With the amount of talk about players being "too small" or "too big" to play certain positions, it is easy to think that height and weight matter more than skill itself in the National Football League, but just how important is size in the NFL? Do we put too much stock into stereotypes about how tall or how big a guy should be at a certain position?
Wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson and Chad Hall each stand at least a couple of inches below six feet and weigh less than 200 pounds, so it goes without saying that they have all dealt with the label of being "too small" to play in the NFL.
While it's possible that opposing defenders let it affect their play, and while there will always be doubters, they simply do the best they can with the size they have.
"I think some people look at it as a disadvantage – they can't throw it up to you or whatnot – but most shorter people are quicker and get more separation," the 5-8, 187-pound Hall said. "You can't control what God gave you, you've just got to make the most of it. I guarantee you some people underestimate you just by what you look like or how big you are, how strong you are, or whatnot, so it definitely can play in your favor."
"I'm not really thinking about using the fact that I'm a smaller guy to my advantage, I just go out and play the game," the 5-8, 175-pound Johnson said. "Maybe other guys may think that I'm smaller and in their mind it affects their play, but I don't think it affects my play at all."
Jackson, listed at 5-10, 175 pounds, uses his size to his advantage both physically and mentally. He uses his speed and quickness to stay away from the defenders, but he also uses the talk about his being too small to play as extra motivation, wanting to "show everybody that (he) can do it."
"I kind of always used adversity to prove people wrong, because people always doubted me," Jackson said.
Although the 5-8, 195-pound running back Dion Lewis does acknowledge that being larger would help with blocking some of the bigger defensive ends and linebackers in the league, he uses his lack of height to his advantage by getting leverage in pass blocking.
"I've been short my whole life, so I know how to deal with it," Lewis said. "I'm short but I'm not small."
The issue of size isn't just limited to offensive skill position players. Linebacker Brian Rolle was a four-year letterman at Ohio State. He was a team captain as a senior as he earned first-team All-Big 10 honors. Typically, that would lead to a high-round selection in the NFL Draft, but Rolle's size led him to being a sixth-round pick. He started 13 games as a rookie.
"I think people just need something to talk about," the 5-10 Rolle said. "I could see if I came in and struggled and couldn't play well, then that's something different, but I feel like I've overcome what naysayers thought I wouldn't do, so I feel they need to go talk about something else.
"I just look at it as I was born with my height and size and I'm going to play with what God gave me. Guys who are taller have some advantages maybe being able to see over the line a little better, but I can do that as well. They have this prototypical size, weight, whatever, that they see in someone, but I think I've proven, it doesn't matter what your size or height is, it just matters that you have the desire to play."
Lots of people combat the difficulty of being a smaller guy in the league, but being bigger has its disadvantages as well.
Offensive tackle King Dunlap, the tallest and second-heaviest player on the team, listed at 6-9, 330 pounds, said that being one of the bigger guys "evens out being good and bad." While his long arms and large frame definitely help, he sometimes has to force himself to stay lower while blocking.
"I've seen quite a few smaller guys who've been just as dominant as bigger guys, so it has its advantages at certain places, but at the end of the day, size really is irrelevant. It's what you can do with it, no matter how big you are," Dunlap said. "I will say being bigger does have a lot of pluses, but I think people (overuse the phrases) 'this guy's too small,' or 'this guy's too big.' If you can play you play, if you have it you have it, if you don't then you don't."
Offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, standing at 6-8, 321 pounds, agrees with Dunlap. While being a bigger guy helps with his reach on the O-line, the smaller defensive linemen have an advantage with getting leverage.
"There are smaller guys in the NFL that are some of the best players in the league, and vice versa with being big," Kelly said. "It really just matters if you can get the job done and depends on what your skill sets fit. The whole 'he's too big to do this,' or 'he's too small to do that," I kind of look past that."
Players will continue to be evaluated and criticized simply based on their size for certain positions in the NFL. It's up to the players themselves continue to go out and prove that they can play with the best.
"The game we play is obviously a physical and hard-nosed game, but I don't think there's a size or a certain weight somebody has to be," Jackson said. "I feel as long as someone has heart, courage and integrity to go out there and get the job done, the sky is the limit for that person."
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