Let's get this straight from the jump: This is a celebration, not a list making fun of short players. It's not a hey-isn't-it-cute pat on the head, it's a by-gawd confetti-tossin', piñata-bustin' celebration.
Why? Because as any of the hundreds of NFL players I have interviewed have seen, I am short.
Vertically challenged. Front row in the class picture -- every year -- short. Even as a coach, front row of the team photo alongside a roster of middle schoolers.
The "just a second," as the first date changes from heels to flats kind of short.
For well over three decades, the NFL draft has been a part of my day. It has included calls, sit-downs over lunch (remember those?) and breaking down film over breakfast while folks at the neighboring tables ask if the bacon is really that good.
Countless times during those discussions a player's ridiculously good résumé will be tarnished with the line, "Well, he's short."
It's why Kyler Murray's height became a social media event at the 2019 NFL scouting combine. It's why Trindon Holliday, all 5-foot-5 of him with turn-out-the-lights speed, will always be one of my favorite Denver Broncos, scoring touchdowns for a Super Bowl-bound team.
While NFL short and real-life short are two very different things, it's clear the league's decision-makers are far more inclined to take a shot on a shorter running back, cornerback or safety than they are an offensive lineman, tight end or even punter.
But skipping over a player because of his height is not always the smartest move. Just ask perennial Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Aaron Donald (6-0¾ at the 2014 combine, or short for a generational defensive lineman).
So as the Kansas City Chiefs' Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Antoine Winfield Jr. prepare for the Super Bowl, we decided to put together a team of these somewhat overlooked players, an I-told-you-so team. A big tip of the cap to those who were told, at some point, by somebody, they would not make it in the NFL because, well, they couldn't quite see eye-to-eye with those making the decisions.
LT Chuma Edoga (6-foot-3), Jets: At a position where the league's talent evaluators take the fewest chances on shorter players, Edoga started four games for the Jets this season.
LG Will Hernandez (6-2), Giants: Plenty of scouting reports before the 2018 draft included words "short arms'' or "squatty,'' but he's started 39 games in three seasons for the Giants.
C Rodney Hudson (6-2), Raiders: One of the bigger Pro Bowl snubs this year, Hudson has made three Pro Bowls and played in 143 games during his career.
RG Damien Lewis (6-2), Seahawks: The rookie has been a find for the Seahawks and even got a start at center this season, the first at that position in his football life.
RT Mike Onwenu (6-3), Patriots: The rookie has played at both guard spots for the Patriots as well as right tackle and has even played as an extra blocker at tight end.
TE Irv Smith Jr. (6-2), Vikings: Missed two games with a back injury, but second-year player was third among the team's pass-catchers with five touchdowns.
WR Jamison Crowder (5-9), Jets: Was the top of the to-do list for opposing defensive coordinators as he led team in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns.
WR Cole Beasley (5-8), Bills: Money in the bank on third down and was second in receptions and yards receiving for one of the league's high-impact offenses.
WR KJ Hamler (5-9), Broncos: Slowed by a hamstring injury early in the season, but flashed plenty of big-play potential, including two-touchdown game in the team's win over Carolina.
QB Drew Brees (6-0), Saints: The 13-time Pro Bowl selection, with five 5,000-yard seasons, is the patron saint of all of the 6-foot and under throwers. During the final draft where he evaluated players, Jack Elway -- John's dad -- just kept touting the Purdue quarterback some folks said was too short.
QB backups: Kyler Murray (5-10), Cardinals; Russell Wilson (5-11), Seahawks
RB Aaron Jones (5-9), Packers: At a position where the league's evaluators have been the most forgiving to the vertically challenged, Jones was just named to his first Pro Bowl and has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
DE Shelby Harris (6-2), Broncos: A guy who measured 6-foot-1 1/8-inches tall at his pro day in 2014 has been one of the NFL leaders in batted passes this season.
DT Grady Jarrett (6-0), Falcons: Also a Pro Bowl selection this season -- his second -- with his fourth 50-tackle season and fourth season with at least four sacks.
DT Poona Ford (5-11), Seahawks: He's started 31 games over the past two seasons and has emerged as a quality interior pass-rusher.
DE Aaron Donald (6-1), Rams: The gold standard on defense with seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections as he consistently devours double-teams with at least 11 sacks in five of the last six seasons.
LB Bobby Wagner (6-0), Seahawks: Nine consecutive 100-tackle seasons with six career 130-tackle seasons, he continues to be one of the league's best.
LB Eric Kendricks (6-0), Vikings: Do-it-all guy who has had five consecutive 100-tackle seasons as one of the best coverage players at the position.
CB Bryce Callahan (5-9), Broncos: Callahan, who was moved to injured reserve last month (foot), was having one of the league's best seasons when he suffered his injury.
CB Mike Hilton (5-9), Steelers: He would be the slot corner in this group -- though Callahan is a high-end player there as well -- and has three interceptions and three sacks this season.
S Antoine Winfield Jr. (5-9), Buccaneers: Rookie has 94 tackles, three sacks and has forced two fumbles as part of Todd Bowles' attacking defense.
S Tyrann Mathieu (5-9), Chiefs: Was selected to his second Pro Bowl this season with six interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown against the Patriots in Week 4.
KR Deonte Harris (5-6), Saints: Has missed time in recent weeks with a neck injury, but a Pro Bowl selection in 2019, has a 75-yard kickoff return this season.
PR Jakeem Grant Sr. (5-7), Dolphins: Has five career touchdown returns (three punt, two kickoff), and led the league in punt returns this season, including and 88-yarder for a score.
K Younghoe Koo (5-9), Falcons: A Pro Bowl selection this season and finished tied for first in scoring among the league's kickers with a five-field goal game against the Raiders.
P Cameron Johnston (5-11), Eagles: He's been one of the busiest in the league with 71 punts and still finished with a 40.6 net yards per punt average and was tied for sixth in punts inside the 20.