Breaking Down the NFL's Most Unique Players
I suppose being so good at something that you're paid seven figures to do it makes you automatically unique. But even within the league of extraordinary athletes that we call the NFL, there are some players who are simply more unique than others.
Here, based on skills, measurables and/or off-field attributes, are 15 of the league's most unique players.
Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
Experience: 1 season
What makes him unique: Extremely rare set of skills.
Remember when Michael Vick was the most unique athlete at the quarterback position?
That was the case for almost a decade, but then RG3 came along. The 2012 No. 2 overall pick is bigger and stronger than Vick, nearly as fast and elusive and is a better decision-maker. He's more refined from a technical standpoint than Vick ever was, and his pocket presence is better.
Put simply, Griffin appears to be exactly what everyone hoped Vick would turn into. Both are still prone to injury, and RG3 has to work on his ball control (he fumbled an NFC-high 12 times as a rookie), but I don't believe there's another quarterback in football with his skill set.
Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton
Experience: 2 seasons
What makes him unique: Unmatched combination of size and speed at quarterback.
Newton weighs 245 pounds and can run a sub-4.6 40-yard dash. That is something this league has never seen before. He's literally a tight end with a missile attached to his right shoulder. It's just amazing that the NFL's biggest quarterback has rushed for over 700 yards in each of his first two seasons.
He might not yet be as accurate as fans and coaches would like, but the guy is the ultimate beast at the quarterback position.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew
Experience: 7 seasons
What makes him unique: Nobody looks like MoJo.
At 5'7", 208 pounds, Maurice Jones-Drew is, based on body mass index, obese. And that obese running back runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. He dealt with injuries in 2012, but two years ago he led the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards despite the fact the Jags had the league's lowest-rated offense.
He's just built like a heavyweight champ. I mean, look at the dude's neck. Small running backs have had a lot of success in this league over the years, but rarely are they trucks like MoJo, who is the antithesis of a scatback.
San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates
Experience: 10 seasons
What makes him unique: Didn't play college football.
Gates is obviously a remarkably unique athlete as is, but what really separates him from the rest of the league's extremely athletic stable of basketball players-turned-tight ends is that he didn't play a lick of college football.
When he wanted to attend Michigan State to play football and basketball, Nick Saban wasn't willing to share Gates with Spartans hoops coach Tom Izzo. That pushed Gates to pursue only basketball at a post-secondary level (first at Eastern Michigan and ultimately at Kent State). But when it was time to turn pro, the NBA wasn't in the cards and NFL teams came calling.
New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Experience: 3 seasons
What makes him unique: Didn't watch football until he was in the NFL.
Pierre-Paul did play college football, but he signed up for the sport only after suffering a serious leg injury on the hardwood. The Haitian pass-rushing stud told me last year at the Super Bowl that he had watched only about five NFL games his entire life and that the first Super Bowl he watched was the previous year's game between the Packers and Steelers in Dallas.
You can see JPP's uniqueness with your own two eyes, but his background tips the scales in terms of his candidacy for this list.
Cincinnati Bengals DE Margus Hunt
What makes him unique: Estonian discus thrower. Need we say more?
Hunt is another one of those raw pass-rushing specialists we're seeing more of on a yearly basis, but what makes him special is that he was a competitive discus athlete in his native Estonia and only came to America to compete in that sport in 2007.
But when SMU dropped its men's track program after offering him a scholarship, he gave football a shot instead. He then used the Madden NFL video game to learn the sport, and half a decade later he's a rookie second-round draft pick in Cincinnati.
New England Patriots QB Tim Tebow
Experience: 3 seasons
What makes him unique: Jacked left-handed quarterback with polarizing powers and a cult-like following.
Like it or not, a list like this would not make sense without Tebow, who according to Forbes is America's most influential athlete, despite the fact he's barely been able of late to maintain a job at the pro level.
He's also built like a brick house, is a rare lefty and possesses a unique set of on-field skills. He may be versatile enough to play tight end or even take reps in the backfield. Combine that with his endorsement power and his religious nature and you've got yourself a fascinating NFL character.
Oakland Raiders P Chris Kluwe
Experience: 8 years
What makes him unique: Human rights crusader.
This has little to do with football, but Kluwe has made a name for himself as the NFL's foremost advocate for marriage equality. Despite being "just a punter," his brave and unyielding public stances have turned Kluwe into a champion in the realm of human rights.
Were your a pro football player and on the cover of a magazine entitled OUT, you're unique.
Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson
Experience: 6 seasons
What makes him unique: The ultimate freak of nature.
Calvin Johnson is unique because he's Calvin Johnson. Just sit back and watch this Sports Science feature from ESPN in order to get a feel for how special the man is. Nobody can run a sub-4.4 40 at 236 pounds.
Throw in that he can jump like nobody else, has a 6'10" wingspan and that his maximum reach (standing reach combined with vertical leap) is higher than anyone currently playing in the NBA (and as long as Shaq's) and there's no debate regarding who the league's most ridiculous athlete is.
Houston Texans RB Arian Foster
Experience: 4 seasons
What makes him unique: Antithesis of a cliché pro athlete.
Smart, witty, humble and always looking to learn new things.
Those are not traits we often attach to pro athletes, but Foster goes against the grain. Before he abruptly walked away from Twitter in March, his timeline was thought-provoking and heavy on philosophy. That's what he majored in at Tennessee, but he's also a poet and philanthropist.
He's just a rare bird, and he gives hope to those who fear their kids will grow up idolizing spoiled overgrown children in the world of sports.
The best of Foster on Twitter:
I can't wait until being educated (aware) and being an upstanding human being is what the cool crowd does.— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) January 17, 2012
Believe it or not there are people who educate themselves before the television tells you it's an issue.— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) October 3, 2012
It's kinda backwards to me. We proclaim a religion early in life, then spend our time learning about it.— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) February 5, 2013
Please think for yourself. Don't believe a man with a suit can save your life. You're more powerful than any government or ideal.— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) October 17, 2012
I was born in the wrong time. I yearn for the days where exploration, knowledge and science motivate my people, not money.— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) September 27, 2011
Washington Redskins WR Donté Stallworth
Experience: 10 seasons
What makes him unique: Unbelievable career/life path.
I don't know that I've ever seen an NFL player grow up as much as Stallworth, who in 2009 struck and killed a pedestrian while driving drunk. He served time behind bars and has turned his life around.
The veteran receiver, who is trying to catch on again with the Washington Redskins, recently told ESPN's Outside the Lines about a time in which he was strongly homophobic (via The Washington Post):
I was very homophopic. I couldn't even be in the same room with a gay man, at all. I'm ashamed to tell it, but when I was younger I was leaving the club. I was maybe 24-years old. I was leaving the club and there was a gay club letting out. And I walked out of there yelling gay slurs for no reason.
But he's turned his life around. He's able to admit those former flaws now, which is a great sign. He, too, enjoys philosophy and spends lots of time reading. In 2010, he was even awarded the Ed Block Courage Award, which honors players who are "role models of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage."
In addition to being one of the fastest players the league has ever seen, Stallworth is one hell of a reclamation story.
Oakland Raiders FB Marcel Reece
What makes him unique: Jack of all trades.
Reece is a fullback who can run the ball, block extremely well and take snaps in the slot. You don't see many H-back-style players like him nowadays, but in the right offense that versatility could be a game-changer.
The former undrafted free agent was graded by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the sixth-best blocking fullback in the league last year while also averaging over 4.6 yards per carry and picking up 496 yards on 52 catches as a receiver.
James Casey and Charles Clay possess similar traits, but until they can produce like Reece, he'll be the most unique offensive Swiss Army Knife in the league.
Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt
Experience: 2 seasons
Who is the most unique player in the NFL?
What makes him unique: A 3-4 end who dominates as a pass-rusher.
Standing 6'5" with a 82.5" wingspan and a 37" vertical leap, it's not surprising to see J.J. Watt dominate at the line of scrimmage as a ball-batting force. He had a record 16 batted passes in 2012, which is ridiculous in its own right.
Then consider that the guy made a run at another record by putting up 20.5 sacks as a 3-4 defensive end and you begin to realize how much better he is than everyone else around him. The scariest part is that the 2011 first-round pick is only 24.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
Experience: 1 season
What makes him unique: Short quarterback who can run.
The No. 1 reason why Russell Wilson slid into the third round of the 2012 draft and entered this league with low expectations: He's only 5'11", which is an inch shorter than Drew Brees, who faced the same stigma a decade earlier.
There's evidence that it's extremely hard for quarterbacks under 6'4" to make it in this league, but Wilson managed to lead the Seahawks to the playoffs while posting the NFL's fourth-highest passer rating and running for nearly 500 yards in his rookie campaign.
That makes him one hell of an anomaly.
Washington Redskins RB Alfred Morris
Experience: 1 season
What makes him unique: Mr. Nice Guy.
The NFL's second-leading rusher drives a 1991 Mazda 626, sleeps on his parents' couch when he returns to Florida and thinks it's Santa's turn to receive some gifts. He plays paintball with his fans and is undoubtedly the league's most humble superstar.
They don't make many role model athletes like that nowadays.
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