In a league dominated by players over six feet tall, the shortest NFL players continue to defy logic and prove that height is nothing more than a number. It doesn’t define who you are, it doesn’t define what you’re capable of, and it certainly shouldn’t stop you from playing football.
When you categorize football players by their position, you’ll notice several trends and patterns in regards to their height. For example, the average height of a running back is 6’0’’, but the average height of a defensive end is 6’4’’. The average height of an NFL player in general is 6’2’’.
With that being said, it’s rare to see football players under six feet tall and it’s even more rare for football players under six feet tall to find success in the NFL. Of course, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened – in fact, there have been plenty of standout football players under six feet tall.
Which of the Shortest NFL Players Impresses Us the Most?
Did you know that Jack Shapiro is the shortest NFL player of all-time? He stood just 5-foot-1 and weighed just 120 pounds, which is something you likely won’t see in today’s game. For reference, not many football players have stood shorter than 5’5’’ or 5’6’’ in recent NFL history.
Shapiro only played three games on an NFL roster, but his legacy will live on through today’s shortest NFL players. He pioneered several generations of short NFL players and acted as a splash of inspiration to those that needed it the most. Shapiro was and always will be a legend.
He didn’t find success in the league, but there have been several star football players in the past that stood under six feet tall. We’re going to discuss 20 of the shortest NFL players that have impressed us (or continue to impress us) on the field – more specifically those under 5’10’’.
20. Trindon Holliday
Trindon Holliday was a 5-foot-5, 162-pound wide receiver that was drafted by the Houston Texans in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He also spent time with the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the next four years of his career.
Holliday only recorded two catches for 17 yards in his career, but was primarily used as a returner between 2010 and 2014. He recorded two kick return touchdowns and two punt return touchdowns in his career as he combined speed and elusiveness to blow by incoming tacklers.
19. Jim Leonhard
Jim Leonhard was a 5-foot-8, 188-pound defensive back that was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2005. After four seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Leonhard spent time with the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Denver Broncos.
Leonhard was a consistent player during his 10-year career in the NFL. He recorded at least one interception every year between 2007 and 2014, including a career-high four interceptions in 2013. He finished his career with 14 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 5 fumble recoveries.
18. Mark McMillian
Mark McMillian was a 5-foot-7, 154-pound defensive back that was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 10th round of the 1992 NFL Draft. He spent four seasons with the Eagles before bouncing around between the Chiefs, Saints, 49ers, and Commanders over the next four years.
McMillian was a consistent ball hawk that recorded at least one interception every single year of his career. He had a legendary season in 1997 when he recorded a career-high eight interceptions and led the league with three defensive touchdowns off those interceptions.
17. Bob Sanders
Bob Sanders was a 5-foot-8, 206-pound defensive back that was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He spent the next seven years with the Colts and while he didn’t play as much as he would’ve liked, he made the most of his opportunities.
After not recording an interception his rookie season, Sanders caught at least one in the next five seasons. His best year came in 2007 when he played in 15 games and recorded two interceptions, 3.5 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 97 tackles – all of which were career-highs.
16. Tarik Cohen
Tarik Cohen is a 5-foot-6, 191-pound running back that was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s still a member of the team and has been a consistent producer for them, but he hasn’t played since Week 3 of the 2020 season due to an injury.
Cohen played in all 16 games in each of his first three seasons, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2018. He’s a consistent threat both running and catching the ball. In 51 career games, Cohen has 1,101 rushing yards, 1,575 receiving yards, and 14 combined touchdowns.
15. Jacquizz Rodgers
Jacquizz Rodgers was a 5-foot-6, 205-pound running back that was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He had an amazing college career at Oregon State and made an immediate impact for the Falcons, scoring two touchdowns his rookie year.
If it weren’t for a season-ending injury in 2015, Rodgers would’ve scored at least one touchdown in each of his eight seasons in the league. He was used as a rusher and receiver, accumulating 2,067 rushing yards, 1,590 receiving yards, and 14 combined touchdowns over his career.
14. Kyler Murray
Kyler Murray is a 5-foot-10, 207-pound quarterback that was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2019. He might be the tallest football player on this list, but he’s extremely small for a quarterback and has been criticized for it his whole career.
Murray has taken the criticism well and has improved every year since 2019. He took his team from 5-10-1 his rookie year to 9-5 in his third season (he missed a few games due to injury). He has come a long way since winning Rookie of the Year in 2019, but still has a long way to go.
13. Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles was a 5-foot-6, 190-pound running back that was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He had a slow start to his career after only recording 60 yards his rookie year and then missing his second year due to a broken ankle.
Coming off the injury, Sproles started to produce on a consistent basis and did so with several teams throughout his career – including the Eagles, Saints, and Chargers. He finished his career with 3,552 rushing yards, 4,840 receiving yards, and 55 combined touchdowns.
12. Ray Rice
Ray Rice was a 5-foot-9, 195-pound running back that was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Although his career was cut short due to a disturbing video of him kicking his fiance in an elevator, you can’t argue that he was a beast on the field.
He ultimately spent six seasons in the league and was one of the best running backs during that time. He compiled 6,180 rushing yards, 3,034 receiving yards, and 43 touchdowns during that time, including four consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
11. Wes Welker
Wes Welker was a 5-foot-9, 185-pound wide receiver who signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2004. He eventually landed in Miami, where he started to produce for the first time – recording 1,121 yards and one touchdown over the next two seasons.
In 2007, he signed with the New England Patriots and immediately became one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets. He posted at least 111 receptions and 1,165 yards in five of six seasons between 2007 and 2012, and continued to produce in the final three years of his career.
10. Cole Beasley
Cole Beasley is a 5-foot-8, 174-pound wide receiver that signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He was coming off an impressive junior and senior year at SMU in which he amassed 1,000 yards each season and combined for eight receiving touchdowns.
Beasley has been in the league 10 years now, the first seven with Dallas and the last three with the Buffalo Bills. He is one of the best slot receivers in the game and has been for a while. He has 550 catches, 5,709 receiving yards, and 34 receiving touchdowns in 149 games played.
9. Devin Singletary
Devin Singletary is a 5-foot-7 running back that was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has been Cole Beasley’s teammate for the past three seasons and the two have played well together. Singletary is coming off the best season of his career.
Singletary finished the 2021 season with 188 rushes for 870 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns – all of which were career highs. He also had 40 catches for 228 yards and one touchdown, but perhaps played his best football when it mattered the most in the playoffs.
8. Mark Ingram Jr.
Mark Ingram Jr. is a 5-foot-9, 215-pound running back that was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the 28th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has scored at least one rushing touchdown in every season since, including a career-high 12 rushing touchdowns in 2017.
Ingram Jr. surpassed the 1,000-yard mark three times in his career – all of which coming in a four-year span. During those four years between 2016 and 2019, Ingram Jr. recorded 3,830 rushing yards, 1,152 receiving yards, and 44 combined touchdowns – which is impeccable.
7. Frank Gore
Frank Gore is a 5-foot-9, 212-pound running back that was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. What Gore lacked in size, he made up for in longevity and power. He has played 16 seasons in the NFL and can run better than most young players.
While he hasn’t played since 2020, Gore has put together a legendary career in the NFL that includes nine 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a career-high 1,695 rushing yards in 2006. He has 16,000 rushing yards, 3,985 receiving yards, and 99 combined touchdowns in his career.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew
Maurice Jones-Drew was a 5-foot-7, 210-pound running back that was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He only spent nine seasons in the NFL, but he was one of the most productive backs in the league during that time.
Jones-Drew exploded onto the scene with 1,377 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns his rookie season. He had at least 1,600 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive seasons between 2009 and 2011, including a career-high 16 touchdowns in 2009 and 1,980 scrimmage yards in 2011.
5. DeSean Jackson
DeSean Jackson is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound wide receiver that was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl receiver that might not have the size other receivers have, but he has speed, awareness, and hands.
Jackson recorded at least 1,000 receiving yards and two touchdowns in five of his first nine seasons. Even in his 14th season in 2021, he continued to produce with 20 catches, 454 yards, and two touchdowns. He has led the league in yards per reception on four different occasions.
4. Tyrann Mathieu
Tyrann Mathieu is a 5-foot-9, 190-pound defensive back that was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro safety, a Super Bowl champion, and a member of the HOF All-2010’s Team.
Mathieu has caught at least one interception and four passes defensed every season since entering the league. He has 610 tackles, 41 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 26 interceptions, 76 passes defensed, and three touchdowns in his career.
3. Antoine Winfield Sr.
Antoine Winfield Sr. was a 5-foot-9, 180-pound defensive back that was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 23rd overall draft pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. His son, Antoine Winfield Jr., currently plays in the NFL and is one of the most promising young safeties in the league right now.
Winfield Sr. played 14 seasons in the NFL between 1999 and 2012. He recorded at least one interception in every season except one, finishing his career with 27 interceptions and four touchdowns. He was selected to three Pro Bowls and played in 191 games in his career.
2. Steve Smith Sr.
Steve Smith Sr. was a 5-foot-9, 195-pound wide receiver that was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft. He only saw 20 targets his rookie season, but that number jumped up to 98 targets his second season and 142 targets the following year.
Throughout his 16-year playing career – 13 with the Panthers and three with the Ravens – Smith Sr. recorded eight 1,000-yard seasons. He finished his career with 1,031 catches for 14,731 yards and 81 touchdowns. He was a five-time Pro Bowl player and two-time All-Pro recipient.
1. Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders was a 5-foot-8, 203-pound running back that was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the third overall draft pick in 1989. Although he only spent 10 years in the league, it was enough for him to go down as one of the greatest running backs to ever step foot on the field.
Sanders recorded at least 1,100 yards in each of his 10 seasons, including a massive 2,053 yards in 1997. He led the league in rushing yards four times and rushing touchdowns once. He had 15,269 rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 combined touchdowns in his career.
Who Are the Shortest NFL Players in 2022?
Those are some pretty hefty names atop our list of the most talented NFL players under six feet tall, but we could see some new names enter as several short players look to impress us in the coming years – including the shortest active player in the league today, J.J. Taylor (5-foot-5).
Some of the other shortest NFL players in the league today include Deonte Harris (5-foot-6), Jaret Patterson (5-foot-6), Boston Scott (5-foot-7), Rondale Moore (5-foot-7), Clyde Edwards–Helaire (5-foot-7), Darrell Henderson (5-foot-8), and Devin Singletary (5-foot-7).
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The shortest NFL players often come with the biggest attitude and are usually working harder than anyone else on the team. They play with heart, they play with fire, and they give 120% every single time they step foot on the football field. This one goes out to the short players!
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