The recent discussion about whether or not LeBron James would make it as an NFL player, got me thinking about how another NBA player could have had an impact in the NFL, specifically for the Colts.
As we all remember, the 1998 Draft forced Bill Polian to choose between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. We all know in hindsight that picking Peyton was the right move, it wasn't such a sure bet at the time. The only thing that could have made that decision more difficult is if there had been a third option for Polian to mull over. If it hadn't been for one player who decided to take his skills to the hardwood, this three-way battle could have occured. The player in question grew up in the Newport News area, home of Mike Vick and Aaron Brooks. Many who live in the area will tell you he player was better than both of them. Of course, we'll never know what kind of football career he could have had, because Allen Iverson decided that he had a better career in basketball.
If Iverson had decided to go into football, he would have graduated in 1998, the same year as Manning and Leaf. Maybe it's silly to propose that Iverson would have been in the discussion to be the top pick, but it's hard to say anything is silly when you're trying to choose between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Once you really take a look at NFL climate at the time, envisioning Iverson as a top NFL draft pick isn't as far-fetched as you might think.
You can look at his size and say that he never would have cut it on the pro level, but as BBS has pointed out many times here, size doesn't matter. Size hasn't stopped Drew Brees, it hasn't stopped Darren Sproles, and it sure didn't stop Barry Sanders. Michael Vick isn't much taller than Iverson. Did his height stop him from being the top pick in 2001 NFL Draft? If you can play, you can play. Clearly, Iverson could play.
You can say that he wouldn't have had the smarts to be a QB at the pro level, but I would counter that by saying that Iverson would have entered the league right as the scrambling quarterback revolution was starting to explode. Kordell Stewart had just finished his first season as full-time starter at quarterback and he guided the Steelers to an 11-5 record. That was good enough to win the AFC Central and the team only lost by a field goal to the eventual Super Bowl champions. Those eventual Super Bowl champions were the Denver Broncos, who were led by a quarterback who could still make plays with his feet. Other scramblers like Steve Young, Tony Banks, Steve McNair, and Mark Brunell also made scrambling quarterbacks hot commodities. More than at any other moment in NFL history, general managers would have been willing to overlook some deficiencies passing the ball in order to get someone who could make plays on the run.
Even if you want to dismiss that Iverson would've been taken seriously as a quarterback in the NFL, he certainly would have possessed the speed and ability to be a shutdown cornerback in the NFL. A defensive back had beaten out Peyton for the Heisman. Who's to say that another one couldn't have taken the top draft spot away from him as well?
Of course, all of this is conjecture. Manning, Leaf, and Iverson all went down separate career paths that made them famous in different ways. For Colts fan, it certainly worked out for the best that things went the way they did. Thinking about any scenario where Peyton Manning doesn't end up in Indianapolis is a scary one, but it is good for making us stop to appreciate what we have and how glad we are that things worked out the way they did. That's what Thanksgiving is all about, right?