NFL: Why Rugby Legend Jonah Lomu Was the Best Running Back Who Never Put on Pads

Ben LorimerSenior Analyst IIMarch 24, 2011

24 Nov 2001:  James McLaren of Scotland tries to tackle Jonah Lomu of New Zealand during the International match between Scotland and New Zealand at Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Laurence Griffiths/ALLSPORT
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

For those who have not seen what Jonah Lomu can do on the field, you only need to see some of the footage from his career to understand.

Now that we're all on the same page concerning his talent, it's time to run through just how physically imposing he is.

Lomu stands 6'5" tall and weighed between 270 to 280 pounds during his playing career. While this might sound like he's all brawn with no speed, the man ran a 100-metre sprint in 10.8 seconds in high school.

When the Dallas Cowboys were looking into bringing him to the NFL, his predicted 40-yard dash time was just under 4.5. For comparisons sake, the lightning-fast Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a 100-metre sprint in 10.54 seconds in high school.

If that is not enough, he had a lethal combination of speed, leg drive, upper body strength and agility in and out of cuts. He could have carved up or bowled straight through defensive secondaries in the NFL—and that's without mentioning his famed fend (stiff arm), which has to be one of the best ever in any sport.

For those who doubt the tackling ability of rugby players, you shouldn't.

While they certainly don't dive in as recklessly as NFL defenders do, they are technically sound. If you look, in most games, they don't look stupid trying to tackle someone.

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Lomu's ability to cut at speed meant that very few players were able to get clean hits on him. Granted, he was no Barry Sanders, but he could always get just enough wiggle to get a defender off balance and force them into arm-tackles around his monstrous thighs.

Another point is the size discrepancy between him and his competition. This was a question mark when the Cowboys were analysing him. After all, the only rugby players who normally get anywhere near 260 pounds are the props.

Running through players this size is not entirely foreign to Lomu, however. He does blast through plenty of 230-245 pound players on his way to the try line, and his running power and leg drive do seem to rival some of the great power backs like Earl Campbell and Eddie George. I would be comfortable letting him loose on linebackers.

The greatest reason why Lomu would be a better running back than a rugby winger is the running start that a running back gets.

After the 1995 Rugby World Cup, defenses would place a defender right on Lomu and not allow him any time to build up speed.

This tactic would be completely eliminated on an American Football field, where he would consistently get a five or six-yard run-up to get up to speed and hit "beast mode."

The real issue that would have struck Lomu if he'd joined the NFL would have been reading blocks.

Running in a rugby game is totally open field, with no blockers to help out.

While this would have worked in Lomu's favour as he matured into the sport, he would have had issues finding cut back lanes and reading gaps in the offensive line early in his hypothetical career.

Despite this obstacle, I truly believe that Lomu could have been an All-Pro running back in the NFL if he gave it a go in his prime. He had the size, power and leg strength to be a bulldozer between the tackles and the speed and cutting ability to cause havoc on outside runs and in the open field. His tight end size, long arms and height would give him all the tools to be a good pass protector in the backfield, as well as a safe receiver out of the backfield.

One of the greatest pleasures of my childhood in New Zealand was watching Jonah steamroll past, over and around defenders for my beloved All Blacks. I just wish he could have done the same in the NFL.

Please feel free to comment if you think I am wrong in this analysis, or if you agree.

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