t’s NFL Draft time and the one trait we love to talk about is athletic ability, but who are the greatest athletes to ever step foot on the gridiron in the league.
Athletic ability is a great NFL trait. It’s one ability talked about an almost all 25 NFL positions. Since we are talking great athletes let’s talk about the greatest ever to set foot on an NFL field.
Note: In order to make this list, you had to either be drafted in or participate in multiple sports, and at least one had to be considered professional.
Not many people actually participate in multiple professional sports, let alone have moderate success in both. Zbikowski was a safety in the NFL who had moderate success. He was a backup safety for most of his short NFL career. What many fans outside of South Bend, IN, didn’t know was he was also a professional boxer.
His career in the ring was brief, due to getting drafted by the Ravens. That said, he had an 8-0 record with two of his wins by knockout and four wins by technical knockout (three knockdowns in one round).
5. Bobby Layne
Layne played college baseball (pitcher) and football (quarterback) at the University of Texas. Layne held many school, Southwest Conference, and NCAA records at the time of his graduation. He played one year of minor league baseball, but he opted for the NFL as opposed to the grind of minor league baseball.
Layne was a great quarterback for his day. Before landing with the Detroit Lions in 1950, he played for the Chicago Bears (who drafted him tired overall in 1948) and the New York Yankees (yes there was a team called the New York Yankees that briefly played in the NFL).
After being traded to the Lions, he helped lead them to three NFL championships. While doing so he threw for 118 of his 196 career touchdowns and added 13 of his 25 rushing touchdowns. He was a two-time All-Pro and is a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
4. Kyler Murray
It would’ve been awesome to see Murray play middle infield for the Oakland Athletics and quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. However, when the Cardinals drafted him, he was forced to choose between baseball and football. That said, he was the first player selected in the first round of both sports. So, that tells you his ability in both.
His football career is just beginning. His rookie year had its ups and downs, but he seems to be on the right trajectory for being a good NFL quarterback. He possesses the tools — athletic ability, accuracy, and arm strength — needed to succeed.
Sanders was drafted twice in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft after opting to play in college after the first selection. The Yankees took him in the 30th round. He had a decent career in which he compiled 39 extra base hits, stole 186 bases, hit 39 home runs with a slashline of .263/.319/.392. By no means a great MLB career, but a decent one.
Where he excelled was the gridiron, though. He was a six-time All-Pro with 53 career interceptions. He was an excellent returner and dabbled as a wide receiver. Sanders scored 19 defensive and special teams touchdowns in his career, and that is second only to Devin Hester all-time, and he was immortalized in Canton.
He is still the only player to participate in the World Series and the Super Bowl in his career.
2. Bo Jackson
Jackson was drafted three times in the Major League Baseball draft, ultimately 108th overall by the Kansas City Royals in 1986, and 183rd overall in the 1987 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders (after refusing to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being selected No. 1 overall in 1986 after the Bucs deceived Jackson and he lost eligibility to play baseball at Auburn).
The Raiders allowed him to play pro baseball until that season ended and join the team after baseball season was over. In his first five season with the Royals, he showed an amazing combination of speed and power. He hit 109 home runs and stole 81 bases. He also showed amazing prowess in the outfield.
As a part-time professional football player for the Raiders, he dominated his competition in the mold of Earl Campbell. According to Howie Long (in an interview for the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Jackson), his Raiders teammates were pissed that the late Al Davis would even allow such a thing. That was until he stepped on the field.
He made the MLB All-Star Game in 1989 and the Pro Bowl in 1990, making him the only person ever to be an all-star in two professional sports.
Unfortunately, we never got to see what his full career path could be in both sports, because of a hip injury while playing for the Raiders in 1990. If he had continued his trajectory, he was likely going to end up with a bust in Canton and Cooperstown. However since his career was cut short, he’s number two on this list.
1. Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe didn’t compile a lot of statistical achievements in his six years in the NFL. He only scored six touchdowns and made four field goals and three extra points. That being said, he is in the College and Professional Football Halls of Fame, and that achievement is nothing to scoff at.
What separates Thorpe from the rest of the group is his achievement in the Olympics. In his amateur career, he participated in football and track and field. At the 1912 Summer Olympics, he won gold in the pentathlon and the decathlon.
In the pentathlon, Thorpe won four out of the five events and third in the other. In the decathlon, he finished in the top-three in nine out of the ten events (fourth in the other) and first in three of them.
Being a Pro Football Hall of Famer and a gold medalist in Olympic event in which he had to excel in multiple sports makes him the best athlete ever in the history of the NFL.