NFL's 10 Smallest Players with Greatest Talent: Size Isn't Everything

Brandon ButeraContributor IAugust 7, 2010

NFL's 10 Smallest Players with Greatest Talent: Size Isn't Everything

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    Most people like cheering for the underdog. We all feel the need to be a part of the "Rudy" stories of the NFL. We want that Cinderella story of the small guy defeating his huge, mean nemesis.

    But, we must all face the actual facts. The NFL is a big man's league. The big men dominate and conquer.

    But, every once in a while a few small guys will come into the NFL and wreak a little havoc. They will outrun, jump over, and maybe even beat down the larger opponents.

    Here's a list of those smaller guys who have very big talent in them.

    Maybe big things do come in small packages...

10. Jim Leonhard (5'8" 185)

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    Probably the least known player on the list, but a great player nonetheless.

    After going through a couple of seasons involving limited playing time with Buffalo and Baltimore, Strong Safety Jim Leonhard decided it was time to go somewhere where they would start him for his ability and forget about his size.

    He found this with the New York Jets. The Jets guaranteed Leonhard a starting job, and he agreed.

    In 2009, he started at his role of Strong Safety for all 16 games of the season. And he did fairly well by anyone's standard.

    He recorded 76 tackles, 5 deflected passes, 2.5 sacks, and a couple of turnovers.

    Leonhard is also one of the smartest football players in the game today. He has been named the "quarterback" of the Jets number one ranked defense. He receives the play call and then explains the play to the rest of the group. Predicting the quarterbacks every move, he knows when to use his speed to make a move on the ball.

    He is an all-around great player, and his only flaw is being undersized.

    Entering his sixth NFL season, I think we can expect to hear a lot more about this tough Strong Safety in the future.

9. Trindon Holliday (5'5" 165)

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    I know he hasn't even started playing in the NFL yet, but I could not pass up on this Texans rookie. At 5'5", Holliday is the smallest player in the NFL. But, he is also one of the fastest.

    Originally an LSU sprinter, speed was a natural talent for Holliday. He placed in national track competitions. He was even qualified for the 2007 World Championship Athletics competition for sprinting, but he decided not to go.

    He would rather play football for LSU. An immediate star, Holliday burned defenders. It didn't matter that he was small, because no one could catch him. After graduating from LSU, Holliday decided to enter the NFL draft.

    In the sixth round of the 2010 Draft, the Texans drafted this speed demon as a kick/punt returner.

    He signed and is now practicing with his new team.

    I believe we will hear this name in the near future as the newest NFL success.

8. Wes Welker (5'9" 185)

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    Wes Welker is a household name when speaking of clutch wide receivers. But most people forget to imagine how small this receiver really is. Only 5'9" tall and 185 lbs., yet still a huge playmaker on that Patriots team.

    In 2004, Welker signed with the Chargers, but was later cut. After that, he was picked up by the Dolphins, playing as their third receiver. Recording great stats, he eventually moved up to become the team's top receiver.

    But a Miami offense in shambles did not give Welker the support to play to his full potential.

    So, in 2007, Welker signed with the New England Patriots. Then, he really started to shine. He became the epitome of a "clutch" receiver. Using his speed and shiftiness, he always seemed to get pass defenders.

    In the 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons, Welker received over 1,100 yards each year. In 2009, he attained 1,348 yards in only 13 games. He led the league in receptions in 2007 and 2009.

    The numbers speak for him. This 2 time Pro Bowler has made his mark in the NFL. He is one of the best receivers in the league today.

7. Ray Rice (5'8" 212)

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    Yes I know. 212 pounds isn't that small for a running back. But he is pretty short and really productive. Rice uses pure toughness and speed to overcome his small size.

    In 2008, Rice was drafted by the Ravens. He had to split his carries with both Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. He still recorded 727 all-purpose offensive yards. But touchdowns were stolen by McGahee and McClain.

    The Ravens realized his potential though. In 2009, he was named the sole starter for the Ravens as the every down back.

    He then recorded 2,041 all-purpose offensive yards and 8 touchdowns.

    He was then selected to the Pro Bowl in just his second NFL season.

    I believe this young running back has a huge future ahead of him in the NFL.

6. Bob Sanders (5'8" 205)

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    One of the top strong safeties in the game today, Bob Sanders dominates on the football field. Even though he is shorter than almost every other player on the field, he still capitalizes on every opportunity he gets.

    When healthy, Sanders has been one of the fastest and toughest defenders on the football field with an amazing field presence.

    He has been given the nickname "The Hitman" by fellow teammates and coaches, because of his ridiculously hard hits on the field.

    He was drafted in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He has stayed with the Colts ever since.

    His best season was in 2007 when he recorded 96 tackles and multiple turnovers.

    Sanders is known for being a great teammate and an amazing decision maker on the football field, when he is healthy.

    The only problem is Sanders has never played a full season in his career. Throughout his entire time with the Colts, he has been plagued by season ending injuries. In 2006, he only played 4 games. In the last two NFL seasons, he has played a total of eight.

    Though still a young player at 29, he can still make up for those missed years.

    Even though he has had a very large number of injuries, Sanders has still managed to succeed.

    A 2 time Pro Bowler, defensive player of the year, and Superbowl champion, Sanders has many accolades to prove his success in the NFL.

5. DeSean Jackson (5'10" 175)

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    Jackson is the opposite of Ray Rice. He is relatively short for a receiver, but not too much shorter. He is a whole lot lighter though. 175 pounds is a very low weight for receivers in the NFL today. But that doesn't stop this deep threat from burning defenders game after game.

    In his rookie 2008 season, Jackson signed with the Eagles. As a rookie he recorded 1,448 all-purpose yards working as a receiver and punt returner.

    The Eagles realized this small rookie's talent and set him up for the starting role.

    In 2009, Jackson attained 1,734 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns. A crazy fast 4.35 40 yard dash, Jackson leaves defenders in the dust. You don't need to be big if you can outrun everybody.

    Jackson is already a Pro Bowler, and he is just getting started.

    In the next few years, Jackson could become the top receiver in the NFL, dominating defenses every single Game Day.

4. Antoine Winfield (5'9" 180)

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    The player on my list with the most experience in the NFL is Vikings Cornerback Antoine Winfield.

    One of the best corners in the game today, Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield is known for his earth-shattering hits on the field. He is an experienced eleven year veteran who still has huge hits left in him.

    His career started in 1999, when the Buffalo Bills drafted Winfield in the first round of the NFL Draft.

    At such a small height, many critics doubted he could defend the average height of 6'2" for receivers in the NFL. He had to battle through these doubts and prove himself. And he did.

    By 2001, he was in a starting role. Winfield became well known for his bone crushing tackles on the field. His career at Buffalo hit a peak when in 2003 he recorded 107 tackles, 3 turnovers, and 11 deflected passes.

    Then in 2004, Winfield went on to join one of the top defenses in the league, the Minnesota Vikings, where his career took off. Winfield became apt at creating turnovers and bringing pressure to the quarterback. And he still accomplishes the same feats today, six years later.

    In his career so far, he has 740 tackles, 32 turnovers, 2 defensive touchdowns, 71 deflected passes, and even a few blocked field goals.

    He has gone to two Pro Bowls in the previous two seasons.

    His experience has molded him into one of the top corners in the league today. He understands how to read quarterbacks and make the play. He  rarely misses tackles. And he can stuff backs at the line.

    For such a small body, he has become one of the top hard-hitting defenders in the league today.

3. Steve Smith (5'9" 185)

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    Perhaps the smallest receiver in NFL history to be so dangerous, fast, and hot-tempered at the same time, Smith has defenses guessing and arguing over defending him week after week.

    Smith is a nine year veteran that still has a lot of gas left in his tank. He has been a Carolina Panther since the start of his career in 2001.

    Smith holds all sorts of records and awards for his receiving/punt and kick returning abilities.

    In his nine NFL seasons, Smith has recorded over 1,000 offensive yards six times. In 2005 he led every receiver in the league in every major receiving category. He had the most receptions (103), receiving yards (1,563), and receiving touchdowns (12).

    He has played in four Pro Bowls and has nearly 8,500 career receiving yards.

    He has slightly below 4,000 kick/punt return yards in his career.

    Smith is an extremely versatile player with great speed and amazing hands.

    At the age of 31, Smith is still one of the best receivers in the game today.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew (5'7" 210)

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    One of the most versatile running backs in the game today, Jones-Drew can pound it through the line for a first down.

    Or he can split to the outside and outrun the entire defense for an 80 yard touchdown. Or he can run a 20 yard pattern and catch a deep pass, acting as a receiver. He plays the every-down back role that every team needs to have in their running back. 

    This 5'7" Goliath can do what every NFL player wants to be able to do. Anything.

    After having a couple above-average seasons as only the second string running back in Jacksonville, Jones-Drew was made the starter for 2009. Then, he really broke out.

    He accumulated 1,765 all purpose offensive yards, and 16 offensive touchdowns. Not to mention he returned kicks a few times, too.

    Now a Pro-Bowler and known as one of the best backs in the game today, Jones-Drew is the perfect example of NFL superstar talent in a smaller body.

1. Darren Sproles (5'6" 190)

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    Of course, this San Diego running back tops the list. Sproles is the face of the little man of the NFL. Easily one of the most versatile players in the league, Sproles has the perfect blend of rushing, receiving, and returning skills in the NFL.

    He has set a large number of records involving kick/punt return, rushing, and receiving yard combos in single games and throughout the season.

    In the 2005 NFL Draft, Sproles was drafted in the fourth round by Chargers. He was listed as the third string running back. He was mainly an unbelievable kick/punt returner who started to get noticed for his ability.

    But he missed the entire 2006 season due to an ankle injury, and he fell off the radar again.

    In 2007, he moved up to the second string running back. He jumped in for a few offensive plays here and there, but he mainly stayed on special teams.

    Finally in 2008, he got his chance. LaDainian Tomlinson sustained an injury in a playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

    Sproles absolutely exploded against the Colts, running for two touchdowns, one being the game winner. But what really impressed were his perfect blend of rushing, receiving, and kick-return yards. He obtained 328 all-purpose yards, the third most in NFL postseason history.

    Now a mini sensation, Sproles started to get the attention of every team in the NFL. He surprised everyone with his ridiculous speed and the inability of other players to tackle him.

    In 2009, the Chargers had him rushing beside Tomlinson as the starter. He developed into one of the most versatile players in the league. He accumulated 2,323 all-purpose yards and 8 touchdowns for the season. He wasn't even the sole running back, yet.

    In 2010, the Chargers dropped Tomlinson and named Sproles the starting back for the team.

    Now teams are designing game plans just to stop him.

    He has over 5,000 kick return yards, 900 rushing yards, 900 receiving yards, and 1,000 punt return yards through a four season career. And he was never even the starter.

    In the open field he is unstoppable. He has speed and moves like no one else in the NFL.

    He is the best little man in the game today.