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NFL Injuries, Part 2: What Constitutes Too Small for the NFL?

The size and weight of NFL players just keeps increasing. It’s easy to see how injuries are going to become more frequent as 320 to 360 pound players roam around the field.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, the NFL is seeing an influx of speed merchants, guys who can do a 40-yard dash in 4.40 or under. These guys have always been around, but they are becoming more common. They’ve been mostly receivers, with a few running backs mixed in. This has led to defenses responding with even faster players, mostly at cornerback, some at safety.

The question is: can such thin and lightweight players stay healthy among the giants that mostly inhabit the NFL?

Let’s look at the Green Bay Packers and also take a glance at the rest of the league. The Packers’ lightweights include Makinton Dorleant, 182 (177 in college); Sam Shields (until days ago), 184; Trevor Davis (188 on a 6’1” frame); Herb Waters, 188; Josh Hawkins, 189; Randall Cobb, 192 (but recently closer to 200); Quinten Rollins Jermaine Whitehead, and Jared Abbrederis, 195; Damarious Randall, 196; and Micah Hyde and Demetri Goodson, 197.

Never mind for now whether these players are able to tackle guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Eddie Lacy, or Aaron Ripkowski, or whether they can avoid being pushed around by Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, or Rob Gronkowski. Can they remain largely injury-free?

From smallest to biggest on the above list (Waters and Whitehead are not included due to minimal playing time), here are their 2016 health reports:

  • Dorleant – injured hamstring in preseason, went on injured reserve, got activated on December 3, injured his knee on January 1 and went back on IR
  • Shields – concussive injury when making a tackle in week 1, went on IR, never played again, released on February 7
  • Davis – 2 weeks on injury report, shoulder
  • Hawkins – 3 weeks on injury report, hamstring
  • Cobb – 10 weeks on injury report, missed 3 games, neck, back, ankle, hamstring
  • Rollins – 8 weeks on injury report, missed 3 games, groin, neck, concussion
  • Abbrederis – on week 7 injury report for quadriceps injury, placed on IR on October 24, reached an injury settlement and waived on October 27
  • Randall – 15 weeks on injury report, missed 6 games, groin, shoulder, knee, foot
  • Hyde – 3 weeks on injury report, shoulder
  • Goodson – 3 weeks on injury report, carted off field against Redskins with a gruesome knee injury on November 20, placed in IR on December 3

It’s a clean sweep. All 10 of the smallest Green Bay players who got more than token playing time were on the weekly injury report. Micah Hyde was the only one among them who missed no games due to injury.

We know the Packers’ defensive backs weren’t any good this past season. But let’s not forget that as a group they were injury-riddled. Maybe drafting sturdier players would lessen that problem.

Small Players Can Succeed

Some other notable small players around the league include:

  • Taylor Gabriel, Falcons WR, 167
  • Dri Archer, Steelers-Jets-Bills (never reported to Bills in 2016) WR, 173
  • Marcus Sherels, Vikings WR 175
  • De’Anthony Thomas, Chiefs RB, 176
  • Tavon Austin Rams WR, 176
  • DeSean Jackson, Redskins WR, 178
  • T.Y. Hilton, Colts WR, 178

This list proves that undersized players can prosper in the NFL. T.Y. Hilton has gone to the Pro Bowl three times. The same is true of DeSean Jackson, who has starred in the league for 10 years. Taylor Gabriel had nine catches for 171 yards in the recent playoffs.

A few other small but very fast NFL players who had great NFL success are: kick returner Desmond Howard, Super Bowl MVP for the 1996 Packers, 188 pounds; Devin Hester, the NFL’s greatest kick returner ever, 190 pounds; and, the great cornerback and kick and punt returner Deion Sanders, 195 pounds.

Will Ted Thompson Keep Drafting Lightweights?

I grant you that small players should not be automatically excluded from a team’s draft pick charts, but size and weight should be viewed as important factors. The injury reports of 2016 argue strongly that players less than 200 pounds are likely to be injured at high rates, and that those around or under 190 are likely to miss large portions of the season.

Defensive backs for the Packers who have stayed pretty healthy over their careers tend to have sturdy builds: Charles Woodson, 210; Morgan Burnett, 209; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 208; Nick Collins, 207; LeRoy Butler, 204. It’s early, but youngsters Marwin Evans, at 211, and LaDarius Gunter, at 201, have so far kept quite healthy, as has Kentrell Brice — who has a good mix of speed (4.44) and size (200 pounds).

The answer appears pretty simple for general manager Ted Thompson: go find and draft another Woodson, Collins, or Butler.

Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”



  1. MJ February 11, 2017

    Very interesting. “The 200 lb criterion”. Good stats gathering, Rob.

  2. Gort February 11, 2017

    The answer is not that simple. There are 31 other teams looking for another Woodson, Collins, or Butler and guys like them are few and far between.

  3. Vijay Swearingen February 12, 2017

    Good points but also the shoulder pad company the Packers use is not the best tech apparently.