Warning: This is a very short list, and should be. Going straight from high school to the pros is difficult for basketball players, but for football players it marks a jump in difficulty so steep as to be nearly impossible. Note: we said nearly, because the mere existence of some of the athletes listed below qualifies as impossibility.
The basic qualfication is that the players below could feasibly, after just one year in college, walk into the NFL and be competitive.
There should also be a few provisos, clarifications, and pedantry preventives before we start, though. None of these players would understand everything happening on the field instantly, except for Bo Jackson. None of them would have the finer technical points of their position, either, except for Bo Jackson. We’re not even saying they would be elite immediately, except for Bo Jackson.
But they would at least be able to hang physically, if only on the bench and as a practice dummy.
(Except for Bo Jackson, who would start and run for a thousand yards with ease.)
- Bo Jackson. Duh. Bo never touched a weight and looked like Thanos in cleats the minute he stepped on a field in high school. Bowhunting mutant who could have played anything he wanted to besides basketball. Every story told about Bo Jackson is true, including the one someone just made up to see if anyone would call them on their bullshit. Bo ran backwards through time and did it just to prove them wrong. Don’t act like this isn’t possible.
- Ed Oliver, Houston. One of the few defensive tackles to ever pop out of high school that one could conceivably look at and go, “okay, he wouldn’t start—but dear god what the hell is he doing here?” Playing at a non-Power Five school helped keep the hubbub down, but Oliver was basically Ndamukong Suh the minute he walked in the door of the Houston football facilities.
- Cam Newton. Not saying he could have read the defenses, or maybe even played quarterback, but good lord, his random appearances in blowout time at Florida were enough to suggest he’d be fine somewhere on the field. Those random appearances ended when he left the program after writing his name on a stolen laptop. That laptop contained a curse that drained every single point from the Florida football for the next decade-plus. PLEASE LIFT YOUR DEMONRY FROM OUR PROGRAM, CAM, AND LET US THRIVE ONCE MORE.
- Barry Sanders. Whatever his physical shortcomings might have been in terms of size at that point, we doubt anyone college or in the pros could have caught him to make him pay for them.
- Vince Wilfork. Played at 300 pounds in high school, and no, no it was not fair, not fair at all in any sense of the word. He wouldn’t have been initially great, but he also wouldn’t have been pushed around a lot, either.
- Orlando Pace. Started as a freshman at Ohio State and was 6’6” and 300 plus at enrollment, and on top of all that could move anything in front of him. Remember that Pace was the last offensive lineman who got an invite to the Heisman, ended up a Hall of Famer in the NFL, was the great populizer of the term “pancake” for a humiliating block of a defender, and left Ohio State with a year of eligibility left because him remaining at the college level would have been a farce. Like a lot of people on this list, it’s not that he ended up great in the NFL—it’s that he started out so huge and naturally good to begin with, and then improved from there.
- Sebastian Janikowski. During practice in high school, Janikowski kicked an 82 yard field goal, and hit fifty yarders like they were chip shots. He would have been fiiiiiiiiiine.
- Randy Moss. Not really disputable given Randy Moss being both the most physically gifted athlete we’ve ever seen anywhere in any field, and also being the best wide receiver in the history of the universe. Considering how his college career went, might not have been the worst option in the world to go one-and-done, either.
- Deion Sanders. Started every game as a freshman at Florida State, and could have skated to the NFL right there and then after that year. Would tell you this, and would not be wrong. By the way, if someone wanted a 9a here, suggesting the only other freshman cornerback to start every game at Florida State woudn’t be crazy: current Jacksonville Jaguar and fashion icon Jalen Ramsey.
- Tim Tebow. Could have contributed immediately for any team at fullback.