Playing quarterback in today’s NFL is a monumental challenge.
That’s exactly why many former college quarterbacks choose to change positions when they jump to pro football. Though such a change might give them their best shot at earning an NFL paycheck, it’s still a ridiculously difficult feat to pull off. Imagine trying to learn a new position while simultaneously experiencing the shock of a massive jump in competition.
But a rare few have found success. Of this select group, many of them found their niche by choosing to catch passes rather than throw them. Examples include Julian Edelman, Terrelle Pryor, Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. The next man to join this exclusive fraternity?
There’s reason to believe it’ll be Greg Ward Jr.
At the University of Houston, Ward was an electric dual-threat quarterback. But at 5-foot-11, he knew he’d have trouble making it in the NFL as a quarterback. He spent the months leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft training as a wide receiver, and the Philadelphia Eagles signed him as a UDFA. The early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive:
Why is Ward excelling?
For one, he’s an unbelievable athlete. He rushed for 1,114 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns during his junior year at Houston. Those stats would represent an awesome year of production for a running back, let alone a quarterback.
Ward also has some experience at the wide receiver position. In addition to defensive back, quarterback and punt returner, Ward played some receiver during his first two seasons at UH. He was the team’s starting quarterback for his final two seasons, but Ward did finish his collegiate career with 25 catches for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Just having that base knowledge of the position should help him immensely.
But perhaps the biggest reason to believe in Ward is his conviction. As soon as he played his last collegiate game, he began training to play wide receiver at the next level. “I’m completely confident about playing receiver,” Ward told Chron.com in March. “I can bring my knowledge at quarterback over to receiver. I believe it will be a smooth transition.”
Guys like Tim Tebow and Collin Klein refused to change positions despite wishes of NFL personnel, and they didn’t last long in the league. Terrelle Pryor refused to change positions during his early years in the NFL, once telling ESPN, “If I can’t play quarterback, I can’t play football—I’m pretty much done.” Pryor bounced between teams as a back-up quarterback, never holding down a roster spot for long. It was only when he fully committed to becoming a receiver that he found success. Pryor is now the No. 1 receiver on the Washington Redskins’ depth chart and is being described as an “A.J. Green” clone. “You’ve got to make your mind up to give yourself to (a position change). This is a tough sport. You’ve gotta be all in. You can’t do it by degrees,” Hue Jackson, who coached Pryor in Oakland and Cleveland, told Sports Illustrated.
Ward is all in. He spent the months leading up to the draft working alongside former NFL wide receiver Patrick Crayton, who has been instrumental in teaching Ward how to run routes with NFL-level precision and efficiency. “He wants to keep learning, and he’s always asking questions,” Crayton told Sports Illustrated in April. “He’ll make it just because of his hunger, he just wants to keep working.”
Philly’s wide receiver room is crowded right now. There are veterans such as Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor. The Eagles also drafted two receivers this year. There’s a chance Ward misses out on a roster spot. But if he does, expect another team to snatch him up quickly.
Photo Credit: Houston Football’s Facebook Page