Versatility is the name of the game in today’s NFL, especially when it comes to draft evaluations. The ability to play multiple positions adds value, and in some cases it can make the difference between getting drafted and slipping into the free agent ranks. Although some prospects offer positional versatility, others are changing positions to maximize their physical abilities.
Teams are no longer looking just for football players; supreme athletes are in demand.
So who are the best athletes in this draft class? We’ve compiled a list of three-sport-playing, multi-scheme-fitting prospects of 2015.
Some folks question Winston’s character and mental make-up. What they cannot dispute are the competitiveness and commitment demonstrated by the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, who also played baseball at Florida State.
In 2013, Winston started 32 games in the field for the Seminoles. In 2014, he made 24 relief appearances, finishing the year with a 1-0 record and a 1.08 earned run average with 31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings.
Several former pitching prospects have been selected in the early rounds of the draft—most recently, Colin Kaepernick and Brandon Weeden. Winston is the far more legit QB prospect and he’s sure to be one of the—if not the—first names called in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Originally recruited as a safety, Thompson started 13 games at nickel back as a true freshman, switched to linebacker his sophomore season, and played on both sides of the ball his junior year, rushing for 456 yards and two touchdowns and winning the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player.
And that’s not the end of Thompson’s athletic endeavors. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB Draft and played for the club’s rookie-level team in the summer of 2012.
Thompson says of his numerous position changes, “It really helped me perfect my game as a player and understand the game from different views.”
Which position will he fit best at the next level? Thompson says, “ My heart is at outside linebacker.”
Smith can attest to the hard work and commitment required of collegiate two-sport athletes. The Ohio State wide receiver competed in jumping and relay events for the Buckeyes’ track & field squad. He was a state long jump champion in high school and a Big Ten silver medalist in the high jump.
Smith says, “A lot of dedication went into that. Playing football, then going to track and still competing at a high level. It really just shows my dedication to hard work.”
Gurley advanced to the semifinals of the 110-meter hurdles at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France. He is currently rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in November and is not expected to test at the Combine. It’s too bad, because we would have loved to see the former Georgia Bulldog run the 40-Yard Dash, which he reportedly timed in the low 4.4-second range last off-season.
Fans of the 40 will get to see Dorsett run—and run well—in Indy. The former Miami Hurricane is expected to contend for the fastest 40 time at the Combine. Dorsett recorded the fourth fastest time in Miami track & field history with a 6.80-second 60-meter sprint.
This Yale product won the weigh-in portion of Senior Bowl week, checking in at a shredded 5-feet-10 and 227 pounds. Varga showcased his versatility on the field as a lead blocker in two-back formations while rushing for two touchdowns and recording three receptions out of the backfield.
Off the field, Varga’s personal background is as diverse as his skillset. He was born in Sweden, grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, and speaks three languages, according to his bio on the Yale athletics site.
Rollins’ story is exceptional. Prior to this past season, he hadn’t played competitive football since high school. He was a four-year starter and two-time captain for the Miami (Ohio) basketball team, and he elected to use his final year of eligibility to walk onto the football team.
He earned a starting spot at cornerback, was awarded a scholarship and was selected as the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Rollins is ranked among the top five or 10 cornerbacks in this draft class.
The mammoth D-end joined the Oregon Ducks basketball team at the end of the 2012 football season, but left the team to focus solely on football. Oregon basketball coach Dana Altman said Armstead “was really hard to guard,” because of his combination of size and the nimble footwork he developed through years practicing with his basketball trainer-father, Guss.
The Michigan State product and 2014 Big Ten Receiver of the Year started seven career games at cornerback, including the Spartans’ 42-41 win over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. He showed well at wide receiver during Senior Bowl practice week, but he reportedly generated interest among NFL teams as a candidate to switch to cornerback due to his size and athleticism.
NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis said, “Personally, I would flip Lippett over and make him a corner. I just think with his length, the league is dying to get corners that can go out and match up with the monster receivers that are out there. . . . I think his upside is better over there than it is being another one of these receivers.”
Marshall arrived in Mobile for Senior Bowl week intending to play quarterback. But moments before taking the field for his first Senior Bowl practice, he announced his decision to switch to cornerback. The move proved effective, as Marshall generated plenty of buzz throughout the week and recorded a game-high five solo tackles.
Marshall played 13 games at cornerback as a freshman at Georgia before taking the junior college route and eventually earning the starting quarterback job at Auburn.
“I felt like it was the best fit for me in the near future,” Marshall said of the position change. “I’m a tall guy and I’ve got long arms and can use my arms to my advantage at the line.”
Gardner is shaping up to become the next University of Michigan quarterback to change positions along the offensive side of the ball. Former Wolverine Denard Robinson broke out this past season in Jacksonville, rushing for 582 yards and four touchdowns after taking over as the starting running back midway through the season.
Gardner, meanwhile, is reinventing himself as a wide receiver prospect. He certainly possesses the physical size—6-foot-4 and 217 pounds—and the ability to make plays when he touches the ball. But does he have the separation speed and ball skills to thrive as an NFL wideout? That remains to be seen.
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