The All-Gridiron Team: NBA players who would dominate on the football field
“The Point Forward All-Stars” will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members. This week, with the Seahawks and Broncos preparing for Super Bowl XLVIII , SI.com has a little fun and tries to project which NBA players would make the best transition from the hardwood to the gridiron.
The All-Gridiron Team
The “Which NBA players could make it in the NFL?” topic comes up from time to time, like when Heat forward LeBron James tweeted in October that he “[wants to] play in one NFL game before it’s over.” At the time, The Point Forward urged James to make his football dream a reality, perhaps during a possible NBA lockout in 2017, rather than pointlessly flirting with the idea like he has with the Slam Dunk Contest year after year.
It goes without saying that James, who Charles Barkley once called “biggest, stronger, [and] faster” than Michael Jordan, has a place on any NBA-to-NFL crossover squad. But who joins him? With Super Bowl XLVIII just around the corner, The Point Forward scoured the NBA’s ranks to assemble a 22-man football lineup, plus a coaching staff, special teamers and a few key reserves we just couldn’t leave out.
Quarterback: Michael Carter-Williams (6-foot-6, 185 pounds), Sixers
Expecting to pluck a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady type from a different sport in the middle of their career is just unrealistic. Instead, Carter-Williams will be cast as a dual-threat quarterback, with the requisite height, mobility, quickness, instincts and spatial awareness to pressure defenses with his arm and his feet. Yes, he needs to add 20 pounds (OK, 30) and his turnover rate is a bit concerning, but he’s a natural play-maker and he’ll be surrounded by athletes. He’s option-ready (he pitched with his left hand to Thaddeus Young for a recent game-winner), he possesses the necessary assertiveness (more than 60 percent of his attempts come in the paint), and he should be able to pick up nine yards scrambling if a third-and-seven play didn’t develop as expected. The Rookie of the Year candidate has unusual height for the point guard position, and that’s worth bonus points here, as his offensive line averages 6-foot-10 or higher. It’s better for Carter-Williams to peer over the trees than to ask Chris Paul to jump pass down after down. Think a poor man’s Colin Kaepernick.
Running Back: Russell Westbrook (6-3, 187), Thunder
The Thunder point guard said in 2011 that he sees himself as a safety, but utilizing one of the NBA’s most tenacious players as a running back is too tantalizing a possibility to pass up. Strong, fearless, and explosive, Westbrook isn’t going to waste any time getting positive yardage, he should be able to take the pounding, and he offers home-run potential if a hole develops. The Point Forward pictures Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (6-1, 190 pounds) as Westbrook’s back-up. Critics might see redundancy in their skillsets, but in actuality they should represent a “Double your pleasure, double your fun” reality for Carter-Williams, who will drop back in the pocket knowing he should always have a legit safety valve on every play. “Keeping your head down” can be a vice in the NBA, a strike that’s been used against both of these players, but that’s just the job description for a a running back. Think Westbrook and Bledsoe are terrors in the open court? Just imagine them running a sweep or hauling in a screen pass with blockers set up in front of them.
Hopefully both players recover from their respective knee surgeries in time for the All-Gridiron Team’s debut, which is still TBD.
Wide Receiver: Paul George (6-8, 210), Pacers
Wide Receiver: Kawhi Leonard (6-7, 225), Spurs
Slot Receiver: John Wall (6-4, 195), Wizards
Wide receiver is arguably the most natural crossover position between the two sports. A good wideout is a high-flying, quick-reacting, sure-handed target, much like a good alley-oop finisher. Something tells me that George, who recently threw down a reverse 360 windmill dunk during a game, could be trusted to bring down a fade in the corner of the end zone, even if a lockdown corner was draped all over him. The technical precision of that dunk, one of many in the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest participant’s arsenal, displayed his coordination, elite athleticism and his showman’s spirit; George should be trusted, therefore, to tip-toe the sideline, create separation, win a jump ball, and come up with an entertaining touchdown dance. What more could you want from a No. 1 receiver?
Opposite George is Leonard, whose low-key personality makes him seem an ideal fit as a No. 2 receiver. No complaining about touches, no envy at who gets the headlines, and no drama or baggage. Just gigantic hands, underrated athletic tools, a commitment to work and a high-level IQ. Leonard’s understanding of match-ups and tendencies in the NBA should work well in a position that would often require him operating in one-one situations.
Wall pencils in as the slot receiver: he is perhaps the NBA’s best point guard in transition and he has all the makings of a “Yards After Catch” demon. Give the 2010 No. 1 pick a seam in a zone coverage and he’s taking it to the house, thanks to his top-end burst and a full array of sharp jukes that he can unleash at full speed. It’s hard to imagine anyone tracking him down from behind once he beats the safeties.
Tight End: LeBron James (6-8, 240), Heat
Those who cling to the notion that James isn’t cut out for the NFL are delusional. His once-in-a-generation size/strength/athleticism would absolutely translate, and the only question is his ideal position. Tight end, wide receiver, defensive end and quarterback have all been raised as possibilities, but he fits best as a tight end with the All-Gridiron Team. James has always been defined by his versatility for his size on the basketball court, and utilizing him as a tight end should carry some of that over to the football field. Keeping him in the middle of the field requires constant defensive attention and match-up issues, and it ensures that he’s involved in a high percentage of the plays. More of a receiving tight end than a blocking tight end, James is a gigantic target for Carter-Williams, and he’s blessed with everything you need from a pass-catcher. And if a clumsy linebacker dares hit him before the ball arrives? There’s no one better at selling the 15-yard penalty.
Left Tackle: Dwight Howard (6-11, 240), Rockets
Left Guard: Nikola Pekovic (6-11, 243), Timberwolves
Center: Andrew Bogut (7-0, 245), Warriors
Right Guard: Jared Sullinger (6-9, 280), Celtics
Right Tackle: Andre Drummond (6-10, 270), Pistons
Body type-wise, the offensive line might be the most difficult roster area to fill, as NBA players are loathe to cop to the 300-pound weight threshold. The concept here was pretty simple: go for nasty and brutish in the middle while aiming for peak bulk/quickness at the tackle positions.
Howard has developed an obnoxious, whiny off-court personality, but he remains among the NBA’s leaders in blocks and rebounds and he’s still a premier athlete at his position, even after back surgery. One major benefit of the basketball-to-football swap is that Howard won’t be able to complain about his touches and shots, as he’s not legally allowed to receive the ball as an offensive lineman. There’s definitely a concern that he might hijack a huddle by offering to “trade places” with Carter-Williams, but hopefully peer pressure kicks in and he comes to terms with his integral role as a blind side protector. In any case, it’s never a bad idea to put a player whose physique earned the nickname “Superman” at the most important line position.
The Pekovic/Bogut/Sullinger trio isn’t too difficult to unpack. Pekovic is one of the strongest and most imposing players in the NBA, he bears a giant tattoo of a knight standing on a bed of human skulls on his left arm, and the Timberwolves have pitched him as one-half of the “Bruise Brothers” (along with Kevin Love). Sounds perfectly suited to this thankless task. Bogut is a rim-protecting antagonizer or an antagonizing rim-protector, whichever you prefer, and he seems more than happy to coordinate the safety of Carter-Williams while also being ready to get into some shenanigans at the bottom of a dogpile at a moment’s notice. Sullinger, the NBA’s current leader in flagrant fouls, brings a wide frame and a penchant for hard contact.
Drummond, the NBA’s most promising up-and-coming low-post talent, completes the group. Blessed with good agility for a player with his height/weight combination, he’s a mountain of a man who isn’t going to be beaten off the edge too easily. Running Westbrook behind the Sullinger/Drummond combination, with James chipping in, makes sense in short-yardage situations.