Five current MLB players who could have played in the NFL
Baseball players have caught a bad rap over the years for not being, shall we say, the most sculpted of athletes (need we say more?). There are, however, a handful of players who are so physically talented that they could also have been big hits in at least one other professional sport. In fact, many current MLB players probably could be playing in the NFL right now.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five players who could have taken their talents from the diamond to the gridiron.
5. Matt Szczur – Chicago Cubs – Outfielder
Szczur (pronounced Caesar) was the Christian McCaffrey of the FCS level. The six-foot jitterbug was a nightmare for defensive coordinators, contributing heavily in the run, pass and return game for Villanova. He was the MVP of the 2009 FCS National Championship Game and was named the CAA Offensive Player of the Year in the same season. Injuries during his senior season made his decision to select baseball a lot easier, but Szczur certainly caught the eye of NFL scouts during his time at Villanova.
His former head coach, Andy Talley, said that scouts had indicated to him that Szczur could have been a third or fourth-round pick had he chosen football over baseball.
The 26-year-old is making just over a half million this year coming off the bench for the World Series’ favorite Cubs. Seems like he made the right choice.
4. Giancarlo Stanton – Marlins – Outfielder
Stanton is a mountain of a man, standing six-foot-six and weighing in at 249 pounds. If you’re thinking he would have made an ideal tight end in the NFL, you’re not the first person to believe that.
Pete Carroll, USC’s football coach in 2006, was very much interested in Stanton’s services on the gridiron. Stanton was an All-CIF receiver and cornerback for Notre Dame High School (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), starring against some of the top high school competition in the talent-rich Southern California area. He caught 11 touchdowns as a senior and averaged over 26 yards per reception during his high school career.
In the end, despite official offers from both USC and UNLV, Stanton decided to play baseball for the Marlins, who selected him in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft.
Steve Sarkisian, the former head coach of USC, was a part of Stanton’s recruitment back in 2006 (he was an offensive assistant under Carroll at the time), and still believes Stanton could play in the NFL today. Stanton currently has 325 million reasons to stick to baseball. His $325 million, 13-year contract remains a record for a professional athlete in the US. His 182 career home runs as a 26-year-old also prove he made the right choice.
3. Joe Mauer – Twins – First Baseman
St. Paul, Minn. has a knack for generating tremendous athletes. First it was Dave Winfield, the Hall of Fame baseball player who was also drafted by both the NBA and ABA as a basketball player, and the NFL. Then it was Chris Weinke, who played six years in the Toronto Blue Jays’ farm system before returning to college to play football for Florida State. Weinke would go on to win a national championship for the Seminoles, as well as take home the Heisman Trophy.
And then there was Joe Mauer, the Minnesota quarterback who was to replace the record-setting Chris Weinke and continue Florida State’s football dynasty.
Mauer was the top-ranked quarterback prospect in 2001, and many believed he would be a three-year player before taking his talents to the NFL. He also has the incredibly rare distinction of being named the USA Today National High School Player of the Year in two different sports in the same school year (2000, Football – 2001, Baseball). Instead, he stuck with baseball, won an AL MVP award in 2009, and Florida State football spent nearly a decade trying to replace him. Interestingly, the quarterback to return FSU to national prominence was another baseball-football star — Jameis Winston.
2. Carl Crawford – Dodgers – Outfielder
Crawford’s baseball talents have made him an incredibly rich man. His largest payday came in 2011 when he signed a whopping $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. You would think that a player with Crawford’s level of professional success would had been groomed to be a baseball player from birth, with little regard for any other activities. In Crawford’s case, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In addition to Crawford’s prowess on the diamond, the Houston native set records as a swimmer, received Division I offers as a basketball player, and was signed to play quarterback at Nebraska. Nebraska, considered by many to be the best football program of the 1990s, believed that Crawford was the key to their continued success and his athleticism would have made him a solid NFL player as well.
Crawford reportedly ran a 4.21 40-yard dash time and was tabbed to be an option quarterback. Top programs like Michigan, USC and Oklahoma were also interested in the sensational athlete from Houston.
1. Jeff Samardzija – Giants – Pitcher
Samardzija was a two-sport standout while attending Notre Dame. In addition to his exploits on the mound, “The Shark” was also one of college football’s best wide receivers.
A two-time Biletnikoff Award Finalist, Samardzija ended his football career as the Irish’s all-time leader in receiving yards, although that record has been subsequently broken by both Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. The Football Writers Association of America named him an All-American in 2006, and the six-foot-five playmaker received a late-first, early-second round grade from one NFL scout.
Samardzija’s teammate, Tom Zbikowski, predicted that the major league pitcher would have been a mixture of Plaxico Burress and Keyshawn Johnson on the gridiron. And Zbikowski should know a thing or two about being a multi-sport athlete; the former NFL safety was 4-0 in the ring as a boxer in addition to playing six years in the NFL.
Photo: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports