The Rise of the Undersized Receiver

By Jon French

Dolphins Wide Receiver Tyreek Hill has vowed to break 2000 yards this season. And there is no doubt that a bonafide number one receiver, such as Hill, can elevate an offense. However, only a handful of players are capable of such high-end production. GM’s have begun to look for other alternatives.

The undersized receiver is becoming a popular solution.

DeVonta Smith came out of Alabama with a Heisman trophy, but, at 170lbs there were questions surrounding his size and ability to endure the hits the NFL would undoubtedly deliver. Since then, the idea of a lighter receiver who can change direction in a flash and create separation down the field has begun to gain traction.

In 2022, Jameson Williams, Jahan Dotson and Wan’Dale Robinson were all drafted after being listed between 180 and 182lbs. Calvin Austin III was drafted in the 4th round at 170lbs.

In 2023 the NFL is becoming more accepting of the lightning-in-a-bottle smaller receivers. Eight were drafted below the 180lb mark, while two of these were under 170lbs.

Here we take a look at which rookies could make a mark on their new team and validate the hope for undersized receivers in the NFL.

1: Nathaniel 'Tank' Dell, Houston Texans

Drafted in the 3rd round out of Houston as the joint lightest receiver (5’8”, 165lbs), Dell could make the biggest impact. He recorded 1,399 yards in his final college season, but it is his cuts and speed when changing direction which is already turning heads at Texans OTA’s. On a rebuilding team with an exciting young quarterback, Dell could well find himself with a decent-sized role within the offense, a historically rare opportunity afforded to receivers of his size.

2: Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings

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Addison is a benefactor of DeVonta Smith breaking the mould and making it acceptable to take small receivers in the first round. The 173lb, former USC Trojan went 23rd overall. However, with his sparkling resume including a Blietnikoff Award given to college football’s best receiver, it is fair to think that if he were 20lbs heavier he would have gone much earlier. Addison has landed in the perfect spot, with reps available after Adam Thielen’s departure and Justin Jefferson across from him to take away attention. An 800+ yard season would not be surprising for this elite route runner.

3: Josh Downs, Indianapolis Colts

Another team in a rebuild have turned to a rookie QB and a small wide receiver combo. While the fit for the 171lb Downs is more questionable, this is mainly due to the aforementioned rookie QB and his expected growing pains. Downs was ultra-productive at North Carolina with back-to-back 1000-yard seasons. While I wouldn’t expect him to recreate those numbers, a receiver who can get open could be a developing rookie quarterback’s best friend.

Jon French

NFL Analyst

Jon is a sports fanatic, historian and worldwide traveller who fell in love with the NFL in 2010. Whilst his day to day focus is history, he loves talking and writing about football any chance he gets.