It can be easy for outside observers to get caught up in the search for the prototypical prospect. Some folks assume teams should only draft guys who conform exactly to the widely desired height and weight specifications for a given position. Others become obsessed with size, convinced that bigger is always better. The downside to such schools of thought is that some truly promising talents end up being undervalued, simply because they're not quite tall or big enough to match the "perfect" profile of what people think a pro should look like.
The following five prospects proved at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine that it's a mistake to stick to rigid criteria for size. Each falls short in some way, according to conventional wisdom -- and yet each has the potential to make an impact in the NFL that goes beyond how they measure up or tip the scales.
Here are five undersized prospects who tore up the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium and boosted their draft stock:
Defensive tackle, Pittsburgh
Height: 6-foot-3/8. Weight: 285 pounds.
Donald might lack the ideal height and bulk for the position, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and quickness. He notched 35 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press test, and he ran a ridiculous 4.68-second 40-yard dash. Donald dominated during the regular season, and he was also the most impressive player in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl. He is a perfect fit for a team in need of an interior pass rusher.
Wide receiver, Oregon State
Height: 5-9 3/4. Weight: 189.
Cooks put on a show in Indianapolis, posting a 4.33 40, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot broad jump. He came into the combine with some phenomenal performances on tape from the fall; this workout will thrust Cooks right into the first-round discussion. A team like the Kansas City Chiefs could really use an explosive weapon in the passing game. Cooks would fit perfectly into Andy Reid's offensive system.
Height: 5-9 1/2. Weight: 189.
Scouts always pay special attention to the vertical jump when evaluating smaller cornerbacks, as an explosive leaper can overcome size limitations. That is exactly the case with Verrett, an undersized cornerback who plays much bigger on tape. On Tuesday, Verrett posted a 39-inch vertical; he also clocked a 4.38 40 and put together an outstanding field workout. He was fluid and very explosive in every drill. Verrett will likely be drafted early in the second round, though he has a chance to sneak into the bottom of the first.
Running back, Kent State
Height: 5-7 3/4. Weight: 173.
In 2013, Archer failed to replicate the monster numbers he put up the year before; he battled nagging injuries throughout the season, and his production took a big hit. However, now that he's fully healthy, he's moving around like he did in his junior campaign, posting the fastest 40 at the combine (4.26 seconds) along with a rock-solid vertical jump (38 inches). Archer's combination of raw athleticism and rare top speed figure to make him an attractive middle-round option for a squad in need of a special teams boost.
Linebacker, Florida State
Height: 6-3. Weight: 218.
Yes, Smith exceeds the height preference for the position, but his wiry, skinny frame makes it difficult for him to carry the traditional weight of a linebacker. While he might lack the size and bulk to consistently fend off blockers in the box, he does possess the kind of outstanding speed and quickness that would enable him to beat blockers to spots. He ran a 4.52 40, and his quickness was easy to spot in the on-field drills. He will be an attractive prospect to a team that runs a 4-3 scheme. Just like Donald, Smith played great on tape and at the Senior Bowl, and he's starting to generate a lot of buzz in the scouting community.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.