The Progression of the NFL Athlete: What's Next?

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IJanuary 25, 2009

Originally written by me at

Which sport has the best overall athletes? For a while I was convinced that the National Basketball Association easily won that honor. All one needed to do was gaze at LeBron James (who is almost exactly the same size and height of Carlos Boozer) and you could tell that basketball players were of a special breed.

Then along came Larry Fitzgerald. With hands that bleed Elmers glue, Fitzgerald has received national attention as one of the greatest receivers of all time. That's no small feat, considering what a small market Arizona is.

If you put LeBron James on the football field, I shudder to think what could happen. James is the kind of athlete who could play virtually any position on the field and dominate.

When you step back and take a look at the state of the National Football League, you realize how many "freaks of nature" there are. Offensive guards who can run as fast as some backs. 300-pound tackles with 4 percent body fat. Quarterbacks who can throw a bundle of air wrapped in pigskin over 80 yards. The list of outstanding athletes never stops.

You have to be a heck of an athlete to play at the NFL level.

There is a shortage of superb quarterbacks in football. Sure, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are amazing, but the list ends there. Guys like Big Ben, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning can be great at times, but can't be classified as "elite."

What is the reason for this? Is there really that much difference in talent when comparing the defenses and offenses of the NFL? Surely not.

A large part of the answer lies in college football. As the years go by, there are fewer and fewer amounts of athletes who go from dominating the NCAA to dominating at the professional level. Obviously, there are exceptions - Peyton Manning, for starters.

But most others who dominate the college level fail to leave their mark on the NFL. Just eight Heisman Trophy winners are in Canton, Ohio. Chris Weinke is a perfect example of a dominant college QB gone wrong, and guys like Matthew Stafford may be the next down that path.

Stafford, who is being discussed as a possible first overall pick, is really not a great quarterback. Here's a look at his stats from this past year.


2008 - Matthew Stafford13150.823538361.43459266.114.7231255403.10.71--

Sure, they're fine. While highly debatable, at best I see Stafford at the same level of JaMarcus Russell.

The bottom line is that athletes in the NFL are getting bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter. If you have been a professional football player, you possess an extremely rare set of genes.

NFL players are progressing in every sense of the word, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

How does this apply to the present? To be honest, I have no clue. I haven't the foggiest idea how to put a limit on howgood athletes are. Before we know it, two 275-pound men will collide on a special teams play and somebody will end up dying on the field. Think Willis McGahee x5.

The hits are getting harder. The coaching is getting smarter. The athletes are getting bigger.

Too much of a good thing, or will athletes never stop getting better?