Ranking the Top NFL Superstars Ever Taken in the MLB Draft
After months of mock drafts, speculation and increased interest, the 2014 NFL draft is finally set to commence in New York City. By the end of the weekend, over 200 collegiate athletes will make the jump from the NCAA to the NFL.
For most, the choice will be easy. Signing on the dotted line with an NFL franchise will likely be the best and only option in order to continue the pursuit of athletic goals and become a professional athlete. For some, however, other options could soon be available.
One of those options: Major League Baseball.
Due to the popularity of the NFL, it's hard to imagine any football prospect eschewing the glamour of the NFL for a trip through baseball's minor league cities. Over the course of NFL history, many stars have been lucky enough to have enough baseball skill to have that very choice presented to them.
As you watch the NFL draft, keep in mind some of the current and former NFL stars who chose the gridiron over the diamond.
The following is an attempt at ranking some of the most famous two-sport stars.
Statistics and draft information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
10. Eric Decker
Team: Minnesota Twins
The current New York Jets wide receiver has made a habit of difficult, life-changing decisions during the early portion of his athletic career. When Decker eschewed the Minnesota Twins to pursue football, he took a chance. This spring, he did the same by leaving behind Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos for a lucrative contract with the Jets.
Although far less accomplished or as famous as his counterparts on this list, Decker enters the 2014 NFL season as one of the top receivers in the sport. Last year, the 27-year-old caught 87 passes and racked up 1,288 yards for the AFC Champions.
9. Colin Kaepernick
Team: Chicago Cubs
Colin Kaepernick's long, fluid throwing motion on the football field was likely derived from his exemplary work on the pitcher's mound during his days as a baseball player. The two-time California all-state baseball player turned down a contract offer from the Cubs in order to continue a college football career at Nevada.
With back-to-back NFC Championship Game appearances in his first two years at the helm in San Francisco, it's clear that Kaepernick's athleticism was suited for the current landscape of the NFL game.
Yet, with a rifle for a right arm and 230-pound frame, it's hard not to imagine what kind of professional pitcher Kaepernick could have been if he had chosen to sign with the Cubs.
8. Russell Wilson
Team: Colorado Rockies
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a Super Bowl champion, franchise quarterback and one of the brightest young stars in professional sports. If he had chosen a different path, the former second baseman could have been part of one of baseball's most exciting teams this season.
Four years ago, the Colorado Rockies selected Wilson in baseball's annual June draft. Although it's impossible to predict how Wilson's baseball career would have unfolded, the idea of his athleticism and talent carrying him to the big leagues isn't unreasonable.
Watching Wilson and Troy Tulowitzki turn double plays and hit the ball around Coors Field would have been an amazing spectacle, but a Super Bowl ring isn't a bad consolation prize for the former North Carolina State and Wisconsin star.
7. Michael Vick
Team: Colorado Rockies
Don't be discouraged if you can't remember Michael Vick's collegiate baseball career at Virginia Tech or his highly touted high school baseball dominance. Why? Those things never happened.
Despite not playing organized baseball past middle school, the Colorado Rockies made Vick a 30th round selection in 2000 based solely on athleticism and potential in the game of baseball. Considering the dynamic, jaw-dropping moments Vick has provided on the gridiron, the Rockies idea wasn't crazy.
According to a Sports Illustrated article from 2000, then Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt used Michael Jordan's interest in trying baseball as a reason to use a late-round selection on Vick.
"When you can run like him, our feeling was he could cover some ground for us in the outfield," Schmidt said. "I didn't think it was a major investment at that point (30th pick). If it didn't work out, we could take a chance. Michael Jordan tried (baseball). Maybe he might want to make a run at it."
6. Ricky Williams
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Ricky Williams burst on the national sports scene as a rare, once-in-a-generation talent at the University of Texas. With a bruising and physical running style, the mercurial star was a throwback to a breed of running back that has slowly disappeared from the sport.
Before winning the Heisman Trophy, Williams was a baseball player in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. Although his .211 career average didn't give much hope for a sustained career in baseball, the future Pro Bowl running back did manage to impress a future major league All-Star when their paths crossed.
According to Jimmy Rollins—a teammate of Williams in the Phillies minor league system—the future NFL star had unmatched speed on the field, per Ethan J. Skolnick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
"Fastest guy I've ever laid eyes on," Rollins said. "Fastest guy out of the chute. My God. Really? People are really that fast?"
5. Bo Jackson
Team: Kansas City Royals
Bo Jackson may have been the ultimate athlete. If not for a degenerative hip condition that derailed the career of the two-sport superstar, a potential NFL and MLB Hall of Fame player may have emerged from Auburn.
From 1988-1990, Jackson hit 85 home runs and posted a 124 OPS+ for the Kansas City Royals. Those seasons, coming in his age 25-27 campaigns, put Jackson on the path to becoming an outfielder with special power. To put those numbers into perspective, consider this: Jackson's 124 OPS+ was higher than Kirby Puckett, Kirk Gibson and Ron Gant at the same age, per Baseball-Reference.
In football, Jackson was even more prolific. Among running backs with at least 500 career rushing attempts, Jackson's 5.4 yards per carry average still ranks third in the history of the sport. That mark is above those of Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson.
4. Deion Sanders
Team: Kansas City Royals
As the years go on, Sanders has become known more for his charismatic personality and broadcasting skills than the blend of speed, athleticism and all-around dynamic play that the former cornerback and outfielder brought to the gridiron and diamond, respectively.
While Sanders was wise to eventually choose a full-time NFL career that landed him in Canton, the former Yankees, Braves, Reds and Giants outfielder was good enough to swipe 186 bases in just 641 career major league games.
3. Dan Marino
Team: Kansas City Royals
The end of Dan Marino's legendary football career was marked by the sight of a slow, plodding quarterback trying to buy precious seconds in the pocket in order to rifle a fastball into the chest of a wide receiver.
Yet, years before Marino's knees and legs turned him into the classic drop back passer, his legs and arm combined to make him a highly touted baseball prospect. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column by Mike White, Marino's former high school baseball coach, Joe Emanuele, thought the Kansas City Royals would have made him a center fielder.
"If he didn't play football, he would've been a first-rounder all the way," said Emanuele. "I figured if he went baseball, in one-and-a-half or two years he would be playing in the major leagues. He was so fast and had such a good arm, the Royals wanted him to play center field."
2. John Elway
Team: New York Yankees
From franchise quarterback to Super Bowl MVP to successful team builder, John Elway owns one of the most impressive football resumes of all time.
Based on athleticism and excellent numbers in a short minor league stint with the New York Yankees, one of the faces of the NFL could have been launching home runs over the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. When Elway threatened to play baseball if the Baltimore Colts didn't trade his draft rights, a career in baseball was a real and legitimate option.
1. Tom Brady
Team: Montreal Expos
The final leg of these rankings mirror debates about the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football. For as a great as Marino and Elway were, Tom Brady's career accolades can match or exceed both of the past greats—and he's not done yet.
Before the three-time Super Bowl champion suited up for the University of Michigan or New England Patriots, Brady was selected as a catcher by the Montreal Expos in 1995. At the time, the Expos were just one year removed from finishing a strike-shortened season with the best record in baseball.
Nearly two full decades later, Brady has made five Super Bowl trips as a football player and the Expos are now known as the Washington Nationals.