Top Seeds to Cinderellas (and Beyond): Ranking NFL Quarterbacks by Their Basketball Skills

Mahomes vs. Darnold? Watson vs. Foles? And who’s picking Eli? Because it’s NCAA tournament time, we plumbed the depths of YouTube, Instagram and the Internet to evaluate the hoops ability of the NFL’s 32 current starting QBs—a tourney field sure to produce plenty of high- (and low-) lights.
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Kyler Murray is about to become the first player drafted in the first round by the NFL and MLB. As impressive as that is, some would argue basketball is a better test of athleticism than baseball.

Most fans are familiar with the NFL stars who played college hoops—Antonio Gates, Julius Peppers and Tony Gonzalez all played in the NCAA Tournament before moving on to pro football. What’s less well-known is that a surprising number of quarterbacks excelled on the hardwood early in their athletic careers.

So in honor of March Madness, we’ll look at the hoops history of all 32 starting NFL quarterbacks (as of this week) and rank their skills based on the available scouting tape, high school résumés and pure love of the game.

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Nick Foles, Jaguars

He may not seem athletic on the football field, but Foles was recruited to play college basketball by programs such as Georgetown and Gonzaga after starring at Westlake in Austin, Texas. Former Eagles teammate Conor Barwin told that Foles blew away everyone in a charity game: “He was just drop-step dunking on people.”

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

Mahomes’ skills went viral earlier this offseason, to the point that Chiefs GM Brett Veach had to come out and state that his quarterback was no longer allowed to play basketball. According to MaxPreps, Mahomes averaged 19 points and 8.3 rebounds per game at Whitehouse (Texas) High—not bad, considering basketball ranked behind football and baseball for Mahomes at the time. Now we know why he throws no-look passes.

Deshaun Watson, Texans

Watson wrote for the Players Tribune that he grew up wanting to be former Duke star J.J. Redick. The multisport star at Gainesville (Ga.) High recently told “The Dan Patrick Show” that he’s pretty sure he could have played for the Clemson basketball team as well. Just based on this dunk in high school (at 1:27:15 of the video), we agree. 

Sam Darnold, New York Jets

Darnold’s grandfather Dick Hammer led USC to the Final Four in 1954 before becoming an actor and the original “Marlboro Man.” Darnold inherited the hoops genes—a star at San Clemente High in California, he was recruited by smaller schools but opted for his grandfather’s alma mater, and football. Darnold will still be able to show his grandkids this sick mix tape …

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Cam Newton, Panthers

Newton recently told the Inside the NBA crew that he’s ready for the NBA: “I could be a contributor to a team right now. Straight up. I’m not just talking offensively. If all else fails I could play defense.” Attitude is everything, and Newton it—and the size. He also reportedly drops in on pickup games at nearby parks. Pretty nice form in this clip.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Big Ben is the all-time leader in Findlay (Ohio) High) basketball history. He averaged 26.5 points per game as a senior and said for a long time he thought he’d play college hoops, not football. Throughout his NFL career he’s shown glimpses … beating former Sun Shawn Marion in a shooting contest and topping Shaq at H-O-R-S-E. (Warning: Don’t let your children see Shaq’s shooting form.)

Josh Allen, Bills

Allen starred at tiny Firebaugh (Calif.) High, and his coach said he could have played both baseball and basketball at the next level. He has the size and showed in his rookie season that he’s got speed. But it’s his 33.5-inch vertical at the combine that’s really intriguing.

Carson Wentz, Eagles

A late bloomer, Wentz entered high school at 5’8” and grew up idolizing Allen Iverson. He took time off from playing basketball at Bismarck Century in North Dakota but came back his senior year to lead his team to a state title. The photographic evidence of Wentz’ basketball career, however, is not overly impressive.

Matt Ryan, Falcons

Ryan’s high school coach told USA Today he could have gone pro in basketball if he’d pursued the sport. A captain at Penn Charter, Ryan’s basketball career was referenced in the hit show “The Goldbergs.” Show creator Adam F. Goldberg, also a Penn Charter grad, wrote an episode about a kid named Matty who didn’t want to pass the basketball. Turns out, Matty wisely picked up a football and became Matt Ryan.

Joe Flacco, Broncos

Flacco was a multisport star at Audobon High in New Jersey and likely benefited from his height. You can see him converting a right-handed lay-up from the left side in this charity game—pretty much what you’d expect from Joe Flacco.

Andrew Luck, Colts

Luck, whose dad backed up Warren Moon, seemed to be destined to be a quarterback from birth, but he was also an all-district basketball player for Stratford High in Houston and had a 36-inch vertical at the combine. Without any tape to go off, Luck would seem to be a hustle guy. He probably pursued loose balls with the same intensity he chases down defenders who intercept his passes.

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Drew Brees, Saints

Brees’ competitiveness and multisport acumen are legendary. He beat Andy Roddick in youth tennis in Austin many years ago, and he apparently brings that fire to the basketball court. His father, Chip, played hoops at Texas A&M, and Saints teammates say Brees has game. Former New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas told TMZ Sports that he called Brees “White Chocolate.” Not much easy-to-find footage of Brees on the court, other than this efficient little finger roll in a layup line at Tulane.

Andy Dalton, Bengals

Dalton played at Katy High in Texas and once shot a video of himself burying 13 straight three-pointers. His release is a little bit low, but it’s quick … Steph Curry-like. Dalton may challenge former Spur Matt Bonner for the nickname Red Mamba.

Case Keenum, Redskins

At 6'1", Keenum might not be pegged as a hooper, but he was All-State at Wyle High in Texas and was recruited by small schools to play basketball. Of course, he’s from West Texas, so it was a no-brainer for Keenum to choose to go to the University of Houston to play football.

Lamar Jackson, Ravens

There’s not a lot out there on Jackson’s basketball game, other than reports that scouts were worried he was built more for hoops than football. He did post a couple interesting clips on Instagram, including a full-court shot that appears to be on the first take. We know Jackson is quick and he has nice form on his three-point shot.

Kirk Cousins, Vikings

Cousins played point guard at Holland Christian High in Michigan, but the photo unearthed by NBC Sports Washington isn’t scaring anybody. While there are questions about his game, we know he can trash talk. I can totally see him yelling “You like that?” after burying a respectable mid-range jumper.

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Eli Manning, Giants

Most of what we know about Eli’s basketball game is from tales about his legendary battles with big brother Peyton … and they’re wonderful. The games allegedly got so physical and dangerous that one day dad Archie removed the basket from the backyard. Eli did play at Isidore Newman High in New Orleans, but it seems his skills eroded a bit by the time he faced Peyton in this battle

Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Rodgers is a minority owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and could presumably call himself up on a 10-day contract. A former point guard, he showed off his mid-range game on Instagram. But at 6'2", he would need to develop a three-pointer to make it in today’s NBA.

Tom Brady, Patriots

Brady played at Serra Juniper High in California but was seemingly more focused on football and baseball. If we’re going to scout his basketball game, we should judge him against the best competition. Fortunately, Brady once played half-court versus Michael Jordan. Immediately we have to ding Brady for wearing khaki shorts—you’re going against the GOAT (the other GOAT), find a pair of gym shorts. And if the backwards hat didn’t work for Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump, it doesn’t work here. But … he’s Brady. I’m not counting him out.

Baker Mayfield, Browns

Not much of a record of Mayfield playing competitive basketball, so we have to rely on this video of him shooting around with his brother. Mayfield has nice form on his jumper and even tries to dunk in skinny jeans. He doesn’t appear to be a polished, but he’s a front-runner for the spirit award. He did once famously tell Kansas football fans they should stick to basketball.

Jared Goff, Rams

The son of a Major League baseball player, Goff played multiple sports, including basketball, at Marin Catholic in California. But he reportedly gave up hoops as a sophomore, and if he still plays, he’s keeping it quiet.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks

His highlight reel from Collegiate in Richmond, Va., shows Wilson dominating on the football field and baseball diamond—then comes basketball. He’s a great passer inn a Hoosiers kind of way. “You know what they say about basketball players,” Russell Wilson told “The Dan Patrick Show.” “If you’re a great defender and a great rebounder, you’re not very good at basketball. So no… [I wasn’t good].”

Derek Carr, Raiders

Carr reportedly loved hoops as a kid but gave up the sport early. He still managed to show off a sweet stroke after a Warriors game in 2015. He’s not tall for a QB, but his accuracy on the football field just might translate to the hardwood.

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers

The best glimpse into Winston’s game is a Mike Evans-hosted celebrity game in 2018. It’s surprisingly competitive—Winston even mixes it up over a contested rebound. The intensity is there, though the Bucs QB didn’t get a chance to show off much next-level skill.

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Matthew Stafford, Lions

Stafford proved that he’s mastered the bounce pass in this Instagram video, but there’s not much footage of him hooping. His wife, Kelly, on the other hand, is money:

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins

Fitzpatrick played at Gilbert Highland in Arizona, and although he does have a James Harden-like beard, there’s little evidence he has anything in common with the Rockets star on the court. If the Dolphins wanted to draft Missouri QB Drew Lock and start him, that’s a different story. Lock was an AAU star who was recruited by major basketball programs like Oklahoma and Wichita State.

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

We know Mariota is athletic, but there’s not much hardwood on the résumé. His home state of Hawaii is on a run of producing great quarterbacks, but not a lot of hoops lineage other than the Maui Invitational and Chaminade knocking off Ralph Sampson’s Virginia team in 1982.

Mitchell Trubisky, Bears

Trubisky played high school basketball at Mentor (Ohio), but there’s a report he would take his football teammates into the locker room to work on plays during breaks. Then he goes to the ultimate basketball school, North Carolina—for football. Not enough roundball love here.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers

The extent of Garoppolo’s basketball interest seems to be his worship of Michael Jordan, which makes perfect sense for a Chicago-area kid. Scouring his Instagram feed doesn’t reveal any basketball, although we can confirm that Jimmy G can wear a suit with anyone in the NFL.

Philip Rivers, Chargers

Rivers’ youth came before social media era, and there’s no easy-to-find footage of him playing basketball. Not sure if his unorthodox passing style would translate to a proper jumper. And based on his still-growing family he really only has time to focus on one sport.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys

The Louisiana native doesn’t have any obvious ties to basketball, making him one of the biggest mysteries on this list. All we know for sure, at 6'2", 235 pounds, Prescott could set a mean pick.

Josh Rosen, Cardinals

Rosen didn’t appear to focus on basketball growing up in Southern California but he was a top-50 junior tennis player before he hurt his shoulder at age 12. You might not have seen that athleticism when he was getting buried last year in Arizona, but he’s 6'4" and has a 31-inch vertical—so maybe he has some hidden hoops ability. We might find on the playgrounds of a new city next fall.

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