Steve Slaton: Proving Size Doesn't Matter in the NFL

Thomas CasaleCorrespondent IJune 28, 2009

HOUSTON - DECEMBER 28:  Steve Slaton #20 of the Houston Texans is tackled short of the goal line by Danieal Manning #38 of the Chicago Bears during the second half at the Reliant Stadium December 28, 2008 in Houston, Texas.  The Texans won 31-24.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Late in Steve Slaton’s junior season at West Virginia, he was answering criticism about being too small to be a featured back in the NFL.

When one reporter asked Slaton if he would be relegated to a third-down back in the NFL, the agitated 5'9", 195-pounder responded “I don’t know, was Tony Dorsett a third-down back? I am bigger than he was when he played in the NFL.”

People chuckled but it’s Slaton who is getting the last laugh.

Despite being one of the most explosive players in college football and a star at West Virginia, Slaton lasted until the 89th pick in the NFL Draft because he was deemed “too small” to be an every-down back in the pros.

It didn’t take long for Slaton to smash the stereotype that size matters in the NFL.

As a rookie he burst on the scene with 1,282 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He also caught 50 balls as a receiver coming out of the backfield.

This is a strong rookie season for any running back but these numbers are even more impressive when you take into account that Slaton didn’t carry the ball 20 times in a game until Week 12.

Just imagine what kind of production he’ll put up now that he enters the 2009 season as the Texans’ unquestioned starter at running back.

Slaton, like Dorsett, is the rare breed of athlete where size really doesn’t matter. Scouts were right to question Slaton’s size at first.

Nine times out of 10 a running back with Slaton’s build would find it difficult to take the physical pounding that accompanies a 16-game NFL schedule.

But what makes Slaton different than most is that he’s a freak of nature.

He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash (he’s actually much faster than his timed speed too which is even scarier) and his quickness and elusiveness in the open field are a God-given talent that most running backs can only dream of.

These qualities help negate Slaton’s lack of size because he rarely gets hit hard. It’s similar to that of Emmitt Smith, who Slaton is built like. Slaton is currently five-foot-nine, 201 pounds, while Smith played most of his career at 5 foot 9 inches, 209 pounds.

Like Smith, Slaton has a knack of avoiding big hits and slipping tackles, which keeps him fresh throughout the season.

Because of these unique qualities, I really don’t think Slaton will get worn down over a 16-game season. I fully expect him to be able to carry the load for the Texans and improve on his impressive rookie campaign.

Emmitt Smith did it for the Cowboys. Tiki Barber did it for the Giants. Brian Westbrook does it for the Eagles. I believe Slaton will do it in Houston as well.

Every now and then a player comes around that defies logic. Someone who is so special that scouts can’t evaluate him just based on measurables like size and NFL Combine numbers. Steve Slaton is one of those players.

The Houston Texans are this year’s sexy pick as everyone’s sleeper team to make the playoffs. It could happen. Houston has a lot of good, young talent on both sides of the ball.

But if the Texans do indeed make the postseason for the first time in franchise history, they’ll do so on the back of 5'9", 201-pound Steve Slaton.

Looks like he’s big enough to carry the load after all.