Top 7 NFL Players That Played College Basketball From Antonio Gates to Julius Peppers

While NFL players are some of the best athletes in the world, this subset of studs are the best NFL players to play college basketball.

While we are all familiar with what these players did on Sundays, they all had phenomenal careers on the hardwood before heading for the NFL. From Julius Peppers to Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, these are the top NFL players that played college basketball.

NFL Players That Played College Basketball

We all know that NFL players are some of the best athletes on the planet. We constantly pontificate whether or not their skills would translate to a different profession. These players put the speculation to the side and proved it as successful collegiate basketball players before throwing on an NFL jersey.

1) Antonio Gates, San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers

Antonio Gates is most well-known as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history. The 16-year veteran recorded 955 receptions for 11,841 yards and 116 touchdowns for the Chargers between 2003 and 2018.

Gates was a three-time All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowler, and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. But this almost never happened — Gates had his focus on the NBA while in college.

Gates played basketball, not football, in college. He initially enrolled at Michigan State University, wanting to play football under Nick Saban and basketball under Tom Izzo.

Once he learned Saban wanted him only to play football, Gates transferred to Eastern Michigan University. He spent one season with the Eagles. Playing in 18 games, Gates averaged 10.2 points per game on .518 shooting, along with 7.4 rebounds per game and 1.3 assists.

Once he transferred to Kent State, Gates flourished. As a junior, he led the Golden Flashes to a 24-5 record (17-1 MAC) with 16 pts (.518), 8.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. Kent State made it all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tourney as a 10-seed after upsetting 7-seed Oklahoma State, 2-seed Alabama, and 3-seed Pittsburgh.

During his senior season, he received All-American Honors (Honorable Mention) from the Associated Press after averaging 20.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.

Labeled as a “tweener” due to his size (6’4″), Gates went undrafted out of college and hosted a workout with NFL teams, and the rest, well, is history.

2) Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts

OTAs are when NFL players bond with fellow teammates, especially with new players to the franchise. QB Carson Wentz found out Mo Alie-Cox is not one to challenge on the court. But in fairness, he did hold his own.

Alie-Cox was a four-year standout player at VCU. He started 103 of 142 games and totaled 1,092 points, 663 rebounds, 87 steals, 112 assists, and 255 blocks in 3,322 minutes. He averaged over 25 minutes a game in his final three years.

Alie-Cox also led VCU to its first-ever Atlantic 10 conference championship, earning all-tournament team honors. VCU went to the NCAA tourney all four seasons and became one of the favorite mid-majors every year. He is the school’s all-time leader in field-goal percentage.

Alie-Cox is one of the best NFL players who also played college basketball — and a knockout champion.

3) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints/Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers/Chicago Bears

At 6’7″, it should come as no surprise that Jimmy Graham was a successful collegiate basketball player at the University of Miami (FL). A four-year player, Graham played 120 games for the Hurricanes. From 2007 to 2009, he averaged 5.2 ppg, five rebounds, 0.5 assists, and one block.

It’s safe to say Graham made the right call to pursue the NFL. He quickly made his presence known for the Saints in 2011, recording 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. He continued to dunk on the competition under Roger Goodell, and the No Fun Police made dunking on the goal posts a 15-yard penalty.

4) Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs/Atlanta Falcons

Before he was arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history, Tony Gonzalez was a two-sport player at the University of California. In his three years with the Golden Bears, Gonzalez averaged 6.4 points per game on 51.1% shooting in 82 games.

Even after he made it to the NFL as a first-round pick, basketball was still on his mind. After the Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Gonzalez, he had to answer the question that had been on his mind. He played on the Miami Heat’s summer league squad in 2002 but decided that the NFL was his best decision.

His demeanor on the court was enough to impress Pat Riley, who said Gonzalez could have made the team. They did not pursue a contract, however, as Miami knew they would not be able to pull him away from football.

5) Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers/Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers

If you think about the best athletes who have ever played in the NFL, Julius Peppers needs to be on that list. At UNC, Peppers was a sensational two-way player in both football and basketball.

Peppers averaged 5.7 points in his two seasons (56 games) while shooting .607 from inside the arc and played 16 minutes per game.

Peppers started both NCAA Tournament games for UNC in 2001. He scored 12 points against Princeton and a career-high 21 points and 10 rebounds against Penn State (his first career double-double). He made 13 of 15 field-goal attempts in the two NCAA Tournament games.

6) Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos/Jacksonville Jaguars/Miami Dolphins

Julius Thomas played four seasons for Portland State. During his career, Thomas set school records for career games played (121), career wins (78), and career field-goal percentage (.663). He was named to the Big Sky All-Tournament team in both appearances, leading to two NCAA postseason berths (2008 and 2009).

Thomas averaged 10.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and shot a school-record .671 from the field as a senior.

7) Darren Fells, Houston Texans

Of the players mentioned so far, their basketball careers stopped in college. Houston Texans TE Darren Fells is the exception and did not even play football while in college.

Fells played four seasons at UC Irvine and averaged 10.2 ppg, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game while shooting .536 from two-point land.

Between 2008 and 2012, Fells played basketball professionally in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland, and France. As a professional, he played 206 games while averaging 27 minutes per game. He averaged 10.7 points, six rebounds, 1.39 assists, and 1.07 steals per game, shooting .507%.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles