It isn't exactly a secret that players in the National Football League are fans of the wrestling world, and vice versa.
Wrestling's connection with the NFL goes back several decades. "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd and Chief Wahoo McDaniel both took up wrestling in their football offseasons due to the lack of money they were making. They both started their wrestling careers in 1961, a full 56 years ago, but their wrestling journeys took place nearly 30 years after Bronko Nagurski did it. Nagurski was one of the best players in the NFL when he was introduced to wrestling, and he was a natural star in the ring, as well. Six years after his debut, he defeated Lou Thesz to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Since then, all kinds of football players have crossed over into the world of professional wrestling. Goldberg, Brian Pillman, Roman Reigns, Lex Luger, Ron Simmons, Droz, Bill Watts, Vader, Fritz Von Erich, Paul Orndorff, Baron Corbin, The Rock, Mojo Rawley, Jim Neidhart, Ahmed Johnson, Quinn "Moose" Ojinnaka, Steve McMichael, Adam "Pacman" Jones, JBL, Bob Sapp... the list goes on and on and on... all went from the NFL to the pro wrestling world in one way or another. Brock Lesnar went in the other direction, leaving wrestling in 2004 to try out for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings before injuries hampered his brief stint with the team.
WrestleMania 2 featured a Battle Royal that saw a handful of NFL players involved, including future WWE Hall Of Famer William "Refrigerator" Perry.
WrestleMania 11 was headlined by Bam Bam Bigelow taking on NFL legend Lawrence Taylor, who was accompanied to the ring by other NFL players like Steve McMichael, Reggie White and Chris Spielman.
This year's WrestleMania saw Rob Gronkowski get involved in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, helping his buddy, Mojo Rawley, win.
When you would watch random episodes of Raw, Smackdown, Nitro, Thunder, etc, you would regularly see cameras cutting to the front row, where football players from that city's team would be sitting.
As you can see, there are several connections between the two sports, and I haven't even come close to naming them all.
If you've been a reader of my columns before Fightful, you might remember my pieces where I took random wrestlers and created a starting lineup of football players out of them. It's been a few years since I've done it, so I want to do it again. It's a fun change of pace from taking things so seriously all the time.
For you newcomers, there are ground rules that I try to follow. Well, one ground rule, mainly... I try to make things as "realistic" as possible, based on a wrestler's physical attributes. You're not going to see a Quarterback in the NFL that is the height and weight of, say, Big Show, so someone like Big Show isn't going to be listed as a QB here. Also, because this is only physical attributes, age isn't a factor. Therefore, I might list people that are in their 40's, even though NFL players don't play into their 40's, as long as those attributes match up.
A lot of these guys have played football before, whether it was in high school, college, the NFL, or some other professional league. Their positions here may not match the positions they played during their football careers. That just means I see a different fit for them. Perhaps their bodies have changed since then, gaining or losing weight, changing muscle mass, etc.
I'm creating a starting offense and a starting defense, not an entire roster, so I only have space for 22 names. It isn't a knock on anyone if they aren't included, and it doesn't mean my opinion of them is poor. It merely means that I felt other people were better suited for certain positions. My starting lineup is based on personal preferences, so my offense will feature a Quarterback, a Running Back, three Wide Receivers, a Tight End, and five Offensive Linemen. My defense will consist of four Defensive Linemen, three Linebackers, two Cornerbacks, and two Safeties. If you're up to this point in the column and still confused about things, fear not, as I will have positional explanations as I go along. Let's get things started on offense.
Quarterback: In a lot of cases, this is going to be your team's MVP, and the player that you can't win without. He needs to be someone who plays smart, trying to think one or two steps ahead of the defense. He needs to be someone who isn't of smaller stature, so that he can take the inevitable punishment that comes from being a QB. The more I think about it, the more I feel Randy Orton gets the gig here. He has been one of wrestling's most important "players" of the last decade-plus, so he knows how to handle the pressure that comes with a high profile spot. His character has always been thinking ahead. He likes to plan well thought out options of attack. At 6'4" and 250 pounds, that puts him right in line with NFL QBs such as Ben Roethlisberger (6'5", 240), Carson Palmer (6'5", 235), Joe Flacco (6'6", 245), Cam Newton (6'5", 245), Andrew Luck (6'4", 240), Blake Bortles (6'5", 240), Carson Wentz (6'5", 240), and Phillip Rivers (6'5", 230) when it comes to size. Randy might have some "off-the-field" issues, but a lot of successful QBs have had issues, too, and they were able to harness them when they needed to. I think Orton would do just fine in a spot like this. I hope so, anyway, because this would be a big gamble. Again, QB is the position that you can't really win without in football, so Orton would have to keep himself out of trouble and stay away from things like Wellness Policy violations.
Running Back: There are generally two different "prototype" Running Backs. The first is the bruising runner that makes it difficult for defenses to tackle him because he wants to punish them and run right through them. The second is the smaller, "quicker-than-a-hiccup" runner that makes it difficult for defenses to tackle him for an entirely different reason... they can't catch him. I went back and forth with a few different selections here. When I play Madden and have creative control over my rosters, I tend to lean towards the latter, as it's more exciting for me to break to the outside and run past the defense on my way to a long touchdown. I looked at my entire roster, and then I looked at it a few more times. I saw that I was leaning towards having speed at just about every position, so I made a last minute change at this spot. To have a good "power" Back, you need a runner with strong, powerful legs, and a low center of gravity. Someone that isn't afraid of contact, and can lay hit after hit on people trying to tackle him, wearing them down so that they're tired by the fourth quarter of games. There are a few different wrestlers I thought about putting here, but when all was said and done, I couldn't shake the idea of my starting Running Back being Jeff Cobb/Matanza Cueto. He's one of the most powerful men in the business today, pound-for-pound, and at 5'10", that low center of gravity would make it difficult for opposing defenders to get the proper attack points to bring him down. Unlike Orton, Cobb's size (265 pounds) doesn't really match up with starting Running Backs in the NFL today, many of which are the aforementioned "speed" players. However, players of the past like Brandon Jacobs (a lot taller at 6'4", but 265 pounds), Craig "Ironhead" Heyward (5'11", 265), Mike Alstott (6'1", 250), Jerome Bettis (5'11", 250), Christian Okoye (6'1", 255), and Jamal Lewis (5'11", 245) show that you can be successful at Running Back without being smaller in stature.
Offensive Linemen: These are the big boys up front that are making holes for Running Backs to run through, or that are blocking defenders from getting to the Quarterback. You want them to have mean streaks, because they have to play physical and do the dirty work that it takes for an offense to run smoothly and successfully. As I said, you want them to be "hosses", as Jim Ross would put it, but at the same time, you don't want them to be too much on the tall side, or else they're going to get in the Quarterback's way as he scans the field and looks for people to throw to. At Center, you want someone with a powerful base, strong enough to anchor themselves down and handle the incoming bull rush from defenders, but also someone smart and able to think well on the fly, moving from lane to lane to chip in where he needs to. For that position, I'm picking Big E, because he's ridiculously strong, with tree trunks for legs. He's shorter than any Center in the NFL, but he's also stronger than any Center in the NFL, so it balances out. For the two Guard spots, I'm looking for quick, twitchy hands, and of course, the strength and size that comes with the line positions. First and foremost, Samoa Joe came to my mind. At 6'2" and 280 pounds, he might be slightly lighter than the ideal NFL Guard, but as a striker with Mixed Martial Arts training, he knows how to use his hands with proper techniques. The other Guard spot goes to Bray Wyatt, who is about the same size as Joe (6'3", 285), but when you watch him wrestle, you see how sudden ("twitchy") he is with his movements. Tackle finds my first "iffy" pick. I said that you don't want your Offensive Linemen to be too tall. My first choice is pretty tall, but pro wrestling exaggeration saves me a bit. I went with Baron Corbin, who is listed at 6'8" tall, but is actually closer to 6'6" when hyperbole isn't the word of the day. 6'6" puts Corbin right in the "sweet spot" of how tall you want your Tackles to be, while 6'8" would've been on the verge of being too tall. A Tackle needs proper balance and foot agility, as they're dealing with defenders coming around the edge to get to the Quarterback, so they have to backpedal, shift their weight, and stay loose in the hips. Corbin's boxing background should mean that he has those things down, as he should know all about having to move around and staying light on your feet. My other Tackle spot goes to Moose, and a lot of that is based on the fact that he actually played Tackle in the NFL, so it's not exactly a stretch of the imagination to say that he could do it.
Wide Receivers: When you're looking at Wide Receivers, there are definitely different types of players you want. The first one I'll talk about is the super athletic freak of nature with springs in his legs. The guy with speed, able to run down the field and go get the ball in a variety of ways. He's fast enough to run past defenders, but if he needs to, he can simply use his athleticism and vertical jump to pull down those "jump balls" that are thrown sometimes. For this role, I'm going with Kofi Kingston. The man wears wings on his wrestling boots for a reason. He can absolutely fly, and that athletic ability would benefit the team tremendously. The biggest problem we would have here is the unfortunate chemistry issues that Kofi and Randy Orton have had in the past, but I'll just hope that Orton has matured since then. My next Wide Receiver would be an all-around superstar that simply knows how to get it done. No matter what you need him to do, he's going to go out and do it. He can make things look spectacular, or he can do the dirty work. He'll block, he'll run, he'll be a decoy... anything your team needs, you know you can count on him. Sounds pretty much like AJ Styles, doesn't it? Time and time again, AJ has proven that he'll succeed at anything he does, even when people don't think he can. He's "too small" to be a "top guy", they said. Nine total World Titles later, and he doesn't have any more doubters. That would translate to football, I think. He's not 6'5" and 230 pounds, but one way or another, he'll get the ball, and he'll find himself on highlight reels in doing so. My third choice at the position would be what is referred to as a "slot" WR. That's the guy who generally runs his routes over the middle of the field, instead of the more straight-ahead downfield running that other WRs do. These are the guys that are super quick, but also have to be super tough, because they're running around with defenders that are much bigger than they are, and they know they're going to take a lot of hits. My pick? Enzo Amore. Surprised? You shouldn't be. He's exactly as I described a slot WR to be. He's super quick, but he's crazy tough. He's almost always one of the smaller guys around, taking a lot of hits, but he keeps bouncing back for more. He's going to fight for the team, and he's going to put himself on the line to pick up some extra yards. I need a player like that on my roster. Every team needs a player like that on their roster.
Tight End: To break it down in as basic a way as I can, a TE is pretty much a WR, but in most cases, physically larger. They can catch passes, too, but they're often (or usually, depending on the player) asked to block, either helping to open up holes for the run game or to help get the WRs open. Players like Rob Gronkowski (6'5", 265 pounds), Tyler Eifert (6'5", 250), Travis Kelce (6'5", 255), Jason Witten (6'6", 260), Jimmy Graham (6'6", 260), and Greg Olsen (6'6", 255) are the prototype for size in the NFL today, but players such as Delanie Walker (6'1", 240) and Jordan Reed (6'2", 235) have become stars, as well, even though they're smaller than some WRs playing today. I wanted the TE on my roster to be a physical player. Someone who isn't afraid to mix it up and put his body on the line. Someone who is deceptively tall, but also has enough quickness should he need to be used as a passing option. I decided to go with Dean Ambrose here. I could have gone with someone like Goldust (6'6", 235) or Sheamus (6'4", 265), but I felt that Ambrose has more speed and agility, and even though he's smaller (6'4", 225), he still has that wild streak. If you've been watching his work since the independent days, you'd know that he's crazy and isn't afraid to be in harm's way to achieve his goals. I like that in a TE, and I wanted those traits on my team.
Is the offense missing some names you thought would definitely be on the team somewhere? Keep on reading, because they might be on the defensive side of the ball, which I'm about to discuss right now.
Defensive Linemen: Simply because of personal preference, I'm operating out of a "4-3" defense, which means four Defensive Linemen and three Linebackers. There are plenty of other defenses out there, but this is the one I like. In a 4-3 defense, your Defensive Line is usually split between two Defensive Ends (playing on either end of the line, as the name suggests) and two Defensive Tackles (in the middle). Again, to break it down in basic terms, a Defensive End's job is generally to get to the Quarterback to create pressure and get sacks, while the Defensive Tackle's job is to clog the middle, take up blockers, and be a nuisance in the run game. Starting with the middle, my choices are very easy. I went with Big Show and Mark Henry, and I never changed those picks at all. Both men have really slimmed down in recent years, but with Show being 7'0" tall and weighing 385 pounds, and Henry being 6'4" and 360 pounds, who the hell is going to push those two around? For the sake of comparison, the top Defensive Tackles in the game are guys like Ndamukong Suh (6'4", 305), Aaron Donald (6'1", 285), Geno Atkins (6'1", 295), and Kawann Short (6'3", 300), but they don't have the size and strength that my DT duo has. For my Defensive Ends, I wanted to go with men who are walking mountains, but who also have the uncanny speed, quickness, and agility to motor their way around the opposing Offensive Tackles to wreak havoc in Quarterback's lives. Naturally, I went with Braun Strowman right off the bat. At 6'8" and 385 pounds, he would instantly become one of the biggest nightmares in league history, based on that size alone, but go ahead and watch his matches... he has athletic ability that he simply should not have at that size. He moves around the ring quickly and has been able to run down smaller opponents from behind. Imagine the drop-a-steaming-poop-in-your-pants fear that would overcome a Quarterback with someone like Strowman charging up the field at him at full speed. Speaking of being able to induce fear in opponents, my other Defensive End selection is Brock Lesnar. He stands 6'3" and weighs 285 pounds, but he's one of the best natural athletes that the sport of pro wrestling has ever seen. You've seen him chase down much smaller opponents. You've seen him do a standing jump from ringside to the ring apron. You've seen him do a Shooting Star Press, both successfully and unsuccessfully. The point is that he isn't someone who can be stopped by even the most elite of athletes. My entire line would be unblockable, unstoppable, and uncontrollable. Even when they aren't getting to the Quarterback, their height and reach alone could affect a game, as the QB would have a hard time seeing his reads with these monsters blocking out the sun in front of him. It would be beautiful.
Linebackers: If the Quarterback is considered the MVP and the leader of the offense, a Linebacker is pretty regularly given those titles on defense. My Middle Linebacker, or "Mike" Linebacker, fits those descriptions. Like Randy Orton, he is someone that has been around for a long time, and has been able to handle all of the pressure that comes with his job. Because their names will be forever connected through history, if Orton is the leader on one side of the ball, John Cena has to be the leader on the other side. Cena isn't a speed demon or an athletic freak, but placing him in the Mike spot means that he can focus mainly on having to stop the run. For that, he just needs to be smart, powerful, and unafraid to put work in. At 6'1" and 250 pounds, Cena's size is right in line with Mike backers the likes of Dont'a Hightower (6'2", 260), CJ Mosley (6'2", 235), Luke Kuechly (6'3", 245), and NaVorro Bowman (6'0", 245). The "Will" Linebacker is the LB that lines up on the "weak" side of the offense (aka the side where the Tight End isn't, or the side that has the path of least resistance), and is someone who will probably be the smallest, but fastest, of your LBs, as he is often the one rushing the QB. I'm going to give that gig to Apollo Crews, because a man blessed with his combination of size, speed, and athleticism could be a terror to deal with. He has what football likes to call "sideline to sideline speed", where he can pretty much track anyone down at any point, at any spot on the field. Crews is just about the same size as Cena, with the same height but listed as 240 pounds, which means he matches up with players like Lavonte David (6'1", 235), Thomas Davis (6'1", 240), Alec Ogletree (6'3", 235), and Jamie Collins (6'3", 250) at the same position. The third and final LB in my lineup, "Sam", lines up on the "strong" side of the offense (where the Tight End is, or where the offense is stacked), and is usually bigger and stronger because he needs to do things like blitz, but also play the run, handle coverage, and take on blockers. I had a few different wrestlers in mind for this spot, but ultimately, it came down to size and physicality. I'm putting Sheamus here for the aforementioned reasons. At 6'4" and 265 pounds, he's the biggest of my LB trio, and he matches up with "Sam" LBs in the NFL like Anthony Barr (6'4", 250) and Akeem Ayers (6'3", 255). I need someone physical enough to be able to do the different tasks you ask of a "Sam" Backer, and there aren't many people in the wrestling business who are more physical than Sheamus. He can dish it out, but also doesn't mind taking back some of that physicality, as well. All three men have differing roles, but I believe they're all suited to handle those roles perfectly.
Cornerbacks: Cornerbacks are the guys you ask to cover the Wide Receivers, which means they need to be some of the faster and more athletic people on your roster. They need to be able to maintain intense focus, having to chase people all around the field without losing them or letting them get open for too long. Their instincts need to be top notch, as they need to guess the Receiver's routes as they're watching them unfold, so that they can stay step-for-step with them. The first guy I chose for this position is Ricochet/Prince Puma. In the entire history of wrestling, it would be difficult to find many people that are as blessed as he is with speed, quickness, agility, and overall athletic ability. He isn't the biggest guy in the world (5'10", 200 pounds), but guess what? Malcolm Butler (5'11", 180), Joe Haden (5'11", 195), Desmond Trufant (6'0", 190), Josh Norman (6'0", 190), Casey Hayward (5'11", 190), Janoris Jenkins (5'10", 195), and Marcus Peters (6'0", 195) aren't the biggest in the world, either, but they've done pretty well for themselves as NFL Cornerbacks. Another key asset for a CB to have is confidence/swagger, and according to several reports (whether you choose to believe them or not), Ricochet turned off certain WWE officials with what they perceived to be "arrogance" on his part. He has a certain set of skills, and he knows it. That rubs some people the wrong way. My other Cornerback is someone who has a character that has often been viewed as arrogant, as well, but he has been nothing but nice to me during the several times I've talked to him. He's also one of the more athletic people in the business right now, with plenty of speed and agility to handle the position... Seth Rollins gets the call here. He's a little bigger than Ricochet is (6'1", 220), but that's fine, because players like Xavier Rhodes (6'1", 210), Aqib Talib (6'1", 205), Jalen Ramsey (6'1", 210), and Jimmy Smith (6'2", 205) show that you can still be a good CB at that size. Both Rollins and Ricochet are fast and athletic enough to hang with the best of the best, and can make the spectacular look easy in doing so.
Safeties: Safeties are called on to do so many different things on defense, and their roles vary from defensive package to defensive package. To make things even simpler, and to prevent me from having to type out an extra couple thousand words just to explain all of the different Safety roles, I'll just stick to the basics... a Free Safety and a Strong Safety. A Free Safety is someone that you could say is a "jack of all trades, master of none". That isn't a knock on him at all. In fact, it's a compliment far more often than not, because they're able to do so many different things well, all without having elite anything. They're fast, but aren't the fastest. They're strong, but aren't the strongest. Perhaps their best attribute is their intelligence. They play behind everything, so they get to see the field differently than anyone else on the defense does. They have to possess the proper discipline that it takes to play FS, because any incorrect gambles or poor reads of the play could leave a large chunk of open field for someone with a football in their hands to operate with. My Free Safety pick is going to be Chris Jericho. Look at how much success he has had in his wrestling career. With that success, though, could you ever say he was the absolute cream of the crop in any one physical aspect of wrestling? Not in my opinion, no. He's always been really good at just about everything, though, and it has led to title after title after title. His intelligence is off the charts, as well, and you can tell that by the decisions he makes, or even when you read any of his books. My Strong Safety is someone that could almost be viewed as an extra Linebacker, as many NFL Strong Safeties are. He's taller and heavier than any of his Secondary teammates (Free Safety and the two Cornerbacks), and packs more of a punch than they do, but all without sacrificing speed and athleticism. I'm going to go outside the box here and put Kazuchika Okada at Strong Safety. At 6'3" tall and 235 pounds, he's plenty big, but Kam Chancellor (6'3", 230) might be the best SS in the NFL, and his size is more of a benefit than a detriment. Chancellor puts fear in the hearts of anyone with a football in their hands, because they know he's always a step or two away and ready to knock them out of the game with one of his heavy hits. Okada, of course, wrestles the New Japan style, meaning that his opponents know he's going to try to knock them out of "the game" with his own heavy hits. I want my Strong Safety to make Receivers running over the middle of the field think twice about it. I want my Strong Safety to let Tight Ends know that he isn't afraid of taking them on. When you have Okada residing over the "front end" of the secondary, and Jericho residing over the "back end", it's a great combination.
Again, I want it to be known that this has nothing to do with how I view or rank these men as wrestlers. Wrestler A being listed here and Wrestler B being absent doesn't mean I think Wrestler A is better at wrestling than Wrestler B. I've received complaints like that when I've done these types of columns in the past, so I want to make sure there is no confusion here. What does everyone think? Did I put someone at the wrong position? Did I make a mistake in not including someone? As always, let me know your thoughts and opinions, either down below in the comments section or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and give me your rosters. Let's have some fun, shall we?