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25 College Basketball Stars We Wish Played Football

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

25 College Basketball Stars We Wish Played Football

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    It's officially the opening week of March Madness: the only week that college football fans—or at least the sane ones among us—will willingly say is better than anything our own schedule offers. Even Rivalry Week.

    The upcoming weekend is that good.

    Still, while possible to enjoy the brackets for simply what they are, it's even more fun to put them in a college football context.

    These guys are all high-level athletes, after all. If they had been raised playing one sport instead of the other, many who now play Division I basketball could have played FBS football and vice versa.

    That doesn't go for everyone. This list was cautious to omit overly tall players—e.g. 7'0'' Kansas center Joel Embiid—who might not survive the wear and tear of college football. They would be cheat codes in the red zone, sure, but their knees would also be targets for serious structural damage, and nobody wants to see that.

    Instead, this list is 25 players who might have realistically, in a parallel universe, become college football superstars. For the sake of fairness, no team had multiple players listed. And for the sake of relevance, 24 of the 25 players are in the NCAA tournament (and the one who isn't was too good to pass up).

    Chime in in the comments and tell me who I missed.

SG Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: DE

    Malcolm Brogdon isn't lean, per se, but he would need to put on a lot of muscle to contribute at the FBS level. The same can (and will) be said about most players on this list, but Brogdon still stands out.

    If he added some bulk to his 215-pound frame, though, the ceiling on Brogdon is high. Standing 6'5'' with long, wiry arms, Virginia's leading scorer has the ideal height and length for a 4-3 defensive end.

    Playing in Tony Bennett's defensive system has indoctrinated him with the toughness needed to play in the trenches, and he's certainly a far-from-stiff athlete. Brogdon would be a project—no doubt.

    But he would be worth the time and patience.

PG Jahii Carson, Arizona State

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: WR

    At 5'10'', Jahii Carson has had to overcompensate for size his entire career on the hardwood. That overcompensation has taken the form of incredible short-space quickness and burst, stemming from both natural ability and a strong lower body.

    How great would it be to watch Carson play the slot? He would be a nightmare for nickel backs and—especially—linebackers to cover across the middle, shaking them loose with the same array of moves he's always used to create space in basketball.

    He wouldn't be limited to underneath stuff, either. Carson, one of the most aesthetically pleasing dunkers in basketball, would be able to high-point the ball and make plays up the seam.

PG Aaron Craft, Ohio State

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: SS

    I do not imagine this pick will be popular.

    For understandable reasons, Aaron Craft engenders more dislike among college fans than any (non-Duke) player in recent memory. But he's the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and some of those skills would no doubt translate to the gridiron.

    I thought about putting Craft at cornerback, where his size (6'2'') and physical, man-to-man style would make him useful in press coverage. He might not be fast enough to play on the outside, though, so strong safety seems a much better fit.

    Already used to guarding bigger players, Craft would embrace his role defending tight ends up the seam. He would have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, too. If he added some bulk and learned how to tackle, he's a safety in the making.

SF/SG Branden Dawson, Michigan State

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    Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: TE

    Dawson is the first of many tight end prospects on this list.

    There's a reason for that. From Tony Gonzalez to Antonio Gates to Jimmy Graham, Hall of Fame-type NFL players have routinely been made from high-jumping, undersized, broad-shouldered college forwards.

    Dawson fits the bill. One of the best offensive rebounders in college basketball, the 6'6'' forward has easy hops and likes to throw his body around. Unlike Gonzalez, Gates and Graham, though, he might have an NBA career impeding him from realizing his future catching passes.

    If he doesn't, I wouldn't mind my NFL team giving Dawson a tryout.

PG Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: QB

    Tyler Ennis is the consummate leader, a man who has taken the reins of a veteran Syracuse team in his first season out of high school.

    I have no idea what his throwing motion looks like. Assuming he's competent, however, Ennis is a guy whose hands you want the ball in on a big play. (See: Syracuse at Pittsburgh on Feb. 12.)

    At 6'2'', he would have decent size for the position—at least in college, that is—and though he wouldn't look to tuck it and run every time he saw a crease, he would be fast enough to pick up large chunks of yardage on the ground. Think Aaron Rodgers-type mobility.

    Really, though, you're getting Ennis for the leadership over everything.

SG Tyler Haws, BYU

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: QB

    The mechanics are different, sure, but conceptually there is much resemblance between an accurate quarterback and a high-percentage three-point shooter.

    Both require repetitive accuracy—i.e., the ability to repeat the same motion over and over, putting the ball in the same place. And few in college basketball put the ball in the bucket from deep like Tyler Haws.

    What's more, Haws is 6'5'', giving him prototypical height for the position. Athletically, he would fall above the 90th percentile for QBs his height, despite not being known as an athlete on the hardwood.

    He would be a developmental project, but Haws has the physical profile of a good college passer. If Logan Thomas can start 40 consecutive games at Virginia Tech, Haws can at least get on the field. 

SG Marshall Henderson

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: WR

    Marshall Henderson is a crazy person, and crazy often translates well to the football field. That holds true for an athlete of Henderson's caliber, possessed of long arms, a solid vertical and sticky fingers.

    At 6'2'', Henderson would be a dangerous weapon on the outside and in the red zone. He seems like he'd embrace his role as a run blocker too, sort of like Hines Ward or Steve Smith.

    Would he be a headache? Sure. A huge one. Not just for his coaches but for his opponents. He would take his fair share of cheap-shots over the middle. He might dole out his fair share of illegal hits, too.

    There would never be a dull moment.

PG Joe Jackson, Memphis

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: CB

    Joe Jackson would bring senior leadership, toughness, length, height and impressive footwork to the cornerback position.

    As a 6'1'' slasher, he has often found himself lost among the trees—but still finding a way to succeed—at Memphis. In the secondary, however, that would make him the perfect size to play the new breed of physical, man-to-man press cornerback.

    Jackson's wingspan would also help in this regard, as would his ability to stop and start on a dime. On the proverbial "island" at cornerback, Jackson would be a joy to watch.

SG Jordair Jett

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    Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: SS

    Jordair Jett has added some offense to his game in 2013, which helped him win the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year award. But his defense will always be of primary acknowledgement.

    At 6'1'', 215 pounds, he would have to add only a little bit of weight to become a well-sized college safety, and Jett already has the required physical nature and side-to-side quickness.

    Plus, we in the college football world could always use another safety with the predator haircut. As Calvin Pryor leaves us behind for the NFL, Jett could help restore the natural balance.

     

PG Nick Johnson, Arizona

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: OLB

    Like the rest of the projected linebackers—and really, all defenders—on this list, Nick Johnson would need to add some mass before suiting up at the FBS level.

    If he bulked up, though, it would be tough to find many more explosive athletes in college football. At 6'3'', he is a violent leaper but also fluid and composed with his two feet on the ground.

    Johnson is quick and fast, which would help him get to the edge on off-tackle runs and cover inside receivers or tight ends. As a "Leo"-type, third-down pass-rush specialist, one could do a lot worse than the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

SG DeAndre Kane, Iowa State

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    Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Spor

    Football Position: SS

    Here's your Kam Chancellor.

    Kane is 6'4'' and a fluid, side-to-side athlete for his size. He also has broad shoulders, which suggest he is capable of adding the necessary football weight, and is comfortable throwing his body into contact.

    That last part is of utmost importance. Kane plays with the attitude of a football player. A senior transfer student, he has been the emotional leader of Iowa State's resurgent year in 2013-14 and can often be seen bellowing after the whistle on a big play.

    That's what I like from an in-the-box safety.

SG Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: DE/OLB

    Perhaps no player in college basketball looks more like a football player than Sean Kilpatrick, the wide-bodied Cincinnati leader and potential first-team All-American.

    Few players play more like one, either. Kilpatrick—like his whole Bearcats team—plays with a grind-it-out, win-by-force attitude that resembles the great SEC football teams of the late aughts. 

    At 6'4'', 210 pounds with a frame that looks capable of adding weight, Kilpatrick would do well in a hybrid pass-rushing role—not unlike how NFL teams might use former Auburn defensive end Dee Ford.

    That would be fun to watch.

PG Shabazz Napier, UConn

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: CB

    Shabazz Napier is one of the best offensive weapons in college basketball, capable of creating (and making) his own shot against taller defenders and double-teams.

    Something tells me he'd want to play receiver in football, but I think he's better suited to defense, where his one-on-one proclivities would translate well to man coverage at cornerback.

    Napier is 6'1'' and a quick-twitch athlete in space. He'd have the size and, hopefully, the discipline to excel on an island.

SF/PF Jabari Parker, Duke

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: OT

    If there's knock on Jabari Parker right now, it's that he struggles to keep his weight down. At 235 pounds, he has a naturally wide frame—one which makes him capable of playing power forward—but most NBA scouts would prefer he shed some pounds and play on the wing.

    In football, he could go the other way.

    If Parker likes to eat, let him eat. Because if he packed on enough pounds and switched to offensive tackle, he might become the type of player that makes former Auburn OT Greg Robinson look stone-footed.

    Okay. Maybe that's a stretch. But it would be close. Parker is 6'8'', agile and fires off the ground with his fantastic lower-body strength. Just imagine (a fatter version of) him lead-blocking on a jet sweep in Gus Malzahn's offense. Scary stuff.

PF Julius Randle, Kentucky

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: TE

    For the most part, this list tried to omit unfairly tall players—the type who would be injury risks if they played football and exposed their gangly knees to constant harassment.

    Julius Randle is an exception that proves the rule.

    The difference with Randle is that he's thick. He's 6'9'', sure, but he also has a pro-ready body with wide shoulders and adequate bulk. As he continues to get bigger, he will only continue to get scarier.

    More than anything, though, Randle likes to get up. If there's a ball up for grabs, he is willing and able to pluck it at its highest point, no matter who or how many people are fighting for it.

    He would be an automatic red zone touchdown.

C Cameron Ridley, Texas

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: OT

    How could Cameron Ridley not make this list?

    At first I considered him at defensive tackle, where he I think he would put up J.J. Watt-type batted pass numbers. But at 6'10'', 285 pounds, I also think the lack of leverage would eventually make him useless.

    At offensive tackle, however, Ridley could be an interesting project. He seemed like a stiff before this past season in Austin. But Rick Barnes and his staff slowly molded Ridley into a surprisingly nimble and effective player in the post—enough so that B/R's Jason King named him the most improved player in America.

    His conditioning and footwork have improved with each successive year at Texas. If King Dunlap could start at Auburn, there has to be at least a couple of schools willing to take a flier on Ridley.

PG Marcus Smart

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    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: RB

    Bigger running backs are taught to "run angry." With Marcus Smart, that command would read "act normal."

    Lining up in the backfield, Smart could become a bulldozer with his aggressive attitude, 6'4'' frame and wide body. He might never be as powerful as, say, Brandon Jacobs, but he would be quicker from side to side and have a better chance of breaking open long gains.

    Better yet, Smart would be a capable receiver out of the backfield. So is the advantage of having basketball player-sized hands, experience playing in space and rarified coordination.

    This a three-down back and goal-line back in one, tidy package.

SG Russ Smith, Louisville

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: WR

    When Russ Smith gets going—i.e., when he transforms into his alter ego, Russdiculous—there is no good way to stop him. For proof, look no further than last year's national title run.

    Something tells me that would translate to football, where Smith would be an interesting prospect at slot receiver. He is quick and shifty in space and a mechanical perfectionist, which would help him learn an advanced route tree across the middle.

    At 6'0'', Smith actually has good height for the position, though he would likely struggle to make plays on the outside.

    Then again, when someone can get up the way Russ can get up, lofting a jump ball his direction does not sound like a bad idea.

PF Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: OT

    I take back what I said about Sean Kilpatrick.

    If any college basketball player looks and plays like a football player, it is Jarnell Stokes, by a landslide.

    Listed at 6'8'', 260 pounds, Stokes would have far less weight to gain than Jabari Parker to become a quality left tackle. He is also more prone to playing physical in the trenches, albeit not as athletic.

    Still, Stokes reminds me of current NBA player/former high school football standout Glen "Big Baby" Davis. For what is the art of pass-blocking if not one faster, prolonged box out?

    And who in college basketball likes to box out more than Stokes?

PG Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    Football Position: CB

    Fred Van Vleet is the ultimate pest, which is considered high praise for a defensive point guard or a cornerback.

    In leading Wichita State to an undefeated season and No. 1 seed in 2013-14, the 5'11'' sophomore has shown a willingness to throw his body around and interject himself wherever he sees fit—no matter whose offensive progress it impedes.

    Is that not the ideal description of a cornerback? Coupled with his top-end speed, agility and zest for competition—not to mention tendency toward winning games—Van Vleet would do well in pass coverage.

    And on the biggest stage.

PF T.J. Warren, North Carolina State

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: DE

    T.J. Warren isn't the most athletic forward in college basketball, excelling instead because of his versatility and basketball acumen.

    On first glance, that would not make him an ideal fit on the football field. There's a reason he is not, like many of the other power forwards on this list, projected to play tight end. He doesn't get up high enough.

    Still, Warren is one of the hardest workers in the sport and always does the little things right. He has room to add a lot of muscle and at 6'8'' could become a quality early down, run-stuffing defensive end.

    Put simply, this is a guy I would trust to improve.

PG Briante Weber, VCU

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: CB

    He's only 165 pounds and would likely need to add some bulk to help in run support, but Briante Weber is a long, lean athlete with some of the quickest hands and feet in college basketball history.

    At 6'2'', Weber leads the NCAA with 115 steals and 3.38 steals per game and set the VCU school record with 260 career steals earlier this season. He still has another year to play, too, and should make a run at John Linehan's all-time record (385) in 2014-15.

    Do steals translate directly to interceptions? Of course not. But even if not sibling statistics, they are at the very least related.

    Weber has a huge wingspan, great anticipatory skills and can read the eyes of his opponent. He would be a big-play machine on the gridiron.

SF Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: WR

    As with Julius Randle, I was immediately inclined to leave Andrew Wiggins off the list because he's too tall and his body might not be suited for the rigors of FBS football.

    And as with Randle, I eventually came to my senses.

    Wiggins' coach might have to pick and choose his spots to keep the 6'9'' receiver healthy, but Wiggins is an effortless athlete with huge hands who rises like an elevator to make big plays.

    If the right coach could coax some intensity out of him—the aloof attitude he's shown this season would not fly in football—Wiggins could lead the NCAA in touchdown grabs. Easy. 

PG Scottie Wilbekin, Florida

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: QB

    Scottie Wilbekin would be the bizarro Tim Tebow.

    He's more sinner than saint off the field, having been suspended multiple times by head coach Billy Donovan, but something about his presence is not conducive to losing.

    Whenever he's on the court, the Gators seem to win.

    I'm not sure how great he'd be with his arm, but I could see Wilbekin willing a triple-option team to victories or playing a Kordell Stewart-type slash role in a pro-style offense. Maybe would strictly run the Wildcat—who knows?

    All I know is that I'm giving him the ball in the fourth.

PG Chaz Williams, UMass

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Football Position: RB

    Chaz Williams is undersized (5'9''), shifty and a nightmare to guard in open space.

    At first, I wanted to liken him to fellow Minuteman Victor Cruz—which wouldn't be an awful comparison—but I don't think he would hold up well in the slot. At least not consistently.

    No, Williams' future would be in a De'Anthony Thomas-type scat back role, though he could also be useful catching passes. Either way, he's a weapon who needs to have the ball in his hands and is capable of making SportsCenter with some amazing athletic feats.

    Case in point, this double step-back jumper against BYU.

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