Everyone knows about Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. John Elway was said to be an excellent baseball player too (he had an OPS of .896 in the minors!), and even Michael Vick was drafted by the Rockies in 2000. While no less impressive, two-sport athletes used to be a lot more common than they are now – before athletic specialization became a cornerstone of player development.
With Super Bowl LVI upon us (and baseball yielding more off-the-field headlines than we’d prefer), lets take a look at former MLB draft picks who played in the NFL in 2022. The two-sport talents of these athletes are even more remarkable given the age of specialization they’ve been brought up in! We’ll list them in descending order based on their MLB draft round.
10. Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs - Quarterback
Drafted in the 37th round in 2014 by the Detroit Tigers
Mahomes at the bottom of the list is more likely a reflection of his perceived signability at the time of the 2014 MLB Draft than his talents. Son of journeyman reliever Pat Mahomes, the younger Mahomes was drafted as a right-handed pitcher whose fastball sat 92-93 MPH. Highlights of his baseball career include playing in the 2010 Little League World Series, outdueling Michael Kopech in a high school duel, and throwing a 16-strikeout no-hitter (also in high school) (Rieper, 2021). He’s the first of a few dual-threat quarterbacks to make this list, but the only owner of a MLB franchise (he has a minority stake in the Royals).
Atlanta Falcons - Quarterback
Drafted in the 31st round in 2019 by the Boston Red Sox
Currently the third QB on the Falcons’ depth chart, Feleipe Franks might be best known for his time as the starting QB at Florida his (redshirt) freshman and sophomore years. After an injury in his junior year, Franks transferred to Arkansas and set a school record for completion percentage. Right before that fateful junior year, the Red Sox drafted and signed Franks for $40K after he threw a bullpen session and touched 94 MPH on the gun (Glaser, 2021). He’s still a member of the Red Sox organization, but he’s yet to play a professional game.
8. Kyle Long
Kansas City Chiefs - Guard
Drafted in the 23rd round in 2008 by the Chicago White Sox
Looking back at players drafted in both the NFL and MLB reveals a lot of patterns, particularly with respect to the positions played on the gridiron – lots of quarterbacks were good at baseball, toss in some receivers (i.e. Golden Tate), perhaps some tight ends (like HOFer Frank Thomas), and maybe a random running back (Phillies MiLB great Ricky Williams). Running, throwing, and catching are skills easily transferable between the two sports, so its easy to see why these dual-sport talents appear more frequently from some (football) positions than others. But 3-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long is a (literally) big exception. An offensive lineman today, and son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long, Kyle was once a 6’7 280 lb. left-handed pitcher with a 96 MPH fastball (Perfect Game, 2006). That’s why the White Sox drafted him in 2008, shortly before he hung up his spikes (his baseball ones at least).
7. AJ Brown
Tennessee Titans - Wide Receiver
Drafted in the 19th round by the San Diego Padres in 2016
AJ Brown’s been openly tweeting about his baseball skillset recently – reaching out to the organization that drafted him inquiring about a workout, and also saying he’d fair better than Michael Jordan did on the diamond (kind of bold considering Jordan still cracked 21 XBHs and 31 steals in the Southern League). In 2016, Brown became just the second player to compete in the Under Armour All American Games for both baseball and football...the first guy to do it is also on this list.
Carolina Panthers - Linebacker
Drafted in the 18th round by the Boston Red Sox in 2012
Shaq Thompson’s the second guy on our list to sign with the MLB team that drafted him, and the first one to actually play in a professional baseball game. Unfortunately, signing with the Red Sox was as great as his baseball career would get. After his assignment to the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, Shaq went 0-for-39 before calling it a career (Shusterman). Its nice when you’re so talented that you have an NFL career to fall back on.
5. Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Quarterback
Drafted in the 18th round by the Montreal Expos in 1995
Yes, he just retired, but he played in the 2021-2022 NFL season, and he’s Tom Brady, so he makes the list. But, since everyone writes about him, we’ll keep this brief. Given how out-of-this-world successful he’s been, it’s surprising Tom Brady didn’t pull off a two-sport Hall of Fame career just because he’s Tom Brady. He was drafted out of Serra High School by the Expos in 1995 as a power-hitting catcher. It’s probably safe to assume that Tom Brady’s baseball career is the only thing in his life that didn’t work out.
4. Hayden Hurst
Atlanta Falcons - Tight End
Drafted in the 17th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012
Hayden Hurst is another guy who actually signed and played with his drafting team. It’s certainly not difficult to see Hurst pitching and playing 1B like he did, but it is difficult to imagine how, at 6’5, 235 lbs., he could only muster a .245/.333/.245 slash line with no homers. Hurst attributes his departure from baseball to a case of the yips, which is why he briefly tried shifting his focus from pitching to hitting. Good thing he’s a tight end and not a quarterback.
New Orleans Saints - Quarterback
Drafted in the 15th round by the Texas Rangers in 2012
One of two Heisman Trophy winners on this list, Jameis Winston was also a switch-hitting outfielder and a standout pitcher at Florida State, where he closed games to the tune of a 1.95 ERA with 62 Ks in 60.1 innings for the Seminoles – and that was after he was drafted by the Rangers out of high school. Winston is another dual-threat QB to find himself on this list – they seem to make good baseball players…and football players.
Seattle Seahawks - Quarterback
Drafted in the 4th round by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 (41st round by the Orioles in 2007)
Russell Wilson’s baseball accolades are pretty impressive for a 9-time Pro Bowler. He’s the only one on the list drafted out of both high school and college, and the only one who’s been a member of more than one MLB franchise. Wilson, like Hurst and Thompson, played professional baseball for the organization that drafted him (the Rockies). Unlike them, however, he played for more than one year, and posted pretty respectable numbers. His .229/.355/.356 career slash line reflects a disciplined approach with decent power for a middle infielder, in spite of some likely holes in his swing. Wilson’s reputation as a leader inspired both the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees to acquire Wilson, simply for his presence at spring training.
1. Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals - Quarterback
Drafted in the 1st round by the Oakland Athletics in 2018
For baseball, Kyler Murray is the one that got away. The third consecutive dual-threat quarterback on the list, Murray wasn’t expected to win the Heisman Trophy going into his first year at the helm for Oklahoma in 2018 (it’s worth noting that Baker Mayfield did exactly that in the prior year for the Sooners), but he did. After an awkward baseball-football limbo period, Murray committed to the gridiron. 10 months after the A’s drafted Murray 9th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Arizona Cardinals took him 1st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, making him the only player to be drafted in the first round of both sports (John Elway was taken in the 2nd round by the Yankees 2 years before he was taken 1st overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1983). Curiously, Murray recently scrubbed his Instagram of all Cardinals-related images, and has said he'd play both sports if he was given the opportunity. If anyone could outdo Bo Jackson, it’s the guy who was worthy of the first round in both sports, right? We can dream.
Cinone, D. (2022, January 18). Tom Brady’s other sports career that wasn’t. Retrieved from New York Post: https://nypost.com/2022/01/18/these-rare-photos-show-tom-brady-from-his-baseball-days/
Glaser, K. (2019, April 25). Kyler Murray, A.J. Brown Lead NFL Draft Prospects With Baseball Ties. Retrieved from Baseball America: https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/kyler-murray-a-j-brown-lead-nfl-draft-prospects-with-baseball-ties/
Glaser, K. (2021, April 29). Justin Fields, Feleipe Franks Headline 2021 NFL Draft Prospects With Baseball Ties. Retrieved from Baseball America: https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/justin-fields-feleipe-franks-headline-2021-nfl-draft-prospects-with-baseball-ties/
Perfect Game. (2006). Kyle Long. Retrieved from Perfect Game: https://www.perfectgame.org/players/playerprofile.aspx?ID=112897
Rieper, M. (2021, February 2). A look back at the baseball career of Patrick Mahomes II. Retrieved from Royals Review: https://www.royalsreview.com/2021/2/2/22261206/a-look-back-at-the-baseball-career-of-patrick-mahomes-ii
Shusterman, J. (2014, December). Shaq Thompson and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Baseball Career. Retrieved from Cespedes Family Barbeque: https://cespedesfamilybarbecue.com/2014/12/22/shaq-thompson-and-the-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-baseball-career/