Close your eyes and imagine a running back or receiver who weighs under 185 pounds. OK now open your eyes1 You probably imagined a slot receiver or a scat-back, and you are wrong. Let me explain.
Of the players who were targeted deep on less than 23% of their targets (i.e. not a “deep threat”) and averaged over 6 targets a game according to PFF only Harry Douglas and Steve Smith came into the league under 185 pounds.2 Further, of the 23 players who played 50% of their team’s slot snaps3 and played 50+% of their personal snaps in the slot, only Harry Douglas, Ace Sanders, Tavon Austin and Dexter McCluster weighed in under 185. From a running perspective, there hasn’t been a fantasy relevant RB selected in the past 15 years who weighed under 185 at the combine.
The flip side is that there are small players in the NFL who contribute, it’s just they’re mainly deep ball guys. Last year four players (DeSean Jackson, Jarius Wright, Aldrick Robinson, and Marquise Goodwin) who entered the league under 185 pounds were targeted deep on 35+% of their plays. In fact, other sub 185 players such as Brandon Lloyd, Steve Smith, Lance Moore, TY Hilton, and Nate Washington have all had 700+ yard seasons in recent years while receiving over 35% of their targets on deep balls.4
This might be good news (or at least not bad news) for Paul Richardson who has some DeSean Jackson traits.
ESPN analyst Louis Riddick notes that Colorado WR Paul Richardson runs the “deep route tree” similar to DeSean Jackson.
“The way Richardson runs deep route tree reminds (me) of DeSean. Can carry speed through the “move point” as good as anyone,” Riddick tweeted. Maturity and character concerns aside, both Jackson and Richardson share the same type of frame (6’0/175 pounds) as well as explosiveness. If a team is looking for a vertical threat in the draft, Richardson could be had for a late second or third-round selection.”
But what about other similarly sized receivers? The writing has probably been on the wall for Dexter McCluster for a while and we don’t really need to do too much work to realize Ace Sanders sucks. Tavon Austin was drafted to be a space player, however, and there just aren’t any examples of players his size who are used as “space players” and have any success.
It becomes a lot harder to squint and try to see a player who’s similar to a DeSean Jackson or Steve Smith or something when you realize those two were pretty much deep ball dependent and stretching the field was never part of Tavons’ game. In this years’ draft, we saw the introduction of Dri Archer, a 173 pound 3rd round RB/WR hybrid pick for the Steelers and 174 pound De’Anthony Thomas selected in the fourth round to be a slot receiver/space player for the Chiefs. For the other side of this argument, you can see Shawn Siegele’s argument for De’Anthony Thomas.
At this point I don’t really think any of these players have much chance to be relevant in fantasy (or real life.) This article was basically a long winded way of saying that while there are shorter slot receivers in the NFL, there does seem to be a minimum weight for being a used in a “space player” type role that’s a little bit bigger than the minimum size for finding success as a vertical threat.