The college basketball-to-NFL train should continue in 2017.
Though no NFL teams are expected to use a draft pick on a college basketball player like the Dallas Cowboys did with tight end Rico Gathers in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, at least three former hoops stars will be among the group of sought-after undrafted free agents. And it's a good bet the Kansas City Chiefs will sign at least one.
The Chiefs already have two tight ends on the their roster who are former college basketball players. Demetrius Harris was signed as a free agent in 2013, four months after the conclusion of his basketball career at Milwaukee, and earned a three-year, $6.3-million contract in 2016 as Kansas City's No. 2 tight end. And two years ago, Ross Travis signed after his career at Penn State and spent most of last year as the Chiefs' No. 4 tight end.
"I think more and more players will start transferring to football," says Turron Davenport, NFL Draft analyst at Football Gameplan and Eagles analyst for CSN Philly. "A lot of the skills transfer. There's more and more cross-training going on today."
The Chiefs are set to host three former college basketball players in the coming days, according to the Kansas City Star. However, unlike Gathers last year, all three — VCU's Mo Alie-Cox, Kansas State's D.J. Johnson and Texas Wesleyan's Najeal Young — are eligible to be signed immediately and do not count against the Chiefs' allotment of 30 pre-draft visits.
"A lot more [tight ends] are going that route because it's the most similar to basketball," Davenport added. "Look at Antonio Gates and how he excels on those Y-Stick routes. It's very similar to being in the low post and making a move to the basket."
Alie-Cox, whose NFL hype began more than two years ago, worked out for 30 NFL teams on Tuesday. The 6-foot-7, 262-pounder averaged 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and two blocks last season for the Rams. In 2015, Alie-Cox was told by Jason Witten, a former prep basketball star in Tennessee, that he could aim for the NFL.
"He told me I could make the transition to football," Alie-Cox said. "He said if it's something I wanted to do I should look into it."
D.J. Johnson, meanwhile, is even bigger (6-foot-9, 237 pounds) and averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Wildcats last year. He has also scheduled a pre-draft tryout with the Chocago Bears, according to the Kansas City Star. And Young is a 6-foot-6, 215-pounder who played one season at Illinois-Chicago before transferring to Texas Wesleyan, an NAIA program in Fort Worth. He averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds last year.