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Published: April 7, 2015 at 04:26 p.m.
Updated: April 7, 2015 at 05:20 p.m.

The five best athletes I've seen play in the NFL

Odell Beckham Jr. has a chance to be one of the most athletic players to ever play in the NFL -- but he's not there quite yet.

The New York Giants' rising young star, whom Michael Strahan recently called the "greatest athlete on earth right now," does indeed have outstanding quickness. He also boasts great jumping ability -- you'd have to, to be able to dunk like this -- and will catch anything thrown his way, as the world learned last November.

For now, though, Beckham can't quite compare to the five athletes I've listed below -- the five best athletes I've seen come through the NFL.

5 Photos Total

  • The other four guys on this list are extraordinary, but Jackson is far and away above them, a truly special athlete. He was a multi-sport star at every level. The high-school track standout went on to win a Heisman Trophy at Auburn, where he also shone on the baseball diamond. And, of course, he was the first guy to be named an All-Star in two different major American sports (earning a Pro Bowl berth in 1990 and going to the MLB All-Star Game in 1989). Though he was just a part-time NFL player, he made a definite mark in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders, picking up an impressive 5.4 yards per carry over 38 games, including an astounding 6.8-yard average as a rookie. The thing is, when he played, things weren't spread out as much as they are now; guys were all bunched in, which made it a lot harder to be a factor. But that didn't stop Jackson, whether he was catapulting over the line to score the winning touchdown against Alabama or running over people in the NFL. 5

    NFL

    1) Bo Jackson, running back

    The other four guys on this list are extraordinary, but Jackson is far and away above them, a truly special athlete. He was a multi-sport star at every level. The high-school track standout went on to win a Heisman Trophy at Auburn, where he also shone on the baseball diamond. And, of course, he was the first guy to be named an All-Star in two different major American sports (earning a Pro Bowl berth in 1990 and going to the MLB All-Star Game in 1989). Though he was just a part-time NFL player, he made a definite mark in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders, picking up an impressive 5.4 yards per carry over 38 games, including an astounding 6.8-yard average as a rookie. The thing is, when he played, things weren't spread out as much as they are now; guys were all bunched in, which made it a lot harder to be a factor. But that didn't stop Jackson, whether he was catapulting over the line to score the winning touchdown against Alabama or running over people in the NFL.

  • Sanders, who spent time with the Falcons, Niners, Cowboys, Redskins and Ravens from 1989 to 2005, looked like Secretariat running with a bunch of plowhorses on the football field. He was just so much quicker and faster than everyone else. Of course, the Pro Football Hall of Famer was also an MLB star; he was the first person to play in both a Super Bowl (with the Niners in Super Bowl XXIX and the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX) and a World Series (with the Atlanta Braves in 1992), and he also is the only person ever to hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week (he went yard for the Yankees on Sept. 5, 1989 and took a punt return to the house for the Falcons five days later). A track standout at Florida State, Sanders was reluctant to run at the NFL Scouting Combine, but I talked him into it, and he posted a blazing 40-yard-dash speed of 4.27 seconds. He was like quicksilver, and he had great skills as a defender, receiver <i>and</i> kick returner. 4

    Bob Galbraith/Associated Press

    2) Deion Sanders, cornerback/wide receiver

    Sanders, who spent time with the Falcons, Niners, Cowboys, Redskins and Ravens from 1989 to 2005, looked like Secretariat running with a bunch of plowhorses on the football field. He was just so much quicker and faster than everyone else. Of course, the Pro Football Hall of Famer was also an MLB star; he was the first person to play in both a Super Bowl (with the Niners in Super Bowl XXIX and the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX) and a World Series (with the Atlanta Braves in 1992), and he also is the only person ever to hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week (he went yard for the Yankees on Sept. 5, 1989 and took a punt return to the house for the Falcons five days later). A track standout at Florida State, Sanders was reluctant to run at the NFL Scouting Combine, but I talked him into it, and he posted a blazing 40-yard-dash speed of 4.27 seconds. He was like quicksilver, and he had great skills as a defender, receiver and kick returner.

  • In an eight-season span (1987-1994), Woodson collected 32 interceptions, and the Hall of Famer finished with 71 over his 17-year career -- you can't do that without being extremely athletic. He had unbelievable athleticism and quickness to go with great size. Woodson, who was a world-class hurdler coming up, excelled at running back and defensive back at Purdue. He was also one of the youngest players to be named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994. When he ceased playing corner, he shifted to safety -- and thrived there, as well, showing himself to be a good tackler and run stopper who could still make plays in space. 3

    Jeff Glidden/Associated Press

    3) Rod Woodson, defensive back

    In an eight-season span (1987-1994), Woodson collected 32 interceptions, and the Hall of Famer finished with 71 over his 17-year career -- you can't do that without being extremely athletic. He had unbelievable athleticism and quickness to go with great size. Woodson, who was a world-class hurdler coming up, excelled at running back and defensive back at Purdue. He was also one of the youngest players to be named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994. When he ceased playing corner, he shifted to safety -- and thrived there, as well, showing himself to be a good tackler and run stopper who could still make plays in space.

  • In my estimation, Munoz was the greatest offensive lineman of all time. Yes, the 11-time Pro Bowler was big, but he was definitely an elite athlete. He also excelled as a basketball and baseball player, capable of firing off a 95 mph fastball. As with Jackson and Sanders, I got a good look at Munoz's athleticism at the Playboy All-American weekend I used to help put together; he was clearly special. Paul Brown -- one of the greatest visionaries in the history of pro football -- saw in Munoz the salvation of the Bengals franchise, and Munoz proved him right. As one of the first premier left tackles in the game, Munoz was impossible to get past. With the Hall of Famer protecting the blind side, the Bengals were able to make two Super Bowls, including one with Ken Anderson at quarterback. 2

    NFL

    4) Anthony Munoz, offensive tackle

    In my estimation, Munoz was the greatest offensive lineman of all time. Yes, the 11-time Pro Bowler was big, but he was definitely an elite athlete. He also excelled as a basketball and baseball player, capable of firing off a 95 mph fastball. As with Jackson and Sanders, I got a good look at Munoz's athleticism at the Playboy All-American weekend I used to help put together; he was clearly special. Paul Brown -- one of the greatest visionaries in the history of pro football -- saw in Munoz the salvation of the Bengals franchise, and Munoz proved him right. As one of the first premier left tackles in the game, Munoz was impossible to get past. With the Hall of Famer protecting the blind side, the Bengals were able to make two Super Bowls, including one with Ken Anderson at quarterback.

  • Brown was on a whole different level from his competition. The Hall of Famer had everything: speed, quickness, strength, explosiveness. Like Jackson, Brown played in an era when the run was paramount and the field was much more bunched up -- but it didn't matter. He could run around you or he could run over you. Most of the backs in those days were straight-ahead runners, but there was nothing <i>straight-ahead</i> about Brown; he was like a river. I distinctly remember the Cowboys facing him when I was with the team; though Tom Landry knew 95 percent of the time what Cleveland was going to do with Brown, he couldn't come up with a way to stop the offensive force, who once put up 232 yards and two scores on 20 carries in a game against us. If Brown -- who was a fantastic multi-sport athlete at Syracuse, where he also played basketball and lacrosse -- were playing today, he'd be picking up 2,400 yards per season. 1

    NFL

    5) Jim Brown, running back

    Brown was on a whole different level from his competition. The Hall of Famer had everything: speed, quickness, strength, explosiveness. Like Jackson, Brown played in an era when the run was paramount and the field was much more bunched up -- but it didn't matter. He could run around you or he could run over you. Most of the backs in those days were straight-ahead runners, but there was nothing straight-ahead about Brown; he was like a river. I distinctly remember the Cowboys facing him when I was with the team; though Tom Landry knew 95 percent of the time what Cleveland was going to do with Brown, he couldn't come up with a way to stop the offensive force, who once put up 232 yards and two scores on 20 carries in a game against us. If Brown -- who was a fantastic multi-sport athlete at Syracuse, where he also played basketball and lacrosse -- were playing today, he'd be picking up 2,400 yards per season.