Among the four major sports, the NBA and NFL are the most similar in terms of player’s size and skills. In both leagues, players need to be strong, fast and a quick decision-maker. While those traits are also important in the MLB and NHL, the players and their skillsets are more comparable among the NBA and NFL.
It's not just the biggest players in the NBA who would make great NFL players. Tacko Fall (7-5) and Boban Marjanovic (7-4) are two of the biggest players the NBA has ever seen, but neither would fare well on the gridiron.
While you might think that smaller players like Nate Robison (5-9) and Ty Lawson (5-11) may be too little to play in the NFL, keep in mind that Darren Sproles (5-6), Maurice Jones-Drew (5-7), Barry Sanders (5-8), and Frank Gore (5-9) have all gone on to have excellent careers.
So while height and size alone don’t mean an NBA player could or couldn’t transition to the NFL, it is more about a combination of their size, speed, skills, and other factors. The NBA is full of both talented and physically impressive athletes. These are the ones who likely could have gone on to successful NFL careers if they decided to head in that direction instead of taking the path to the NBA.
LeBron James: Tight End
This is no surprise. Arguably the greatest physical athlete of all-time, LeBron James is 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds of solid muscle. Add in the fact that he is a generational talent as well, like Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson, James likely could have played any number of sports professionally.
James was a two-time All-Ohio selection in high school and was recruited by the University of Miami, Ohio State and Michigan. Unlike some other players on this list, James has proven he would have been an excellent football player. A wide receiver in high school, he could play there or at tight end for any team. A taller, faster and more agile Rob Gronkowski would make for one deadly offensive weapon.
De’Aaron Fox: Running Back/Wide Receiver/Defensive Back
De’Aaron Fox is one of the fastest, if not the fastest player in the NBA. At 6-3, 185 pounds, Fox would be like a taller version of Tyreek Hill (5-10). Keep in mind that Fox is as tall as Michael Thomas.
His speed and decision-making skills would make him a good running back. He could also make for an interesting press-cornerback in a Seattle 3 defense. However, he would likely be best suited as a wide receiver with his speed and agility.
Andre Iguodala: Wide Receiver/Tight End
Andre Iguodala is essentially a “smaller” version of LeBron James. At 6-6 and 215 pounds, Iguodala has the perfect build for a hybrid receiver/tight end role. He is one of the most athletic players in the NBA and outside of James, is perhaps the one who could realistically play in the NFL right now, even at age 36.
Back in his prime, he would have been an even more likely NFL candidate but like James, even as he gets older he hasn’t declined much in terms of size and athleticism. Iguodala would be the perfect example of a jump-ball receiver in the red zone.
Russell Westbrook: Defensive Back/Wide Receiver
Some people seem to forget just how big Russell Westbrook is. Sure, he may look small on the court compared to his peers but Westbrook is still 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. At that size, with his leaping ability, Westbrook would make for an excellent wide receiver.
He would also make for a great defensive back. Westbrook has proven at times to be an excellent defender. That is, of course, when he wants to play defense. At times, he does seem to lack defensive effort but when he wants to, he can be a lockdown defender.
Marcus Smart: In-the-box Safety
Marcus Smart would make an excellent defender nearly anywhere on the field. He could play any defensive position and be a force. He has a respectable 6-3, 220-pound frame. One of the best defenders in the NBA, he would likely be equally as great defensively in the NFL.
Rajon Rondo: Quarterback
Twenty years ago, saying that someone who is barely 6-foot-1 would make a good quarterback in the NFL would be laughable. Now, short quarterbacks are taking over the NFL. Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray are all shorter than Rondo.
His passing skills with a basketball are among the best in the NBA. Also, Brees has vouched for Rondo’s potential quarterback skills. Rondo himself believes he could have been an NFL quarterback and he likely would have if he opted to take that route.
Dwight Howard: Defensive Lineman
Like LeBron, Dwight Howard is an excellent physical specimen. He's 6-11 and 265 pounds of pure muscle, good luck slowing that man down on the football field. Not only is he a freak of nature size-wise, but he is also deceptively fast in short bursts. That combination of size and speed would make for a great defensive lineman, more so on the defensive end.
Kemba Walker: Running Back
Kemba Walker would have been better suited as a running back in his prime but even at 30 he still is one of the quicker and shiftier guards in the NBA. His ability to evade defenders and put people on the floor would transition well over to the NFL. Think of a Le’Veon Bell dancing behind the offensive line making defenders miss.
Montrezl Harrell: Defensive End
With a wingspan of 7-foot-4, Montrezl Harrell would be one of the scariest NBA players to ever line up at pass rusher — aside from maybe Ben Wallace. Harrell was a star football player back in his high school days and likely could have ended up at a Division 1 school for football if he chose that path. Imagine someone his size sacking a quarterback like Murray or Brees.
Bam Adebayo: Defensive End
Everyone knows how big Bam Adebayo is but his athleticism is underrated. At 6-9 and 255 pounds, Adebayo is one of the most athletic big men in the NBA. Chrisitan Okoye was the original “Nigerian Nightmare” but Adebayo would have certainly earned that name as he would have been a nightmare for opposing offenses to stop.
Jimmy Butler: Wide Receiver
If anyone in the world believes that Jimmy Butler would have made it in the NFL as a wide receiver, it is Jimmy Butler. A quick YouTube search will show you some interviews where Jimmy Butler truly believes that not only would he have made a great NFL WR, he would have also been the league’s best. His strength, speed, size, and vertical all would have made him an excellent target. However, he probably wouldn’t have been as great of a receiver as he thinks he would have been.
Zach LaVine: Wide Receiver
At 6-6 and 200 pounds, Zach LaVine has the perfect build for an NFL wide receiver. With his impressive leaping abilities, he would have been one hell of a target, especially for those endzone fade routes. His NBA combine was impressive. He was top five in all his strength and agility drills. LaVine is one hell of an athlete and his impressive jumping ability would have been a huge asset in the NFL. He reminds us of an even more athletic Mike Evans.
Kawhi Leonard: Defensive End
Kawhi Leonard could use his claws for something other than blocking shots and palming basketballs. He could use those hands to help him push defenders aside as he explodes to the quarterback coming off the edge. Leonard is one of the best all-around athletes in the NBA. With his mix of speed, size, and athleticism, he would have been a pain to try and stop for offensive linemen.
James Harden: Punter
James Harden would have been the perfect NBA player to play in the NFL. Of course, probably only as a punter. His ability to flop and draw fouls would transition well to his ability to try and draw penalties on teams that try to block his punts. It would be a free 15 yards every time Harden steps out onto the field. Of course, I’m joking, but you get my point.
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