Commentary

Small stature not big issue for Curran

Originally Published: February 28, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

CurranMike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesLinebacker Rennie Curran, who left Georgia a year early, had 298 tackles, 6½ sacks, 34 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in college.
INDIANAPOLIS -- In the beauty pageant that is the NFL draft, Rennie Curran understands that he probably isn't going to claim any first-place diamond tiaras.

While he is hardly shy of NFL-caliber talent, the former University of Georgia linebacker is a few inches shorter than what most teams prefer at the position. But the 5-foot-10½ Curran acknowledged Saturday afternoon there is little he can do to improve there.

"If there was a drug I could take, or a pill that would make me [taller], believe me, I would have found it by now," said Curran with a laugh. "I mean, this is the way it is, right? Hey, I am what I am."

Which is a pretty good football player.

Curran, who bypassed his final year of eligibility with the Bulldogs to go into this year's draft as an underclass entry, appeared in 37 games at Georgia, starting 30. The 21-year-old was a tackling machine, registering 298 tackles, 6½ sacks, 34 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He had 130 tackles in 2009 and became the first Bulldogs defender since Greg Bright in 1996-97 to have consecutive 100-tackle seasons.

Curran, a terrific college performer and finalist for the Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award, is the shortest of the 48 linebacker prospects at the NFL combine. Only four players among the four dozen linebackers are under 6-foot, and Curran is the lone candidate shy of 5-11.

"Because of his [height] deficiency, there's going to have to be a team willing to overlook that and just say, 'He is a good, productive football player, and he has been at every level,'" Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "There aren't a whole lot of guys who can play in the NFL at his height … but he's one of the few, most people in the league seem to feel, who can do it."

League history isn't filled with successful linebackers who were shorter than 6-foot, but Curran has spoken to several of them. He talked about the challenges with current Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher (5-10) and with former Falcons star Jessie Tuggle, who appeared in five Pro Bowl games and notched 1,803 tackles in 14 seasons despite generously being listed at 5-11. Before making his decision to leave school a year early, Curran even consulted with Ravens star Ray Lewis, who is 6-1 but faced challenges similar to those now confronting Curran.

Curran was reared in the middle-class Atlanta suburb of Snellville, Ga., and played at Brookwood High School, perhaps the most storied program in the Gwinnett County football hotbed. Curran, who has a 16-month-old daughter, had matured physically and emotionally and had little left to play for in college.

One of Georgia's captains in 2009, Curran all but maxed out in terms of productivity playing under coordinator Willie Martinez, who was fired after the season. He went through the league's underclassmen evaluation process and, while he has never disclosed the grade he received from the panel of NFL personnel directors and general managers, it was good enough for him.

Working with noted Atlanta-area trainer Chip Smith, whose clientele has included dozens of first-round choices, Curran has added 10 pounds of bulk since leaving Georgia, and now checks in at 235 pounds.

Said former Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens, who is also here for the combine workouts: "Whatever he lacks [in height], Rennie makes up for in football and mental toughness. He hits you and there's no doubt you're hit. He's all football player, and if he was even two or three inches shorter, that wouldn't change."

His height restrictions aside, Curran has always been one of the best players on his team. He played mostly outside linebacker at Georgia, but in the Bulldogs' scheme, the "Will" and "Mike" spots are generally stacked and require similar skills.

Many of the shorter linebackers who have had long and productive careers in the NFL played in the middle, and Curran is prepared to move inside if the team that drafts him desires to play him there. He projects to be picked around the third round and isn't concerned about his stature.

"I've never much worried about it, because there was never anything I could really do about it," Curran said. "I couldn't put myself on a rack and stretch myself. So it became a nonfactor with me.

"Hopefully, it won't become a real big deal to the teams interested in me."

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.