Who would make the cut if you built an NFL roster comprised solely of NBA players?
The NFL and NBA are two completely different leagues. That’s not a groundbreaking revelation by any stretch of the imagination. However different the NFL and NBA are, though, there are similarities between the two. Yes, these are all tremendous athletes, but many of the skills and traits necessary to succeed in the NBA at various positions are also necessary to make plays in the NFL, again at various positions.
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Especially when you look at players like LeBron James, reportedly an all-world football player in high school, you have to wonder what some NBA players would look like if they were to take the gridiron as an NFL players. It’s hard to say, but it’s always fun to project.
Setting aside some of the obvious issues such as height and how that doesn’t always translate to the NFL as it does in the NBA, what would an NFL roster comprised of nothing but professional basketball players look like. More specifically, what’s the best roster you can build for a football team using NBA players.
Starting with the quarterback, here is the best NFL roster—subjectively—made up of NBA players.
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry on the field before Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Curry, PG – Golden State Warriors
The defending back-to-back MVP is the obvious choice for quarterback of this hypothetical NBA roster. Obviously he’s known for his ability to fill up the cup from the perimeter. However, what becomes underrated about Curry at times because of that is his ability to both move well with the ball in his hands as a dribbler and his ability to make incredibly creative plays and passes while setting up his teammates.
Considering his ability to shoot so accurately from long range, you have to imagine that the Warriors point guard would be able to throw a nice deep ball with great accuracy. What’s more, he’d be able to make the smart play with the short intermediate throws, as evidenced by how he can initiate the ball movement and plays in the Warriors offense.
In the end, Curry is the type of playmaker and all-around threat that teams would love to have at quarterback. He could make all of the throws necessary to succeed as a signal-caller while also already having the leadership and mental toughness necessary to be a star as well.
Feb 16, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) brings the ball up court against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
John Wall, PG – Washington Wizards
We’ll start off with a bit of lightning when it comes to running back and that is certainly personified by John Wall. The Wizards star point guard has proven to be one of the fastest players in the NBA. Whenever he’s loose in the open floor, there are few players in the league capable of keeping up wth him and almost no one that’s trailing him that would be able to catch up to him. That alone makes him at least somewhat qualified as a running back for this team.
What’s more, though, Wall has also proven to be a fantastic penetrator in the half-court, weaving his way through opposing defenses with ease and finding the holes necessary to make plays. So that he could showcase his speed on the football field, that type of vision and cutting ability would certainly come in handy when it comes to seeing the hole and hitting it to get into the open field.
Julius Randle, PF – Los Angeles Lakers
With Wall as the speed back for this offense, this team now needs a little bit of thunder. Though he can be an infinitely frustrating player to watch on the hardwood, Julius Randle as a power back is absolutely terrifying to think about.
If you’ve watched Randle with the Lakers, the young power forward has an innate ability to lower his shoulder and simply bulldoze his way to his spot with the ball in his hands. While he needs to develop his overall finishing and Lakers fans would love to see him kick the ball out more often, he doesn’t need that as a running back. Just let the big man lower his shoulder, get a head of steam, and break off big chunks of yardage with his power for this team.
Mar 6, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives for the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) in the third quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Thunder beat the Bucks 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF – Milwaukee Bucks
There are so many things that go into being a wide receiver in the NFL, especially a No. 1. An ideal No. 1 wideout has the big body and frame to make plays through contact, the length to go up and make plays on the football in the air, the big hands to haul everything that he gets a touch on in, and the athleticism for the potential big, highlight-type plays. Giannis Antetokounmpo has all of that and more.
As of the 2016-17 season, there are few players that offer the array of skills and tools that the Bucks young star does. He’s a unicorn in the purest sense of the word with the way he can both lead an offense with his speed and control, while also playing above the rim as an unreal athlete and being a sure-handed, reliable playmaker. He’s exactly the type of player necessary to play the No. 1 receiver role for this team.
Kevin Durant, SF – Golden State Warriors
Though he may not be as much of a unicorn as Giannis is quickly becoming, Kevin Durant is definitely one in his own right. His length is obviously the biggest asset that he would bring to playing receiver, able to make plays on the ball in the air at any moment and being near un-coverable when the ball is in the air. What’s more, he’s also proven to be reliable in a system since coming to Golden State, lending itself to route-running. He’d be a playmaker in his own right, but also a great complement to what Antetokounmpo brings to the position.
Nov 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket on Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 128-122. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Slot Wideout + Tight End
Slot Receiver: Isaiah Thomas, PG – Boston Celtics
When you look at the best slot receivers in the NFL today, the majority of them are smaller guys who are exceptionally quick and shifty. No one in the NBA today might fit the bill better than Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas. Famous for his diminutive stature, Thomas has been enjoying the best season of his career in 2016-17, showcasing all that he can do with lightning quick cuts, reliable playmaking, and a versatile skill-set. He’d be a weapon capable of breaking open plays fearlessly over the middle as a slot receiver.
Tight End: LeBron James, SF – Cleveland Cavaliers
In the past few weeks, there have been numerous stories about LeBron James’ prowess as a high school football player. Though he’s going to be a top-10 player in the history of the NBA, all signs point to him being a potential NFL caliber talent on the gridiron. Given the physical tools he has with size, speed, smarts, and strength, it’s not hard to see him being a Rob Gronkowski-like tight end.
Seriously, what linebacker, safety or cornerback would have a chance at covering LeBron? He’s a unique physical force that can both overpower and blow by anyone while also being willing to play for the team and use his skills as a blocker. James could likely play anywhere on the football field that you would want him to, but he would bring the most to the table as a tight end.
Feb 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) fouls Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the first quarter at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Left Tackle: DeMarcus Cousins, C – Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most physically imposing big men in the entire NBA. Obviously he’s enormous and presents an issue because of that. Cousins playing bully ball in the post is a thing of beauty to watch as there aren’t many players that can withstand the physical punishment that he can dole out, legally of course. However, Cousins is also an agile and skilled player considering his size. Considering the demands of playing left tackle, that’s exactly what he would need to be.
What’s more, you always want a bit of attitude and even a level of “wild card-ness” when it comes to a left tackle. They set the tone for the entire offensive line and are the most important component of the unit. Though Cousins’ attitude might serve as a distraction when it comes to the NBA at times, it fits right into the physicality of the NFL.
Right Tackle: Nikola Jokic, C – Denver Nuggets
Much like Cousins, Nikola Jokic is quickly becoming one of the most versatile centers in the entire NBA. Not only does he possess the ability to put his back on someone and simply over power them until he’s gotten to his spot, but he’s also able to showcase his skill by stepping out and making athletic plays on the perimeter and in the open floor. Again, that combination of skills lends itself to playing tackle in the NFL and he’d make a great complement to Cousins opposite of him on the O-line.
Jan 13, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) keeps Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) away from the ball during the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz won the game 110-77. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Interior Offensive Linemen
Left Guard: Andre Drummond, C – Detroit Pistons
One of the most underrated aspects that an NFL team can have on the interior of their offensive line is guards who are capable of moving well in addition to being strong physical presences. That’s definitely what Andre Drummond is capable of providing. While holding down the frontcourt for the Detroit Pistons, Drummond may not have developed into a superstar like the front office had hoped. However, he has the size, strength, and mobility to be a dominant guard that’s effective in every aspect of the position.
Center is one of the most underrated positions in the NFL in regards to how complicated it is. Not only do they have to be a strong and consistent blocking presence to handle pressure up the middle, but they have to be able to do that while also having a strong rapport with the quarterback for the snap exchange in addition to being quick enough to get off the snap and into their blocks. Andrew Bogut at his best offers all of that and more. He’s proven to be an effective teammate as a passer and is also a mobile, yet physical, force on the interior that has a ton of versatility to offer.
Right Guard: Marc Gasol, C – Memphis Grizzlies
In the same light that Drummond would make a fantastic guard, so too would Grizzlies star center Marc Gasol. He’s not nearly the athletic freak that Drummond is, but the nimbleness of the big man is always stunning. Gasol has an uncanny ability to be a physical force and a finesse player wrapped up into one superstar’s body. That’d be terrific if translated to guard and would make him an absolute weapon up front for this team’s offense.
Feb 4, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) holds the ball before a game against the Orlando Magic at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
3-4 Defensive Front
Defensive End: Dwight Howard, C – Atlanta Hawks
Playing defensive end in the front of a 3-4 defense requires a ton of versatility. The player needs to be both powerful with the potential to get into the trenches and stuff the run, but also athletic and agile enough to be able to blow up the middle of an offensive line and get strong penetration as a pass rusher. With his size and athleticism—even at his heightened age—Dwight Howard is the right man for the job. He’s a force that offers everything needed at the position and that opposing offenses would surely fear.
Nose Tackle: Zaza Pachulia, C – Golden State Warriors
Following the groundswell movement to try and get him into the All-Star Game, it almost feels like an obligation to include Zaza Pachulia on this team. He’s a huge physical presence that has no issues doing the dirty work, even if he’s not the most effective big man in the Warriors system. Zaza, however, would be a fit at nose tackle when asked to dominate in the trenches. Would anyone really want to cross with the big, physical Georgian? It’s highly doubtful, thus making him a valuable commodity.
Trevor Booker has garnered the reputation throughout his career, both with the Utah Jazz and now the Brooklyn Nets, of being a huge physical presence with tremendous power. He has a nasty streak that’s 100 percent evident whenever he’s attacking the glass. It’d be a treat to see him line up in the trenches and make plays at defensive tackle. Booker would fill space nicely while also being able to attack when asked to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Feb 14, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) celebrates during the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Target Center. The Cavaliers defeated the Timberwolves 116-108. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Wiggins, SG – Minnesota Timberwolves
No matter if you’re looking at a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme, the responsibilities of inside linebackers are plentiful. They are hugely important against the run and just as important when they’re asked to drop back into coverage and defend the pass. That’s why a player like Andrew Wiggins has the potential to be great while in the middle of the defensive front-seven.
Wiggins is first an athletic freak with the ability to close gaps and cover space with ease. If he were at inside linebacker, he’s the speedy physical force that could come up and make plays against the run. As soon as he recognizes the play, there aren’t many things that opposing offenses could hope to do in terms of stopping him. Even the best running backs would have trouble cutting past the lightning quick and strong Wiggins in the middle of the field.
Serge Ibaka, PF – Toronto Raptors
Serge Ibaka offers a similar versatility to Wiggins in the way that he’s both athletic and quick enough to drop back into coverage and make plays against the pass while also possessing the size and power to be a force against opposing rushing attacks. The newest member of the Toronto Raptors would be a sure presence in the middle of an NFL defense and one hell of a force in terms of defending throws over the middle with his length and proven defensive ability.
Nov 16, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Outside Linebackers/Edge Rushers
Eric Bledsoe, PG – Phoenix Suns
When it came to figuring out what to do with the edge rushers for this hypothetical team of NBA players, I admittedly struggled a bit. In the end, though, I wanted a player with a solid frame and speed to get around the edge, first and foremost, that led be to point guard Eric Bledsoe.
Though he’s had his fair share of injury issues throughout his NBA career, watching Bledsoe in the open floor and driving into the paint is a thing of beauty. He’s a force both because of the speed and power that he possesses when he’s trying to get to the rim and penetrate a defense. He could theoretically then do the same to opposing tackles, using his athletic gifts to either bull rush or speed rush and get after the quarterback.
Contrary to what I was looking for when it came to Bledsoe, James Harden offers an entirely different skill-set as a possible edge rusher. When the Rockets star and MVP candidate drives into the lane, he does so with tremendous footwork and great finesse. Harden’s Eurostep might be unmatched by anyone else in the NBA. Thus, watching him weave through defenses in the NBA then lends itself to him being able to also bust out moves while attacking the edge. With underrated power to boot, Harden could be a sack monster for this team.
Feb 15, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after scoring against the New York Knicks during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Strong: Russell Westbrook, PG – Oklahoma City Thunder
Watching Russell Westbrook play in the 2016-17 season has been the biggest treat of the NBA. Like a scorned lover after Kevin Durant’s departure, he’s been a triple-double machine and has put the Oklahoma City Thunder on his back. However, it’s hard to say that anything about his high-octane, maximum effort style is different than what we’ve seen before.
As such, he’s the perfect player to slot in at strong safety for this team. He has the reckless abandon to come up with quickness and make plays in the running game, but also all of the athletic tools to drop back in zone coverage and make plays in the passing game in the open field. He could really play anywhere, but this is where he makes the most sense.
Free: Anthony Davis, PF/C – New Orleans Pelicans
Obviously talking about Anthony Davis is one of the instances where he’s simply too tall to play in the NFL. Subsequently, you have to again use your imagination a bit. When you do so, though, it’s then not difficult to see why he would be a candidate to be a free safety on this NFL team comprised of NBA players.
The first thing that would come into play would be the length of Davis. Imagine the Pelicans big man closing ground in the open field and then reaching his long arms up to make a play on the ball. That’s a huge weapon for any team to have on the back end of the defense. When you also factor in how great of an athlete he is and how well that he moves, Davis has the playmaking potential to be a star at free safety.
Apr 24, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick (R) looks to pass the ball as San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (L) defends in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Kawhi Leonard, SF – San Antonio Spurs
Given the size of Kawhi Leonard’s hand size, general size and his length, the obvious position might seem to be putting him at wide receiver. However, I would disagree. Putting the Spurs star at wideout doesn’t utilize perhaps his greatest asset, meaning what he offers on defense.
For the past few years, the argument could be made that Leonard is the best defender in the entire league. Whenever he’s on the perimeter, he’s almost always stuck to his matchup like glue. Thus, it would make sense to try and parlay that to the football field and put him at cornerback. he could play in press coverage with ease and then make plays with the ball in the air with all of the attributes that would make him a quality receiver. Subsequently, cornerback is by far the best spot for Leonard.
Paul George, SF – Indiana Pacers
Though he doesn’t offer everything that Leonard does—or at least not to the same degree—Paul George could be the same type of factor if he was slotted in at cornerback. He clearly has the size and length to make plays on the ball when its in the air and he’s almost never going to get thrown over the top of. However, he also is a physical freak that has solid speed to keep up with anyone on the outside and also the physicality to match up off of the line. With he and Leonard at Nos. 1 and 2 corners, opposing offenses would have a horrible time trying to move the ball through the air.
Feb 24, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) passes the ball as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) attempts to kick the ball during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Special Teams and Head Coach
Punter/Kicker: Draymond Green, PF/C – Golden State Warriors
Admittedly, this is obviously just for the jokes. Who said you can’t go after the cheap laughs, though? Everyone is familiar by now with the Golden State Warriors’ exploits in kinesiology and kicking opponents. So why not challenge those foot movements into something productive on the gridiron, making Draymond the punter and kicker for this team. Sure, he could probably play elsewhere given his skills and frame. But someone’s got to kick and Green is more than willing.
Head Coach: Gregg Popovich – San Antonio Spurs
If there’s one coach in the NBA most similar to the NFL’s best head coach, Bill Belichick, it has to be Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Between the biting remarks, the dynastic success and culture with one team, and the constant oscillation between loving and hating him, it’s easy to see where the comparisons start.
Sure, there’s a good chance that Coach Pop has never watched a football game in his life. It’s unlikely, but would anyone really be surprised if the San Antonio legend simply lived, ate, and slept nothing but basketball all of the time? No, it wouldn’t. Even still, his ability to manage personalities and build culture are exactly what any team coming together would need. Popovich is 100 percent the right man for the job.