While the league has gone increasingly bigger, stronger, and taller at the receiver position over the past decade, there are more than a few 5-foot-10 and under receivers proving that size does not matter.
Carolina's Steve Smith (5-foot-9) leads the NFL with 50 catches and 797 receiving yards. Washington's Santana Moss (5-10) is right behind him with 777 yards. Baltimore's Derrick Mason (5-10) and New England's Deion Branch (5-9) are in the top 10 in receptions. Smith also leads the league in touchdown catches with eight.
One other smallish receiver trying to make a name for himself is in Green Bay. Antonio Chatman (5-9) is getting his shot as a starter this season and is showing that he can make a difference. He may not possess the impressive numbers of the aforementioned receivers, but his contributions to his team have been no less significant.
Chatman has taken over the No. 2 receiving spot in recent weeks due to injuries. He made his first career start at that spot last week against the Bengals and filled in the week prior against the Vikings. It is a role that the Packers never envisioned for the diminutive University of Cincinnati product when he originally came to Green Bay.
Instead, Packers' fans have primarily known Chatman over the past three years as the team's return specialist. He arrived from the Arena League in 2003 to provide a spark on special teams, but that hasn't happened. In 146 combined kick and punt returns, he has yet to return one for a touchdown and has a propensity to fair catch nearly every punt. He has only kept his return job because head coach Mike Sherman loves his ball-security skills and decision making. Those qualities alone, however, were not enough for the team to justify his roster spot just over a year ago. There had to be more.
Before the 2004 season, Chatman knew he had to step up his play as a receiver. He was told as much by coaches if he wanted to stick around. While also being evaluated as a return man then, he blossomed into a darn good NFL receiver, demonstrating the same dependability he did as a special teams' performer. His contributions as the No. 4 receiver last year were a pleasant surprise, and in the process, he gained the trust of quarterback of Brett Favre.
This season, the confidence Chatman gained last year is evident in his play. All he did in his first full game as the No. 2 receiver is catch eight passes for 97 yards, both career highs. Sixteen of his 23 total receptions have gone for first downs, and he is tied for the team lead with three touchdowns. Those are mighty numbers for a receiver who was conceivably No. 5 on the depth chart in training camp.
"I feel like, with the opportunity, I can do it," said Chatman. "I'm not shocked, but I know a lot of people are. I know I can be one of the best receivers in the league."
Three other receivers ahead of Chatman have not had the impact he has had thus far. Walker, the team's No. 1, played just one game before an ACL injury ended his season. Ferguson, who assumed the No. 2 role when Walker went down, has been a disappointment. Rookie Terrence Murphy had high hopes, but saw limited action before being placed on injured reserve with a neck injury.
Ferguson will get his starting spot back when he recovers from his knee sprain, but Chatman has done nothing to suggest that he cannot handle being a starter or not make a significant impact. Maybe Chatman is not the receiver Ferguson is, both in size or talent, but perception is not always reality. He provides stability and if he continues to play well, the Packers will have a chance to turn their season around.
"I think you can win with guys like (running back Tony) Fisher, and I think you can win with guys like Chatman, and I think we had every opportunity to win with them the other day," said Sherman. "Obviously the reality was that Fisher was our third-team tailback at the start of the season and Chatman was our fourth receiver, but that doesn't mean that's how they look at themselves or that's how they should be perceived. They got opportunities the other day and they made the most out of them. They played well enough for us to win in my mind."
As for his size, Chatman uses that to his advantage. He is able to stay hidden among a defense when he runs routes where a bigger receiver may not be able to. That is a big reason he has been so effective in keeping the chains moving on third down. Though he is not a big target, he is always in the right spot and rarely drops passes.
Furthermore, with Donald Driver expecting to see much of the defensive attention for the remainder of the year, Chatman should get plenty of opportunity regardless of which wide receiver position he plays. The focus will not be on him, so expect him to produce.
Every team in the NFL should want the "little" receiver as a unique component to its offensive system, whether that player is a starter or a backup. The Packers are no different. Chatman will always have his critics, but in a season of uncertainty, he is one player the Packers can count on every week.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.