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There’s no question that NBA players are some of the most athletically gifted humans on the face of the earth. Their size, agility and balance between fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers that allow them the quickness and stamina to run up and down the court make these athletes look and feel like Rescue Hero action figures.
So what would stop the Raptors from dipping their toes into another pool — American football?
Nowadays, it’s popular to see dual-sport athletes, particularly in high school and college. But it’s mostly a combination of baseball and football or hockey and football or baseball and basketball. In the professional ranks, both Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson played in the NFL and MLB at the same time.
So, while there have been some instances of basketball players transitioning to the gridiron — what football players like calling the field — and football players transitioning to the court, I don’t think we’ve seen enough of this combination of two of the most popular sports on either side of the Canadian-United States border.
With that, I took the liberty of doing some research on how the Toronto Raptors would fit into an NFL roster, what position they’d play, what skills they’d bring to the table and who their NFL player comparison is.
Here is your Raptors football team:
Quarterback: Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry quarterbacks the Raptors game on a nightly basis so, naturally, he fits in as a gunslinging leader.
Standing at 6’0″ tall, he wouldn’t be one of the taller quarterbacks in the game but he could hold his own in the backfield just like his NFL player comparison — Russell Wilson. Both Lowry and Wilson are among the shortest athletes on their respective teams but they both command an offence like John Williams — the composer responsible for the music in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises — conducts an orchestra.
Lowry is quick but not fast, so he would most likely scramble to throw instead of scrambling to run. He does have some power in those famous glutes of his, though.
I wouldn’t be worried if he decided to take the pigskin past the line of scrimmage himself about once every series.
Running back: Fred VanVleet
Though Fred VanVleet is about an inch taller than Lowry, I’d still prefer him hitting the hole and catching passes out of the backfield as a dual-threat one-cut running back just like his NFL player comparison — Aaron Jones.
Running backs like Jones need to have the right balance between patience and instinct. “Steady Freddy” is already known for both those skills — and his quick feet aren’t too shabby, either — so his transition to the backfield would be smoother than others.
VanVleet is also never afraid to get to the paint as a 6’1″ guard, which would complement his game if he can show that same fearless attitude against 240 pound middle linebackers.
Receiver: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Malachi Flynn
Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher are automatically wideouts on this squad as two of the tallest and lankiest players on the Raptors. As a smaller receiver, Malachi Flynn would fit in better in the slot.
Siakam and Boucher benefit from their 6’9″ size as opposing secondaries would have too much trouble high-pointing 50/50 balls against these giants, much like Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins — their NFL player comparisons. Lowry could simply toss up an Aaron Rodgers-style Hail Mary every play and no one would be able to swat the ball away from those two.
While Siakam and Boucher take care of the sideline work, Flynn will be able to use his speed to run skinny posts, splitting the safeties and rendering cover two defences useless against this pass-first offence.
Both Flynn and Jerry Jeudy just finished their rookie seasons in their respective leagues and have both shown promise, which makes Jeudy — known for being a great slot receiver when he was catching passes at Alabama — a good NFL player comparison for Flynn.
Offensive Line: Khem Birch, Freddie Gillespie, Aron Baynes, Stanley Johnson
Because no one on the Raptors roster has much of a beer belly, I had to go with some of the bigger guys that aren’t as lanky as Siakam or Boucher.
Khem Birch would play both left and right tackle, Freddie Gillespie and Stanley Johnson would play guard and Aron Baynes is a good fit at center. Fans often forget that Stanley Johnson is one of the heavier athletes on the team at 242 pounds despite being an NBA average 6’6″.
With respect to NFL player comparisons, I’ll compare this Raptors offensive line to the hoggies on the New York Giants. The Giants have one of the taller groups in the league and 6’8″ offensive tackle Nate Solder has a tree-like stature that resembles Birch’s 6’9″ height.
Tight End: OG Anunoby
Tight end is one of the easiest positions for a basketball player to transition to if they chose to play football.
OG Anunoby is one NBA player I could have seen making the decision to lace up cleats instead of sneakers like Jimmy Graham did after his playing days at the University of Miami. But I wouldn’t compare Anunoby to Graham.
Anunoby’s NFL player comparison is Dallas Goedert, another young athlete with potential who has been described as more reserved in meeting rooms but can let his personality show once players get to know him.
If you’ve followed Toronto over the last few years, you would know Anunoby is just like that too.
Defensive Line: Freddie Gillespie, Aron Baynes, Stanley Johnson, Khem Birch
Because offensive and defensive lines feature similar sizes, I might as well keep the lineup the same.
Gillespie and Birch would fit in well at defensive end with their strong but lengthy physiques that can pull a swim move over the tallest offensive tackles in the league. Like tight end, defensive end is another position that basketball players could easily adjust to just like Julius Peppers when he played both sports at the University of North Carolina before being drafted by the Carolina Panthers.
While Gillespie and Birch set the edge, Baynes and Johnson will take up space at the defensive tackle positions and use their height to their advantage, swatting down balls that try to make their way through the middle.
Gillespie and Birch remind me of Jadeveon Clowney and Chandler Jones — considered a defensive end, not a linebacker in this scenario — while Baynes and Johnson resemble Ndamukong Suh and Chris Jones.
Linebacker: DeAndre’ Bembry, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr.
Linebacker is a little tricky with NBA players because, typically, linebackers have the bigger biceps on the team but if a basketball player has bigger arms, it’s probably better if they suit up as a defensive end or tight end.
With that being said, there are a few Raptors who could be leading this defence with a good balance of size and agility.
DeAndre’ Bembry and Gary Trent Jr. would play best at outside linebacker and are players who are athletic enough to cover the pass, stop the run and rush the passer. Anunoby is slightly taller than both Bembry and Trent but, in my opinion, he takes the cake as the Raptor with the strongest looking build on the team, making him a great candidate to play middle linebacker.
Bembry’s NFL player comparison is Jamie Collins while Trent is more of a Lavonte David. Anunoby reminds me of C.J. Mosley, who is another quiet leader for his team.
Cornerback: Malachi Flynn, Jalen Harris
At cornerback, players have to possess the speed to catch up with receivers who moonlight as track stars but also have the size and strength to take down some of the taller athletes in the NFL.
Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris just might have those two assets.
Flynn would be a prototype corner at 6’1″ with the speed to run stride-for-stride with some of the fastest players on the field. Harris, standing at 6’5″, would take on receivers who look more like Siakam or Boucher — players who would be hauling in high-arcing, lob passes.
Flynn reminds me of a Jaire Alexander but Harris, with his size, looks like a Richard Sherman.
Safety: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet
Because Anunoby would be more of a quiet leader at middle linebacker, this Raptors football team would need some extra leadership on the back end.
Lowry and VanVleet can be the last line of defence with their size and agility while also making play calls to direct the entire unit, especially the secondary. Lowry has the leadership and legacy of a Devin McCourty while VanVleet has the youth and potential of a Jamaal Adams.