Playing quarterback may be the toughest job in professional sports, with just thirty-two jobs in the world available at the highest level. For many in the NFL, natural talent enabled them to play quarterback in high school and even college, but they simply could not make the cut in the pros. However, this does not mean their football journey is over.
No spot on the field is more linked with the quarterback than wide receiver. Having to learn routes and find chemistry with each other means the two positions need to be in sync in order for an offense to have success. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that many ex-QB's have made for exceptional pass catchers in the NFL.
Here are five of the best converted quarterbacks to line up at wide receiver in NFL history.
Contrary to common thought, Ward was only a primary quarterback in high school. At Forrest Park, located just outside Atlanta, Ward excelled as a dual-threat passer, winning Clayton County offensive player of the year honors twice in 1992 and '93.
After receiving a scholarship from the University of Georgia, Ward spent most of his time at receiver, while also running the ball and taking kick returns. In the 1995 Peach Bowl, Ward (filling in for injured starter Mike Bobo) had an astounding 459 total yards against the Virginia Cavaliers, showcasing his ability to throw and run the ball. He finished his career with the Bulldogs as fifth in career all-purpose yards.
Selected in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ward soon established himself as one of the premier wide receivers in the game. He would win two Super Bowls, reach four Pro Bowl teams, and become first on the list of franchise receiving leaders, after spending his entire fourteen-year career in Pittsburgh.
Before he became established at one position, Ward's reputation for filling in wherever he was needed enabled him to show his worth anywhere. Going from quarterback to offensive weapon required extra work and exceptional athleticism. To make a similar shift like this future Hall of Famer, it pays to play everywhere in high school and to make your effort known on each snap.
Following a run at QB for his Woodside, California high school, Julian Edelman didn't receive any college scholarship offers. He decided to attend the College of San Mateo, where he broke records as a diminutive, speedy quarterback. Edelman then transferred to Kent State University, where he finally was given a scholarship to play football. He became a three-year starter at the school, running a simple spread offense that put the ball in his hands on every play. While he wasn't the most accurate passer, Edelman's all-around skills made him a legitimate NFL prospect by the time he graduated from Kent State.
The New England Patriots, who had thoroughly scouted Edelman at KSU, picked the former quarterback in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, even though he wasn't even invited to the combine earlier that year. To Edelman's credit, he knew his size and shaky accuracy made quarterbacking unlikely in the NFL, so he prepared himself to play anywhere on offense and special teams, something that soon found him a role in New England.
The rest of Edelman's career has been, quite simply, spectacular. Sitting at fourth on the list of Patriots career receiving leaders, the California native has played a major part in three different title-winning teams, including being named Super Bowl LIII MVP. Additionally, the Pats offense has used Edelman's arm to success on a number of well-designed trick plays.
Despite taking multiple years to move past a solely special teams role, Edelman's work ethic and drive soon earned him the trust of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on several high-powered Patriots offenses, despite his small seemingly unimpressive stature. Without his knowledge of the offense from quarterbacking at Kent State, it's hard to say if this rags-to-riches football story would have ever been possible, let alone even drafted in the NFL. Hard work and studying the game always pays off, even if it takes longer than most players would like.
The Steelers of the 2000's had not one but two former quarterbacks in their receiving corps. Before making history in the NFL, Randle-El was a star quarterback at Indiana, even though concerns over his size raised doubts about his future in football when he was a three-sport star in high school.
While at Indiana, Randle-El established himself as one of the most dynamic players in the nation over his four seasons as a Hoosier, running and throwing for a total of 86 touchdowns throughout his career. In Randle-El's senior year, he finished sixth in Heisman voting.
While never exceptional, Randle-El was a solid second or third option during nine seasons in the league, and was one of the best kick returners in football. As a Steeler, the Illinois native was responsible for one of the greatest plays in NFL history. On a designed trick play in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL, Randle-El took a reverse pass and threw a 43-yard strike to (who else) Hines Ward. It was the first and only time a wide receiver had thrown a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. The play broke open the game and provided the Steelers with their fifth championship.
Like Edelman, Randle-El overcame questions relating to his size, durability, and capability at the quarterback position, using his slight stature and quickness to his advantage while at Indiana and the NFL. Having traits such as throwing the ball and being a solid return man allow for players to see the field quickly, and can give you more opportunities to make your presence felt. Randle-El's story is a reminder that what others see as weakness can elevate your game at the college and professional levels.
An NFL mainstay for fourteen seasons, Boldin initially played quarterback in high school. A three-sport star from Pahokee, Florida, Boldin was named Mr. Football in 1998 along with Florida Player of the Year and a USA Today First-Team selection. As a signal caller, he led Pahokee to an undefeated season, and was recruited as a pro-style quarterback in 1999.
Committing to Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles, Boldin soon approached the legendary head coach about a position change that would get him on the field as soon as possible. Wanting his star freshman to get the ball in his hands, Bowden allowed for Boldin to take snaps at receiver, a position he had never played before in the NFL.
Over three seasons lining up on the outside, Boldin made 118 catches and grabbed 21 touchdowns as a Seminole, propelling him to a second round selection by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003. It's also worth noting that Bowden did give Boldin some snaps at quarterback during the receiver's third and final year in Tallahassee.
Boldin immediately made his presence felt in the NFL, becoming the 2003 Offensive Rookie of the Year with over 1,300 yards receiving. He would make three Pro Bowls while making an impact on four different teams, reaching the Super Bowl with three different franchises. A solid but sometimes underrated player, Boldin currently sits at ninth on the NFL's All-Time Receptions leaderboard.
A potential Hall of Famer, Anquan Boldin embodies the natural athleticism that enables some players to successfully switch out of being a quarterback. However, Boldin's desire to make an impact on the field, rather than wait for his chance, may have been the biggest reason why he became a receiver at FSU. His determination to master wide receiver, a position he had never played before, is a testament to the commitment needed to become a star player in the NFL, as well as a drive to help his team wherever he was needed.