In the NFL, some physical qualities matter more than others. A strong arm for a quarterback. Great hands for receivers. Quick acceleration for linebackers.
And then there’s height. As with other physical characteristics, some positional players thrive when they have a two- or three-inch advantage on an opponent they’re matched up with. But at other positions, height takes a backseat to other attributes. Here are the 10 shortest players in NFL history and how they contributed to the game.
Shortest NFL Players in History
There have been a lot of tall players in the NFL and even more “average-sized” athletes. These 10 are regarded as the shortest. Collectively, they played seven distinct positions — five on offense and two on defense.
Jack Shapiro, Staten Island Stapletons, 5’1″
Seven decades after playing in his first NFL game, Jack Shapiro earned recognition from the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest man to ever play in the league. And at 92 years old, he was alive and able to appreciate it.
His U.S. Army discharge papers stated that he was a half-inch below 5’1″. But to him, 5’1″ “sounded better.”
Trindon Holliday, Denver Broncos, 5’5″
A 2010 sixth-round draft pick, Trindon Holliday excelled on special teams, where he made his mark, particularly with the Broncos. He also played for the Texans, 49ers, and Buccaneers. In 2012, he led all NFL players with 481 punt return yards.
Deuce Vaughn, Dallas Cowboys, 5’5″
Deuce Vaughn was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft with the 212 pick. His story is unique for many reasons. First, he comes in at only 5’5″ in height, making him one of the shortest players in NFL history. In fact, he is officially the shortest player in NFL combine history.
The second reason his story is so unique is that he is the son of one of the coaching staff members of the Cowboys. His draft day phone call will go down in history as one of the most touching in all the years of the NFL Draft.
Vaughn, although quite short, broke a number of school records at Kansas State. He was a productive back that was praised by PFN Draft Analyst Ian Cummings.
“In space, Vaughn has incredible short-area agility and twitch, and can rapidly offset and explode by defenders. His feel is better in space. On top of his space-controlling athleticism, he brings willing physicality for his size. Perhaps most importantly, he’s an elite receiving threat who can split out wide, run sharp routes, track the ball, and convert.”
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles, 5’6″
The one, the only, Darren Sproles. In a 14-season career that ended only four years ago, Sproles electrified the NFL as a rusher (a blistering 4.9 yards per carry), receiver (553-4,840-32 career receiving line), and special teamer (more than 11,000 combined kickoff and punt return yards). While ending his career with the Eagles, it should be noted that he made significant contributions with the Chargers and Saints.
Since 1945, only five players have racked up more all-purpose yards than Sproles did: Jerry Rice, Brian Mitchell, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, and Frank Gore. When you’re grouped with these five guys, you’ve done something exceptional.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears, 5’6″
For every Sproles, there’s a Tarik Cohen. In a career that looked so promising at the outset, the former fourth-round draft pick has been undone by injuries. He caught an incredible 203 passes in his first three NFL seasons and even led the league in punt return yards in his second campaign.
The Sproles comparison is entirely justified. Cohen was a special talent who excelled on the ground, through the air, and on special teams. But he hasn’t played since going on injured reserve in September 2020, shortly after turning only 25 years old.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons, 5’6″
Jacquizz Rodgers broke onto the NFL scene with the Falcons in 2011, spending four years there as a versatile contributor before earning a one-season stint in Chicago. He wrapped up his eight-year career in Tampa Bay.
J.J. Taylor, New England Patriots, 5’6″
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t keep an RB around unless he can contribute because you never know when you’re going to be thrust into a starting role.
While J.J. Taylor hasn’t yet enjoyed the thrill of starting, he made an impact in his 2020 rookie campaign by averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 23 attempts. The brunt of this work came in Week 3 that season, when he led his team with 11 carries. The Patriots won. Yes, Taylor was ready when it mattered most.
Jakeem Grant, Miami Dolphins, 5’6″
Jakeem Grant is that rare player who earned his first Pro Bowl appearance in his final NFL season — and in a year when he played for two different teams. Drafted by the Dolphins, he called Miami home for a little more than five seasons before wrapping up his career in Chicago. A capable receiver, Grant also thrived as a kick returner, totaling an incredible six kick returns for touchdowns.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars, 5’7″
During a three-year stretch from 2009 to 2011, Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the best NFL players, period. He earned 299+ carries and 1,324+ rushing yards in each of those three seasons, along with 317+ receiving yards.
Most running backs never achieve even once what Jones-Drew achieved in those three campaigns. He finished his career with more than 11,000 offensive yards, proving that a diminutive RB could still be a power back.
Andrew Hawkins, Cleveland Browns, 5’7″
Andrew Hawkins was 25 years old before he finally got his shot in the NFL. He was a steady tertiary receiving option for the Bengals for three years. Then he went to Cleveland, where he led the team in receptions and receiving yards in his first year.
Mark McMillian, Philadelphia Eagles, 5’7″
When you hear that someone’s nickname was “Mighty Mouse,” you can get a sense of that person, especially on a football field.
The 272nd pick of the 1992 NFL Draft, cornerback Mark McMillian is regarded as the shortest defensive player to ever compete in the NFL. Notably, in 1997, he netted the second-most interceptions (eight) while leading the league in interception return yards.
Who Was the Shortest NFL Player of All Time?
As highlighted above, Jack Shapiro was the shortest NFL player of all time, reportedly standing at a little under 5’1″.
Who Is the Shortest Player Currently in the NFL?
Deuce Vaughn is officially thee shortest player currently in the NFL. Behind him comes fellow running back J.J. Taylor who plays for the New England Patriots.