Drake London isn’t the first two-sport athlete to play in the NFL, and he won’t be the last. In fact, specialization in sports has never been looked down upon more than in today’s youth leagues. Kids are encouraged to compete in multiple sports, given the benefits of having transferrable skills between them.
One of the most common two-sport athletes played basketball and football because many former college basketball players who are between 6’4” and 6’7” have the physical profile and catching ability to excel on the gridiron. Most play tight end, but not many receivers are London’s size. Carson Palmer, who London trains with in the offseason, even went on record to say he’s the best basketball player to play football.
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London graduated from Moorpark HS in 2019. As a senior, he averaged 29.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.4 steals, and 2.0 blocks per game while leading his team to a 21-10 record. Those are impressive figures, but he didn’t do much on the basketball court at the collegiate level, unlike some NFL legends.
Antonio Gates is the poster boy of basketball players gone football. After leading Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002 and averaging 20 points per game a season after that, Gates quickly became the NFL’s premier tight end, earning First-Team All-Pro honors in his second, third, and fourth seasons in the league.
Julius Peppers was a unanimous All-American on the gridiron for North Carolina but also contributed on the hardwood. UNC went 22-14 in 2000, peaking at No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll before making the Final Four as a No. 8 seed. In the following season, the Tar Heels were 26-7, climbing to the top spot in the poll and earning a No. 2 seed. As a sophomore, Peppers was North Carolina’s fifth-leading scorer and rebounder.
There are others, too, like Julius Thomas, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, and Mo Alie-Cox, who competed in both sports at the collegiate level. Playing basketball improves hand-eye coordination, athleticism, leg explosiveness, reaction skills, and conditioning. All of which show up when catching passes from NFL quarterbacks.
London probably isn’t the best basketball player to make the NFL, but the characteristics displayed by former players who made the transition are evident in the way the former Trojan plays the game.
Photographer: Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire