When you think of professional athletes, you usually picture muscular, brawny beasts with v-shaped torsos. And often, that visualization is dead on. Just look at J.J. Watt or Dwight Howard, whose hulking biceps and massive shoulders would intimidate anyone. By the time an athlete reaches a professional league such as the NBA or the NFL, he’s spent nearly a decade getting into the best shape possible.
Some athletes, however, prove that bigger isn’t necessarily better. The players below show that skinny can be strong too. Here are six athletes who play, and even dominate, at the highest level despite their lanky looks.
Chris Sale (Baseball, Chicago White Sox)
One of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, Chris Sale is a frontrunner for the American League Cy Young Award this season. Despite his youth (he’s only 25 years old), Sale has already been to three All-Star games. Although he is a dominating pitcher, at 6-foot-6 and 175 pounds, his physique resembles a toothpick. This guy is scary skinny, and his unorthodox pitching motion contorts his lanky limbs into bizarre positions before he fires the ball over the plate. The craziest thing about Sale’s scrawniness? He eats a ton. Former teammate Adam Dunn, who is by no means a small man, told the Wall Street Journal that Sale “eats more than anybody on Earth. I’ll gain 10 pounds just by watching him eat.”
Tayshaun Prince (Basketball, Memphis Grizzlies)
It seems like Tayshaun Prince has been in the NBA forever; and though he has a physique like a broomstick, his bony 6-foot-9, 215-pound build has never kept him from being a great player. His insane 7-foot-2 wingspan (taller than Shaquille O’Neal) has helped him earn numerous defensive honors, and he was a cornerstone on the 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons. To put his skinniness into perspective, former NBA player Derrick Fisher weighs only five pounds less than Prince despite being 8 inches shorter (that’s Fisher guarding Prince.)
Peter Crouch (Soccer, Stoke City F.C.)
Stunningly skinny English striker Peter Crouch might be the gangliest professional athlete in the world. Listed at 6-foot-7 and a mere 165 pounds, Crouch is basically a real-life wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man. He’s made a habit of being photographed in awkward positions, and he’s often the butt of soccer fans’ jokes. But here’s the thing—Crouch is good. He’s scored a ton of goals for both club and country throughout his career. His 88 career Premier League goals rank ahead of more well-known players such as Fernando Torres and Carlos Tevez. When you can do stuff like this, it doesn’t matter how skinny you are.
Kevin Durant (Basketball, Oklahoma City Thunder)
Kevin Durant was famously scrawny coming out of Texas. When he was unable to put up a single rep of 185 pounds on the Bench Press during the NBA Combine, concerns spread about his strength and slender frame. Fast forward to today. Durant is one of the very best players in the NBA. He definitely has put on some weight, going from this to this, but he’s still super skinny for such a dominant player. But perhaps the biggest problem with Durant is that he won’t embrace cool nicknames. Both “The Durantula” and “Slim Reaper” are monikers that acknowledge his skinniness but also his deadliness as a scorer. Instead, Durant wants to be called “The Servant.” Hey Kevin, you can’t pick your own nickname! It’s like George Costanza wanting to be called “T-Bone”! Well, whatever you want to call Durant, his lankiness is not hurting his performance on the court.
Tuukka Rask (Hockey, Boston Bruins)
It might be tough to tell underneath all the big pads and gear, but many NHL goalies don’t have a lot of meat on their bones. Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is no exception. Listed at 6-foot-3 and probably a generous 185 pounds, Rask has a habit of making highlight-reel saves. He won the 2014 Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the best goaltender in the NHL, after posting a .930 save percentage and a goals-against-average of only 2.04. Rask’s thin build is probably an asset at his position, since it allows him to remain insanely flexible.
DeSean Jackson (Football, Washington Redskins)
DeSean Jackson is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, a threat to take it for 6 any time he gets the ball in his hands. But he’s also one of the smallest players in the league, both in terms of height and weight. Standing at only 5-foot-10 and weighing a mere 175 pounds, D-Jax is not a physically imposing wideout in the mold of Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236). His skinny arms and frail legs look more like a high school sophomore’s than a three-time Pro Bowler’s. Jackson also has a history of injury, some perhaps due to his scrawny build. But the fact that he’s so small could be one of the reasons he’s so fast, allowing him to make plays that no one else in the league can. If packing on a few pounds would mean sacrificing some of that speed, Jackson is perfect the way he is.