The phrase “height doesn’t measure heart” embodies those in life who don’t let their stature define what type of person they are. That is the ethos for all of those participants in the world of sports not blessed with incredible height, overcoming their lack of size by showcasing what's inside that truly matters. 

That is the case with the shortest players in the gladiator arena that is the National Football League. It takes a truly special individual to play this physically demanding team sport, even if you are blessed to win the genetic lottery. To do it as someone who is always going to be the smallest man on the field? Well, that is a once in a million rare find. 

These are the individuals who overcame their lack of height to become giants in NFL history. 

10. Brandon Banks | 5ft 7in

Not only was the Raleigh, North Carolina native one of the shortest players ever to play on an NFL field, Banks was also one of the skinniest, weighing only 149lb coming into the league. 

After excelling at Kansas State University for his deep threat receiving abilities and jet-like special teams return exploits, Banks would still go undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft. But the Washington Redskins would sign him as a free agent soon afterwards, and Banks’ exciting play in training camp and preseason earned him the nickname “Crazy Legs Banks.” 

Banks would produce many special teams highlights his rookie season, including a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions. Two weeks prior in Week 6, Banks blocked a 48-year field goal from legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri. 

Banks would return to the Redskins in 2011, and ended up throwing a 49-yard receiver-to-receiver touchdown pass to Santana Moss. Banks would play just one more season with the Redskins before they declined to re-sign him. No other NFL team would add him to their roster, ending his days in the league. 

But Banks would go north of the border and spend the rest of his football career excelling in the Canadian Football League, becoming one of its star players of the 2010s with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. 

9. Andrew Hawkins | 5ft 7in 

From a reality show star trying to make it to the NFL to becoming a highlight reel player in the CFL, it was an incredible playing journey for the Johnstown, Pennsylvania native, now an NFL Network host. 

After going undrafted in 2008, Hawkins would compete on the Michael Irvin’s reality show "4th & Long" to try and earn an NFL contract, where he would make it to the final episode before being cut. Hawkins would then join the CFL and play two championship winning seasons with the Montreal Alouettes in 2009 and 2010. 

That would lead to Hawkins making his first NFL roster by signing with the St. Louis Rams in January 2011, but unfortunately he was waived right at the beginning of training camp. The Cincinnati Bengals would claim him off waivers and, after being cut on the final day roster deadline, Hawkins would be signed to the team’s practice squad to eventually play his first NFL snaps in the 2011 season. 

Hawkins’ speed and story of overcoming adversity would propel him to a fine 2012 season of 51 catches for 533 yards and four TDs for the Bengals. A bad ankle injury ruined his chances at a productive 2013 season, but Hawkins’ talent made the Cleveland Browns offer a contract that their Ohio rivals could not match, signing him to a four-year, $13.6m deal. 

Hawkins would have a great first year with the Browns in 2014, racking up career highs with 63 catches for 824 yards and two touchdowns. But another key injury in 2015, a concussion, lead to the Browns placing him on injured reserve. The fast slot receiver would bounce back with four total TDs (three receiving, one running) in 2016 from the Browns before he was released in early 2017. The Patriots signed him later that spring, but Hawkins would announce his retirement in the summer before training camp began. 

8. Maurice Jones-Drew | 5ft 7in

One of the amicable personalities on the NFL Network nowadays, Jones-Drew would become a legitimate star in his professional playing career. 

Excelling at storied De La Salle High School and then in college with UCLA, the Oakland native would become the shortest player in history to be drafted in the first two rounds of an NFL Draft. He would be chosen by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 60th pick in 2006 and flourish. 

Motivated by all 32 teams passing over him before the Jaguars selected him on their second opportunity to do so, Jones-Drew would wear that very number and make an instant impact his rookie season with 13 rushing touchdowns and two receiving TDs. Equally impressive was the fact that Jones-Drew only fumbled the ball once as a rookie. 

After compiling 29 total touchdowns the next two seasons, Jones-Drew would terrorize defenses to greater heights in 2009, posting his first 1,000 yards rushing, Pro Bowl and second all-NFL team selection season with 1,391 rushing yards and 15 rushing TDs, along with 374 receiving yards and one receiving TD. 

In 2010, Drew-Jones would play the entire season with a torn meniscus in his left knee that resulted in him missing two games. Yet, he still produced a tremendous season that would earn him his first of two first-team All-Pro selections and the Running Back of the Year Award by the NFL Alumni Association.

What were the numbers produced by Jones-Drew that season? 1,324 rushing yards in just 14 games with five rushing TDs and 317 receiving yards resulting in two receiving TDs. 

Fully healthy for 2011, Jones-Drew would not miss any games and produce his best rushing season to earn that second first-team All-Pro selection. 1,606 rushing yards to go along with his most carries with 343, Jones-Drew gave the Jaguars eight TDs on the ground and three TDs on the receiving end. 

But out of nowhere, Jones-Drew’s best days would be behind him. A contract dispute with the Jaguars dominated the 2012 season, resulting in him holding out and missing all of training camp. It would lead to a career low season across the board for the star back, in games (6), starts (5), yards (414 rushing, 86 receiving) and total TDs (2). 

Jones-Drew would have an almost full season in 2013, but would be far removed from his dominant peak. It would serve as his final year with the Jaguars before signing with his hometown team, the Oakland Raiders, in 2014. Seeing his steep decline, Jones-Drew would retire after the season at just age 29. 

7. Mark McMillian | 5ft 7in

Affectionately known as Mighty Mouse, the cornerback would showcase throughout his eight year career that his height didn’t stop him from striking fear in opposing quarterbacks and receivers. 

After being drafted from Alabama in the tenth round of the 1992 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 272nd pick, the shortest cornerback to play in league history would go three years in the city of Brotherly Love and one year with the New Orleans Saints without making a noticeable impact. 

But McMillian's career would turn completely around when the Kansas City Chiefs gave him a chance in 1997. He would star that season with a staggering eight interceptions, which was tied for second most in the NFL, as well as leading the league in interception return yards and scoring three TDs off those picks.

Despite that incredible season, McMillian’s lack of height would still remain a problem, resulting in him playing just two more NFL seasons. 

But no one would have thought that someone his size would be able to get 23 career NFL interceptions. After McMillian accomplished that feat, no one should ever doubt it could happen again. 

6. Jakeem Grant | 5ft 6in (active)

In his five-year NFL career so far, the pint-sized wide receiver has become one of the more electrifying players in the NFL. 

Grant’s great career at Texas Tech lead to him being selected by the Miami Dolphins with the 186th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft’s sixth round, with his 4.38 in the 40 time greatly helping his selection.

That blazing speed has caused many opposing special teams’ coaches nightmares, as Grant’s returns have become must-see YouTube highlights. His first career touchdown would come in Week Five of his rookie season in 2016, returning a 74-yard punt to the house against the Tennessee Titans. In 2017, Grant may not have had any highlight reel return scores, but he showed his value as a wide receiver with 13 catches for 203 receiving yards for two touchdowns.  

It seemed Grant would have an All-Pro season in 2018, registering an AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award with 102-yard kickoff return TD in Week 1, a 70-yard punt return TD and two other touchdowns as a receiver in the first nine weeks of the season. 

But those hopes would be cut short when he received a season-ending calf injury in Week 10. 

Despite the injury, the Dolphins were satisfied with what Grant had given them his first three seasons, signing him to a four-year, $19.7m contract extension before the 2019 season. But like 2018, Grant’s All-Pro hopes would abruptly end in the middle of the Dolphins' schedule. After his 101-yard kickoff return touchdown vs the Buffalo Bills, Cohen would suffer a second straight season ending injury with a high ankle sprain resulting in him being carted off the field. 

The 2020 season would thankfully see Grant go unscathed, as he added to his return resume with an 88-yard punt return TD against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8. That return allowed Grant to set new records for the Dolphins, with longest punt return, most punt returns for a TD (3) and five special teams returns for a touchdown all owned by him. 

Grant will be pivotal to whether the Dolphins will be able to take the playoff step that Brian Flores wants in his third year as head coach in the upcoming 2021 season. 

5. Tarik Cohen | 5ft 6in (active)

Currently critical to the success of the Chicago Bears offense, Cohen has followed in the path of Darren Sproles to become a speedy force in the NFL at just 5ft 6in.

A standout at HBCU school North Carolina A&T, Cohen was selected 119th overall by the Bears in the 4th Round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Despite being the smallest back in attendance at the NFL Combine, his 4.42 speed in the 40 confirmed how fast he was on the tape to impress Chicago General Manager Ryan Pace. 

Cohen would show his value from day one, scoring four touchdowns for the Bears in 2017, becoming a dynamic third down back and return man on both kick and punt special teams. It would only serve as a preview for what Cohen had in store in his second year. In the 2018 season, Cohen would explode with 71 catches for 725 yards and 5 TDs to go along with his 3 TDs off of 99 rushes for 444 yards. The mighty mite would add 411 punt return yards to cap off a terrific season and also become a fan favorite to use in the Madden video game series. 

The next two seasons, however, for Cohen haven’t been as pleasant, as poor quarterback play from Mitchell Trubisky and increased attention on opposing team’s scouting reports lead to a massive decline in 2019. And unfortunately last season, after signing a three-year, $17.25m extension with the Bears, Cohen would suffer a season-ending ACL injury in just Week 3 against the Atlanta Hawks. 

The Bears organization and their fans hope that Cohen will be able to have a 2018-like season to greatly help their new QBs in 2021, veteran Andy Dalton and prized rookie Justin Fields. 

4. Jacquizz Rodgers | 5ft 6in

The Oregon State University standout has not matched his glory days in high school and college in his time in the NFL. 

After winning the prestigious Mr. Texas Football Award in 2007, Rodgers would then be a standout with the Beavers, becoming the Pac-10 Offensive Player of The Year in just his sophomore season in 2008. 

Rodgers would get drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the 145th pick, but would only score ten total touchdowns in four seasons in the ATL. The diminutive running back would spend one season with the Chicago Bears in 2015 before returning to the NFC South with the Tampa Bay Bucs the following year. After a career-high in rushing yards with 560 yards on 129 carries (4.3 yards a carry) in just ten games in 2016, Rodgers’ playing opportunity and numbers would decline greatly the next two years. 

After not returning to the Bucs, Rodgers tried his luck with a third NFC South team in 2019 with the New Orleans Saints, but was released during the final roster cuts before the regular season. The 31-year-old has not played in the NFL since. 

3. Darren Sproles | 5ft 6in

What an exciting, great career it has been for the Kansas State University standout. 

After dominating the Big 12 in a storied college career which saw him earn First Team All-American honors, Sproles went on to have an NFL career that is serving as a prime example of showing you can be successful at his height in this league. 

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft at the 130th pick, the San Diego Chargers certainly were delighted seeing what Sproles would give them. It took three seasons for him to make an impact as the Chargers became one of the league’s best teams, led by LaDainian Tomlinson. 

But in 2007, Sproles would take off, becoming the first player in NFL history to return a kick and punt for his first two touchdowns in a 23-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Three more exciting seasons with the Chargers made Sproles one of the must-see players in the NFL and led to the New Orleans Saints signing him before the 2011 season. 

Being reunited with Saints QB Drew Brees and teaming up with offensive standout coach Sean Payton would take Sproles to new heights. He would break the NFL’s single-season record in all purpose yards with 2,696 yards. But his time in the Bayou would only last three seasons, as he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. 

That trade would be a wonderful move for the Eagles and the speedy, small back. In his five seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, Sproles would make his Second-Team All-Pro in 2014 and top that in 2015 by earning First-Team All-Pro in 2015. He would earn three straight Pro Bowl honors between 2014-2016. And the crowning moment of his career would be as a member of the Eagles Super Bowl LII Team in the 2017 season, despite being unable to play due to suffering a broken arm and a torn ACL on the same play against the New York Giants in Week 3. 

Sproles would end his exciting 14-year NFL career with the Eagles in 2019. 

2. Trindon Holliday | 5ft 5in

The second smallest man to ever play in the National Football League was also one of the fastest ever. 

A track star at LSU and dynamic return man for the Tigers football team, Holliday was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. After a tough start to his NFL career in H-Town due to a fractured thumb, Holliday would then make an impact with the Denver Broncos in 2012, setting records in kick return yards, kick return touchdowns, punt returns, punt return yards and total return yards. 

But Holliday would end bouncing around the league, playing for the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 35-year-old has not been on an NFL roster since 2015. 

1. Jack Emanuel “Soupy” Shapiro | 5ft 1in

Not many are familiar with the name Soupy Shapiro, but he is indeed the smallest player ever in NFL history. 

Just as little known as Shapiro was the franchise he would go and play just one NFL game with in 1929, the Staten Island Stapletons. 

Amazingly, he played as a blocking fullback, which is quite the visual to think about. 

Shortest NFL players in the 2021 season

Tarik Cohen | 5ft 6in (mentioned above)

Jakeem Grant | 5ft 6in (mentioned above)

Deonte Harris | 5ft 7in

The New Orleans Saints electric slot receiver and return man will continue to grow for Sean Payton’s side in his upcoming third season in the league. Already Pro Bowl-caliber in his special teams explosive play from his rookie year in 2019, Harris will be counted on to become a bigger threat in the passing game for Jameis Winston and/or Taysom Hill. 

Boston Scott | 5ft 7in

A revelation with the Eagles last season in the mode of Darren Sproles, Scott signed a one-year exclusive rights free agent tender contract with the Eagles last month. He will look to be a factor and ideal No. 2 back to emerging star Miles Sanders for new head coach Nick Sirianni.  

Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 5ft 7in

The stocky, versatile running back almost pulled off the rare feat of following a college national championship by winning a Super Bowl the following season. The Kansas City Chiefs are more than delighted with their 2020 first round pick, as the beloved LSU player made an immediate impact on their already elite offense. And after their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Edwards-Helaire is fully determined to build off a great rookie season by becoming one of the best running backs in the NFL.