In a league as demanding and cut-throat as the NFL, there is a set trajectory for every player scouted in college, before they even set foot in the big-time. Sometimes, that trajectory falls flat on its face.
There have been many prospects who have dominated at their respective positions in the college ranks, only to make the pro ranks and discover that their skill set isn't suited to face the biggest, fastest and strongest that the sport has to offer on a weekly basis. But is there more to the story? Would these players have benefited from a timely switch to a position more suited to their skill set?
Even for players who had a marginally successful pro career, this is often the case. In the college game, elite players who are pro-bound do not always face elite competition, and even when they do, not everyone on the field is built to play pro football. When they get to the NFL, if they are struggling throughout their first year in the league, it's up to the coaching staff to consider that a possibly remedy to the problem could be a position switch. Sure, maybe that means your first round pick won't be the quarterback you thought could be a franchise savior, but you can still get mileage out of them rather than releasing them outright.
Of course, there are no guarantees. Maybe swapping positions isn't the answer to turn a could-be prospect into a productive pro player, but one can't help but consider the possibility. At the very least, if they fail at the position switch, it removes all doubt that a pro-career was ever in the running for them. Below are the top 15 NFL players that ultimately should have, or could have, played somewhere else on the field.
15 Vince Young - RB
Young was a standout quarterback prospect at Texas during the 2005 college football season, leading the Longhorns to a Rose Bowl Victory. This didn't translate well to the next level as he never threw for more than 2,600 yards in a single season, during his five years as Tennessee's starter.
14 JaMarcus Russell - TE
Widely considered one of the most obvious draft busts of all time, Russell never got off the ground in three seasons as Oakland's QB. After being selected number one overall by the Raiders in 2007, Russell never threw for more than 2,400 yards in a season, and posted a dreadful 48.8 completion percentage in his final season.
13 Carey Spear - S
Most kickers couldn't have dished out the punishment that Spear did to opposing kick returners when he played at Vanderbilt. He did not shy away from contact, and his legendary hits, which earned him the admiration of his college teammates, are still available on Youtube.
12 William Perry - FB
This one was put into practice here and there by Chicago, who would use "The Refrigerator" to pound one in at the goal line from time to time. Still, one can't help but wonder what Perry could have done as the every day fullback on the Bears' roster.
11 Deion Sanders - WR
Okay, we all know that "Primetime" was one of the best defensive backs in the history of the game, but the thought of what he could have done as a receiver has crossed everyone's mind at least once. With a 4.21 second 40-yard-dash time, Sanders would have fit the bill, and likely been the subject of dozens of highlight reel plays on the offensive side of the ball.
10 "Rocket" Ismail - CB
Ismail was a decent receiver in the pros, notching 1,000 yard receiving seasons twice in 1998 and 1999 respectively. His success at Notre Dame however, did not translate fully into the pro ranks, achieving just 800 receiving only one other time in his nine year career.
9 Josh Freeman - TE
Freeman's still trying to make a go of it as the Colts backup next season, but it's safe to say the ship has mostly sailed for the Kansas State prospect. He came out of the draft with high hopes for Tampa Bay, and even notched at least 3,400 yards passing three times in his first four years, but accuracy was his achilles heel, with 68 career interceptions.
8 Randall Cunningham - P
So this one is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but with some actual basis in reality. Cunningham was an innovative and successful QB for the Eagles and Vikings throughout his career, so he never really needed this switch. However, he was also used as a spot-punter at times for the Eagles.
And he was good at it. At a game between the Eagles and Giants at the Meadowlands, Philadelphia was pinned back at their own end zone and Cunningham was called on to punt. He blasted the ball 70 yards in the air, before it skipped another 21 yards down to the Giants' seven yard line.
7 Terrelle Pryor - WR
Here's one that has been put into action, and still could work out. After spending his time at Ohio State as a QB, Pryor has bounced around the league with numerous teams, with most of his time spent in Oakland, where he was a spot starter at QB, and WR. He's flashed big play potential, his only reception last year being 42 yards, and is currently competing for a spot on the Browns' roster as a receiver.
6 Michael Vick - RB
This is another interesting thought experiment, just because of Vick's sheer athleticism. Successful enough as a QB, the talk about Vick was always about his running ability. As a QB, he was often the fastest player on the field, something nearly unprecedented in league history.
5 Devin Hester - CB
Another burner of a receiver who could have paid the bills from the CB position. Hester never notched even an 800 yard receiving season in his ongoing career, and cemented his role as a return man. In the secondary, he still could have performed that duty, but with the right coaching, could have had better results to show for it off the special teams unit.
4 Bo Jackson - OLB
To be fair, Jackson was such a remarkable athlete that he probably could have played just about anywhere on the field--in any sport. On the football field though, he could have done serious damage as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, instead of his usual running back role when he was in the pros.
3 Brandon Weeden - TE
This one has been a long time coming. Most people could have predicted that Weeden was not going to be successful in the pros as a 26-year-old rookie. After stints starting for the Browns, Cowboys and Texans, it is pretty evident that his future is not at QB.
2 Darren Sproles - WR
Sproles has always been a nightmare for defensive coordinators to combat. The pint-sized powerhouse is a match-up problem for just about any defender, and after a few steps has breakout speed. He's always been used out of the backfield, but he could provide similar damage lined up on the outside.
1 Tim Tebow - FB
It should have been the case all along. There is no justifiable reason that Tebow should have gotten out of his first training camp in Denver as a QB. While a national-title winning QB at Florida, Tebow never really had the ability to play the position at the next level, and it was obvious. The Broncos made the playoffs in 2011 because of their defense, a year that saw Tebow complete just 46.6% of his passes.
Still, he wouldn't have been useless. His size, positive attitude and commitment to winning would have made a serviceable FB or special teams player. At the very least, he would have put the effort in. Tebow didn't need to play a glamorous position like QB, his fanbase just never acknowledged that he wasn't good at it, and as such, no one ever thought to make the switch. He was and is, undoubtedly a great teammate to have in the locker room, he just never was able to throw an NFL post-pattern. It happens.
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