clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tyquan Thornton, and a brief history of skinny NFL wide receivers

After everyone has spent months freaking out about whether 2nd-rounder Tyquan Thornton can succeed in the NFL, let’s look at a few guys that did.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: JUN 08 New England Patriots Minicamp Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You have to admit, on some level it is classic New England Patriots fan behavior to spend a decade PINING for a wide receiver that can (deep breath):

Take the TOP OFF a defense

Make a defense RESPECT the deep ball

Give the passing game some EXTRA JUICE


Give, Mac the deep threat we haven’t had since Randy Moss

Finally inject some ATHLETICISM into this offense

... and then when Bill Belichick and the draft war room hit the E-brake, Fast & Furious style, after the N’Keal Harry Experience and draft the literal fastest wide receiver available in 2022, half of us are like “... no not like THAT.”

And in a supremely ironic twist, in the same way that N’Keal immediately became the poster boy for the massive expectations heaped on the first first-round wide receiver of the Belichick/Brady Era™, Tyquan Thornton is already falling victim to the classic Belichick 2nd Round Receiver Bust stereotypes, not because of his combine performance, or his college production, or his tape, but because ... he is a skinny boi.

Ripped as hell, no doubt, but skinny nonetheless.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Allstate Sugar Bowl - Baylor v Ole Miss Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Allstate Sugar Bowl - Baylor v Ole Miss Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Good thing Bill Belichick has proven over the years that while he certainly has his archetypes he prefers, if you can play football, you can play football, and that’s that. Otherwise, he never would’ve made a serious investment in a 5’8’’ 195-pound mostly-special-teams player with a 4.65 40 and a 7.09 3-cone time that’d go on to be nothing short of a revelation and redefine the slot receiver position for the 21st century NFL.

And that brings us to the elephant in the room; they can’t all be built like Larry Fitzgerald and DK Metcalf, and depending on how you view these things, your reaction to Tyquan Thornton’s 6’2’’, 181-pound build on draft day was probably somewhere in between “huh,” “... seems a little light on sand in the pants, but OK,” and “he’s gonna get broken in half.”

If you’re a doomer that thinks you need to be built like a UFC Heavyweight to make any noise in the NFL, this is the rundown for you.

Setting aside the possibility that Tyquan hits the weights for the next couple summers and shows up a svelte 200 pounds, let’s take a look at a dozen or so receivers that made it work — to varying extents — in the NFL while playing at or over 6’0’’ and under 200 pounds. There’s a bunch of dudes that technically clock in at, say, 198 pounds, and we’ll throw in a few of those too, even if that’s kind of cheating in the “spirit of the game” sense. Ironically enough, the guys at the top of the list, in terms of relative career production, are actually some of the tallest and skinniest, while a lot of the guys pushing 200 are certainly serviceable and occasionally very good receivers, but they’re probably the kind of guys you picked up off the fantasy football waiver wire in Week 9 when half your team is in Cabo that weekend.

We’re also, for the purposes of this exercise, only really concerned with receivers that have made their bacon in the last 20 years or so, once quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and that Tom Brady guy rocketed the NFL into playing modern football. No offense to the GOATs of yore like Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson, but there probably ain’t a whole lot to glean from the eras when X-receivers were playing at 180 pounds and offensive linemen like John Hannah were clocking in at a hefty ... 265. The game’s, uh, changed a bit.

So to make this easy, we’ll sort the following players into some completely arbitrary tiers that I just made up:

The Gold Jacket (self-explanatory)

The Hall of Very Good: If you’ve listened to pretty much any football podcast in the NFL offseason, you’ve heard some version of THoVG. Guys that’ll probably never go down as all-time greats, but were incredible players that you either loved or hated watching on Sundays because they made it look so easy in a league full of grown men. The guys that pop up in HOF voting every year, and you look at it like “wow he was good, but _____ deserves it more.” The team ring of honor guys. The Edelmans. You get the idea.

The “Hey, I know that guy” group: Put simply, these are guys you’ve heard of before, in a positive way. The ones that may not be Pro Bowlers, and maybe not even No. 1 options on their own team, but they’ve either proven they can ball at a starter level or have shown enough promise to indicate that they deserve to be taken seriously.

“....Yeah That’s a Stretch”: The guys that technically meet my threshold of greater than or equal to 6’0” and less than 200 pounds, but like, BARELY. The 6’2”, 196-pound gang, if you will.

Let’s begin.

(*all stats and height/weight measurements are from Pro Football Reference)

The Gold Jacket

Marvin Harrison

Colts vs. Ravens Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Height: 6’0’’

Weight: 185 lbs

Career Stats: 1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards, 128 touchdowns

First, the requisite slander: if you want a fun way to kill 5 minutes, go back and watch the highlights of Ty Law and Rodney Harrison mercilessly switching positions just because they could and playing tetherball with Peyton Manning and the Colts offense.

Second, the requisite respect: if Bill Belichick thinks Marvin Harrison was a lethal enough downfield threat that he dedicated both his go-to double-teams and the considerable wrath of Ty and Rodney to keep you out of the end zone, that means you’re that guy.

For the youths, Marvin Harrison came out of Syracuse in ‘96 (also the infamous draft where the Patriots selected Terry Glenn, RIP, with the 7th pick) and fell into the Colts’ lap at pick 19 in the first round. Despite Peyton Manning not arriving until 1998 (and throwing more picks than touchdowns in his rookie campaign, at that), Harrison put up rockstar numbers right out of the gate, logging two 800-yard seasons before going supernova in 1999 and going the f— off for 1,663 yards and 12 scores. Harrison would go on to rack up at least 1,100 yards every season and even broke 1,700 once until 2007 (!) when a knee injury shortened his season to 5 games. In ‘08, at the ripe old age of 36, Marvin still started 15 games and hauled in 60 receptions for 636 yards and 5 scores before finally hanging up his spikes in ‘10 after sitting out the entire 2009 season.

Harrison waltzed into the Hall of Fame after a couple years of waiting in 2016 as, statistically speaking, a top-5 most productive wide receiver in NFL history at the time. Open/shut case, one of the best to ever do it, at a hardly-imposing 6’0’’, 185 lbs.

The Hall of Very Good

Chad Ochocinco

*Chad Johnson

Cincinnati Bengals vs Tennessee Titans - October 16, 2005 Photo by Rex Brown/NFLPhotoLibrary

Height: 6’1’’

Weight: 188 lbs

Career Stats: 766 receptions, 11,059 receiving yards, 67 touchdowns

“He don’t weigh nothing but a buck-o-five”

-Ray Lewis, “A Football Life”

The artist formerly known as Ochocinco was actually the catalyst for this whole roundup of skinny guys catching bombs in the NFL, for two reasons: one, his listed weight was a slight-ish 6’1’’, 188 lbs, and two (and far more interesting for our purposes) is that he’s been quite vocal about playing at...not 188 lbs.

Just like Johnson’s been quite vocal about.....other parts of his NFL career.

Tell the kids it’s time for earmuffs:

Jokes aside, whether you loved Ochocinco back in the day or was rooting for Rodney Harrison or Brandon Meriweather to knock him into next week, if Bill Belichick loved Chad’s game and respected him enough to tell him to his face “we’re double-teaming you tonight”, that should tell you all you need to know about how absolutely lethal he was when the ball was in the air.

Despite Chad’s disastrous tenure with the Patriots on one of the most ruthlessly efficient offenses of all time in the 2011 Patriots, not to mention his *cough* cringeworthy exit from NFL football in Miami for all the world to see on Hard Knocks, his career numbers are the definition of Hall of Very Good. Ochocinco’s final career statline ended up as 11,059 receiving yards on 766 receptions and 67 touchdowns, which puts him at 37th-highest on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list and just out of the top 50 all-time in end-zone grabs.

And while the infamous hit where Chad got his clock cleaned by his arch-rival in both football and trash talk in Ray Lewis will live forever, all the increasingly preposterous dances we bore witness to over the years were proof enough that more often than not, Ochocinco got his.

Stefon Diggs

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 191 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 595 receptions, 7 383 yards, 48 touchdowns

Too soon to put Stefon Diggs in the Hall of Very Good? Absolutely not. The man went from a very good Minnesota Viking to a two-time Pro Bowler and seemingly perpetual Mosser of DB’s with the Buffalo Bills, which, uh, you all know because, we live here.

Seriously though, on the same note as both Marvin Harrison and Chad Johnson, do you hear anyone complaining about Stefon Diggs only tipping the scales at 190? Of course not. Largely because he’s a walking, talking slam-dunk case for the fact that you don’t need to be built like prime Larry Fitzgerald to go up and get the football. You’ve seen what he’s done to the Patriots the last two years, despite the Pats throwing the kitchen sink and at least 2 Pro Bowlers at him in coverage. Diggs is borderline unstoppable. One of the league’s dreaded “he’s gonna get his” guys. Not sure what else there is to say about him, other than not playing against Stefon Diggs 3 times a year would sure be a nice break.

Since we were just talking earlier in the Ochocinco section about measurables not being quite as important as being good at getting open and catching footballs in regards to Devonta Smith, let’s get into our next category and start with him!

Hey, I know that guy!

Devonta Smith

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Height: 6’0’’

Weight: 170 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 64 receptions, 916 yards, 5 touchdowns

Pro Football Reference is a haven for silly nicknames that you’ve never heard in your life, but now I must know who dubbed Devonta “Rubber Band Man”. That’s the good stuff right there.

In addition to logging a rookie statline of knocking on the door of a 1,000-yard season, it’s also worth noting that Devonta Smith started every single game in his first NFL campaign. Admittedly, we’re all full of considerably more piss and vinegar when we’re 22, but Smith started all 17 games and the Eagles’ lone playoff game in 2021, where he racked up 4 grabs for 60 yards while Philly as a whole got posterized by the Tampa Bay Tom Bradys.

All of this would be impressive enough on its own, but as anyone who devours draft coverage knows (and who doesn’t, really?), E-VE-RY-ONE leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft was freaking out about “soooo what happens when he lines up against a cornerback that’s got 30 lbs on him playing press coverage?” - Bone-thin with playing weight near 170. Teams will have concerns about his frame and durability.

Bleacher Report: Poor bulk. Rail thin. Almost literally so. Not laterally twitchy. Isn’t going to juke guys in tight spaces.

Pro Football Network: Gives effort blocking, but isn’t effective and lacks strength at the point. Small and easily knocked off balance. Lacks a true second gear.

Pro Football Focus: It’s difficult to find on-field cons for Smith. His weight will be brought up again and again over the course of the spring, but that’s it. That’s his con.

All Devonta Smith did fresh out of the SEC in his first year of pro ball was set the Eagles’ franchise record for rookie receiving yards (and looking quite stylish doing so, if I do say so myself).

Let’s keep it rolling to another first-round pick that’s, eh, let’s just say more of a mixed bag:

Will Fuller

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
New England Patriots v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Height: 6’1’’

Weight: 184 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 213 receptions, 3,136 yards, 24 touchdowns

Fun fact: Tyquan Thornton’s 40 time was actually better than Will Fuller’s, despite nearly identical measurables. Fuller’s 4.32 time was hands down the best at the 2016 NFL draft, but Tyquan would’ve won a side-by-side race by a hair when he clocked a 4.28.

Fast forward to Week 1 in 2016, though, and Fuller freakin exploded out of the gate with a 107-yard, 1-score performance against the Chicago Bears and went on to start 13 games that season and end up with a rookie statline of 47 receptions, 635 yards, and 2 touchdowns.

Unfortunately, those 13 games in his first season would prove to be the most games he’d ever start (so far, anyway); in 2017, Will broke his collarbone in training camp, although he bounced back in time for the Houston Texans’ Week 4 showdown with the Titans. From there on out, as anyone who drafted Fuller in fantasy football can tell you, it’s been one injury or another, none of which seem particularly relevant to his weight; a slew of hamstring and other soft-tissue ailments that usually kept him out of at least a few games a year (he’d never start more than 11 games a season after his rookie year) and an ACL tear in 2018 against the Miami Dolphins.

But he bounced back! Well, sort of. 2020 actually ended up being Will Fuller’s finest hour as a pro. He started 11 games, which, not great, but he was, in Pokemon terms, super effective when he was on the field, setting his career highs in receiving yards with 879 and catching 53 passes and 8 touchdowns, both of which were also career highs.

Of course, you’ll probably remember that the reason Fuller failed to finish the 2020 season was because he got popped for PEDs and suspended for 6 games on November 30th, which wiped out the rest of his 2020 and the first game of 2021 as well. After attempting a reboot with the Miami Dolphins last season, Will broke his thumb and ended up on Injured Reserve, and he’s currently a free agent that doesn’t appear to be very high on anyone’s priority list.

Next up, a man that famously was not familiar with his own team’s mascot:

Robby Anderson

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Height: 6’3’’

Weight: 190 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 355 receptions, 4,674 yards, 28 touchdowns

You’d think running a 4.3 40 at 6’3” would be an automatic ticket to a Day 3 draft pick at least, but Robby Anderson somehow ended up going undrafted anyway and signed with our arch-nemesis the New York Football Jets as a UDFA in 2016. From there on, he became a legitimate weapon on some truly wretched Jets teams, starting his career with 42 receptions for 587 yards and 2 scores with (mostly) QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and followed that up with 3 big-boy NFL receiving seasons in New Jersey, usually catching passes from even worse quarterbacks:

Pats fans, ironically, may not have a whole lot of memories of Robby Anderson actually being effective, mostly because Bill Belichick found a way to skunk Anderson whenever the Patriots and Jets squared off; with the exception of an early 2017 game where Robby came up with 76 yards against a comically disorganized Patriots defense, he never topped 34 yards in 8 games and never caught a touchdown.

Fast forward to 2020 and Anderson balled out with his best season yet (they always do once you get the Jets out of their system, am I right?) with the Carolina Panthers to the tune of 95 grabs for 1,096 yards and 3 touchdowns. 2021, meanwhile, saw the Panthers continue to be the Panthers and trot out Sam Darnold and post-Patriots Cam Newton at QB, and Anderson got his production roughly chopped in half, only tallying 53 receptions and 519 yards for 5 scores.

That performance earned Robby a $29,500,000.00, two-year extension in the summer of 2021. Good work if you can get it!

Dede Westbrook

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 178 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 170 receptions, 1,788 yards, 9 touchdowns

Anyone remember that Sprite NBA commercial from the 90s that said “everyone dreams about being the guy on the poster...unless you’re the other guy on the poster”?

That’s Dede Westbrook, through no fault of his own, really. Just another helpless victim of the Gilly Lock.

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

National humiliation in the 2017 AFC Championship Game aside, Dede Westbrook checks in at 6 foot even and actually a few pounds lighter than our man Tyquan Thornton, and still carved out a decent career for himself in Jacksonville, of all places. After a quiet rookie season, Dede strung together a pair of solid efforts in 2018 and 2019, catching 66 passes in both seasons for 717 yards and 660 yards, respectively, and found the end zone 8 times. A blown ACL would wipe out all but 2 games of his 2020 season, and a 2021 attempt to rebound with the Minnesota Vikings ended in disaster. Not an injury disaster, just a “loaded offense and only got 15 targets all season long” disaster.

Still, though, while that doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, it’s worth noting that Westbrook proved he can hang in the big leagues, just maybe not so much when your primary competition for snaps is Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Tough sledding.

Paul Richardson

Houston Texans v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

Height: 6’0’’

Weight: 180 lbs

Career Stats: 143 receptions, 1,809 yards, 12 touchdowns

Life is good if you’re Paul Richardson in 2014. Despite weighing just a buck-eighty, you’re drafted in the second round by the defending champ Seattle Seahawks after rocking a 4.4 40-yard dash, and then your rookie career looks like it’s going great...until you tear your ACL in the playoffs against the Panthers. Your team makes it back to the Super Bowl, and, well, you know the rest. Then...things get worse. A hamstring injury cut Paul’s 2015 campaign short, and 2016 saw him doing a redux of his rookie year, this time backing up a young Tyler Lockett and vets Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.

Here’s where you might actually remember this guy: Richardson went off, relatively speaking, in 2017. Good timing, too, as that was his final season on his rookie contract and he promptly put up 703 yards on just 44 catches and caught 6 touchdowns. He then, smartly, got and took a 5-year, $40,000,000.00 deal with the team formerly known as the Washington Ethnic Slurs, and had a pair of seasons in DC that both ended on Injured Reserve, and Richardson eventually got released in 2020. He hasn’t played football since.

Ok, admittedly that’s not the best example, but hey, our relationship is built on trust, and we wouldn’t be doing our job if we just showed the sunshine and rainbows.

Speaking of that, we’ll give our next (and final) example all the context it deserves....

Henry Ruggs

Philadelphia Eagles v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 190 lbs

Career Stats: 50 receptions, 921 yards, 4 touchdowns.

This example probably seems like it’s in poor taste, so we’ll leave it at this: Henry Ruggs is a guy that fits our height/weight criteria of 6’0” or taller and under 200 lbs. He also was off to a great start in his season-and-a-half in the NFL, objectively speaking, before he killed a person driving drunk. The end.

Now time for our final category, which features quite a few guys that had or are currently having some quite productive NFL careers, but just BARELY squeak in at 6’0” or taller and 200 lbs or lighter. If you’ve ever played ultimate frisbee, we’ll call this the “spirit of the game” category; yeah, the players below fit our criteria, but is it really “skinny” if you’re just on the skinny side of normal? Probably not. Nonetheless!

Yeah, That’s a Stretch

We’re just gonna run down the stats for these guys, unless there’s something particularly interesting and/or fun to note about their respective careers:

Robert Woods

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 195 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 570 receptions, 7,077 yards, 35 touchdowns

That’s SUPER BOWL CHAMPION Bobby Trees to you, bucko.

Donte Stallworth

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 197 lbs

Career Stats: 321 receptions, 4,837 yards, 35 touchdowns

The “Patriots Legend” running gag was MADE for guys like Donte. A key depth player on the All Guns Infinite Ammo 2007 offense that also had a cup of coffee with the Patriots in 2012. Notably, 2007 was far and away the peak of his career.

Quez Watkins

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 193 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 50 receptions, 753 yards, 2 touchdowns

That statline doesn’t look like much, until you factor in that Quez only played in 6 games as a rookie on a 4-11-1 Eagles team and did almost all that receiving damage in 2021. Despite missing a bit of time of the Covid list, he racked up 43 grabs on 62 targets for a nice completion percentage of 69% and contributed 647 yards and 2 scores.

*Although, to be fair, 91 of those yards came on this bomb from the Eagles’ own goal line below, which, hey, do your damage any way you can, right?

Tajae Sharpe

Height: 6’2’’

Weight: 194 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 117 receptions, 1,397 yards, 8 touchdowns

A one-time popular mock draft pick for the Patriots in 2016, local kid Tajae Sharpe was drafted instead by a budding Patriots South franchise in Tennessee by Patriots alum Jon Robinson. A record-setting career at UMass didn’t exactly translate to NFL success, although it should be noted that the Tennessee Titans were just coming out of their hot southern-fried-garbage phase at the time (3-13 in 2015).

Right out of the gate, Sharpe caught 41 passes for 522 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and then....was never really able to match that. After a couple 300-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019, Tajae left the Titans for the Minnesota Vikings and has bounced around to a handful of teams since. Now in 2022, he joins our old pal N’Keal Harry on Da Bears.

Marvin Jones

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions - NFL Football Game Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Height: 6’2’’

Weight: 198 lbs

Career Stats (so far): 496 receptions, 6,857 yards, 55 touchdowns

One of the original “....are the Bengals actually weirdly good at drafting wide receivers?”, Marvin Jones has been about as steady as you could want a WR2 to be ever since he became a full-time starter in 2013. He’s had 5 seasons with at least 800 receiving yards, another 2 seasons with at least 700, and perhaps most impressively, somehow managed 832 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2021 at age 32. Playing in JACKSONVILLE.

(Anecdotally, too, Marvin’s always just been a very fun player to watch, regardless of which dumpster-fire team he happens to be playing for at the time. The man plays like he’s been waiting all game to get the call to get big in the end zone, probably cause, uh, most of the time, he has)

Phew. That was a lot of guys to remember.

The point, of course, is that there’s plenty of anecdotal examples just in the last 15 or so years alone that a wide receiver doesn’t necessarily need to be rocked up a la NFL Blitz to hang with the big boys in the NFL. Is being 6’3” 225 helpful? Usually! Is there more than one way to take advantage of your gifts and work on your craft and (football guy cliche alert) find a way to win? In many situations, there is!

Tyquan Thornton’s weight isn’t a dealbreaker. It’s OK to be optimistic about his future and how he’ll fit into an extremely well-rounded wide receiver room in New England, because it’s been done before and smart money says it’ll be done again.

If nothing else, we need a pic of Tyquan and Devante Parker side-by-side in training camp, a la the classic Trent Brown vs Mike Reiss that should be hanging in the Lourve:

The countdown to camp continues. Enjoy your weekend, everyone.