Professional football is packed with some of the biggest, fastest, and strongest humans on the planet. But is there any room for short athletes in the NFL?
Who are the shortest NFL players of all time? Let’s find out!
Height is considered an advantage at most key positions in pro football.
Scouts and coaches love tall quarterbacks who can scan the field with ease, lengthy lineman with massive wing spans, and lanky receivers that can high-point passes in the endzone.
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Some of the most dynamic and memorable players in league history, however, have measured in under the ideal height for their position.
The 15 Shortest NFL Players of All Time
1. Jack “Soupy” Shapiro
Officially recognized as the shortest player to ever play in what would eventually become the NFL, Shapiro saw action in only one professional game.
The smallest NFL player ever suited up for the Staten Island Stapletons in 1929 and hung around on the roster for a total of five games. Though he never reached superstar status, he helped pave the way for shorter players for years to come.
Soupy, we salute you!
2. Trindon Holliday
Position: Return Specialist
Holliday carries the honor of being one of the very, very few NFL players ever to officially measure in at under 5’6”, but he may be even better remembered for his outrageous speed and quickness.
During a 2013 playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, Holliday, then a Denver Bronco, not only set the record for the longest punt return touchdown in a playoff game, he followed it up in the 4th quarter with another long kickoff return score.
3. Darren Sproles
Position: Running back
The NFL’s quintessential “short guy,” Sproles has been beloved, and successful, at every step along his lengthy NFL career.
What he lacks in height he more than makes up for in toughness and competitive fire. Sproles, one of the shortest NFL running backs ever, has been giving opposing teams nightmares for years as a runner, receiver, and kick returner — to the tune of three Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl ring.
4. Tarik Cohen
Position: Running Back
Running backs in the NFL take a beating play in and play out, but that hasn’t stopped Cohen, at only 5’6” and 181 pounds, from lighting up the scoreboard throughout his career.
Drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2017 as a fourth round pick, Cohen quickly carved out a role for himself on offense and has since been a Pro Bowl and AP All Pro Team selection.
Fun fact: On a trick play during his rookie season, Cohen became the shortest NFL player to throw a touchdown pass in nearly 100 years.
5. Jacquizz Rodgers
Position: Running Back
Rodgers might have a pretty memorable name, but he’s also famous for being a highly decorated college running back and a productive pro who made the most of his size.
Standing at 5’6” and just over 200 pounds, Rodgers was a well-built runner with an ideal blend of speed, quickness, and power. He may have never become a household name or a Super Bowl champ, but he rushed for over 2,000 yards in his NFL career — which is more than many of his taller colleagues can say.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew
Position: Running Back
MJD, as he’s known, was a true powerhouse at the running back position when he came into the NFL in 2006.
With a stacked 210 pound frame and game-breaking speed, Jones-Drew quickly became the Jacksonville Jaguars’ workhorse runner, and remained so for eight seasons.
By the time he retired after the 2014 campaign, the 5’7” runner had racked up three Pro Bowl bids, 2 first-team All Pro selections, led the NFL in rushing once, and cracked the top 50 all-time leading rushers in NFL history.
7. Barry Sanders
Position: Running Back
The average NFL running back today clocks in just under 6 feet tall, so it’s not that rare to find one that stands around 5’8”.
However, none of them are more memorable, more dazzling, or more magnificent than the great Barry Sanders.
Known for his short stature and eye-popping, shake-and-bake moves that left defenders grasping at air, Sanders earned more accolades in his career that we can possibly list here.
Just remember that this short NFL running back holds the 4th most rushing yards of all time, went to 10 Pro Bowls, and holds a permanent place in the NFL Hall of Fame.
8. Steve Smith
Position: Wide Receiver
OK, so there have been a lot of short running backs. How about some other positions?
As of this writing, there’s only one NFL wide receiver under 5’11” in the top 20 of receiving yards, which makes what Steve Smith, Sr. was able to accomplish during his career all the more impressive.
At just 5’9”, Smith had a ferocious knack for winning contested catches, breaking tackles, and leaving defenders in the dust. He played for 16 seasons and put up the numbers to earn five Pro Bowl nods and 2 first-team All Pro bids, plus he led the entire league in receiving in 2005.
9. Wes Welker
Position: Wide Receiver
A player in the short-ish mold of Steve Smith, Welker was toiling away as a talented but underused player on a bad Dolphins team for the first few seasons of his career.
Then he met Tom Brady and the rest was history.
Playing most of the rest of his career with Brady, and then Peyton Manning, Welker was a remarkably productive and reliable player, going to 5 Pro Bowls and leading the league in receiving three times. He may go down as one of the best players to never win a Super Bowl.
10. Mark McMillian
If the average NFL wide receiver is somewhere between 5’11” and 6’2”, what does that say about the guys who have to cover them?
It’s extremely difficult for teams to find players with the size, speed, and physicality to cover today’s wide-receiving marvels. Mark McMillian, a journeyman cornerback from the mid 90s, might be the shortest ever to do it at the pro level.
At just 5’7” and barely more than 150 pounds, McMillian enjoyed an eight season career shadowing wide receivers, and even nearly led the league one year with a jaw-dropping 8 interceptions.
11. Jim Leonhard
Known for excellent closing speed and his hard hitting, Leonhard carved out a productive career at a position that typically rewards much bigger athletes.
At just 5’8” and a slight 188 pounds, Leonard was a decorated safety at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before playing in the NFL for the Bills, Ravens, Jets, Broncos, Saints, and Browns.
His high football intelligence and tremendous leadership skills led him into the world of coaching, where he eventually became the defensive coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers.
12. Antoine Winfield
It’s one thing for shorter defenders to match up admirably with bigger receivers.
It’s another to dominate them.
But that’s just what Winfield did throughout his 15-year career, despite giving up at least three inches and 20 pounds to most of the players he covered.
Winfield was known for being a relentless tackler with a knack for forcing fumbles, and went on to earn three Pro Bowl bids during an illustrious career.
13. Bob Sanders
For shorter guys to succeed in the NFL, they often have to play as though they’re much bigger. There may be no better example of this than Bob Sanders.
Sanders was famous for throwing his body around with reckless abandon at the safety position, knocking biggers receivers out of their cleats, and being an aggressive ball-hawk.
Though injuries hindered his career, he went out having earned an elusive Defensive Player of the Year award and a Super Bowl ring.
14. Kyler Murray
You wouldn’t think him short if you just saw him walking down the street, but Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray still deserves a spot on our list — by QB standards he’s practically pint-sized at only 5’10” — and some people think even that’s generous.
Perhaps no other position is subjected to such intense height scrutiny as quarterback, with stars like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson falling in the NFL draft due in great part to their stature.
A little extra height can help quarterbacks see the field better, but that didn’t stop Murray from winning the Heisman Trophy while at Oklahoma, awarded to the best player in all of college football.
15. Elvis Dumervil
Position: Outside Linebacker
Here’s another guy who stands a few inches taller than your average dude, but lowered the bar (in a good way) for his fellow defensive standouts.
Dumervil, or Doom, is one of the few outside linebackers in the modern era to measure in under six feet tall.
But boy, did he use his stature to his advantage, bending the edge and getting even lower for insane leverage against lanky offensive tackles. When his career was all said and done, Dumervil had piled up over 100 sacks and 5 Pro Bowl berths.
It’s rare to find NFL players under 5’11” and 200 pounds or so.
However, some of the most beloved fan-favorite players of all time have been short of stature. Maybe it’s the underdog, everyman vibes we can’t help but root for. Maybe being short in a league of giants is its own competitive advantage.
Or maybe we just like to see short guys get a win sometimes!
That's our recap of the 15 shortest NFL players of all time. Did we leave any great NFL short men off our list? Tell us in the comments below!