texas Tech Wes Welker was nicknamed “The Natural” because of his versatility and ability to thrive in big game situations. He played on offense and special teams. Wes scored 21 touchdowns as a receiver, 2 touchdowns as a running back and 8 touchdowns returning punts. Sports Illustrated placed him on their “College All Decade Team” as a punt returner. Despite his college success Wes Welker was not even invited to the NFL Combine because he literally didn’t “measure up” to their standards. He was also not even drafted into the NFL and ended up signing with the Chargers as a free agent. He was released after the first game of the Charger’s season. Marty Shottenheimer, the coach at the time, later recalled “it was the biggest mistake I ever made as a head coach.”
After a short career with the Miami Dolphins Wes Welker was traded to the New England Patriots where he was given an opportunity to shine. With the Patriots Wes led the league in total receptions in 2007, 2009 and 2011. He is the first NFL player in history to have five 100 reception seasons. He was selected for the Pro Bowl every year he played with the Patriots and has broken almost every Patriots’ reception record there is.
Darren Sproles– Running Back (5 foot 6 inches)
Darren Sproles weighed ten pounds at birth and was immediately given the nickname “Tank.” He more than lived up to his nickname on the football field because once he got going it was hard to stop him. Darren set 23 school records at Kansas State University and in 2003 he led the nation with 1,986 rushing yards. In spite of his success in college Darren Sproles was not drafted until the 4th round with the 130th selection in the 2005 NFL Draft. As a third string running back with the San Diego Chargers he didn’t see much playing time until the 2007 season. He returned a kick-off and a punt for the first two touchdowns of his NFL career. No other player in history has done this. Darren Sproles is also the only NFL player ever to have four different seasons with over 2,200 all-purpose yards.
Russell Wilson– Quarterback (5 foot 11 inches)
The common belief in the NFL is that a quarterback needs to be over 6 feet tall in order to see over the offensive line protecting them. At 5 foot 11 inches tall Russell Wilson doesn’t measure up and yet in 2013 he led the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl win in the team’s 38-year history. As a college quarterback at Wisconsin he had the highest rated passing efficiency in the NCAA and led his team to a Big Ten title in 2011. As a talented two sport athlete he was even drafted by the Colorado Rockies baseball organization in 2010 but chose to focus on football and the results have been spectacular for Seattle fans. His young success in the NFL is unparalleled and he’s already received the ultimate accolade by being referenced in the Eminem song “The Monster.”
Emmitt Smith– Running Back (5 foot 9 inches)
Emmitt Smith is considered to be one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. He has the most rushing yards on record, he’s won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and Emmitt is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Like the other players on this list Emmitt did not fit the NFL mold coming out of college and scouts felt that he was “too small” and “too slow” for professional football. He was drafted late in the 1st round and the Dallas Cowboys traded up to get him. Trading up to get Emmitt Smith was one of the best moves in Dallas Cowboys franchise history because he proceeded to make history. Emmitt was the first player ever to rush for over 1,400 yards in five consecutive seasons and he eventually broke Walter Payton’s long standing rushing record.
There are numerous other short success stories in the NFL and the above players are just a few of our favorites. Doug Flutie, Trindon Holiday, Steve Smith, and Maurice Jones-Drew could all have easily made the list. Our picks were based on long-lasting and impactful success in the NFL.
About the Author of “Short Success Stories: The Top Undersized NFL Players Ever”:
Trip Albagdadi is a regular guest contributor to the iM Sports Blog. His work has been featured in numerous online as well as traditional print publications.
Photo Credits for “Top Undersized NFL Players Ever”:
“Barry Sanders in the Hall of Fame” – TravelKS via photopin cc
“The Versatile Wes Welker” – Wikipedia
“The Diminutive Russell Wilson” – Bernzilla via photopin cc
“Emmitt Smith All Time Rushing Leader” – Anthony Quintano via photopin cc