Braxton Miller, once a star QB at NCAA powerhouse Ohio State, is now a wide receiver with the Houston Texans.
The former Buckeyes pivot transitioned fairly seamlessly to wide receiver with the school in 2015, good enough to be drafted 85th overall by the Texans in the 2016 draft.
Miller was the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback from 2011 to 2013, however, a series of shoulder injuries forced him to the sidelines for the entire 2014 season. With a glut of starting QBs in Columbus, including starter Cardale Jones and backup J.T. Barrett, Miller had to make a position switch or be out of football all together.
Early returns say that he is a serviceable back-up early in his NFL career (21 games, 34 receptions, 261 yards, two TDs). Those stats, however, don’t get him inclusion on this list, for now.
Miller isn’t the first player to successfully switch positions and he won’t be the last.
Here are 15 NFLers who found themselves another position and thrived.
15. Brian Mitchell – Quarterback to Running Back/Kick Returner
Former Super Bowl champion Brian Mitchell was one heck of a dual threat quarterback at Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) during his college days in the 1980s. He became the first collegiate player to throw for 5,000 yards and rush for 3,000 during his illustrious tenure in the NCAA. But, mobile quarterbacks were not the order of the day in the NFL, with the Washington Redskins picking him in the fifth round of the 1990 draft to return kicks. Let’s just say Mitchell took to it with aplomb. In 223 games with the Redskins, Philadelphia and the New York Giants, Mitchell returned 463 punts for 4,999 yards and nine TDs. He also ran back 607 kickoffs for 14,014 and four more scores. As a fullback, he also accumulated over 4,000 combined yards and 16 touchdowns. Most notably, he led the NFL in all-purpose yards four times, including three straight years from 1994-96.
14. Warren Sapp – Tight End/Punter to Defensive Line
Before he was a trash-talking human wrecking ball and future Hall of Fame defensive lineman in the NFL, Warren Sapp was also, get this, a tight end and a punter (mostly in high school). The stout master of disaster who had 96.5 sacks in 198 NFL games once caught passes and kicked balls down field. Wow. The Miami Hurricanes recruited him heavily and converted him to defensive tackle. It worked, as he became a consensus All-American and won the Lombardi and Bronco Nagurski trophies in 1994. Drafted by Tampa Bay in 1995, Sapp would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Bucs, be voted six-time All-Pro and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999.
13. Devin Hester – Cornerback to Wide Receiver/Kick Returner
In high school and college, Devin Hester had speed to burn. And at the University of Miami, he was the first player in school history to use all that speed to play offence (wide receiver), defence (cornerback) and special teams (kick returner). The Chicago Bears were most impressed by his defensive skills and drafted him in 2006 (2nd round, 57th overall) as a cornerback. However, at the big league level, Hester was most valuable at returning kicks. In 156 career games, mostly with the Bears, he returned an astounding 14 punt returns for touchdowns (of 315 total), including an amazing four in 2007, when he was a first team All-Pro for the second time (three times total). Hester also returned five of 295 career kick-offs for touchdowns. As a wide receiver, Hester finished his career with 3,311 yards on 255 receptions and scored 16 touchdowns. His 19 kick-off and punt return TDs are a NFL record.
12. Nolan Carroll II – Wide Receiver to Cornerback
As of this writing, Nolan Carroll II is a man without a NFL job. He was released early in the 2017 season by Dallas after being concussed in his second game with the Cowboys. It really is too bad, considering he’d made quite a cornerback out of himself after converting from wide receiver in college. Originally a wide receiver at Maryland, Carroll was moved to cornerback in his sophomore season and the rest is history. He was good enough after his senior year with the Terps to get picked in the fifth round (145th overall) by Miami in the 2010 draft and later that year saw action with the Dolphins in 13 games as a back-up corner and kick returner. In no time he became a starter and in 103 career games, so far, he has started 56, recorded 226 tackles, 47 pass defences and eight interceptions (one for a pick six).
11. Richard Sherman – Wide Receiver to Cornerback
Like Nolan Carroll, but on a way more successful level, Richard Sherman changed sides of the ball from offence to defence and thrived. The Seahawks All-Pro cornerback was a good receiver at Stanford late last decade, good enough to earn Freshman All-American honors after lead the Cardinal in receiving with 581 yards in 2006. He stayed at wideout for two more seasons before a knee injury threatened to derail his NCAA career. So, in 2009, he switched to defensive back and in 2010 played a key role in Stanford’s best ever finish at 12-1. As he was still a work in progress, the Seahawks chose him 154th overall in 2011 and it’s turned out to be a major steal. He played in every game between 2011 until the middle of 2017 (he incurred another knee injury) and has been All-Pro four times and a Super Bowl champion once. Sherman also led the NFL in interceptions with eight, part of his 32 total in 105 games.
10. Terrelle Pryor – Quarterback to Wide Receiver
By everyone’s count, Terrelle Pryor had a lousy season with Washington, just one year removed from his first 1,000 receiving yards season with Cleveland in 2016. He caught just 20 passes in nine games for the Redskins, for a grand total of 240 yards and one TD. Knowing how much of a competitor he is, though, he’ll likely rebound — just maybe not in D.C. Previous to his fledgling career as a NFL wide receiver, Pryor was a standout QB at the football factory known as Ohio State. In 2008 he was the Big 10 Freshman QB of the year and he won two Big 10 championships with the Buckeyes in back-to-back years (2008 and 2009). In three seasons behind center in Columbus, he threw for 6,177 yards and 57 touchdowns in 39 games. Drafted by Oakland as a QB, he had made 10 starts, but by 2015 he was out of work (he didn’t play at all in 2014) and made the decision to switch to receiver.
9. Brad Smith – Quarterback to Wide Receiver
Brad Smith didn’t have an outstanding career as a wide receiver/kick returner with three teams in the NFL, but his change of positions was noteworthy. As a highly mobile quarterback at the University of Missouri during the early part of the last decade, Smith had the distinction of being the first Division I-A pivot to pass for 8,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards in his career. Not only that but he was the first player in DI-A history to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season twice in a career, as well as the first to pass for 200 points and score 200 points. After his standout college career, he was drafted 103rd overall in 2006 by the New York Jets as a WR/QB/RB, and was actually rated highest as a QB his first season. Eventually, his quarterbacking days were over, but he did return a kickoff in 2009 for 106 yards, the longest play in the team’s history. He would also play for Buffalo and Philadelphia (which cut him loose in 2014).
8. Josh Cribbs – Quarterback to Wide Receiver/Kick Returner
If you had a chance to watch Josh Cribbs run kicks back for the Cleveland Browns for eight seasons, you’d never have known he was a star college quarterback. The three-time Pro Bowler was a royal pain to opposition coverage team, setting an NFL record for return kickoffs (tied with Leon Washington) with eight, including two kickoff returns of 100+ yards for TDs in a single game (also a tie with Ted Ginn Jr.). Prior to his transformation as a receiver/kick return specialist, Cribbs was a standout quarterback at Kent State, setting or tying many Division I records. He is one of only two true freshman in NCAA history to both rush and pass for 1,000 yards (the other being Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State). Cribbs is also one of only six players in NCAA history to both rush and paiss for 1,000 yards in at least two different seasons, doing it three times, as well as rush for 3,500 yards and throw for 7,000 yards in his career, tying Brad Smith and a couple of others.
7. Matt Jones – Quarterback to Wide Receiver
At the NFL combine in 2005, Matt Jones was so imposing (6’6″, 240 lbs.) and so fast (4.37 second 40-yard dash) that coaches and scouts in attendance called him “The Freak.” As a quarterback at the University of Arkansas, Jones used his speed and size to great advantage, once beating Eli Manning and Ole Miss in a NCAA record seven-overtime game. He was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a wide receiver in the first round of the 2005 draft (21st overall), despite never having played the position. Needless to say, it was a move which shocked many observers. His career with the Jags bore out some of that skepticism, as he never really bust loose at his new position. Nevertheless, he did have a pretty good 2008 season, catching 65 passes for 761 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. He was suspended for the remainder of the 2008 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and hasn’t played since.
6. Dallas Clark – Linebacker to Tight End
Dallas Clark had the boy of a defensive back (6’3″, 250 lbs.) but the soft, soft hands of a wide receiver. So it’s a good thing that after a slow start as a linebacker with the University of Iowa Hawkeyes that he was moved to tight end in 2001. By 2002, his last season in college ball, he would win the John Mackey award as the best tight end in NCAA football. He would forego his last year of eligibility to enter the 2003 draft, where the Indianapolis Colts would select him 24th overall. He didn’t set the world on fire his first few years, but was good enough to make the all-rookie team in 2003, despite playing in just 10 games. Clark would win his only Super Bowl in 2006, catching four Peyton Manning passes for 36 yards (one a crucial 17-yarder late in the game) in a 29-17 victory over Chicago. His best statistical season came in 2009, when he caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs. Clark was only the second TE ever to catch 100 passes and was a first team All-Pro that year.
5. Dante Hall – Running Back to Kick Return Specialist
Their was no more fitting nickname given to an NFLer than Dante “the human joystick” Hall. A running back for the Texas A&M Aggies in college, Hall would go on to become one of the premier kick return specialists the NFL has ever seen. Hall had to defy the odds against him after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL draft (153rd overall) by Kansas City. After a so-so year as a kick/punt returner, he played the entire 2001 season with the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe. His return to the NFL proved climactic. In 2002, Hall returned 29 punts for 390 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to 57 kick returns for 1,354 yards and another score. He was a Pro Bowler and first team All-Pro that year as a kick returner and would surpass those numbers in 2003 to again be named to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro first team. Hall still holds many Chiefs records for return yards and all-purpose yards and was ranked 10th in the NFL Networks Top 10 Return Aces.
4. Antwaan Randle-El – Quarterback to Wide Receiver
How’s this for distinction? Antwaan Randle-El is the only wide receiver to ever throw a touchdown pass in Super Bowl history — and it wasn’t in garbage time during a blowout. A standout quarterback at the University of Indiana, Randle-El tossed a 43-yard trick double reverse pass to Hines Ward (also a former QB) to clinch a 21-10 victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XL. Randle-El would also throw another two TD passes, one to Ward in his final regular season game with Pittsburgh in 2010. That TD pass added to his career passer rating of 157.5 (21 completed passes of a possible 26), the highest career rating of any player with more than 20 completions. Randle-El came by his throwing skills naturally, as he was the first player in NCAA Division I history to pass for 40 career touchdowns and score 40 career rushing touchdowns.
3. Julian Edelman – Quarterback to Wide Receiver
Turns out that Kent State churns out some pretty good quarterbacks-turned-wide receivers. Not long after Josh Cribbs left Kent State to go on to Cleveland Browns kick returning glory, Edelman broke Cribbs’ single season mark for total yards at the QB position, passing for 1,820 yards and rushing for 1,370 yards in his senior year of 2009. He threw 13 TD passes and ran for 13 more. Despite his heroics, he wasn’t drafted until way down at 232nd by New England in the 2009 draft. Short in stature ( he’s just 5’10”) Edelman started slowly as a wide receiver/kick returner with New England, but in the last two seasons “Minitron” has lit it up. He caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards and six TDs in 2013 and followed that up with 92 receptions for 972 yards and four scores during the 2014 championship season. He would complete a record-setting 51-yard pass for a TD (to Danny Amendola) in the 2014 playoffs and lead all receivers in yardage (109) and catches (9) in Super Bowl XLIX. In 2016, Amendola had one of his best seasons yet, catching 98 passes for 1,106 yards and three TDs, as well as winning another Super Bowl.
2. Hines Ward – Quarterback/Running Back to Wide Receiver
Funny how the paths of former quarterbacks have crossed in the NFL. Hines Ward, who would haul in one of his more famous NFL catches from Antwaan Randle-El in Super Bowl XL (where he was MVP), did it all at the NCAA level with the Georgia Bulldogs. He caught 149 passes during his college career there (second most all-time), ran for 3,870 all-purpose yards (second only to Herschel Walker) and also set passing yards (413), attempts (59) and completions (31) as a quarterback during the 1995 Peach Bowl. As an NFL wideout, Ward became just one of eight to haul in 1,000 passes and finished his career with 12,083 receiving yards and 85 touchdowns. Ward, also considered one of the dirtiest players of all-time, was a four-time Pro Bowler, three-time second team All-Pro and two time Super Bowl champion.
1. Antonio Gates – Linebacker to Tight End
It’s a good thing Antonio Gates never played a down of football as a linebacker at Michigan State under Nick Saban. Gates, a two-sport athlete, also wanted to play basketball and chose instead to transfer to Eastern Michigan instead of playing for Saban. He would eventually end up at Kent State (there is that school again!) as a power forward, where he helped the Golden Flashes reach the Elite 8 at the 2002 NCAA tournament. But, the NBA didn’t want a 6’4″ power forward, so Gates got a tryout in front of a bunch of NFL teams, with the San Diego Chargers winning the day and signing him as an undrafted free agent. Funny how it has all turned out too. Gates has become arguably the best tight end in the league, recording over 11,000 yards receiving and 114 TDs in 15 seasons for the Chargers. He is an eight-time Pro Bowler, three time first team All-Pro and two time second team All-Pro. A surefire Hall of Famer if there ever was one.