NFL's Best Small Hitters
While it may be true that you can't teach size, bigger does not always translate to better in the NFL, where technique, smarts and a willingness to use one's body as a weapon can fell the most imposing of Goliaths. Herewith, the most ferocious undersized players in the NFL.<br><br>A press-coverage connoisseur, the ninth-year veteran is perhaps the most physical cover corner in the league. Winfield's run support is unequaled at his position, which is why he has amassed more than 95 tackles in three of the last four seasons and had eight tackles for loss in 2006.
Sanders is one of the game's supreme difference makers. Bottom line: Since he became a full-time starter in 2005, the Colts have given up 114 rushing yards per game when Sanders plays (including the postseason) and 172.1 when he doesn't.
The league's shortest starting linebacker is also one of its most prolific tacklers, with 473 since the start of the '04 season (second most in the league). Fletcher's stature doesn't hinder him in the passing lanes either: He had four interceptions with the Bills last season.
Pittsburgh's do-everything force is the rare package of elite cover safety (seven pass deflections and three picks in '06), adept blitzer (five sacks over the last three seasons) and feared tackler (more than 90 in both '04 and '05).
Despite forcing an NCAA-record 10 fumbles and leading the nation in sacks with 20 as a senior at Louisville, Dumervil dropped to the fourth round in 2006 due to his size. It was the rest of the league's loss, as he had 81⁄2 sacks as a rookie; in four games this year he already has four sacks and an interception.
The best inside spin move in the NFL has helped Freeney terrorize tackles that have a half-foot on him. He has the third-most sacks in the league over the last five years, and the most QB pressures in '06.
He's behind most inside backers by about 30 pounds, but leads them all in tackles (1,058) this millennium. The do-it-all leader also has 17 interceptions since his rookie season in 1996, and he's taken four of them to the house, tied for fourth most ever by a linebacker.
Along with Champ Bailey, Bly (32) is half of the best corner combo in the league. (At the end of Week 4, the Broncos were giving up a league-low 114.5 pass yards per game.) From his rookie year in 1999 through Week 4 of this season, Bly has the third most interceptions (34) in the league.
In his first three seasons (2004-06), Vasher tied for fifth in the NFL with 16 interceptions, and ranks fifth in the league with 333 INT return yards -- two of those returns for touchdowns. On Nov. 13, 2005, on the final play of the first half, Vasher caught a short 49ers field goal attempt and returned it 108 yards for a score, then the longest play in NFL history.
In 2006, Samuel's stature didn't stop him from getting his hands in the faces of towering wide receivers, as he deflected a league-high 24 passes. When he managed to catch them (he tied for the league lead with 10 picks), he was deadly, scoring twice in the playoffs.
Like Dumervil, Ryans slipped in the 2006 draft because of his lack of bulk. Houston took him in the second round, and the move paid off as Ryans went on to lead the NFL in solo tackles, with 126, and earn defensive rookie of the year honors. This season he's the captain of a much improved Texans defense.