NFL Players Who Could Be Even Better at Different PositionsJuly 14, 2018
NFL Players Who Could Be Even Better at Different Positions
Major position switches are rare in the NFL even when some should be considered. The lack of creativity comes down to one problem: Changing positions isn't easy.
"The difference is if you're used to something, used to those body motions, and you make a switch, it's difficult," Miami Dolphins guard Josh Sitton said of moving from left to right guard, per the Sun-Sentinel's Chris Perkins.
"I could compare it with trying to wipe your ass with your opposite hand. That might be a little bit too much for ya'll, but it's different when you're not used to a position, switching. I hope I'll end up on the left side."
Now, imagine making a more significant move like being a quarterback your entire life and being told you need to play wide receiver, for example. Special talents can make the change, though.
In this case, rookies are not included since they're still finding their way. So, no mention of Lamar Jackson moving to wide receiver will be made, nor should it.
Otherwise, the following athletes can make a significant difference simply by switching positions.
Adoree' Jackson, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans chose Adoree' Jackson in the first round of last year's draft after he played cornerback, wide receiver and returner for the USC Trojans. The organization knew Jackson needed time to develop at one position, but this doesn't mean he can't be considered for another.
Jackson performed well at cornerback as a rookie. No other rookie played more snaps or combined for more pass breakups plus interceptions last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
"There's no other rookie in the league starting punt returner, kick returner, corner, been able to cover top guys in and out during the year, and play inside and outside," Logan Ryan said during the playoffs, per The Tennessean's Jason Wolf. "Nobody else has been asked to do that, so obviously he's been under-recognized for all that, but that's OK."
So why change what's already working?
Right now, the Titans need a playmaker on offense far more than defense, and Jackson could create just as much of an impact at wide receiver as cornerback. Corey Davis is the only receiver on the roster with the potential to create chunk plays. Jackson is dynamic with the ball in his hands and can line up out wide, in the slot or even in the backfield.
Head coach Mike Vrabel, of all people, should understand the value of a defender who can add to an offense.
Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals
Carl Lawson isn't a linebacker; he's a defensive end.
Sometimes the NFL is far too stringent on size demands for certain positions. Lawson excelled as an explosive edge-rusher during his collegiate career, yet the Bengals decided to convert last year's fourth-round pick to strong-side linebacker instead of letting him do what he does best on a full-time basis—rush the passer—because he lacks ideal length.
That's about to change.
"I think in [defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's] vision, he sees the opportunity to utilize Carl more in the base defense than what we did with Paul [Guenther]," head coach Marvin Lewis said during the annual league meeting, per the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr.
Lawson's personal goals speak to how he'll be utilized. He plans to break Eddie Edwards' franchise record of 83.5 sacks, according to AL.com's Mark Inabinett. Also, the second-year defender, who is listed at 6'2" and 260 pounds, prepared this offseason for a bigger role along the defensive front.
"I'm not just third downs this year, so I need to have a more complete body and a more complete game," Lawson said, per the Athletic's Justin Williams. "Been playing the run, I feel like I'm doing really well actually. Playing good 6-technique [over the tight end], playing with a stance that's comfortable for run and pass."
Evan Engram, New York Giants
Evan Engram's position designation is merely semantics. Yes, he's listed as a tight end even though his skills and utilization are far closer to a wide receiver.
Engram's versatility helps make him a matchup nightmare, and there's no need to perpetuate the idea he's a solid in-line option.
"We all understand he has a unique skill set in terms of the pass game," Giants tight ends coach Lunda Wells said, per NJ.com's Ryan Dunleavy, "but he's a very sharp kid, and he can do a little bit of it all.
"I can't say that I can see him as just a guy that is split out [as a receiver] because I think we'd be doing an injustice to him. He is a willing blocker and a guy that's willing to do everything that goes into it."
A fine line exists between willing and executing. Many tight ends are willing blockers; not many are satisfactory blockers. Engram certainly isn't.
Why not take advantage of what he does best on a down-by-down basis? As a matter of fact, he lined up in the slot 52 percent of the time during his final season on Ole Miss' campus, per Pro Football Focus. At 6'3" and 240 pounds with 4.42-second 40-yard-dash speed and a 36-inch vertical jump, cornerbacks can't handle him.
The Giants can continue to use Engram in different ways, but he can be most effective working alongside or opposite Odell Beckham Jr. while detached from the line of scrimmage.
Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
Guard Joel Bitonio, not Shon Coleman or rookie Austin Corbett, is the Cleveland Browns' best left tackle option after Joe Thomas' retirement. Even so, the coaching staff isn't expected to move the 26-year-old blocker to the blind side.
"He is an elite guard, one of the top 4-5 in the league," offensive line coach Bob Wylie said, per Cleveland.com's Terry Pluto. "You put him at tackle and he becomes...what...just a tackle."
Wylie's comments are shortsighted.
First, he's already indicating Bitonio can't excel even though he entered the league as a tackle prospect before the Browns bumped him inside because of his body type. At 6'4" and 305 pounds, Bitonio doesn't have Coleman's size or length, but the veteran shows superior movement skills, and he's a better overall athlete with longer arms than Corbett.
Furthermore, Cleveland drafted Corbett in this year's second round because the organization loved his versatility. The goal should be to place the best five blockers on the field, and Bitonio is by far the most fluid option with superior technique and experience.
"Anything they need I'm willing to give a try," he said, per Cleveland.com's Dan Labbe, "but I think right now the plan is to find a guy to play left tackle, and I'm going to stick right at left guard."
Mike Remmers, Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings signed Mike Remmers last offseason to solve their right tackle problem. Instead, the organization seems to have found an answer at guard. Remmers made 52 career starts at offensive tackle before moving to guard last season during the team's stretch run.
According to the Star-Tribune's Andrew Krammer, Rashod Hill "took nearly every rep" as first-team right tackle this spring with Remmers at right guard. So, the transition is already underway. However, it has yet to become a permanent solution.
Any injury or poor performances from Hill and rookie Brian O'Neill could force Remmers' return to tackle. Instead of leaving Remmers in limbo, his position switch should be considered permanent.
A strong interior is important to build the pocket's depth for new quarterback Kirk Cousins, who lacks Case Keenum's mobility. Even Keenum couldn't escape from being the league's third-most pressured quarterback last season, per Pro Football Focus.
"Mike's a very instinctive player in there," head coach Mike Zimmer said, per Zone Coverage's Sam Ekstrom. "He sees a lot of things. He's got good quickness. He's got good power. He's been able to get the 3-technique reached a couple times, been able to sit down on some guys rushing."
The Vikings' offensive line is far from settled, but right guard shouldn't be viewed as a problem.
Morgan Burnett, Pittsburgh Steelers
Deone Bucannon and Mark Barron set the table for other safeties to make a full-time transition to linebacker, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have the option to do so after signing veteran Morgan Burnett.
The concept isn't foreign to Burnett after playing the position at times for the Green Bay Packers the last two seasons.
"We've had that in as a changeup," outside linebacker Clay Matthews said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Michael Cohen, "but the fact that he can come in there and there's no drop off from a guy who, you know, isn't an inside linebacker, I think that speaks volumes to kind of what he brings to this defense and kind of how valuable he is."
A full-time transition may be in the best interests of Burnett and the Steelers defense. The defensive back is 29 years old, and the move may extend his career. Also, Pittsburgh doesn't have an established starter next to Vince Williams. The potential transition would allow the defense to place Burnett, Sean Davis and first-round pick Terrell Edmunds in the lineup on a full-time basis.
Burnett, who still sees himself as a safety, is open to the possibility.
"It really doesn't matter to me. I love football," Burnett said, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "As long as I'm on the field, I'm happy and ready to go."
Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are going in the wrong direction with last year's third overall pick, Solomon Thomas. The defensive lineman is a far better interior defender than he is an edge-rusher. Yet the team is now moving him from "big end" to Leo (rush end) in its base front, according to the San Francisco Bee's Matt Barrows.
On the surface, the move seems to make sense since Arik Armstead didn't provide what the scheme needed as last year's starting Leo, and Thomas is an exceptional athlete after finishing top five among 2017 defensive line prospects in bench press, broad jump, three-cone drill and short shuttle.
Yet the move doesn't correlate with Thomas' skill set.
The 22-year-old isn't a fluid edge-rusher who will turn the corner with quickness and flexibility to beat offensive tackles. His strength is working over guards and centers by defeating blocks with upfield explosiveness, athleticism and technique.
At a listed 280 pounds, Thomas may never become a full-time defensive tackle, even though 3-technique is arguably his best position, especially in sub-packages. Still, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh must align his approach with his players' strengths and weaknesses.
An interior duo regularly featuring Thomas and DeForest Buckner could develop into a devastating duo even if the 49ers would be considered undersized along their front.
Tavon Austin, Dallas Cowboys
No one has quite figured out how to use Tavon Austin despite the continued implementation of spread principles at the professional level. The Dallas Cowboys just might have found a way to finally utilize his skill set by moving him to running back.
Austin has been viewed as a wide receiver for the bulk of his career. However, he excelled at West Virginia as a multipurpose weapon before the then-St. Louis Rams used the eighth overall pick to select the 5'8", 179-pound speedster.
Technically, the Cowboys' coaching staff now refers to Austin as a "web back," which is a glorified third-down role.
"At the end of the day, I'm a playmaker," Austin said, per the Dallas Morning News' Brandon George. "That's how I describe myself. I don't really care where I'm at on the field. I just want the ball and a little bit of space and let me create, and I'm going from there."
The ability to create is what's important. Not asking him to be a refined route-runner or reliable target is a major step in the right direction. As a member of the running back stable, Austin can be handed the ball or targeted out of the backfield. His creativity in space is where he excels.
"He's a steal," quarterback Dak Prescott said of the Dallas trade to acquire Austin from the Rams, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer.
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions backfield is crowded after the team signed juggernaut stand-in LeGarrette Blount and drafted another slashing runner, Kerryon Johnson, in the second round.
Of course, Theo Riddick can remain the team's more-than-capable third-down back.
"We'll be one of those teams that have guys in certain roles," running backs coach David Walker said, per MLive.com's Nate Atkins. "Hopefully it's not so finite that the defense knows exactly what those roles are and can prepare for him."
Another option exists: Riddick can be moved to wide receiver so the unit has its best offensive weapons on the field at the same time.
The Lions' wide receiver depth behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. is suspect. Riddick is already the team's third-leading receiver and second behind only the Cleveland Browns' Duke Johnson in receptions by a running back over the last three seasons. Wide receiver isn't foreign to Riddick, either, since he started two years for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the position.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford could walk to the line of scrimmage this fall knowing he has a battering ram behind him, two reliable veteran receivers and Riddick ready to work in space. That's a far better approach than simply bringing Riddick onto the field during third downs.
Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons made a mistake with their handling of 2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley, and the organization is trying to rectify the situation.
Beasley became the eighth overall pick because he could harass opposing quarterbacks. Since the collegiate defensive end didn't fit prototypical standards (6'3", 246 lbs), the coaching staff moved him to linebacker and only used him as an edge-rusher in sub-packages.
Beasley led the NFL in 2016 with 15.5 sacks only to see his production drop to five sacks last season.
"I wasn't rushing as much as I normally would," Beasley said, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. "There were less opportunities, but it was for the betterment of the team and what the team needed most at that moment. I was fine with that."
What's best for the Falcons is unleashing Beasley as a pass-rusher. He's not nearly as effective working in space as a linebacker. There's no reason why he shouldn't have his hand in the dirt at all times, and the staff finally realized this by permanently switching him to defensive end this offseason.
"It frees him up to play more first- or second-down nickel and be available in that way and be fresher during the course of the game," defensive line coach Bryant Young said. "Not that he couldn't handle it, because I thought he did a good job of handling the [strong side] and playing defensive end. Just having him available to play more reps at defensive end will be good for us."
The moral of the story is simple: Play a top-10 pick and elite talent at his natural position to maximize effectiveness.