Top 50 Athletes in the NFL

Wes StueveContributor IIIJanuary 27, 2012

Top 50 Athletes in the NFL

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    It's a proven fact that physical freaks excite NFL fans like nothing else. Why does every fan want Calvin Johnson or Mario Williams? Not just because they're good, but because they are awesome in a way few others are.

    Over the years, the NFL has seen some fantastic athletes. Some of these players are massive men; others are small. Some are incredibly fast; others are incredibly strong.

    Sure, every NFL player is athletic, otherwise he wouldn't be where he is. But some stand out above the rest, taking freakish to a whole new level.

    Admittedly, there were some close calls. A few players barely made the list, and a few just missed out.

    However, it may surprise you to learn that a few Oakland Raiders did make the cut.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    At 5'7", 208 pounds, Maurice Jones-Drew is the definition of a bowling ball. The guy is dieseled. Jones-Drew is the rare power back that weighs less than 210 pounds.

    But Jones-Drew isn't just powerful. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and recorded a vertical jump of 36". It's rare for someone with Jones-Drew's unusual build to star at the scouting combine, but he did.

Shaun Rogers, DT, New Orleans Saints

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    Now, this guy looks like an athlete.

    In all seriousness, Shaun Rogers is incredibly athletic for his size. The 6'4", 350-pounder is explosive and quick despite his substantial girth. The guy can do a 360 dunk.

    For years, Rogers has dominated when he wanted to. But Rogers is now 32 years old and starting to slow down. He's still one of the game's most impressive players though.

A.J. Hawk, OLB, Green Bay Packers

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    As a player, A.J. Hawk is nothing special. The former No. 5 overall pick never developed into a star and is only an average player. Athletically, however, Hawk is much more impressive.

    At the NFL scouting combine, Hawk weighed in at 248 pounds and ran a 4.59 40-yard-dash. He also turned in an impressive 40" vertical leap. Few linebackers jump that high or run that fast.

Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos

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    This kid is a baller. He's a gamer. He's a playmaker. And a shot-caller. (Now do yourself a favor and put that on repeat.) He's also a really good athlete.

    Tim Tebow isn't anything special when it comes to straight-line speed, but he dominated agility drills and turned in a 38.5" vertical—while weighing 236 pounds.

    Say what you want about him, but that's impressive. 

Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

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    A 6'7", 266-pound physical freak, Michael Johnson is, in many ways, the prototype defensive end. He's incredibly long, he's fast, he's strong and he can jump. What's not to like?

    Even weighing nearly 270 pounds, Johnson can still leap 38.5" flat-footed. The former Georgia Tech star may not be a great player for the Bengals, but his physical ability cannot be denied. 

Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders

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    Not many pure speedsters made this list, but Jacoby Ford is just too explosive to ignore. The 5'9" 186-pounder ran a 4.28 in the 40-yard dash and impressed in other drills as well.

    Ford proved that he is also incredibly quick, and he can cut at almost full speed. On paper, Ford may not be as fast as Chris Johnson, but he may be faster on the field.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills

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    At the 2011 NFL scouting combine, Marcell Dareus showed up bigger than expected. People figured he was out of shape and was going to bomb the drills.


    The 319-pounder ran a 4.93 40-yard dash. In Indianapolis that week, Dareus proved he is athletic enough to play any interior defensive line position, and he has thus far in Buffalo.

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons

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    In case you haven't heard, Tony Gonzalez used to play basketball. 

    The 6'5", 250-pounder is one of the best receiving tight ends of all time, and he can do anything on the field. A former Kansas City Chief, Gonzalez has four 1,000-yard seasons, and few receivers, let alone tight ends, have been more consistent.

    Now 35 years old, Gonzalez is still one of the most talented players in the NFL. A few more basketball players have come along though.

Colin Kaepernick, CB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Colin Kaepernick plays quarterback, but his combine numbers sure don't show it. Kaepernick measured in at just under 6'5", 233 pounds and ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash.

    Few quarterbacks possess Kaepernick's rare size and athleticism combination. The Nevada product can also throw the ball a mile, but that's a different discussion all together. 

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    The owner of the NFL scouting combine's fastest 40-yard dash time, Chris Johnson simply has to be on this list. Now, Johnson isn't great anything other than running straight, so bear in mind, there isn't much else to talk about.

    Simply put, Chris Johnson ran a 4.24. In the three years since, no one has even tied Johnson, and the record could stand for a while.

Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Though he didn't dominate the scouting combine, Aldon Smith is a terrific athlete. The star pass-rusher is incredibly explosive off the edge, and he can jump too.

    On the field, there are few players more talented than Smith. For whatever reason, this didn't show up in the workouts, but, obviously, I chose to ignore that. 

Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers

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    No combine numbers exist for Charles Woodson (that I could find, at least), but some players simply have it. This interception is proof.

    The 6'1", 202-pounder is still starting at cornerback after 14 seasons in the NFL. Most cornerbacks dont't survive into their early 30s, much less to the age of 35. 

    And Woodson is still good too.

Brian Urlacher, MLB, Chicago Bears

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    At New Mexico, Brian Urlacher played safety. Then he showed up at the NFL scouting combine and weighed 258 pounds. That doesn't seem right, does it?

    But Urlacher's safety-ability was obvious, as the big man ran the 40-yard dash in an astonishing 4.59 seconds. Urlacher also benched 225 pounds 27 times.

Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos

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    Champ Bailey is one of the all-time greats at cornerback. Over the years, no one has been more consistent or dominant. The long-time Bronco is almost certainly a Hall of Famer. 

    Part of Bailey's success is because of his insane athletic ability. The 192-pounder is unbelievably fast, and he can jump too. Even at the age of 33, Bailey can keep up with the fastest of wideouts. 

Terrelle Pryor, QB, Oakland Raiders

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    Terrelle Pryor didn't have the chance to perform at the scouting combine, but if he had, he certainly would have dominated. The former Buckeye measures in at 6'5", 232 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at his pre-draft workout.

    Physically, Pryor is perfect to play wide receiver. For the moment, however, he is still playing quarterback.

    Don't be surprised if he uses his insane physical ability to become a dominant red-zone threat.

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans

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    A 6'3", 230-pound quarterback, Jake Locker doesn't seem like he should be a physical freak.

    But he is.

    The former Washington star ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and also turned in a 35" vertical leap. These numbers are impressive at any position, but they are especially so for someone who can gun the ball 60 yards downfield. 

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    At 6'2", 185 pounds, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is taller than most cornerbacks. He is also considerably more athletic.

    Rodgers-Cromartie turned in a 4.29 40-yard-dash time to go along with an impressive 38" vertical leap. DRC has made some insane interceptions during his time in the NFL, and it goes back to his athletic ability.

Aaron Curry, OLB, Oakland Raiders

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    At Wake Forest, Aaron Curry was a star linebacker with the athletic ability to continue dominating in the NFL. It didn't quite work out that way, but the Raider is still a terrific athlete.

    Curry measures in at 6'2", 254 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.52 seconds. The former No. 4 overall pick also turned in a 37" vertical leap and 25 bench reps of 225 pounds. 

DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys

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    It's obvious by his play on the field that DeMarcus Ware is a phenomenal athlete, but his measureables further confirm this belief.

    The 6'4" 250-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and recorded a 38.5" vertical leap. Ware's explosiveness is obvious on the field, and he didn't disappoint at the NFL scouting combine.

Joe Staley, OT, San Francisco 49ers

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    Joe Staley never did participate in the NFL scouting combine, but at his pro day, Staley ran the 40-yard dash in an unbelievable 4.79 seconds. 

    Staley is a 6'6", 306-pound left tackle. Few men of this size are able to run sub 5.0s in the 40, but Staley broke the barrier with ease. It's hard to say what Staley would have run at the combine, but it would have been impressive. 

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

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    A 6'3", 235-pound wideout, Demaryius Thomas is talented enough to take the NFL by storm. No combine numbers exist for Thomas, but he is far more talented than Dez Bryant, who came from the same draft class.

    Thomas's exciting play beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime during the 2012 playoffs, and he is capable of even more jaw-dropping plays. 

Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    At 6'4", 238 pounds, Jonathan Baldwin is as big as many tight ends. However, Baldwin plays wide receiver. And he is more than athletic enough to do so.

    Baldwin ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.49 seconds, but that was not his most impressive number. Baldwin's 42" vertical was simply incredible, and almost no one can beat out the former Pitt star on a jump ball.

Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Before he was the NFL's best inside linebacker, Patrick Willis was a college star. Before that, he was a physical freak. The 242-pounder is unbelievably fast, but he's also powerful.

    At his pre-draft pro day, Willis ran a 4.37 40-yard dash. This time is excellent for a wide receiver, much less a linebacker. Willis also turned in a 39" vertical leap.

Marcus McNeill, OT, San Diego Chargers

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    At 6'8", 336 pounds, Marcus McNeill isn't the same size as the typical athlete. However, McNeill's athleticism is all the more impressive because of his massive build.

    The former second-round draft pick ran a 5.07 40-yard dash and leaped 31" high. Few players are as tall as McNeill is, and even fewer weigh as much. None are as athletic.

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants

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    Jason Pierre-Paul was drafted No. 15 in the 2010 NFL draft purely because of his physical ability. The 6'5", 270-pounder is a fantastic athlete with ideal size for the defensive end position.

    However, all of JPP's combine numbers disappointed. So I'll act like they don't exist. 

    Watching Pierre-Paul on the field, one can immediately tell that he is simply on a different level than everyone else. No one can match JPP's first step, and his power simply overwhelms offensive tackles. 

Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans

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    A 246-pound tight end incapable of blocking, Jared Cook might actually be better off at wide receiver. The former South Carolina star is certainly talented enough to play on the outside.

    Cook ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the 2009 NFL scouting combine and jumped 41" in the vertical leap. These numbers would raise a wide receiver's stock, so you can only imagine what they did to a tight end's.

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    The No. 1 overall pick in 2011 was drafted because of his athletic ability. At 6'6", 250 pounds, Cam Newton is bigger and faster than any other quarterback in the game. 

    It's rare for such prized quarterbacks to fully participate in the NFL scouting combine, but Newton performed almost every test. The Auburn star ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and recorded a 35" vertical leap. 

Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

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    Von Miller isn't overly big, but he broke nearly every linebacker record at the 2011 NFL scouting combine, so he can't be ignored. The 246-pounder ran like a safety and weighed like, well, a linebacker.

    Miller blazed through the 40-yard dash, turning in a time of 4.42 seconds. Then, Miller ran the three-cone drill in 6.7 seconds and leaped 38" in the air. 

    That's why Von Miller was drafted No. 2 overall.

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

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    Prior to the 2011 NFL draft, J.J. Watt was viewed almost exclusively as a 3-4 defensive end. His combine numbers do not agree with this assessment.

    Watt weighed in at 6'5", 290 pounds and proceeded to run a 4.83 40-yard dash. But Watt wasn't done. The big man also recorded a 37" vertical leap and benched 225 pounds an impressive 34 times. 

Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins

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    In 2010, most felt that Russell Okung was a better player than Trent Williams, but Williams was drafted first. Williams's athletic ability was a big part of the reason why.

    At 6'5", 315 pounds, Williams is an animal. The left tackle ran the 40-yard dash in an incredible 4.81 seconds. His 34" vertical leap wasn't quite as amazing, but it was far from bad. 

Marvin Austin, DT, New York Giants

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    Though he did not play at all in 2010, Marvin Austin was talented enough to be drafted in the second round. Physically, Austin defies nature and the rules that govern defensive tackles.

    Despite weighing in at 6'2", 309 pounds, Austin ran a 4.84 40-yard dash. Austin also pumped out an astonishing 38 reps of 225 pounds. Austin is too big to run this fast and too small to be this strong.

Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns

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    One of many tight ends who used to play basketball, Jordan Cameron was drafted in the fourth round despite hardly even playing college football. The USC tight end's combine performance was huge to his stock.

    Cameron got off to a good start by measuring in at 6'5", 254 pounds, and then he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. Cameron added a 37.5" vertical leap, and he has looked like an acrobat in his first few games as a pro.

LaRon Landry, S, Washington Redskins

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    Despite already having a star safety in Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins chose to select LaRon Landry with the No. 6 pick in 2007. The 213-pounder wasn't as athletic as Taylor, but he was much better than most.

    Landry's 4.35 40-yard-dash time was enough to solidify his status as a top-10 pick. His 37.5" vertical leap certainly didn't hurt matters, either. 

Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers

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    Few tight ends have been more dominant than Antonio Gates. Gates is perhaps the most famous converted basketball player to switch to football, and his success has forced NFL teams to search the basketball court for talent.

    A star hoopster at Kent State, Gates worked out in front of NFL teams and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Diego Chargers. The rest is history.

    Now, Gates is a natural receiver, but it's safe to say it's his athletic ability that made him an NFL star.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders

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    When Darrius Heyward-Bey weighed in at 6'2", 210 pounds and ran a 4.25 in the 40-yard dash, he was immediately headed for Oakland. It's safe to say no combine performance has ever raised a player's draft stock more than Heyward-Bey's did.

    The Maryland wideout was seen as a late first-round talent, but he was obviously athletic enough to warrant a top-10 pick. The selection hasn't worked out so far, but the talent is still there for DHB to dominate.

Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

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    A former star in the Canadian Football League, Cameron Wake has never received fair attention for this athletic ability. Plenty of people recognized Wake's superb 2010 season, but no one discussed how big of a freak Wake is.

    The former Penn State defensive end recorded a 45.5" vertical leap. That is unheard of for a wide receiver. At defensive end, those are the numbers of myth, not reality. 

Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington Redskins

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    Brian Orakpo is a Vernon Gholston who can actually play football. The former No. 13 draft pick weighs in at 263 pounds but ran a 4.63 40-yard dash. 

    Orakpo isn't purely a speed rusher though. The Redskin star also benched 225 pounds 31 times. Then there's his 39.5" vertical leap too.

    You get the point.

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    At the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, Julio Jones measured in at 6'3", 226 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. He soared through the air, turning in a 38.5" vertical leap. It was a performance for the ages.

    He had a broken foot.

    The Atlanta Falcon is a man among boys on the football field, and it's all because of his physical prowess. Few players are as athletically talented, and those who are aren't nearly as big.

Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans

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    Since he entered the NFL, Andre Johnson has been the NFL's best wide receiver. The No. 3 pick in 2003 is a physical freak, though he has no combine numbers to back it up.

    At 6'3", 230 pounds, Johnson is massive for a wide receiver. The former Miami Hurricane can jump up for the ball in the end zone or burn a cornerback downfield. There's nothing he can't do.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Adrian Peterson is the rare running back to be drafted in the top 10 and actually prove worthy the selection. Peterson dominated at Oklahoma from his first day on the team, and he has continued to do so in the NFL.

    Physically, Peterson is the most talented back in the game. The 218-pounder can run 40 yards in 4.40 seconds and jump 38.5" flat-footed. 

    No other running back can do that.

Manny Lawson, OLB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Manny Lawson played defensive end opposite Mario Williams at North Carolina State and is an absolute monster. The former 49ers measures in at just 6'5", 243 pounds, but he is an insane athlete.

    Lawson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and turned in a 39.5" vertical leap. Lawson played defensive end, but his combine numbers were like those of a freakish wide receiver. 

    If only he had been a good defensive end.

Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens

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    A 6'4", 338-pound defensive lineman, Haloti Ngata is athletic enough to play nose tackle, 5-tech, 3-tech or 1-tech. There may not be another player in football who can dominate at all of these positions.

    Ngata dominated in every aspect of the NFL scouting combine. The Oregon star ran a 5.13 40-yard dash, jumped 31.5" in the vertical leap and benched 225 pounds 37 times.

    No wonder he's so good.

Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Vick changed the way quarterback position was played. At Virginia Tech, Vick ran better than most running backs and dropped jaws with his unbelievable runs. No one was more exciting to watch.

    Vick didn't run at the scouting combine, but in his prime, he was easily one of the NFL's fastest players. The 210-pounder outran defensive backs with ease and exploded through holes.

    The game has never seen a better running quarterback.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

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    Our last former basketball player, Jimmy Graham didn't play football at Miami until he was finished with his undergrad degree, but he impressed teams enough with his talent that he was drafted in the third round by the New Orleans Saints. 

    It's easy to see why the Saints took a chance on Graham. He is 6'6", 260 pounds and runs a 4.53 40-yard-dash time. He also has a 38.5" vertical leap.

    Gee, I wonder why Graham is so good?

Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Patrick Peterson is a freak unlike anyone who has ever played cornerback in the NFL. The LSU star was drafted No. 5 overall despite not actually being a dominant cornerback.

    Peterson measures in at 6'0", 219 pounds and runs a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash. He also recorded a 38" vertical leap at the 2011 NFL scouting combine.

    In his rookie campaign, Peterson displayed his physical ability on returns, and we'll see more of it in future seasons.

Taylor Mays, S, Cincinnati Bengals

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    At 6'3", 230 pounds, Taylor Mays has to be too big and slow to play safety, right?


    Mays is an absolute beast, running a 4.31 40-yard dash and jumping 41" high in the vertical leap. Did I mention he weighs 230 pounds?

    The USC star isn't a good player by any means, but if physical skills were all that mattered, he would be one of the game's elite players. 

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers

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    In 2006, Vernon Davis shocked everyone at the NFL scouting combine. The Maryland tight end weighed in at a respectable 254 pounds then ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.

    Wait, what?

    No one had even imagined someone turning in these type of numbers, and Davis wasn't done. He jumped 42" in the vertical leap and pumped out 33 reps of 225 pounds.

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is why Vernon Davis cannot be stopped on the football field. 

Mario Williams, DE/OLB, Houston Texans

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    Prior to the 2006 NFL draft, Mario Williams weighed in at 6'6", 295 pounds.

    Now he plays linebacker.

    Williams put together what may have been the most impressive combine performance in history. The NC State star ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, benched 225 pounds 35 times and jumped 40.5" in the vertical leap.

    While weighing 295 pounds.

    Those would be outstanding numbers for a 250-pound tight end, but Williams was as big as an offensive lineman.

Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears

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    Okay, I lied. One final former hoopster. 

    Julius Peppers was an excellent basketball player at North Carolina, but, as it turns out, he was an even better football player.

    At 6'6", 283 pounds, Peppers doesn't exactly have the body for basketball. Nonetheless, he played for one of the country's biggest and most-respected programs. 

    In the NFL, Peppers has been a dominant defensive end, forcing fumbles, sacking quarterbacks and intercepting passes.

    How many players can say they've done that?

Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

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    They call him Megatron for a reason. 

    Calvin Johnson showed up at the 2007 NFL scouting combine looking ripped. He had six-pack abs, he was cut and he was massive. 

    He weighed in at 6'5", 239 pounds—tight end size.

    But Johnson wasn't going to participate in any drills. His stock was already as high as it would get, and he wasn't going to take any risks.

    Then, for whatever reason, Johnson decided to run the 40-yard dash. He ran a 4.39. In someone else's shoes.

    I'm not sure if that last part's relevant or not, but it sounds impressive.

    Later, at his pro day, Johnson would record a vertical leap of 42.5". 

    Now, in the NFL, Johnson has outrun, outjumped and outmuscled everyone. He's the game's best wide receiver, and the game's best athlete.

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