With the success we've seen from Carolina's Steve Smith, New England's Wes Welker and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, you'd think the NFL's aversion to shorter wide receivers would be outdated. Not so. In fact, more and more teams are staying away from smaller wide outs -- even in this pass-happy, open-field era where smaller receivers are seemingly tough to cover -- unless their main trick is as a returner.
This would not seem like good news for Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate, all 5-feet-10, 199 pounds of him.
"You would think smaller guys would have an easier release, but they struggle," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said, echoing opinions shared by several NFL GMs. "It's much more difficult to make plays down the field. Big is better at every position. There are so many bigger and faster receivers now than ever before that it puts even more of a handicap on the smaller guys."
Tate could be more the exception than the norm.
"He and Steve Smith are very much the same with their combination of strength, talent, speed and being ultra competitive," Angelo said. "He can make it work on our level just like he did at the college level."
If Tate can produce anywhere near how he produced at Notre Dame, he won't be just an exception in terms of shorter wideouts; he'd be an exception for wide receivers as a whole.
He finished his three-year career with the Irish -- he bypassed his senior season -- with 157 catches for 2,707 yards and 26 receiving touchdowns. Ninety-three of his catches, 15 of those TDs and 1,496 of those yards came last season.
Tate was quarterback Jimmy Clausen's main target in school and he will be again Friday at Clausen's high-profile pro day. Toe surgery prohibited Clausen, a possible first-round draft pick, from going through the NFL Scouting Combine or any workouts for NFL teams until now. While he will be The Show, teams will also get another look at Tate -- if they feel the need.
Bolstering Tate's résumé are 227 career rushing yards -- 186 as a junior -- and three career rushing touchdowns on just 31 carries. In addition, he returned 56 punts -- he returned one for a touchdown last season -- and 44 kickoffs (909 career yards). He also is a standout baseball player who was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school.
"It would be a waste if I didn't play more than one position," Tate said.
Tate's versatility, more than his production as a wide receiver, could be why Tate will receive attention come the draft April 22-24. Some teams won't consider Tate because of his height. Others are smitten, which is why his draft projections range from the second round on. Of the top receiving prospects, less than a half dozen measure 5-10 or less. All things being equal, teams are going bigger.
One NFL general manager said he puts Tate in the under-six-feet, stocky category, with wide receivers such as Smith, Welker and Santana Moss.
"Odds are against these types of guys, but you see a few have good careers," this GM said. "It really helps if these little guys are return specialists as well because they rarely help on other (special) teams."
Tate has heard all these concerns before. The doubts, he said, are what have prompted him to be better than bigger, supposedly stronger and faster players.
"I do play tough, I play physical and I play a lot taller than I really am -- jumping for those jump balls, tough throws," Tate said. "I play the right way. I'm a very elusive guy who can move around the field and make plays in different ways."
That bulldog, that tough guy, that charisma prompted one GM to say that Tate has "the 'It' factor."
How will 'It' fit?
Likely not as a wide out, but more as a slot receiver.
Smaller receivers struggle getting off the line of scrimmage, regardless of their abilities to initially elude bigger defensive backs, some GMs said. Defensive backs usually have the ability to close and cover smaller receivers more easily than bigger wideouts. Shorter wide receivers also struggle on the edge because they don't have the longer limbs to outstretch defensive backs on the deeper sideline patterns, according to these general managers' assessments.
Smaller receivers also are less effective in the red zone, when the field is condensed and there is a lot more traffic to navigate through. Tate spent much of his career flanked wide, outside the numbers that are painted on the field. That won't happen much in the NFL, GMs said.
"Quarterbacks don't like little guys that they can't see with small strike zones," a GM said. Those receivers are "low-percentage targets; little room for error (even if they're wide open)."
Philadelphia's Jackson is rare in that even though he is a shade under 5-10 and light (175 pounds) he is long-limbed and blazing fast, giving him the ability to create enough distance with his speed and length to offset bigger defenders, several GMs said. Although compact, Carolina's Smith and Washington's Moss (5-9) are fast, tough and athletic enough to compete out wide.
Other than that, most smaller receivers, like Welker, have to play out of the slot.
"Perimeter wide receivers must be able to get off press coverage," one GM said. "Slot receivers are likely off the ball and in motion."
By putting the smaller receivers in motion in the slot, offenses can get them matched up against linebackers and safeties that struggle with shiftier players. Tate said he fits any role.
"Golden Tate, he's a rare athlete," one GM said. "When you see him on returns, the way he runs after the catch, all the combinations of things that he can do, you are impressed.
"I don't know that he'll be a prolific receiver at our level. You have to be smart with him and try to use him like they did at Notre Dame, but he's got a chance to be a really good pro."