There's tough news for shorter wide receivers chasing their football dreams: NFL teams are not willing to invest high draft picks in them.
In this year's NFL Draft, teams picked a total of 30 wide receivers. Just six were listed by the NFL as shorter than 6'0, and just three of those went in the first five rounds: Baylor's Corey Coleman (15th overall to Cleveland), Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard (40th overall to the Giants) and South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper (117th overall to Los Angeles).
Three other sub-6-footers went later. The rest didn't go at all.
NFL teams have made it clear that if you're a receiver shorter than 6'0, they're not that interested unless you have superhuman abilities.
For instance, Coleman can do things like this:
And Shepard can do things like this:
These aren't normal things, and these aren't normal players. Good for them for finding a spot and being human highlight reels in general, but they're clearly huge statistical outliers.
According to projections by Spotrac, Coleman is likely to sign a contract worth up to $11.7 million over his first five years in the league. The figures for Shepard and Cooper are $5.9 million and $2.9 million, with both getting more than $500,000 to sign. No other sub-6-footer in the 2016 draft will make more than about $150,000 to sign, and the guarantees beyond that are virtually nil for late picks. Short receivers beyond this year's big three won't make much.
But shorter defensive backs are getting paid
The picture is a lot rosier for short defensive backs. While receivers need to be tall to expect a look in the NFL before the end of the draft, that's not at all true for cornerbacks and safeties, on whom teams have demonstrated a consistent willingness to spend high picks despite short stature.
The gap between short top-five-round receivers and defensive backs has been getting wider, and it reached what appears to be a modern high this year.
While just the three receivers went before the sixth round at something less than 6'0, 17 defensive backs did. For every sub-6'0 WR picked in the first five rounds, six sub-6'0 defensive backs were picked
A year prior, it was six receivers against 12 DBs. In 2014, it was seven receivers against 18 DBs. In 2013, seven receivers against 16 defensive backs. There are more drafted defensive backs than receivers overall (51 to 30 this year).
|NFL draft picks, first 5 rounds|
|Sub-6'0 WRs||Sub-6'0 DBs|
It's a stark divide, and the problems that plague short receivers in the draft pretty clearly do not extend to cornerbacks and safeties. This year's third and fourth defensive backs taken (cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and safety Karl Joseph) are both 5'10, and there was a run on short defensive backs in the middle rounds of the draft.
Why do NFL teams have more faith in short DBs than short receivers?
It may not be faith as much as it is supply and demand. NFL teams certainly prefer height and length, but there are fewer good tall defensive backs than tall receivers playing major college football. It's easier to find big receivers than big corners. Teams are forced to dip into the shorter ranks much earlier in the draft when looking for defensive backs then receivers.
There might be a simpler reason, too. It's easier to break up a pass while being short than to go up and actually secure possession while being short because breaking up a pass usually takes one hand while catching it takes two.
If you're a short wide receiver recruit, consider moving to defense if you want to make money.
There are plenty of talented high school receivers scattered around the country who have huge talent and even bigger dreams, but not big height.
The class of 2016 had 56 blue-chip wide receivers, per the 247Sports Composite, and seven were under 6'0 tall -- exactly one in eight. The class of 2015 had 39, and an equal seven were sub-6'0. Add in star players who are listed as "athletes" by recruiting sites and there are about 10 blue-chip receiver types under 6'0 nationally each recruiting class. And the number is probably higher than that as it is fairly common for high school players and coaches to self-report taller heights than their real measurements. That doesn't work in the mechanized world of NFL Draft preparation, as we see players "shrink" each year when it comes time to measure in at the NFL Combine.
Most of the shorter elite receiver recruits are rated highly because of their agility and speed, two elements also necessary to play cornerback. If their goal is to maximize their NFL shot, it would make a lot of sense to try to play defensive back in high school or early during their college careers. This isn't to say nobody should play slot receiver, but the NFL is pretty clearly unwilling to invest big bucks with the first contract via a high draft choice, and for most NFL players the first contract is the only one they will ever receive.
*Tyreek Hill was listed as a receiver on some draft sites but played running back for most of his career and the KC Chiefs drafted him as a running back according to available media so he was not included in this analysis.