With the recent influx of basketball players becoming game-changing tight ends in the NFL, it would seem that the NBA draft is a place where NFL teams should be looking to find their talent. However, history would show that some of the greatest players, most specifically quarterbacks, have been drafted in the MLB amateur draft and offered futures in baseball. The similarities between positions like pitcher/catcher and outfielder to quarterback lie in the arm talent, strength, and accuracy that are required to play the position, while an outfielder's skills mirror that of an NFL skill players, having to cover lots of ground in a short amount of time and being able to start and stop quickly, in order to run the base path and steal bases.
Now we need to make an important distinction and we will use "His Airness" to do so. When Michael Jordan had his very puzzling stint in the White Sox minor league system, he wasn't selected in a draft by the White Sox, he was offered a free agent contract, so players along those lines won't be included.
This list will examine 15 NFL players that you may not have known were selected in the MLB amateur draft. While all of the players on this list ultimately would choose football over baseball, their interest in playing baseball still exists, as has been demonstrated by players attending spring trainings. However, had any of these players actually committed to playing baseball over football, they would have undone some of the greatest moments and players in NFL history.
15 Deion Sanders
Round (Pick): 30th (781)
Team: New York Yankees
Deion Sanders stands out from everyone on this list because he actually played both sports, but unlike Bo, Deion was definitely a better football player than baseball player. Sanders was drafted by the Yankees and used his spot on the Yankees as leverage for a better deal with the Atlanta Falcons. However, Deion tried the same tactics for a new deal with the Yankees and the Yankees cut him, leading him to sign with the Braves. While Deion had flashes on the diamond, there was only one Prime and he was on the football field.
Arguably the best cornerback and most electric playmaker of all time, Deion Sanders dazzled the league playing for the Falcons, 49ers, Cowboys, and later Redskins and Ravens. Sanders was a six-time First-team All-Pro and won Defensive Player of the Year in 1994, while winning two Super Bowls, one with San Fran and one with Dallas. In that 1994 season, Sanders would have six interceptions for 303 return yards and three return touchdowns, including a 93-yard return as well as 14 passes defended. Though Deion was able to play both sports, he will forever be remembered as one of the most electric NFL players of all time.
14 Russell Wilson
Year(s): 2007 & 2010
Round (Pick): 41 (1222) & 4 (140)
Team(s): Baltimore Orioles & Colorado Rockies
Position: Infield & Centerfield
I am sure everyone remembers Russell Wilson going to spring ball with the Texas Rangers and, while it was mostly a publicity stunt, Wilson had been drafted before (twice) and had played in single A baseball for two years for the Rockies, before having his rights acquired by the Rangers. However, Wilson decided to pursue his NFL dreams, and while Deion and Bo Jackson were able to play both sports years ago, Wilson isn’t good enough to play in the majors and no GM is crazy enough to let him play.
Wilson is on the precipice of the greatness that could be solidified with his second Super Bowl title, as he has led the Seahawks to one Super Bowl Championship and two Super Bowls appearances, overcoming many obstacles on the road from 3rd-round pick to Seahawks starter to Super Bowl Champion. Wilson is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the league and also one of the smartest, as he is able to make quick checks and audibles putting his teammates in the best positions. While Wilson lives out his baseball dream during spring training, I think he and the Pacific Northwest are happier that he chose football.
13 Jameis Winston
Round (Pick): 15th (486)
Team: Texas Rangers
The Rangers, having already struck out with Russell Wilson, tried drafting Jameis Winston, by promising that he could play pro baseball and college football, but Winston decided to go to FSU to play both. Winston would go on to lead the Seminoles to a National Championship and win the Heisman, while being surrounded by controversies, including a sexual assault lawsuit (which FSU settled in January) and the crab legs incident. Last year, Winston was drafted #1 overall by Tampa Bay and led the Buccaneers to a 6-10 record, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. In his rookie season, Winston threw for over 4,000 yards, becoming the third rookie ever to do that, and came 23 yards shy of the franchise record for most passing yards in a season. Winston has a ways to go in the NFL, but he actually had a 1.95 ERA and .208 opposing batting average in 60.1 innings during his college career, and may have been able to become an effective major league pitcher.
12 John Elway
Years: 1979 & 1981
Round (Pick): 18th (463) & 2nd (52)
Team: Kansas City Royals & New York Yankees
Positions: P & RF
John Elway is the highest drafted player on this list (in both sports), but the difference between him and most of the people on this list, is that Elway had an actual future in baseball and used it to leverage his “I will not play for the Colts” position. Elway was initially drafted by the Royals in 1979, but was re-entered into the draft two years later and selected in the second round by the Yankees. Elway was one of the Yankees top prospects and threatened to hold out from the Baltimore Colts until he was traded to the Denver Broncos.
Elway would go on to be one of the best quarterbacks in the game, leading the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances and two Championships, and is coming off of winning one as an executive. Elway is fourth all-time in career completions and yards, is fifth all-time in career touchdown passes, and sixth all-time in career rushing yards by a quarterback. While Elway ultimately carved a Hall of Fame career in football, if Baltimore hadn’t caved and traded Elway, he would (or maybe wouldn't) be remembered as a Yankees outfielder.
11 Tom Brady
Round (Pick): 18th (507)
Team: Montreal Expos
This will only further anger most of the NFL fan base that hate the Patriots and Brady, but Tom Brady was drafted by the Expos and could have never been in line to replace Drew Bledsoe. The Expos drafted Brady, a left-hand hitting catcher, out of high school, but he decided to pursue football and signed with Michigan. Since then, Brady has only become the greatest quarterback in NFL history, going to six Super Bowls, winning four of them; while usually playing with less than stellar offensive talent.
Brady, at one point, led the NFL’s most prolific offense when he was throwing to Wes Welker and Randy Moss, and has won 10 or more games 13 of his 14 seasons, winning the AFC East in 13 of the 14 seasons he has started a majority of the games for the Patriots. Brady looks poised to come back from his suspension and further his legacy by contending for another Super Bowl, but the entire NFL (save the Pats) could have been saved had Brady chosen to play baseball.
10 Dan Marino
Round (Pick): 4 (99)
Team: Kansas City Royals
Man, if the Royals could have kept their pitching prospects, they would have irreparably changed the 1983 NFL Draft, widely considered the best quarterback draft of all time. Prior to drafting John Elway, the Royals drafted Dan Marino as a pitcher from Central Catholic H.S. in Pittsburgh, but Marino went to Pitt to play college football, and would end up becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Marino was the last quarterback chosen in the first round of the 1983 draft, due to rumors of drug use, but would go on to carve a career that would see him set or tie 47 different passing records 22 of which are still held today.
From 1984-86, Marino led the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns while being selected as First-team All-Pro all three years, and despite only going to the Super Bowl once, Marino was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. While Marino turned down his initial baseball contract, his quick release and strong arm could have allowed him to be an extremely dominant pitcher
9 Ken Stabler
Round (Pick): 10 (190)
Team: New York Yankees
Though Ken Stabler is much older than anyone on the list, he definitely deserves the mention, especially with his recent induction into the Hall of Fame. Stabler was the first in a line of Yankees draft picks that would go on to become NFL stars and Hall of Famers, when he was drafted in the 10th round in 1966. Stabler would pass on the Yankees and forge a career with the Saints, Oilers, but most notably Raiders, that would result in him winning an MVP award in 1974 and winning the Super Bowl in 1976. Stabler built a reputation on being a clutch quarterback, and while he was on the losing end of the “Immaculate Reception,” he was on the winning end of other iconic moments, including the “Ghost to the Post” and the “Holy Roller” games. Over an 9-year period, from 1973-1981, Stabler averaged over 2,400 yards and 19 touchdowns, leading his teams to the playoffs in six of the nine years. Stabler will be remembered for his personality and swagger and would have been a real-life version of “Wild Thing” Rick Vaughn had he taken a big-league mound.
8 Eric Decker
Year(s): 2008 & 2009
Round (Pick): 39th (1178) & 27th (822)
Team(s): Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins
Before Eric Decker was catching balls for the Jets and Broncos, he played both football and baseball at the University of Minnesota. Decker was drafted twice before he started in the NFL, but never played in any minor league games at any level. After being selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, Decker was a mainstay on Broncos teams that made the playoffs three straight years, including the Super Bowl in 2013. The Jets signed Decker as a free agent and after an injury-plagued first season with the team, Decker rebounded in 2015, setting the record for most receiving touchdowns by a receiving tandem, with teammate Brandon Marshall. If the Jets are going anywhere this year, Decker is going to need to replicate his performance from last year. However, if football doesn’t work out, he can do as one of his former quarterbacks is doing, host a baseball tryout.
7 Ricky Williams
Round (Pick): 8th (213)
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Unlike most of the guys on this list, Ricky Williams actually played for the baseball team that initially drafted him. Williams was drafted by the Phillies and would go on to play four seasons of A-Ball for them, before his rights were moved to Montreal and then Texas in 1998. Williams would opt for a career in football and would be drafted by the Saints 5th overall in one of the most infamous draft day trades in any sport.
Williams would go on to be one of the most enigmatic figures in sports, yet one of the most effective running backs of that era. In six years as the primary running back, Williams averaged over 1,200 yards a season, but spent much of the prime of his career suspended, retired, or splitting time with Ronnie Brown. Most people will remember Williams for his numerous drug-suspensions due to Marijuana use, but what’s forgotten is how dominant he was in Miami. However, if he had decided to continue playing baseball, imagine him running down the baseline looking to break up a double play.
6 Marshall Faulk
Round (Pick): 43 (1195)
Team: California Angels
Though it may come as a surprise that Marshall Faulk was drafted to play baseball, the fact that he was an outfielder shouldn’t surprise anyone. Faulk was one of the most explosive, and arguably greatest athletes in the league during his time, backing that up with a 4.28 40-yard dash. Faulk would go on to be drafted #2 overall by the Colts and would continue the work that Thurman Thomas began of redefining the running back position. Faulk would win Offensive Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, three Offensive Player of the Year awards, and one Super Bowl, on his way to induction into the Hall of Fame. Faulk is the only player in NFL history with at least 12,000 rushing yards and 6,000 receiving yards, and is the prototype from which most of your current backs are developed. While he was the engine behind "The Greatest Show on Turf,” Faulk could have created his own show on grass, in the outfield of Angels Stadium.
5 Golden Tate
Year(s): 2007 & 2010
Round (Pick): 42nd (1252) & 50th (1518)
Teams: Arizona Diamondbacks & San Francisco Giants
Golden Tate is one of a few recent non-quarterbacks on the list, with his skills and athleticism projecting him as an outfielder. Tate played football and baseball at Notre Dame, and was drafted twice, by two different teams, but Tate was insistent on playing football.
Tate was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and while he wasn’t very noticeable in his first two seasons, he became a consistent performer for the Seahawks, who would win the Super Bowl in 2013. Tate signed with the Lions after the Super Bowl, and had a career year in 2014 before regressing a little last year. With Calvin Johnson gone, Tate will be relied on much more this year and will look to match his 99-catch, 1,300-yard season from 2014. Tate’s Super Bowl ring probably trumps all, but considering the time frame and team he was drafted by, Tate might have been able to be a contributor on the even-year World Series-winning Giants.
4 Kyle Long
Round (Pick): 23rd (690)
Team: Chicago White Sox
The biggest and potentially most shocking of all of the players on this list, Kyle Long’s story could have been much different had he not had a DWI and left Florida State due to academic issues shortly afterward. Long, a pitcher in high school, had been drafted by the White Sox, but turned down the opportunity to play and took a baseball scholarship to FSU. However, after leaving Florida State, he focused on football, eventually ending up at Oregon and being drafted in the first round by the Bears. Long is a three-time Pro Bowler and was selected Second-team All-Pro in 2014, and is the most important player on the Bears offensive line, giving up 0 sacks in over 1,000 snaps in 2014. While Long is cementing himself as a top-10 guard in this league, he would have made a feared pitcher when you consider his 6'6", 320-pound frame moving towards the batters at home plate.
3 Daunte Culpepper
Round (Pick): 26th (730)
Team: New York Yankees
As was mentioned above, the Yankees do this a lot. Daunte Culpepper was a physical freak throughout high school and was drafted as a potential power-hitting outfielder by the Yankees, but Culpepper chose to attend UCF instead. Culpepper was selected 11th in the 1999 draft, the exact opposite of 1983, behind Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Donovan McNabb, and right before Cade McNown. Culpepper became the Vikings starter in his second year in the league and immediately led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, but the Giants blew them out. In 2004, the year prior to his devastating knee injury, Culpepper had thrown for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns and had the look of being a dominant force in the NFL for a while. Culpepper would suffer a significant knee injury, tearing his ACL, MCL, and PCL, and would never be able to regain his form. While it was fun to watch Culpepper hook up on long touchdowns with Randy Moss, imagine how far he could have hit a ball if he got his whole body into it.
2 Steve McNair
Round (Pick): 35 (917)
Team: Seattle Mariners
Two years before the Mariners would make Alex Rodriguez the #1 pick and their shortstop of the future, the Mariners drafted McNair in the 35th round. McNair didn’t sign with the Mariners and the Oilers would make him the 3rd overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft. McNair was one of the toughest and most consistent quarterbacks of the 90s and early 2000s, with six seasons over 3,000 yards passing. He also led the Titans to within one inch of a Super Bowl and shared the MVP with Peyton Manning in 2003. McNair retired with over 30,000 passing yards and over 3,500 rushing yards, but was tragically killed in 2009, in a murder-suicide involving an alleged lover. McNair made the right choice by choosing football and become one of the greats in a generation, but had he been able to stick in baseball with the Mariners, he could have changed the entire landscape of baseball in the early 90s.
1 Michael Vick
Round (Pick): 30th (887)
Team: Colorado Rockies
Michel Vick is one of the most astonishing ones on this list, especially considering he hadn’t played baseball since eighth grade. However, Vick’s athleticism was too much for the Rockies to pass up, and they selected him in the 30th round, the year before he would become the #1 pick in the NFL. Vick would go on to become must-see television, dazzling the NFL audience with his cannon arm and mastery of making plays with his legs. Vick would lose playing time due to injury, but also pled guilty to federal dog fighting charges, and would serve a 23-month prison sentence. Vick returned to the league to win the Comeback Player of the Year in 2010, but will forever be a "what if" quarterback because had Vick not engaged in his disgusting crimes and been able to play for those three seasons, he would have carved out an even more impressive career and could have continued to be the face of the NFL.
Vick is currently a free agent, but no one will ever forget the “Michael Vick Experience” and how electric he was every snap he kept the ball. Had Vick taken his talent and athleticism to the MLB and specifically, center field, he could have been Griffey-esque in his ability to dazzle crowds with his defense.
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