Shortest NFL Players Of All Time – Who Makes the Top 9 List?
In the USA, there is no more popular or more watched professional sports league than the good old National Football League or simply the NFL.
Back in 2021, the average value of NFL franchises stood at a staggering US$3.4 billion, and this definitely speaks volumes about its popularity.
While the NFL remains the most popular league in North America, it has found its way into the hearts of American football fans who reside in other countries, such as Japan, Australia, Sweden, and even China.
Today, the NFL league features thirty-two different franchises. Most of the teams are from the United States, but there are also seven Canadian teams.
As the 103rd season of the NFL kicks off, we take a look at the shortest NFL players in the history of the league, and some of the names on this list may definitely surprise you.
Jack Shapiro (5’1”/154.94 cm)
Standing at just 5’1” or 154.94 cm, Jack Shapiro is the shortest NFL player who proved wrong everyone who thought that height is what matters the most in the NFL.
The NFL is dominated by big and bulky guys who are extremely fast and strong. Jack Shapiro defied all the odds by being drafted into the NFL by Staten Island Stapletons.
Jack Shapiro is also the shortest running back in NFL, and we really doubt that this record will be taken by somebody else.
Jack Shapiro was born on the 22nd of March 1907, and he passed away on the 5th of February 2001 at the age of ninety-three.
Standing at 5’1″, he weighed around 119 lb or 54 kg during his prime.
He grew up in the Bronx alongside his siblings. He was playing American football while attending Evander Child High School in New York. However, he was forced to leave the team during his senior year after sustaining a serious injury.
He soon started playing college football at New York University. The shortest NFL player of all time joined the Staten Island Stapletons squad.
In a match against the Minneapolis Red Jackets, Jack Shapiro led his team to the victory. His career in the NFL did not last for too long as this was the only match he played for the squad.
Back in 1999, Jack Shapiro was included in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest NFL player of all time.
Trindon Holliday (5’5”/165.1 cm)
Image courtesy of The New York Times
Our list of short NFL players also includes Trindon Holliday. Standing at 5’5” or 165.1 cm, Trindon Holliday is the shortest player in the NFL, playing in the position of a wide receiver and kickoff returner.
Trindon Holliday was born on the 27th of April. Due to his very short stature, at least for the NFL, he waited a couple of years to be drafted into the league.
He also did not make it to the Northeast High school football team for a couple of years until his senior year.
During his high school years, he was also an avid truck runner. He and his team won the 2A title in the 200 and 100-meter races.
While in college, he played for the LSU Tigers team, for three years, between 2006 and 2009. He also competed for the university’s track and field team.
He was the shortest football player, but he was also one of the fastest, which gave him an advantage that not many short NFL players have.
When it comes to his professional career, Holiday was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2010. He played for the team for two seasons before joining the Denver Broncos in 2012.
He also played one season for New York Giants and one season for Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before retiring, he played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 and Oakland Raiders in 2015.
Trindon Holliday remains the shortest player in the NFL to compete in the last twenty-five years. Today, he works as a return specialist for the Oakland Raiders.
Darren Sproles (5’6”/167.64 cm)
Image courtesy of phillyvoice.com
Third, on our list of the shortest NFL players of all time, we have Darren Sproles. Darren Sproles may not be the shortest running back in NFL, but he was the shortest player in this position when he was actively competing.
Standing at 5’6” or 167.64 cm, Darren Sproles struggled for a while to find a team due to his short stature.
He played football while attending Kansas Olathe North High School.
Like several other short NFL players we discuss here, Darren Sproles was also a track and field star at this high school.
After joining Kansas State University, he also joined the football team. He was among the starting squad for all games.
In his first match against New Mexico State, he landed a touchdown and finished with four carries for forty-nine yards.
In six matches, he finished with twenty-eight carries for two hundred and ten rushing yards. With this impressive record, it was not long before he joined the NFL.
In 2005, he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, and he remained on the team for five seasons until 2010.
After leaving San Diego Chargers, he joined the New Orleans Saints, and he stayed here for two seasons. He also played for the Philadelphia Eagles for five years, between 2014 and 2019.
It is worth mentioning that in September of 2008, Darren became the second player in the history of the league with fifty rushing yards. Today, Darren Sproles works for the Philadelphia Eagles as a personal consultant.
Tarik Cohen (5’6”/167.64 cm)
Image courtesy of espn.com
Standing at 5’6” or 167.64 cm, Tarik Cohen is the shortest NFL football player who is still active in the league. Tarik Cohen was born on the 26th of July in 1995 in North Carolina.
He attended Burn High School, and he played for the track and field and football team at his high school. He led his team to a victory in the NCHSAA 2A playoff match.
After two years playing for the team, he finished his high school career with a nice record of eight hundred and rushed yards.
After finishing high school, he was offered a scholarship by the North Carolina A&T. During his first season playing for the team; he started in six games. He also competed for the team for three more seasons.
When it comes to his professional career, several NFL teams were interested in signing him during the NFL 2017 Draft, including Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and Philadelphia Eagles.
At the time, he was the shortest running back in NFL among all attendees.
He decided to join the Chicago Bears and remained on the team until 2021.
In his first match for the team, he finished with five carries for sixty-six yards and a touchdown. The team lost this game to the Atlanta Falcons.
In a match played on the 15th of October 2017, Tarik Cohen became the shortest NFL player to finish a match with a touchdown. Fast forward to 2022, the twenty-six-year-old is a free agent.
Jacquizz Rodgers (5’6”/167.64 cm)
Image courtesy of sportingnews.com
Fifth on our list of the shortest NFL players, we have Jacquizz Rodgers. The thirty-two-year-old Jacquizz Rodgers was born on the 6th of February 1990 in Richmond, Texas.
During his high school year, he competed for the Mustangs team. He finished his second season playing for the team with thirty-four touchdowns and 2,278 rushing yards. He finished with an even better record of 2,592 rushing yards and fifty touchdowns in his junior year.
Standing at 5’6” or 167.64 cm, he was the shortest player in NFL at the time.
During his senior year competing on the Mustangs team, he helped his squad compete at the State Football Championship 2007.
His team won the title, and Jacquizz Rodgers finished with three touchdowns on thirty-one carries.
After finishing high school, he was offered football scholarships by different universities, but he decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps and joined the football team at Oregon State University.
During the 2009 season playing for the college team, Jacquizz Rodgers finished with twenty-three touchdowns with one receiving and one passing.
That season alone, he had 1,400 rushing yards. He was also named the Player of the Week after his team won a match against Stanford. He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons during the NFL 2011 Draft.
The next season he joined the Chicago Bears before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He finished his professional career playing for the New Orleans Saints.
Maurice Jones-Drew (5’7”/170.18 cm)
Image courtesy of espn.com
Standing at 5’7” or 170.18 cm, Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the shortest NFL players who competed for the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars.
MJD, as Maurice Jones-Drew is often called, was born on the 23rd of March in 1985 in Oakland, California.
MJD attended De La Salle High School in California. Even during his high school years, he showed impressive talent, especially in the position of a return specialist and running back.
While these were his prime positions, MJD also played in the position of a cornerback during his college playing years. He finished his junior high school year with 2,000 rushing yards.
That same year, he also had twenty-six touchdowns MJD is yet another successful NFL player who was running for different track and field teams during his high school years.
After finishing high school, he was offered a football scholarship from the University of California. He competed for the Bruins team for two years, between 2003 and 2005.
Despite his small stature, he was a starter in almost every game for three whole seasons.
Back in 2005, MJD set a record with 28.5 yards per return. The previous record, 25.9 yards, was set by Bill Blackstock in 1951. At the age of twenty-one, Maurice Jones-Drew was drafted into the NFL by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He remained on the team until 2013. One year later, he joined the Oakland Raiders. He signed a three-year contract, but he stayed for just one season. In 2015, he retired at the age of twenty-nine.
Barry Sanders (5’8”/172.72 cm)
Next on our list of the shortest NFL players we have one of the biggest icons in the NFL, Barry Sanders. The shortest running back in NFL in the 1990s was born on the 16th of July in 1968 in Kansas.
Barry Sanders was just 5’8” or 172.72 cm tall, but this did not prevent him from putting in some outstanding performances.
Sanders attended Wichita North High School, where he played football. Aside from his love for football, he was also a very skilled basketball player. During his sophomore year playing for the high school team, he was a tailback.
The next year, he started playing in the position of wide receiver and wingback. Barry Sanders did not play in the position of a running back until his senior year.
In the first game of the season, he finished with four touchdowns and 274 rushing yards. In the next six games of the season, he scored seventeen touchdowns and had 1,417 rushing yards.
For his performance in the last game of the season, Sanders received all-state honors.
Needless to say, young Barry Sanders was an exceptional athlete despite his short stature. It was not long before he received football scholarships from the University of Tulsa, Iowa State University, Wichita State University, and Oklahoma State University.
He decided to accept the scholarship offered by Oklahoma State University. He competed for the Oklahoma State Cowboys for two years, between 1986 and 1988.
In his first eight matches, he finished with 325 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He finished his second season with 603 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
The following season was even better for young Barry Sanders. He became the very first player in the history of the NFL to start two consecutive seasons with a one-hundred-yard kickoff return.
In just four games, he had over 300 rushing yards. That season, he also set a record with 234 points, 2,628 rushing yards, thirty-nine touchdowns, thirty-seven rushing touchdowns, and no field goals.
In 1989, Barry Sanders was drafted by the Detroit Lions. He competed for the team until 1998, when he retired. Listing all of his career awards and highlights will take a couple of more pages.
Barry Sanders is one of the biggest legends in the NLF, with so many career highlights. Back in 1997, he was named the Most Valuable Player.
He was also named the Offensive Player of the Year two times, in 1994 and 1997. He also held the record for the most rushing yards four times, in 1990, 1994, 1996, and 1997.
During his time playing for the Detroit Lions, he also received the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Walter Camp Award. Back in November of 2004, Barry Sanders was also inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.
He finished his impeccable NFL career with 15,269 rushing yards, ninety-nine rushing touchdowns, 352 receptions, and 2,921 receiving yards.
Steve Smith (5’9”/175.26 cm)
Image courtesy of espn.com
Standing at 5’9” or 175.26 cm, the forty-three-year-old Steve Smith played sixteen seasons in the NFL, and during his time in the NFL, he was the shortest NFL player in the position of a wide receiver.
Steve Smith was born on the 12th of May in 1979 in Los Angeles, California. Steve was very much active during his high school years. Besides playing for the University High School football team, he was also a member of the track and field team.
Back in the day, he played in the positions of a defensive back and running back. He finished high school in 1997. He set quite a few records in track and field, and one of these is his 110m hurdles record of 14.95 seconds.
After finishing high school, he enrolled at Santa Monica College. Shortly after, he also joined the football team, and it was not long before everyone on the team saw how talented he was.
This and all the hard work he put into his career earned him a starting position on the team.
Two years after joining the football team at Santa Monica College, he was accepted to the University of Utah.
He competed for the Utah Utes team and was named the Most Valuable Player in the East-West Shrine match held on the 13th of January 2001.
Smith was drafted into the NFL by the Carolina Panthers during the NFL 2001 Draft. For the vast majority of his first season in the NFL, he played as a punt returner.
Steve Smith played for the Carolina Panthers from 2001 until 2013, so almost his entire career. Before retiring, he also spent two seasons playing for the Baltimore Ravens.
Wes Welker (5’9”/175.26 cm)
Image courtesy of bleecherreport.com
Wes Welker played for various NFL teams between 2004 when he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, and in 2015 he retired after spending one season playing for the St. Louis Rams.
Standing at 5’9” or 175.26 cm), Welker is the shortest player in the NFL who played for the San Diego Chargers.
He is also the shortest NFL football player who played for the New England Patriots.
Wes Walker was born on the 1st of May in 1981 in Oklahoma. He attended Heritage Hall High School, and this is where he joined his very first football team.
It was obvious to everyone that Wes was a huge talent. In his junior year playing for the team, he helped the squad play at the 2A State Football Championship.
In a match against Tishomingo High School, he finished with three touchdowns and over 200 total yards.
He finished high school with a great record of 3,235 yards, fifty-three rushing touchdowns, one hundred and seventy-four receptions, and twenty-seven receiving touchdowns.
During his college years, he played for the Red Raiders team at Texas Tech University. In his first match of the season, he finished with an eight-yard return against Utah State.
In his second match of the season against Louisiana Lafayette, he finished with his first touchdown. He was drafted into the NFL by the San Diego Chargers in 2004.
Welker also played for the Miami Dolphins between 2004 and 2006 and for the New England Patriots between 2007 and 2012. He also spent two seasons playing for the Denver Broncos before joining the St. Louis Rams in 2015. After retiring, he worked for the Houston, Texas, and San Francisco 49ers as a wide receivers coach and offensive assistant. As of 2022, he is the Miami Dolphins wide receivers coach.
Other Shortest NFL Players
At 6’1″ or 188 cm, Bill Willis is the shortest lineman in NFL. Bill Willis remained in the NFL for eight seasons playing for the Cleveland Browns from 1946 until 1953.
He also coached the Kentucky State football team for one season in 1945. Standing at 5’7” or 170.18 cm, Mark McMillian is also one of the short NFL players who has managed to build a name for himself playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mark McMillian also played for the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins.
The list of the shortest NFL players could also include Jim Leonhard, Bob Sanders, Antoine Winfield, Kyler Murray, and Elvis Dumervil, as none of these players is higher than 5’11.”
Jim Leonhard played for many teams, including the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, and New Orleans Saints. Since 2017, he has been working for the Wisconsin Badgers team as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator.
Bob Sanders competed for the Indianapolis Colts between 2004 and 2010. He also played for the San Diego Chargers for one season.
Antoine Winfield spent fourteen seasons in the NFL playing for the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, and Seattle Seahawks. Kyler Murray was drafted into the NFL by the Arizona Cardinals in 2019.
He is one of the shortest NFL players currently active. Elvis Dumervil was drafted into the NFL by the Denver Broncos. Between 2013 and 2017, when he retired, he also played for the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.