Texan football novelty Jason Carter made headlines recently when he walked onto the Rice Owls football squad. The pint-sized running back won't start with the team, but his height--or, lack thereof--made headlines across the web: At 4'9", the diminutive phenom makes Reggie Smith, the 80's era punt returner and the NFL's shortest player ever, standing 5'4", look positively gargantuan.
Let's be honest--there's little chance that a guy his size would make the NFL. But there is precedent for size-challenged guys to post big numbers in professional football. Every season, scouts all over the league kick themselves for sleeping on short or slight prospects who go on to set records and win games. Check out these five pros under 6':
5. Ahmad Bradshaw: 5'10", 214 lbs.
Drafted late in the 7th round and 250th overall by the New York Giants in 2007, running back Bradshaw surprised everyone by rushing for a career-high 1,235 yards in 2010 and a career total of 2,558. Despite his apparently perpetual behavior issues and his inconsistent play, Bradshaw posts impressive numbers for a relatively small running back.
4. Wes Welker: 5'9", 185 lbs
Little Wes Welker bounced around the league for years, first as an undrafted free agent for the San Diego Chargers in 2004 and later as the Miami Dolphins' third wideout. Traded to the New England Patriots in 2007 for a couple of draft picks, Welker put his head down and made all his doubters look quite foolish by setting franchise records for most receptions and being elected to the Pro Bowl four years in a row.
3. Ray Rice: 5'8", 212 lbs
Weighing in in the heavy side of the small-guy scale, lighting-fast Ravens wideout Ray Rice was passed over until the 2nd round, picked 55th in the 2008 draft. In his short (pardon the pun) career, Rice has posted an impressive 4,099 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. He's rushed for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and is second in the league in rushing yards this season.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew, 5'7", 210
Another beefy 2nd round pick, Jones-Drew lingered until the 60th pick of the 2006 draft. After a slow start in his first few weeks with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he blossomed, breaking franchise records by scoring at least one rushing touchdown in eight consecutive games and by gaining 2,250 all-purpose yards. In his career, he's ran for 6,470 rushing yards and 61 rushing touchdowns.
1. Darren Sproles, 5'6", 190
Among current NFL players, only ineffectual (former) Texans wideout Trindon Holliday, at 5'5", stands shorter than Saints running back Darren Sproles. Drafted late in the 5th round, 130th overall in 2005, Sproles spent 2006 on the injured list but rebounded with 1,650 career rushing yards, and an astounding 8,541 returning yards over his 7-year career.
What's the takeaway?
Don't sleep on short! Whether you're a pro scout, a fantasy geek, or you're just bummed out because you're too short to make the basketball team, know that there's always a spot for fast, short guys in the NFL. They may get picked late and have a hard time getting starting spots, but a sub-6' RB or WR who can do a 4.4 40 has the chance to post big, big numbers.