By Ross Kelly
Yesterday Braxton Miller announced that he will transition from quarterback to wide receiver as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. It was the right move to make for Miller who was highly accomplished in his three years as Ohio State’s starting QB, but probably didn’t have a pro future at that position (at least in the NFL). Also, with Cardale Jones and JT Barrett also batting for snaps, Miller may not have even been able to showcase his “arm talent” that often this season. There have been numerous other position switches in sports; some worked out for the better and some, clearly, did not. But I’ll just focus on the positive so here are the most successful position switches in sports:
8. Brian Mitchell – From quarterback to return specialist
Did you know that the man with the most kick return yards AND punt return yards in NFL history never returned a single kickoff or punt in college? Mitchell as a college player was a little ahead of his time in the late 80s at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He was an option quarterback who became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 5000 yards and rush for 3000 yards. He converted to a returner after being drafted in 1990 and holds virtually every return yardage record and only Jerry Rice has more career all-purpose yards.
7. Charlie Ward – From quarterback to point guard
As soon as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota take their first snaps, Ward will once again revert to being the only Heisman winner to never play a down in the NFL. After winning the Heisman in 1993 at Florida State, Ward, who also was point guard on the FSU basketball team, bypassed the NFL when he found out he wouldn’t be a first-round pick. He was, however, a first round pick in the NBA by the Knicks in 1994. He went on to have a solid 11-year NBA career but one of those unanswered questions will always be, “How would Charlie Ward have done as an NFL player?”
6. Antwaan Randle El – From quarterback to wide receiver/returner
Steelers fans were probably expecting to see a different WR, but unlike Hines Ward, Randle El was a four-year starter at QB in college. This is the transition that Braxton Miller should try to emulate as both are/were dynamic playmakers who had so-so arm strength. Miller has an advantage in that he has prototypical WR size (6’2″, 215) and is, in his words, the best athlete in college football. Randle El had a successful 9-year NFL career as a slot receiver and returner. He had 370 receptions, led the NFL in punt return TDs twice, and won a Super Bowl with the Steelers.
5. Trevor Hoffman – From shortstop to pitcher
Hoffman basically went from a career-minor league SS to a Hall of Fame closer thanks to his throwing arm. All through college and his first year in the minors, Hoffman was a shortstop who was a decent hitter but a poor fielder. He actually led the University of Arizona in hitting in 1988 despite the team being loaded with future MLB talent. But after being drafted, Hoffman struggled throwing to first base in the minors and a coach suggested he switch to another position. That position ended up being relief pitcher and 601 saves later; Hoffman may be enshrined in Cooperstown one day.
4. Jason Peters – From D-lineman to tight end to offensive tackle
Peters was recruited by Arkansas as a defensive lineman and played that position as a freshman. He then moved to tight end and was even made an All-SEC team at that position. After going undrafted in 2004, he signed with the Bills who thought his size and athleticism would make for an interesting project at offensive tackle. Well that project has since earned an A+ grade as Peters has been one of the best tackles in the NFL. He has been a 7x Pro Bowler and made six All-Pro teams across 11 seasons in Buffalo and Philadelphia.
3. Robin Yount – From shortstop to centerfielder
Like Miller, a shoulder injury necessitated a position switch for Yount. The Brewers’ legend couldn’t generate the velocity he had before following shoulder surgery in 1984 so he moved to center field to take some pressure off his throwing arm. The move extended Yount’s career and he was able to collect over 3000 hits, 250 home runs, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
2. Craig Biggio – From catcher to second baseman/outfielder
After spending the first four years of his MLB career behind the plate, the Astros knew they had a special player in Biggio and wanted to protect him so they moved him to second base. It was clearly the right move as Biggio would go on to a Hall of Fame career and collect over 3000 hits. Later in his career Biggio then moved to the outfield after the team signed 2B Jeff Kent but would later move back to second to finish his career. It didn’t matter where Biggio played defensively as he always performed at the plate and was one of the best leadoff hitters of his era.
1. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham et al. – From basketball to tight end
There are so many tight ends who have made this transition that it’s impossible to list them all, but the three above have been the most successful. They have been so impactful as football players that NFL teams now employ personnel whose sole job is to scout athletes from different sports (basketball, wrestling, rugby) and predict if they can successfully transition to football. None of these guys were great as college basketball players as pretty much all of them were undersized power forwards, so props to them for putting in the work to become the best at their position in their new sport and future Hall of Famers.