In the NFL, the ability to play the game of football at its highest level requires acknowledgement from a team that a player’s skills are on par with what it takes to win in the league. Often through the draft process from the college level, young players are analyzed by their gametape, personal conduct and physical traits. While all of these factors are considered when scouts are looking for new players to draft, the easiest way that scouts remove a player from their draft board is a player’s size.
The New England Patriots’ slot receiver Julian Edelman is a prime example of this. The 5-foot-10-inch, 198 pound Edelman was written off of many draft boards back when he entered the league in 2009. Originally a quarterback in his years at Kent State, Edelman was selected in the sixth round of the draft by New England in an effort to convert him to slot receiver. Many teams never even had Edelman on their draft board, as he wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine.
However, Edelman’s pro day, which the Patriots had sent a scout to, left them with some interesting results. For starters, in the 20-yard short shuttle, which is used as a test to gauge a player’s agility and ability to change direction easily, Edelman had a time of 4.01 seconds. In the scouting combine, the best time recorded was 4.03 seconds. On top of his impressive agility, Edelman recorded a 4.52 second 40-yard dash time, and that was enough for head coach Bill Belichick to pull the trigger on Edelman in the draft. Interestingly enough, Belichick is the only head coach in the league with direct control over personnel from the head coach position, as New England has no acting general manager outside of the hooded menace.
Now, ten years removed from his draft date, Edelman sits as a two time Super Bowl champion, which included an incredible performance in Super Bowl 53 against the Los Angeles Rams, in which his 10-catch, 141-yard performance was just enough to elevate the Patriots past the Rams by a final score of 13-3.
The little guy is typically written off draft boards, but teams around the league that don’t write off a player based on their size are typically those who win more often than not. This rings true, even outside of New England. The New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees, who barely measures in at 6-foot even, was considered undersized when entering the league, yet owns the NFL record for the most passing yards in the history of the league. Quarterback Russell Wilson, of the Seattle Seahawks, propelled his team to two Super Bowls in his first three years as a starter, winning Super Bowl 48 over the Denver Broncos. Wilson measures in at the same height as Edelman, however, was not asked to convert to the wide receiver position upon being drafted by the Seahawks in 2012.
With draft day approaching, and 5-foot-10-inch quarterback Kyler Murray out of Oklahoma being on the top of many teams boards, it’ll be interesting to see how teams evaluate the level of play of other shorter players in this years draft. Especially so for the shortest player at the combine this year, 5-foot-9-inch wide receiver Marquise Brown out of Oklahoma, who has the speed and elusiveness to succeed at the pro level. With the league full of massive players at many positions, the quick little guys may just be enough to turn the tide for some teams this coming season.