Posted by Mark Branstad – Football Talent Advisors
After Usain Bolt’s super human performance of 9.58 100 meter dash at the World Championships there’s been buzz all over about what he might be able to do in the NFL. There’s no question he’s the fastest person ever and perhaps more appropriately he’s 6’05. He’s got an unprecedented combination of speed and size NFL executives and coaches covet at the wide receiver position.
There’s a major oversight with this intriguing scenario though…Bolt’s never played football. And by never I mean not little league, not high school and forget college. Never played. Bolt claims soccer is his team sport of preference. That isn’t exactly a shining endorsement for transitioning to the NFL gridiron.
I looked into what Bolt’s prospects might be if he decided to put professional track on the back burner for a while and give the NFL a shot. And I discovered Bolt would have almost zero examples of successful crossover attempts by professional track athletes (with no prior football experience) to lean on. Everyone likes to use Renaldo Nehemiah as the crossover example…and he wasn’t exactly successful. Renaldo stuck in the NFL for three seasons and had moderate success as a receiver. He was primarily a downfield decoy.
Nehemiah had little to no football experience and zero above the high school level. Reminder: Usain Bolt has never played football. Again, there are virtually no other examples of Olympic / professional track athletes to play in the NFL with no prior football playing experience. On top of this Nehemiah played in the early 80’s when the NFL game was much less complex, the passing game much less refined and defenses were not geared to applying max pressure on quarterbacks. Bolt would have to be much more technically sound at running routes and blocking than Nehemiah to meet the demands of an NFL team today.
Bolt is physically much larger than Nehemiah (6’01 175) so that would be in his favor but there’s little else. There are a ton of newspaper articles and websites that list players that ran great 100 meter times and played in the NFL. Nearly all those players had extensive football backgrounds prior to playing in the NFL.
A few receivers come to mind that had solid collegiate track careers and recent success in the NFL. Eddie Kennison was a solid sprinter at LSU, winning an NCAA Outdoor 400 relay title in 1994, and had multiple 1,000 yard receiving seasons in the NFL. Kennison is much smaller than Bolt and of course didn’t possess Bolt’s straight-line speed. Marcus Robinson is another recent example of a successful NFL receiver (in 1999 Robinson caught 84 passes for 1,400yds and nine TDs) with a solid collegiate track career. Robinson ran a 20.60 / 200 and 10.21 /100 at University of South Carolina. Robinson’s not in the same league as Bolt in terms of speed but had similar size (6’03 215lbs).
Former Olympians dot the NFL over the years with guys like Ollie Matson (RB – Rams), Bo Roberson (RB – Raiders), Michael Bates (RB / KR – Panthers), Willie Gault (WR – Bears), Sam Graddy (WR – Rams), James Jett (WR – Raiders), Ron Brown (CB / WR – Rams), James Trapp (CB – Ravens) and we could go on. But the difference is ALL these guys had collegiate football experience prior to the NFL. Yes, their tremendous speed and athleticism helped them in the NFL but they had playing experience too. I’m not even including the other obvious example Bob Hayes because he had extensive football experience prior to the NFL and most considered him a football player first and track athlete second.
This name dropping could go on and on with other very successful current and former NFL players with solid collegiate track backgrounds like Champ Bailey, Robert Smith (RB Vikings), Herman Moore (WR Lions), Alvin Harper (WR Cowboys), O.J. Simpson, Curtis Conway, Qadry Ismail, Michael Carter, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Vance Johnson, Mark Duper, Ray Clayborn, Eugene Profit, Rod Woodson, Darrell Green even Deion Sanders ran in a few meets at Florida State.
But I’ll end it here as even Willie Gault, who knows a bit about the Olympic track / NFL crossover, says without prior football experience it is too difficult to make the transition. And we shouldn’t forget Justin Gatlin, mentioned in a prior blog, a former 9.85 Olympic sprinter had multiple NFL tryouts and couldn’t get signed by a team in 2007. Gatlin played some football while at Woodham High School in Florida.