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The end of MLB’s regular season is near. And we can all agree that one player this season knocked our socks off with one of the best two-way performances in all of sports — ever.
Shohei Ohtani does it all for the Los Angeles Angels. For our NFL fans unfamiliar, Ohtani, a Japanese-born pitcher/DH, led the league in home runs for most of the season and has remained an ace for the Angels on the mound. He’s the favorite to be named AL MVP. All of this after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018.
Ohtani’s performance got NFL Nation thinking: Who in the NFL would absolutely crush it on both sides of the ball? So, we picked 32 players — one from each team — who have the skills, background or attitude to be a potential dual threat in the NFL. Some of these players actually played completely different positions in high school and college, and the others just have many useful ball, blocking or foot skills.
Picture this: Chase Young as a tight end, Micah Parsons as a running back, DeAndre Hopkins as a defensive back and Travis Kelce as a defensive end (or quarterback). What a different — and extremely fun — world the NFL would be. But it actually is well within these players’ skill sets to perform well in these positions, and some of their coaches agree.
So, let’s learn more about these dual-threat players, starting with Parsons:
Jump to a team:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
Two-way candidate: LB Micah Parsons
Did you see what he was able to do as a defensive end against the Chargers with just two practices? Why couldn’t he play running back? Parsons had a sack and four quarterback hits, and gave tackle Storm Norton so many fits that the Chargers had to focus on him even more.
As a senior at Harrisburg (Pa.) High School, he had 1,239 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. Penn State coach James Franklin said he could have been just as good at running back as he is at linebacker. Oh, by the way, he is 248 pounds. In a pre-draft news conference, Parsons said, “My true position growing up was running back, so you could look at me like a Derrick Henry, honestly.”
Given his physical traits, ability and what he has shown so far, why not? — Todd Archer
Two-way candidate: S Jabrill Peppers
We’ve already seen it. Peppers did it all at Michigan, playing wildcat quarterback, running back and returner at Michigan. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2016. Some NFL scouts thought running back was his best position. His coaches with the Giants think he could play there in the NFL, too.
“If you put him back there at running back, I bet you wouldn’t notice the difference between him playing offense or defense,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said.
McGaughey already uses Peppers as a return man, so he isn’t blowing smoke about Peppers’ ability to do damage with the ball in his hands. Maybe offensive coordinator Jason Garrett could use him as well? It’s fun to dream. — Jordan Raanan
Wolverines’ Jabrill Peppers gets the snap and rushes for a 3-yard touchdown, tying the game for Michigan against Michigan State.
Two-way candidate: OT Jordan Mailata
There’s no one in the NFL more uniquely qualified to play both ways. Have you ever watched his old rugby highlights? Not only did the Aussie truck people when he had the ball for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, he doled out bone-crushing hits on defense.
When Mailata decided to give football a try a few years back, he opted for offensive tackle in part because he liked the movie “The Blind Side.” That worked out pretty well, as he just inked a four-year, $64 million extension with the Eagles. But it’s not hard to envision the 6-foot-8, 346-pound Mailata demolishing quarterbacks as a D-lineman instead of protecting them. Hey, he picked the sport up in three years with no prior experience. Who’s to say he doesn’t master the other side of the ball? — Tim McManus
Two-way candidate: DE Chase Young
No team has just one guy that could serve in this role, but Young is a tremendously gifted player. Had he wanted to play tight end in college, he could have excelled. In high school, he played on the basketball team at powerhouse DeMatha (Md.). “If he wanted to be a Division I basketball player, he could have been,” Mike Jones, his coach at DeMatha, said. “You could see his talent and size and his work ethic.”
On the football field, Young’s running ability was evident last season on a scoop-and-score 46-yard fumble recovery. “He looks like a running back,” ESPN NFL analyst Matt Hasselbeck said. “If we said, ‘All right, you have a year. What other position could you go train yourself to play?’ He could find another position to play. He’s that special.”
And Washington coach Ron Rivera said Young and fellow end Montez Sweat “could probably play tight end with their athletic abilities.” — John Keim
Illustration by ESPN
Two-way candidate: S Eddie Jackson
Bears coach Matt Nagy has flirted with using Jackson on offense for years. The former Pro Bowl defensive back is explosive when the ball is in his hands. He has six career defensive touchdowns on interceptions and fumble returns. Jackson was also a former high school wide receiver in Florida. As a senior, Jackson was listed as the No. 54 wide receiver prospect in the country by ESPN, but he played defense for Nick Saban at Alabama. — Jeff Dickerson
Two-way candidate: NT Alim McNeill
There’s no way that a 6-foot-2, 330-pound nose tackle should be moving the way he does. McNeill played some short-yardage running back at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, scoring 18 career touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. But he was actually a star on the baseball diamond, earning three all-conference selections while batting .355 as a senior. He gave up the right field position in baseball to focus on football, becoming a second-team AP All-American at NC State, and now is a rookie contributor to the Lions as a third-round pick.
“I didn’t see myself as a big guy in the outfield, honestly,” McNeill said after being drafted in April. “I just see myself as an athlete out there.”
His new teammates have personally witnessed what the hype is all about in baseball, too. “He can actually throw the [football] and catch it smooth,” fellow rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown said. “We had this little baseball thing we did for all the rookies after the OTAs and he was also hitting Wiffle ball.” — Eric Woodyard
Two-way candidate: LB Ty Summers
No, the inside linebacker hasn’t played quarterback since he was at Reagan (TX) High School, but Rice University offered him a scholarship to be a quarterback. He changed his mind, however, when TCU offered him — as a linebacker. Still, the speedy Summers thinks he could have made it in the NFL as a dual-threat runner and passer.
“I would have played really well in college, and I probably would have had an opportunity — maybe as a free-agent kind of thing — because I would have found a way to be successful,” Summers said shortly after the Packers drafted him in 2019. “I was a gamer.”
In some ways, he played quarterback like he plays linebacker. “I had a pretty physical mindset as a quarterback,” he said. “So that mentality didn’t change.” — Rob Demovsky
Two-way candidate: WR Justin Jefferson
We got a glimpse of Jefferson’s many talents on the football field outside of catching touchdowns when he turned an end around into an 11-yard pass to K.J. Osborn at Cincinnati. But the 22-year-old receiver’s physical tools extend beyond football. Just ask Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who frequently invites Jefferson over to his home to shoot hoops.
“I was riding by the park a couple weeks ago and I saw him out there playing soccer,” Cook said. “I was just like, ‘What you doing?'” And in a very matter-of-fact manner, Jefferson told Cook that he found a group of people with whom he could play a pickup game. “He’s just so talented,” Cook said. “I believe he could play any sport he wants, if he puts his mind to it. That’s just how his body is — he’s agile, and just a good athlete, in my opinion.”
So how might that athleticism translate to Jefferson playing both offense and defense? “I feel like he could play some safety or something,” Cook said. “He’s tough.” — Courtney Cronin
Two-way candidate: CB Avery Williams
This answer is kind of easy because first-year head coach Arthur Smith has already hinted at it as a possibility for the rookie fifth-round pick. Williams entered the league as a corner — he showed promise there in the preseason, though he has only played three defensive snaps through three games — with the expectation that he’d make a difference as a return man. And it’s his skill as a punt returner that makes him tantalizing as an offensive option. It all starts on special teams for Williams, though.
“He’ll have every opportunity to go back there and compete, whether it’s punt returns or a spot on defense, maybe offense,” Smith said. “He’s a very unique player.”
Williams has played 55 special teams snaps so far. He’s similar to former NFL two-way player Jamal Agnew, who started as a cornerback and returner in Detroit and now is primarily a returner for the Jaguars. — Michael Rothstein
Two-way candidate: S/LB Jeremy Chinn
The real question is: Where can’t Chinn play? He played linebacker, nickel corner and some safety for the Panthers as a rookie in 2020. He is playing safety and linebacker this season. He was a star defender at Fishers (IN) High School, but he also averaged 6.9 yards per carry as a running back. Chinn defines what coach Matt Rhule likes to call a positionless player. — David Newton
Two-way candidate: QB Taysom Hill
Hill is the obvious answer, considering he already has 14 career special teams tackles, a blocked punt and a punt deflection in addition to his do-everything role as a QB/RB/FB/TE/WR/KR. And he has never met a collision he doesn’t like when he tries to run through tacklers in the open field.
The only question is what position the 6-foot-2, 221-pounder would play on defense, but running back Alvin Kamara decided that safety would be the best fit. The bigger surprise is that Kamara didn’t nominate himself, considering he has campaigned so much to play quarterback in recent years. Kamara said he is not into “the tackling thing.” — Mike Triplett
Two-way candidate: DT Vita Vea
Who doesn’t want to see the 347-pound Vea as a ball carrier after he chased down running back Ronald Jones in training camp, and after he put together quite the high school highlight reel?
“When we saw that it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, a man that big can run down a running back?’ It was awesome to see, but it kind of reminded you just how different of a player he is,” defensive tackle Khalil Davis said.
Vea averaged 12.3 yards per carry as a senior at Milpitas (CA) High School. He has played nine career offensive snaps for the Bucs, lining up at fullback. He even caught a one-yard touchdown pass in 2019. — Jenna Laine
Vita Vea, Bucs DT, was a big-time running back in high school.
His highlights are ?
(via MaxPreps/Youtube) pic.twitter.com/VOMRNY1D3e
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 15, 2021
Two-way candidate: WR DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins was a star defensive back at D.W. Daniel (SC) High School, where he had a whopping 28 interceptions. He went to Clemson as a cornerback, only to get moved to receiver when injuries at the position required more bodies. Hopkins also had scholarship offers to play basketball from multiple colleges. Now, Arizona won’t ever move him to defensive back, but he has the experience, knowledge and hands to jump in for a play or two during, say, a Hail Mary. — Josh Weinfuss
Two-way candidate: CB Jalen Ramsey
There were two recurring names in the debate over the Rams’ best potential two-way-player: Ramsey and safety Jordan Fuller. Ramsey earned the nod in a nonscientific poll, however. “He’s so athletic and he always messing around like he’s going to play running back,” running back Darrell Henderson said. “He showed me his high school highlights and he’s pretty good on offense.”
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Ramsey starred as a cornerback, receiver and running back at Brentwood Academy (TN) before he went on to play corner at Florida State. “His position could convert easy,” receiver Robert Woods explained. “He has the height, length and speed. Good hands, too.” — Lindsey Thiry
Everything you need this week:
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• Football Power Index rankings »
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Two-way candidate: OT Trent Williams
There are many options here, but Williams is considered one of the NFL’s unique players because of his combination of physical traits and size. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk envisions the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Williams being able to wreck shop as an interior pass-rusher as well as he protects quarterbacks.
“You line him up at a 3-technique, I don’t see why you wouldn’t have a bigger version of like an Aaron Donald in there,” Juszczyk said. “He has such a good football mind that I feel like you could definitely play him both ways and be very successful.” — Nick Wagoner
Two-way candidate: LB/FB Nick Bellore
There’s no need to get hypothetical here. The Seahawks already have a two-way player in Bellore. He began his career at linebacker as an undrafted free agent with the Jets in 2011, then began his transition to fullback in 2017 with the Lions. That’s where he played in 2019 and 2020 with Seattle, before a rash of injuries to Seahawks linebackers this summer forced him into double duty. That meant going back and forth between meeting rooms and getting jokingly called a traitor by the offense. Bellore had 11 tackles over Seattle’s final two preseason games.
“He was really good on defense for us in a couple of games here,” Pete Carroll said. “We forgot about his linebacker play. We knew … he had played there, but we really didn’t give him a chance. We always were playing him on the other side of the ball. So now he’s one of those all-time NFL two-way performers now.”
Actually, Bellore is a three-way player when you count special teams, where he is Seattle’s captain. He is a backup at linebacker and is still playing some fullback, playing two snaps there in Week 2. — Brady Henderson
Two-way candidate: CB Tre’Davious White
While White is now an All-Pro defender and one of the league’s top cornerbacks, he originally went to LSU as a wide receiver after playing quarterback and cornerback at Green Oaks Magnet (LA) High School. Why the switch to corner? There were two pretty good players ahead of him at receiver — Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
Instead, he switched to the defensive side of the ball and the rest is history. He also returned punts in college and had three return touchdowns. With his speed, White could also be a great weapon for the Bills’ offense. — Alaina Getzenberg
Two-way candidate: CB Xavien Howard
There’s a reason why Howard seems to know what quarterbacks and wide receivers are thinking on the field — he played both positions at Houston Wheatley (TX) High School. Howard said he was more of a zone-read quarterback when he played and compared himself to Robert Griffin III, but his experience as a receiver is part of the reason why he is tied for the most interceptions in the NFL (23) since he joined the league in 2016.
“I feel like it does help me. I played everything, so playing receiver also helped me, just looking back and finding the ball,” Howard said. “I feel like a lot of cornerbacks panic when the ball is in the air and that’s probably what I do well is just look back. No matter if I’m beat or not, I try to make a play on the ball.” — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Two-way candidate: WR Gunner Olszewski
In fairness to Olszewski, this might be under-selling him. He is really a three-way player. He played defensive back at Bemidji State — he had three interceptions as a senior — before switching to receiver with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He was named an All-Pro return man in 2020. So that’s defense, offense and special teams, although Olszewski hasn’t yet played D in a regular season game. He is an emergency option, similar to Troy Brown and Julian Edelman in past years. — Mike Reiss
Gunner Olszewski played a few defensive snaps for the Patriots in the 2019 preseason, but he hasn’t taken a regular-season defensive snap. Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire
Two-way candidate: CB Justin Hardee
Hardee could play in all three phases if they let him. He makes his living on special teams, most notably as a gunner, but he is listed as a cornerback and actually broke into the NFL as a wide receiver. He was a receiver at Illinois, where he caught 72 passes in four seasons.
Undrafted in 2017, Hardee signed with the Texans as a receiver but didn’t make the roster. He landed with the Saints, and they made the decision to convert him to cornerback. He became known as a tenacious practice player and soon carved a niche on special teams. The Jets thought so much of Hardee that they signed him to a three-year, $5.25 million contract — not bad for a specialist.
“I’ve got heart and I won’t back down,” he said. “I’m a maniac on the field.” He is already a team leader, as he was voted a captain by his teammates. — Rich Cimini
Two-way candidate: S DeShon Elliott
Growing up in Texas, Elliott idolized Emmitt Smith and wanted to play running back. But high school coaches saw how Elliott loved to hit and put him on defense. Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell believes Elliott could make an impact on offense.
“I’m not sure if he ever played running back, but I know his style of play as a defender,” Campbell said. “He’s physical and fast, and I think he’d be a force downhill. You could see him wanting to make linebackers and DBs pay. That’s his type of mentality.” — Jamison Hensley
Two-way candidate: DE Trey Hendrickson
Hendrickson is known for being a solid defensive end, but during his days at Apopka (FL) High School, he was an offensive threat, too. He had 547 receiving yards and seven touchdowns for an Apopka team that won a state title his senior year. He also blocked three kicks on special teams. Given Hendrickson’s flexibility on the edge of the Bengals’ defense, it’s not hard to see him being a potential tight end in some unique packages. — Ben Baby
Two-way candidate: DE Myles Garrett
After dominating pickup basketball games over the offseason (until coach Kevin Stefanski “retired” him), launching home runs in Jarvis Landry’s celebrity game and declaring (maybe justifiably?) that he’d “beat the brakes off” Logan Paul in a boxing match, if he wanted to — what would stop Garrett from also taking on, say, tight end in football?
“He could probably play any position he wanted,” said Browns guard Joel Bitonio, who, by the way, noted he would “definitely not” want to play both ways (“I am not in that type of shape,” he said).
Stefanski suggested that Garrett could even play wideout if he so desired. Garrett already showed in the playoffs last season that he is as fast as some receivers, running down Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman from behind. Yet while Hardman is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Garrett is 6-foot-4, 275. Garrett posted hoops videos of him posterizing hapless defenders. In the right situations, he might be able to do the same to NFL defensive backs. — Jake Trotter
Aight I’m going back to football ? pic.twitter.com/ZhUNCUip5Z
— Flash Garrett ⚡️ (@Flash_Garrett) May 26, 2021
Two-way candidate: P Pressley Harvin III
Hear me out. There might be better athletes on the Steelers’ roster, but the rookie punter could be a three-way player. At 6-foot, 255 pounds, he is built like a linebacker, and he threw an absolute dime of a touchdown on a fake punt in college at Georgia Tech. In youth football, Harvin was an offensive lineman.
“I always get that question: ‘What do you play?'” Harvin said during rookie minicamp. “People try to guess. It’s always a D-lineman or fullback or halfback. When I tell them I’m a punter, they are kind of astonished.”
With the offense sputtering early on, Harvin is most valuable to the Steelers for his big leg, but he gives them options for trick plays. — Brooke Pryor
Two-way candidate: CB Desmond King II
Justin Reid voted for fellow defensive back King, who also has returned punts and kicks during his four seasons in the NFL. “With how Desmond has been returning each ball he caught for about 25-plus [yards], I say he’ll be a mean slot receiver too, if they put him on the offensive side of the ball,” Reid said.
King was a running back and defensive back at East English Village Preparatory Academy (MI), where he set a school record for career rushing yards and ran for 2,360 yards as a senior. — Sarah Barshop
Two-way candidate: TE Mo Alie-Cox
Alie-Cox was a dominant power forward who played above the rim while helping the VCU men’s basketball team reach the NCAA tournament four times. At 6-foot-5, 267 pounds, he has the size and speed to supply a pass rush off the edge at defensive end. It also doesn’t hurt that Alie-Cox has a 7-foot-2 wingspan.
He started at defensive end and tight end when he played football in school before pursuing his college basketball career. — Mike Wells
2H (4:43) VCU Mo Alie-Cox soars in for another top-notch dunk. Assisted by J. Lewis.
Two-way candidate: WR Jamal Agnew
This was an easy search since Agnew is already a two-way player. Really, a three-way player since he is an All-Pro kick returner. Agnew is now a receiver, but Detroit drafted him in the fifth round in 2017 as a cornerback. He made the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro as a kick returner but also played some on defense — and has caught two passes. The Lions moved him to receiver in 2020 and he caught 13 passes for 89 yards. The Jaguars signed him to be a kick returner, but he has played 19 snaps on offense through three games. He also has a 109-yard touchdown return on a missed field goal.
“I call myself an athlete out there,” Agnew said. “They always say in the league, ‘The more you can do.’ So, I try to do everything. Last year in Detroit, Week 1, we had two or three corners go down and I was like, ‘I can play corner still, if you want me to.’ So, I mean, it’s just all about creating value and I am just trying to do that.” — Michael DiRocco
Two-way candidate: WR Julio Jones
Exhibit A for Jones would be back in 2015 when he caught Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander 85 yards down the field after Alexander intercepted Matt Ryan in the end zone. There’s actually a 3-minute-long highlight reel of Jones’ defensive highlights, which includes a jarring hit to prevent Cowboys defensive back Jeff Heath from intercepting a pass and a textbook tackle he made on Saints CB Marshon Lattimore after an interception.
The Falcons used Jones as a deep safety in prevent defense at times at the end of halves; he has played 11 defensive snaps since 2011. Jones said last week that he played some defensive end, cornerback, safety and linebacker in high school. — Turron Davenport
Two-way candidate: WR Kendall Hinton
Led by Von Miller, there are plenty of Broncos who often say they would like the chance to put in a little double duty, but Hinton is likely the only player on the roster who could pull it off in an NFL game. He is best known for filling in at quarterback against the Saints last season, but he has worked at cornerback during practice, including regular turns on the scout team defense against the Broncos starting offense.
“We did work him there some initially, because we like Kendall and wanted to give him a chance to show what he could do,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said.
Hinton, who played both quarterback and receiver at Wake Forest, seems to have found a home at wideout. And when Jerry Jeudy was moved to short-term injured reserve after Week 1, it was Hinton, one of four receivers on the practice squad, who was promoted to the active roster. — Jeff Legwold
Two-way candidate: TE Travis Kelce
The Chiefs’ star pass-catcher played quarterback at Cleveland Heights (Ohio) High School and began his collegiate career as a signal-caller before moving to tight end. He was also reportedly recruited by colleges to play defensive end. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Kelce might not have classic pass-rush skills, but he is enough of an athlete to pull it off. He is a quick study and understands the game. Who’s to say he couldn’t make for a serviceable rush end? — Adam Teicher
Travis Kelce’s high school highlights are something else ? @tkelce @Chiefs
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) July 6, 2021
Two-way candidate: WR Zay Jones
If general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden have said it once, they have said it a million times: Jones is the most physically fit player on the Raiders roster. No, he is not the fastest, nor is he the biggest. But imagine Las Vegas gambling and playing him as a mirror image of himself at outside cornerback. He already understands route concepts and, with his athleticism, can stay in receivers’ pockets. He could even use his core-strength elevation technique to unnerve opponents from the defensive side of the ball. Plus, with hands better than any defensive back, imagine the picks. — Paul Gutierrez
Two-way candidate: S Derwin James Jr.
James plays just about every position in the secondary — free safety, strong safety, corner. He even joked one day they could put him on the D-line. All through training camp, he was battling with Keenan Allen, one of the best receivers in the game. Switch roles? Derwin would hold his own. Said offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, “I know this being around Derwin a little bit — I’ll put my money on him against anyone.”
James was hurt all of last season and much of the season before. But this season, back healthy and feisty, he has 12 solo tackles and a quarterback hit. Put him at wide receiver and I’m guessing he’d bat those defensive backs away and get himself into the end zone for the Chargers. He once was asked where he preferred to play and answered, “Wherever the ball is.” That would include offense as well, I’d guess. He’s a stellar player with hops and hands. The Chargers need him, obviously, on defense, but he’s one who could cross the aisle and be great. — Shelley Smith