In the NFL it is uncommon for a player to do more than his given position. Special teams are the exception, of course. It is not unusual for linebackers and safeties to play on coverage teams. Running backs and wide receivers will often pull double duty as return men. Occasionally, you’ll see a defensive or offensive lineman run a play as a tight end.
But for the most part, there is little versatility among NFL players. Most offensive and defensive linemen don’t move up and down the line much. To be fair, since guys are signed and expected to fill particular needs for the team, versatility isn’t desired.
However, in the college game, it is a little different. In college football, you want to do whatever it takes to get on the field so that the coaches can notice you. Versatility in college will not only get you playing time, but it will help you get on the radar of NFL scouts.
There have been some incredibly versatile athletes in the college ranks in recent years. Former Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers comes to mind. Myles Jack moonlighted at running back during his UCLA career. Every dual-threat quarterback in the country can be included in the discussion as well— and this year is no different.
The following are just some of the most versatile athletes that will be dazzling fans this college football season:
Tony Pollard, WR, Memphis
During his career with the Tigers, he was the very definition of versatile. He had nearly as many rushing attempts (29 for 222 yards and two touchdowns) as receptions (34 for 501 yards and four touchdowns). The season before he ran the ball even more (31; 29 receptions).
He led the nation with four kickoffs returned for touchdowns in 2017 and was second in return yards the year before. As icing on the cake, he also had eight tackles.
Anthony Ratliff-Williams, WR, North Carolina
Coming out of high school in 2015, he was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. But the Tar Heels opted to make the most of his athleticism as a wide receiver and return man. Last season, he led the team in receiving with 35 receptions for 630 yards and six touchdowns. He also completed three of four passes himself for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Ratliff-Williams also led the ACC in kick return yards with 895 and scored twice on returns. He’ll be giving defensive and special teams coordinators fits in 2018.
D’eriq King, QB, Houston
A quarterback in high school, King missed the first three games last season with an injury. But despite missing time, starting at wide receiver for three games and not becoming the starting QB until the final three games of the season, he ranked fairly high in most offensive categories for the Cougars.
He was first in passing yards and touchdowns as well as rushing touchdowns. He also ranked third in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and rushing yards (3rd), rushing touchdowns (1st). Chances are he will be used primarily as a quarterback next season. But as a dual-threat guy, he’ll still see plenty of work.
Deebo Samuel, Wr, South Carolina
His season ended after just three games last season. But in those three games his versatility was on display. Samuel scored six touchdowns, three as a receiver, two as a returner, and another as a rusher. Injuries have caused him trouble throughout his career. But when he plays, he is a force.
SEC teams will need to look out for him on offense and special teams next season.
Khaleke Hudson, DB, Michigan
When we think versatile, we think of guys that play offense or defense and special teams. Hudson is not one of those guys, but what he does absolutely qualifies him as a versatile contributor for the Wolverines.
He was listed as a safety in 2016, a defensive back last season, and on the spring roster, he’s a linebacker. As the ‘viper’ on defense, he is asked to rush the passer, set the edge, cover deep, and sometimes cover running backs and tight ends.
His versatility is contained on just one side of the ball. But not too many guys are asked to do so many different things.
Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona
Any discussion of versatile college athletes has to include the best dual-threat quarterback in the game today. He didn’t play in the first four games last season. But he still finished ranked 15th in the nation in rushing yards (1,353). He only passed for 1,289 yards. But he did have a decent completion rate (61.4).
It will be interesting to see what Kevin Sumlin can do with Tate this coming season. He did a pretty good job with another dual-threat guy back at Texas A&M.
Christian Wilkins, DE, Clemson
Maybe twenty years ago it wouldn’t have been impressive or noteworthy if a defensive lineman played in the interior of the line and on the ends. But now, with the positions becoming more specialized, it is.
Nowadays, you are going to have a big body in the interior of the line to stop the run. On the ends, you often have smaller, quicker guys whose primary function is to put pressure on the quarterback. Your typical interior guy is going to be too slow to play on the ends. At the same time, the ends would be too small to play in the interior of the line.
Wilkens is a big boy at 6’4” and 310 lbs., making him great in the interior of the line. But he also happens to be athletic enough to play on the ends. Last season he ended up making 60 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five sacks and four batted passes. He also has a pass reception for a touchdown to his name.