When talented amateur players advance to the professional ranks, there is usually something different about the way they play that sets them apart, leading to excitement and expectations for their organization and its fan base. Behind each of these stars and remarkable talents is a special athlete who is able to use this athleticism to excel and set themselves apart from others in their particular sports. In some cases, these athletes are not just remarkable, but their athleticism might just be more noteworthy than their actual performance or results.
In the past, you would have to consider Jim Brown (running back), who was a standout track star and All-American in lacrosse during his college days, to be one of the greatest athletes of his era. Bruce Jenner then captured our imagination by winning the gold medal in the decathlon in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The 1980's were highlighted by the unbeatable gladiator, "Iron" Mike Tyson. The next decade was dominated by the high flying Michael Jordan and the quick feet and ridiculous movement of Barry Sanders. Since these times, athletic marvels are now at the core of many of today's sports adding to their allure and captivating fans who are in awe of what they are able to do.
The following 20 athletes have typically been stars in multiple sports. From the ridiculous size, speed and strength of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to the unstoppable full court drives ending with airborne assaults on the rim that Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westrook likes to unleash, the pro sports phenoms of today are considerably more athletic than those of the past. These players all might have the talent to stand out in their respective sports, but their special athleticism is what fans really revere and you get the feeling they would excel in multiple sports.
20 Rob Gronkowski, TE - New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski is big (6-foot-6 and 265 pounds), fast (4.68 second 40-yard dash) and strong (33 reps of bench press at 2010 NFL Combine), making him a perfect athlete for the NFL. The league certainly has some bigger tight ends, even a few who might be faster and maybe a couple who are stronger as well, but few have the complete package like Gronkowski. "Gronk" combines these assets with exceptional body control, a decent 33.5" vertical leap and terrific hands that allow him to clutch balls in heavy traffic. What makes Gronkowski truly unique is his ability to go from knocking a linebacker out of the way with a crushing block on a running play to burning the same linebacker on a deep seam route with the very next play. He is an exceptional physical specimen who is much like an NBA small forward with the addition of 40-50 pounds of pure muscle.
19 Steven Stamkos, C - Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos is known throughout the league as being one of the fastest skaters in hockey. Stamkos, who was the first pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, is no stranger to putting the puck in the net. He once had 197 points in 66 games for the Markham Waxers of the OMHA, scoring a total of 105 goals. Stamkos followed that up with three consecutive seasons of 90 plus points for the Tampa Bay Lightning, including 51 goals in the 2009-10 season and 60 goals in the 2011-12 season. He is a rather compact six feet and 190 pounds, but on the ice Stamkos gets to just about any puck and has plenty of power on his shot. Recently, Stamkos has had some rough stretches (injury wise), but his speed on the ice and power with his shot, make him one of hockey's most athletic players.
18 Colin Kaepernick, QB - San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick might be having some problems converting to a pocket passer, but there is no denying his athleticism. There are some quicker quarterbacks and a few that are just as fast, but Kaepernick is also strong, with a chiseled 6-foot-4, 230 pound body, and can throw the ball a mile. At the 2011 NFL Combine, Kaepernick ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and shocked scouts with his arm strength. He can sit back in the pocket and heave the ball downfield or use his explosive speed to escape the pocket or run between the tackles to pick up an extra yard. Although his ability to run is well documented, Kaepernick's arm strength is one of the contributing factors to him making this list. The former standout high school pitcher was also on his school's highly successful basketball team. Kaepernick is a dynamic athlete who must learn how to get comfortable in the pocket before he will be able to redefine the quarterback position.
17 Rafael Nadal - Tennis
Rafael Nadal has been one of the best tennis players of the current era, utilizing his great strength, length and speed. In the tennis world, Nadal is more of a defensive behind the baseline type of player who utilizes his speed and quickness to cover the court and return serves or shots that other players wouldn't be able to reach. He uses this athleticism to keep rallies alive and set up returns that are more offensive in nature, when most other players would be happy to just get the racket on the ball. Nadal prefers to play on clay surfaces (nine Grand Slam titles) where the ball comes up a little more slowly and he can use his speed and quickness advantage to catch up to balls and maximize his court coverage. Despite his preference for clay, Nadal has won Grand Slam titles on all surfaces and has won a total of 14 Grand Slam events. He is a superior athlete in a very demanding sport.
16 Luke Kuechly, LB - Carolina Panthers
When Luke Kuechly was at Boston College, many NFL scouts were actually concerned about his speed and athleticism. Kuechly certainly proved them wrong at the 2012 NFL Combine. Kuechly put on quite a display, running the 40-yard dash in a time of 4.58 seconds, registering a 38.1" vertical leap and separating himself from wide receivers and cornerbacks by belting out 27 reps of bench press. Kuechly has used this ridiculous athleticism to become one of the best middle linebackers in the league with the ability to play the run and cover running backs or tight ends. He has a nose for the ball, can beat ball carriers to an open space, and bring down them down. He already has 473 tackles in only three seasons of play. Kuechly is a dynamic athlete with the strength to get would be blockers out of his way and the speed to catch up to any ball carrier.
15 Mike Trout, OF - Los Angeles Angels
Baseball might be the sport with the slowest pace of all major sports, but it is full of athletic marvels who have played more than one sport before breaking into the big leagues. Mike Trout played baseball and basketball in high school, and it certainly looks like he can get above the rim when he goes up against the wall in center field to turn home runs into routine outs. Trout, coming off an MVP year, is one of the most complete players in MLB, with power, speed and quickness. He is one of the better center fielders in the game, hits for power (36 HR, 111 RBI in 2014), hits for average (.305 career batting average), and has excellent speed (102 career stolen bases, caught only 14 times) on the basepaths. Trout has scored 353 runs in the last three seasons, with 93 of those coming from the swing of his own bat. He is a tremendous athlete who could probably steal more bases if he wasn't busy knocking in runs.
14 Cristiano Ronaldo, Forward - Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo might not be able to dribble and distribute the ball as well as Lionel Messi, but he is arguably one of the most feared players on the break when opposing players are unable to draw him offside. Ronaldo has terrific speed, power, and acceleration, with the ability to split defenders to get free in open space and powerful legs that allow him to get off serious shots while on the move or when breaking down defenders. Many of his goals are things of beauty, with shots that sail to the far corner of the net or rockets that freeze the goalie and closest defenders. Ronaldo's explosive play comes from his athletic prowess and long but powerful 6-foot-1 frame. He is strong for a soccer player and has legs that look like an NFL running back, and nobody plays the game with more power and aggression. Ronaldo is a talent who could have easily excelled in whatever sport he decided to play.
13 Vernon Davis, TE - San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis struggled to find his place in the San Francisco 49ers offensive attack last season as more pressure on Colin Kaepernick ultimately contributed to taking Davis out of the offensive flow. In the end, he was practically invisible, managing to grab only 26 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. This represented a big turnaround from a player who entered the NFL as one of the freakish athletes of the 2006 draft. At the 2006 Combine, Davis ran a 4.38 second 40-yard dash, recorded a ridiculous 42" vertical leap and even did 33 reps on the bench press. It is scary to think that a man of his size (255 pounds) is stronger than most offensive linemen and faster than most wide receivers at the same time. It must terrorize defensive backs who happen to encounter Davis running free in the seam. Catching up to him is close to impossible, and getting his 250 plus pound body to the ground is just as difficult.
12 J.J. Watt, DE - Houston Texans
J.J. Watt is one of the NFL's best defensive linemen playing in the game today, but his freakish athleticism makes him one of the best of all time. At the 2011 Combine, Watt was able to get his 290 pound body 37" in the air, while jumping 10 feet in the broad jump and doing 34 reps of bench press. On the gridiron, Watt is a complete player who can fight off blocks to make plays in the running game, or go through or around blockers to get to the quarterback. If that isn't enough, even getting blocked Watt can terrorize opposing quarterbacks by getting airborne to swat balls away just after they release the ball. The Texans are well aware of what a special athlete they have on their roster. In 2014, Watt had three touchdowns receptions lined up as a tight end, a touchdown on a fumble return and a touchdown on an interception return. Watt is such a great athlete, he could probably play any position on the field.
11 Brock Lesnar, Wrestler, Retired MMA Fighter - WWE
If this list was made 10 years ago, Brock Lesnar would probably be in the top three. At 37 years old, Lesnar is still a freakish enough athlete to land on this list. He's the WWE's most 'legitimate' competitor, having won an NCAA Division I championship in wrestling, and being a former UFC Heavyweight Champion. Lesnar's size (6-foot-3) 290 pounds, combined with his speed and explosiveness had him primed to excel in just about any physical sport he wanted to pursue.
Lesnar tried out for the Minnesota Vikings in 2004, posting combine stats of 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 35 inches in the vertical jump, 30 reps on the bench press and 10 feet in the long jump. He was among the Vikings' final cuts in training camp
10 Steve Weatherford, P - New York Giants
Punters are supposed to trot onto the field, wallop the ball with a swift kick, and head to the sidelines to get out of the way. Steve Weatherford is a football player who happens to play the position of punter. To start with, Weatherford earned 13 varsity letters while in high school, playing football, soccer, basketball, and running track. Since coming to the NFL, Weatherford has been on a fitness quest with a workout regimen and eating habits that make him truly unique. The result is a sculpted 210-pound body with very little body fat and the strength of many top linemen in the league. He might not be the best punter in the league, but he certainly is the strongest. He can bench press close to 400 pounds and squat almost 500 pounds as well. In a sport full of great athletes, his strength and fitness are legendary and well known throughout the league, and not just for punters.
9 Russell Wilson, QB - Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson has already earned plenty of recognition for leading the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl two seasons in a row. Opposing players don't need to be reminded about Russell Wilson's athleticism. Every game, Wilson finds time to make at least one or two would be tacklers miss as he looks to throw down the field. He is the most athletic quarterback in the league when it comes to the ability to move around the pocket, and has terrific speed to get to the sidelines after gaining significant yardage. Wilson might lack prototypical NFL quarterback height (5-foot-11), but he can create his own passing lanes with his movement and has a powerful arm to get the ball downfield. He has passed for just under 10,000 yards in his three year career, and enjoys a career passer rating of 98.6. He might be a superior athlete and be able to run on any given play, but he also knows how much easier it is to find open receivers downfield.
8 Adrian Peterson, RB - Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson might have some problems off the field, but few men can match his explosiveness when he actually gets a chance to run with the ball in a game. Peterson is so athletic that he came back from reconstructive knee surgery from an injury suffered in 2011 to become the league's MVP in 2012. In 2012, he even came nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record of 2,105 yards. His unique blend of power and speed makes him dangerous and hard to bring down, while also making him impossible to catch from behind. Being able to come back from both an ACL and MCL tear, and rush for 2,097 yards, simply validates what a special athlete he is. It is close to impossible to get a clean shot on Peterson when he makes his decision to move. Even the strongest of men fail to bring Peterson down with their arms alone and that is assuming he can actually be touched in the first place.
7 John Wall, G - Washington Wizards
John Wall is easily one of the NBA's fastest players in the open court. He has been working on developing his shot, but there is no denying Wall's ability to get out and run in the open court. This season, Wall is averaging 17.2 points and 10.0 assists per game on a Wizards team looking to make a run in the playoffs. He is a blur in the open court and might not attack the basket with the power and tenacity of Russell Westbrook but given a free path to the basket, he is highly capable at soaring through the air to throw down a jam. Out of high school, Wall was recruited by the major programs of Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Georgia Tech. He chose Kentucky, setting a single-game assist record with 16 against Hartford. Wall is only in his fifth NBA season, giving him plenty of time to improve his outside shot. He is, without doubt, a prime example of the league's new wave of talent at the point guard position, and might be the most athletic of the bunch.
6 Jon Jones, Fighter - UFC
Jon"Bones"Jones is one of the best to ever fight in the UFC. Too slight to play football as a defensive lineman in college, Jones dropped out of school to pursue a career in MMA. The rest is history, as Jones has compiled a 21-1 record with 15 wins by submission or knockout. Jones has a wrestling background from high school, that helps him to get in good position for takedowns or throws, and yet is very adept at striking with either his elbows, fists or knees. He is quick in the octagon, and can avoid strikes as well as he can dish them out. Jones is one of the most complete fighters in the UFC, with many impressive wins dotting his resume. His great athleticism is what allows him to adapt to any fighting style or threat his opponent might present. However, testing his athleticism in the octagon, is not a task that one would want to casually take.
5 LeBron James, F - Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James is no stranger to breaking down an opponent off the dribble. He has the speed and quickness to get around defenders and the power to follow up any drive to the basket with a thunderous dunk or meaningful shot. James makes spectacular plays look rather routine, and has the size and body control to make it possible to always get off a good pass or shot. Plenty of players have the speed of James in the open court, but his size and athleticism are what makes guarding him such a difficult task. He is the engine that powers Cleveland's offense and one of the most ridiculous athletes in a league that is full of them, the NBA. LeBron easily could have excelled in another sport had he pursued football past high school.
4 Floyd Mayweather, Boxer
Floyd, "Money", Mayweather is a 38-year old marvel who can still control a fight when he is in the ring. He has some of the quickest hands to ever lace up gloves, and can move his feet as well as he can move his hands. Mayweather is one of the best boxers of all time, with a lightning quick jab and movement around the ring that makes him impossible to hit with a significant shot. Mayweather uses his quickness and speed to dominate opponents, as evidenced by his 47-0 record with 26 knockouts in the ring. He has faced many opponents in his close to 20 years in the ring. Mayweather has taken on the best and is not one to duck opponents or walk away from the "money" of a big fight. He remains victorious in 47 professional fights. That alone should be sufficient enough to prove his great athleticism.
3 Ronda Rousey, Fighter - UFC
Ronda Rousey is the most feared woman in the world, and is one of the most conditioned athletes in sports as well. Rousey is currently on such a winning streak that it has become an accomplishment to remain in the octagon with her for more than one round. She is undefeated in her MMA bouts, with a record of 11-0, taking on the best women in her sport. She just won her last match against Cat Zingano in only 14 seconds of the first round. She comes in prepared for each fight. Her opponents know what to expect, and yet Rousey continues to win matches with her signature arm bar. She is such a dominant athlete and MMA fighter that she is able to quickly submit opponents and end the match as soon as they make their first mistake. Rousey's athleticism is truly scary, considering opponents spend so much time training to slip out of her signature move.
2 Marshawn Lynch, RB - Seattle Seahawks
Marshawn Lynch didn't get his chance to become this year's Super Bowl MVP, but the 12th man of Seattle knows all too well what he means to their squad. Lynch runs with a ferocity and determination that often overshadows his amazing athleticism and grace. What looks like a bowling ball knocking over pins, is actually a surprisingly quick, agile and strong man who is as good at making tacklers miss as he is at breaking through their arms. In four seasons with the Seahawks, Lynch has yet to gain less than 1,200 yards, managing to rush into the end zone 48 times so far in his career. While he has been the most consistent running back in the league, he has only missed one game in the last four years. Lynch has the wiggle, loose hips and explosiveness, and knows how and when to makes his cuts. As far as athletes go, Lynch is one of a kind with his exceptional quickness and strength derived from his 215 pound size.
1 Russell Westbrook, G - Oklahoma City Thunder
There are many players who can shoot and score in the NBA, but few drive to the basket with the aggression and athleticism like Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is "only" 6-foot-3 tall, but he gets to the rim so quickly that there are very few big men who can get off the ground fast enough to cut off his drives or get a hand on his shot. Westbrook has a way of turning defenders around and exploding to the rim once they miss a step. He has had to take more initiative this season, with the absence of Kevin Durant, boosting his scoring average to 27.6 points per game. He is also creating more opportunities for his teammates, averaging a career best average of 8.6 assists. This season, he is proving his worth and in the process, he has been creating even more highlight reel clips. There are plenty of great athletes in all the major sports, but few have the speed, quickness, and strength packed into a toned 200 pound frame.