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Jeff Demps Signs with New England Patriots: 3 Sprinters Who Succeeded in the NFL

Frederick WertzContributor IAugust 17, 2012

Jeff Demps Signs with New England Patriots: 3 Sprinters Who Succeeded in the NFL

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    Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps has signed with the New England Patriots, according to James Walker of ESPN. 

    Demps, a Florida Gators running back and 2012 NFL Draft prospect, decided to put his professional football career on hold in order to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics. 

    An NCAA champion in 2010 in the 60m and 100m dash, Demps earned a silver medal in London by way of participating in the preliminary rounds for Team USA's 4x100m relay, but not in the finals. 

    As you can see here, Demps is quite the speedster both on and off the gridiron. As speed kills in the NFL, several teams were interested in signing the rookie once London 2012 ended. 

    NFLdraftscout.com projected Demps as not much more than a fifth or sixth-round pick if he had entered this year's draft. 

    Certainly, his exposure at the Olympics had a lot to do with the amount of interest he generated these past few weeks. Speed is only one of many skills a successful NFL player can have, and even Olympic speed can't make up for things Demps may be lacking elsewhere. 

    However, this isn't the first time an athlete who first became a sprinter tried his luck in the NFL. What other notables have done so, and how have they fared? 

Jim Thorpe

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    Jim Thorpe is one of history's most famous athletes, known for his incredible versatility. 

    Not only did he play professional football and compete in the 1912 Olympics, he also played professional baseball and basketball. 

    Although Thorpe competed in the pentathlon and decathlon at the Olympics, he was plenty fast. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, and the 220 yard dash in 21.8 seconds. He won a gold medal in both multi-event competitions. 

    Three years after competing in Stockholm, Sweden at the Summer Games, Thorpe signed with the Canton Bulldogs in 1915. At the time, Thorpe was exceedingly famous and was signed for the then-whopping salary of $250 per game. His presence on the field attracted thousands of additional fans for the Bulldogs. 

    Unfortunately, no records of Thorpe's stats exist except for the amount of games he played in, and even those are incomplete. His career lasted until 1928. 

Ollie Matson

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    Ollie Matson was a first-round draft pick for the Chicago Cardinals in 1952, and went on to win Rookie of the Year honors that year.  

    Unlike Demps, Matson did not have to choose between football and track; prior to the beginning of his rookie season, he competed in the Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Matson ran 46.8 seconds in the 400m dash, good enough to earn him a bronze medal. He was also a member of the USA's silver medal-winning 4x400m relay team. 

    After his Olympic participation, Matson returned to the NFL, totalling 12,884 all-purpose yards—which at the time was second only to all-time great Jim Brown. Matson played 13 seasons in the NFL.  

Bob Hayes

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    In 2009, Bob Hayes joined Jim Thorpe as one of only two members of the NFL Hall of Fame to also have won a gold medal in the Olympics. 

    Hayes dominated the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. He won the 100m dash in a then world-record of 10.09 seconds, running away from the competition by a distance that would make even Usain Bolt drop his jaw. 

    Hayes went on to lead the USA's 4x100m dash team to another gold medal and world record at the same games. 

    In 1968, Jim Hines broke Hayes' world record and the 10-second barrier with an altitude and barely legal wind-aided performance in Mexico City. Aside from Hines, it took all future Olympians over 30 years to better Hayes' time. It wasn't until 1996 that anyone ran faster than Hayes in an Olympic final.

    Hayes' football career was also impressive. The three-time Pro Bowler won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in 1972, and accumulated 71 touchdowns over his NFL career.

    Hayes is also the only person to have won both a Super Bowl and Gold Medal.  

How Will Demps Compare?

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    How will Demps compare to perhaps the three greatest sprinter/football players of all time? 

    Well, only time will tell. Demps is a talented athlete, but like many who possess such raw ability, he is an unpolished commodity at the moment. 

    But NFL teams must see something in him besides pure speed. After all, fellow Olympian Justin Gatlin can surely outrun his Team USA teammate in Demps, but Gatlin's foray into the NFL, which came during his four-year doping ban, was far less successful

    Of course, the fact that the enigmatic Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were the ones who wound up winning Demps' signature has added to the intrigue of the whole situation. Many will speculate that the wily coach up in Foxborough may have made yet another ingenious move.

    And with his physical tools, why can't Demps become the next Bob Hayes? 

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