Earlier this week, we highlighted college quarterbacks who had to change positions in the NFL in order to have a successful career. There are even more cases of players who figured out even sooner that playing quarterback was not in their best interest in the long run. Many players are athletes coming out of high school, and they already boast the versatility that makes them highly coveted by universities across the country. Here are five recent players who successfully made the switch from QB to another position in college:
Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants
Drafted: 2021 / Round 1 / Pick 20 / Florida
Originally, Kadarius Toney was brought in as a quarterback at the University of Florida. However, he was only used there as a wildcat QB for the duration of his career with the Gators. This was due to his incredible elusiveness in the open field, his tremendous speed and his ability to make something out of nothing even on short screen passes. These all tied into his incredible versatility that was on full display during his time at Florida. Toney not only was a wildcat QB at Florida, but he also played running back and primarily wide receiver. As Toney’s injuries piled up in the early part of his career, it was unclear whether Toney’s full potential would be realized. If it weren’t for his versatility, Toney wouldn’t have had enough film on him to warrant a team selecting him in the draft.
In fact, before Toney’s breakout 2020 campaign, he only had 50 receptions for 606 yards and three touchdowns in three years at Florida. In 2020, Toney exploded as one of the best receivers in the SEC, along with teammate Kyle Pitts, boosting his draft stock immensely–Toney finished the 2020 season with 70 receptions for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns, all career highs. Toney’s versatility and skillset along with his great senior campaign allowed him to get drafted with the 20th pick in this year’s draft, something that would not have been possible without his ability to adapt to any opportunity presented to him.
Chazz Surratt, LB, Minnesota Vikings
Draft Result: 2021 / Round 3 / Pick 78 / North Carolina
Chazz Surratt’s career could have ended up a lot differently had he not made the switch to linebacker. Originally, Surratt came to North Carolina as the successor to Mitchell Trubisky after the former Chicago Bear graduated and went on to be the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for Surratt, his career as a quarterback did not go according to plan as he only started seven games and suffered a plethora of injuries. Eventually, he made the switch to linebacker, which ended up being a terrific move for him. Going into the recent draft, many people noted that despite not playing the position for a long time, Surratt boasted incredible intelligence. That trait, along with his explosiveness, is what made him such an intriguing prospect as well as a key contributor on a very good 2020 UNC team. Even though Surratt still has some technical traits to develop due to his relative inexperience at the linebacker position, he is in a much better position to start right away for the Minnesota Vikings — not only because of Eric Wilson’s departure in free agency but also due to Surratt not sticking at quarterback during his tenure at UNC. There was a clear reason why Minnesota spent a third-round pick on Surratt when they could have gone with a more proven linebacker.
Caleb Farley, CB, Tennessee Titans
Draft Result: 2021 / Round 1 / Pick 23 / Virginia Tech
If it weren’t for a plethora of injuries during his tenure at Virginia Tech, it is very possible that Caleb Farley could have been a much higher pick in the first round. That said, he may never have been a first-round pick at all had he stayed at QB. This was the position he had played throughout high school. When Farley arrived at Virginia Tech, however, he was slotted to play wide receiver before he eventually made the switch to cornerback after an injury. With veteran QBs in the fold when Farley got to Blacksburg, it is certainly a possibility that Farley would have had to transfer in order to get more playing time at the position. What made Farley such a good corner was his speed — more specifically his great catch-up speed. Even though Farley’s mechanics are not as refined as other players who have played the position for a longer amount of time, he is extremely good, when healthy, at making up for any mistakes that he may have had in coverage. In fact, before Farley had to get surgery on his back before the draft, he ran a 4.28 40-yard dash. Moreover, Farley also has a nose for the football as he had 6 INTs and 19 pass breakups during his time with the Hokies. Switching positions helped Farley for the better; despite all his injuries, he was still able to get drafted with the 23rd overall pick by the Tennessee Titans in this year’s draft, filling a huge need for the Titans as they try to compete for a Super Bowl.
Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Draft Result: 2021 / Round 5 / Pick 150 / Memphis
Kenneth Gainwell had a good chance of being selected on Day 2 of the draft this year if it weren’t for COVID-19. After an extremely promising redshirt freshman campaign that saw him rush for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns along with 610 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, Gainwell was set to have another big year as Memphis’ workhorse running back; however, due to health issues with his family, Gainwell decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. This meant that teams really only had a little over a year of film on Gainwell compared to players like Travis Etienne and Najee Harris, who played for four years at two of the premier football universities.
If it weren’t for Gainwell making the switch from quarterback to running back, though, it may have not been even possible for him to get drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Much like Chazz Surratt, Gainwell’s past as a QB helped him tremendously at his new position of running back. He sees the open field and dissects very much like a quarterback would. It’s traits like these that helped Gainwell be very difficult to contain when he got going for Memphis. Furthermore, he has a great ability to plant and accelerate at a top-tier level, thus making him that much harder to defend.
Braxton Miller, WR
Draft Result: 2016 / Round 3 / Pick 85 / Houston Texans
Before the 2014 season, Braxton Miller was the star QB for the Ohio State Buckeyes, having thrown for 5,292 yards and 52 touchdowns against only 17 interceptions. He was one of the premier quarterbacks in the country before an injury prevented him from playing a single game in 2014. Prior to this injury, Miller had been named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2011), twice the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (2012, 2013) and he even finished fifth in Heisman voting for the 2012 season. The future certainly looked bright for Miller heading into the 2014 season. Due to the injury, Miller eventually saw J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones lead the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014. This left Miller as the odd man out in the QB race in 2015, so he made the move to wide receiver.
Miller was able to use his dual-threat abilities from his days under center to help him become an elusive wide receiver with good route running abilities. One of the highlight plays of the 2015 season came from Miller using a spin move effectively on a Virginia Tech defender in order to score a huge touchdown in the opening game of the season. Granted, this came from him being the wildcat QB in this situation, but it still proved that Ohio State was able to get creative with him due to his prior experience under center. This move to wide receiver ended up working well for Miller, as he was able to get drafted in the third round by the Houston Texans that season.