What If LeBron James Jumped from the NBA to the NFL?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IMay 28, 2013

MIAMI, FL - MAY 24: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a free throw attempt against the Indiana Pacers during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on May 24, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Michael Jordan once left the game of basketball at the height of his powers to try his hand at baseball. What if LeBron James did the same, but with football? 

We'd get the answer to one of the greatest "what ifs" in sports. 

The idea of James playing in the NFL was once again revived this week, as former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Theismann postulated that James could play his former position at the game's highest level. 

"I would love to work him out and also serve as his agent," Theismann told Chris Tomasson of FOX Sports Florida. "He could play another four years in the NBA before seriously trying the NFL ... there's always time for him."

Theismann's mostly crazy suggestion of James playing quarterback in the NFL spawned from the Heat star's own admission of his ability to play the position. 

When asked if he could play quarterback, James was confident he had the skill set to pull it off. 

"I think so," James said, via Tomasson. "I have the ability. I can see and read plays. I study a lot, so I know defenses and things of that nature. So I would have been pretty good if I had decided to go for it."

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James once played quarterback as a freshman at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, but moved to receiver once his basketball career started taking off. It's now been nearly 15 years since James has played the quarterback position in a competitive setting. 

While James has a lengthy highlight reel of accurate, one-handed assists in the NBA, he'd be the longest of long shots to ever take a snap as an NFL quarterback. 

However, his inability to play under center wouldn't rob him of the chance to dominate a second sport from a different position. 

At 6'8" or 6'9" and anywhere from 250 to 275 pounds, James could be an uncoverable receiver or tight end in the NFL. 

Remember, James was a two-time all-state receiver in Ohio—a football hotbed in this country—before quitting the sport to concentrate on basketball. No one is questioning James for making that decision, but his early prowess in football does make you wonder what kind of receiver or tight end he could have been had football been his sport of choice.

James certainly had his football admirers back in high school. 

Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports recently retold a telling story from former Bowling Green basketball coach Dan Dakich. It featured Urban Meyer, the current Ohio State head football coach and former Bowling Green head coach, calling James the "best wide receiver prospect in the country" after his sophomore season in high school. 

Doyel points out that before his reign at Bowling Green, Meyer had been a recruiting advisor and receivers coach at Notre Dame. He wasn't just spitting hyperbole about a position he only knew in passing. James was the real deal. 

And Meyer wasn't the only LeBron fan. 

According to Orlando Sentinel, former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel "would've loved" James as a receiver for the Buckeyes. 

Here was Tressel's unofficial scouting report on James:

He's so competitive and so physical. The speed at which he goes at 265 pounds, I don't know if there's anyone in the world — at that size — who moves like that. I remember watching his high school football film, I mean it was frightening.

Dominating the high school level as a giant among boys is completely different from doing the same in college or the NFL, but at least James would have a few role models already in the NFL. 

Tony Gonzalez, quite possibly the greatest tight end of all time, was a former basketball player at Cal before making the full transition to football. While Gonzalez was also an All-American football player at Berkeley, his leap to the next level helped demonstrate that the basketball skill set does translate to the NFL game.

Modern versions of Gonzalez have reinforced that idea. 

Antonio Gates, who was an All-American basketball player after averaging over 20 points and seven rebounds during his senior season at Kent State, eventually signed a free-agent deal with the San Diego Chargers in 2003. He's since made eight Pro Bowl teams while catching 642 passes for 8,321 yards and 83 touchdowns as an NFL tight end. 

Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints is just the latest in the Gonzalez-Gates mold. The 6'7", 265-pound tight end played just one year of college football before bursting onto the scene in New Orleans, where Graham now has 215 catches and 25 touchdowns over his first three seasons. 

In terms of fitting such a mold, James would have few doubters. He's one of the most physically impressive athletes of this or any generation, a 6'8" battering ram capable of 40-inch vertical leaps and sub 4.6-second 40-yard dashes. 

For a sport that puts so much emphasis on the numbers produced at the NFL combine every February, there's no question that James would eventually find a suitor or two at the top ranks. 

And once in the NFL, there's no telling what kind of damage he could do.

Doyel argued that James could have been the greatest tight end of all-time. Theismann thinks that he could play quarterback, arguably the most difficult position in sports.

Even Graham, a potential trail blazer for James, believes basketball's biggest star could make the jump from NBA to NFL. Back in 2011, Graham outlined a five-step process for James to make the transition. 

There are few human beings in the world who can claim the combination of physical skills James can. He's currently using every single one of them to bring the Miami Heat to the brink of their third-straight NBA Finals appearance, which makes it highly unlikely that James will ever seriously entertain the idea of playing professional football. 

He's a four-time NBA MVP and plays on a team that should be considered a front-runner for the NBA title for many years to come. There's very little in terms of tangible reasons for James to give up basketball for a chance at making it in the NFL. 

But if he doesn't, fans will be left to wonder one of the great sports questions of this generation. 

Just how good could LeBron James have been in the NFL?