Does the WCC Have a Future in the NFL?


The emergence of former basketball players becoming impact players in the National Football League has caught on in recent years as scouts realized many of the qualities that make a good basketball player can be applied to football. While basketball is much less physical, many skill sets apply to both sports. Basketball players must be quick and fast with the ability to jockey for position and compete with other bodies in a small area for a ball. They must be able to run, jump, and catch well.

Sep 8, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Chargers 18-17. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Many players are using their former basketball playing experience to hone these skills and be better NFL players. No one has exemplified that better than Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers. Gates didn’t even play college football but instead starred in basketball at Kent State. All the skills he used to pull down rebounds he now uses to post up against defensive backs to constantly get open for the Chargers. Tight end has been the most successful position for former basketball players, and some defensive linemen like Julius Peppers have also come from basketball backgrounds.

One of the latest basketball players to make it in the NFL is Demetri Goodson of the Green Bay Packers, and he has a significant connection to the West Coast Conference. Goodson played three years of basketball for the Gonzaga Bulldogs including a couple years as a starter. He was the starting point guard on the Bulldogs Sweet Sixten team in 2009.

In 2011 he transferred to Baylor to try his hand at college football, and he ended up getting selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Packers. Goodson comes from a good NFL pedigree as his brother is Mike Goodson who had some success as a running back with the Carolina Panthers a few years ago.  He hasn’t appeared in a regular season game yet, but he was able to make the roster which is no small feat for a sixth round pick.

Feb 25, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Baylor Bears defensive back Demetri Goodson runs the 40 yard dash during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Goodson is a unique case when it comes to basketball players turned NFL players. He is not large like past basketball players who became tight ends or defensive linemen. These larger players were appealing to NFL teams because they had the size to stack up against NFL competition but were quicker on their feet than most large players who didn’t have basketball experience.

In interviews, Goodson credits basketball for helping his quick and lateral movements, traits he can use to cover receivers especially in man-to-man defense. If he develops into a solid player, this could be the next set of traits we see basketball players using to succeed in football. And it could open up a new world of opportunities for basketball players at other positions to succeed in the NFL alongside the larger players.

Goodson has suggested that he probably didn’t have the ability to make it as an NBA player, and the likelihood of him ending up playing overseas was one factor that inspired him to switch to football. This is not an uncommon problem in the West Coast Conference where many successful players can’t quite draw the attention of NBA scouts. Perhaps some of them can start to look towards football as another option. Having skills they developed as basketball players gives them a good advantage over some football players.

Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we see someone from San Diego or BYU playing two sports and spending time in the Fall on their school’s football team. With so much talent in the WCC it’s certainly possible we see more players going this route in the future as NFL teams continue to scour the college basketball ranks for diamonds in the rough like Gates and Goodson.