How would NFL players do in CrossFit?

Posted on August 28, 2017

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CrossFit claims to their athletes are “The Fittest on Earth.” Yet I’ve repeatedly mentioned NFL players are, bar none, the best athletes in the world.

For instance, with leaping ability, many would default to NBA players being the best. However, two years ago I showed that’s not the case.

Looking at the top jumpers of the 2015 NBA and NFL combine

   NBA:                        |                   NFL:

1) J. Anderson 38…………………….1. C. Conley 45

2) P. Connaughton 37.5 ………….2. B. Jones 44.5

3) J. Williams 35……………………..3. A. Abdullah 42.5

4) K.T. Harrell 35…………………….4. D. Tull 42.5

5) K. Oubre 34.5……………………..5. B. Dupree 42

6) J.P Tokoto 34.5…………………..6. J. Strong 42

7) J. Young 34.5………………………7. K. Bell 41.5

8) M. Thornton 34.5……………….8. R. Darby 41.5

9) K. Sykes 34…………………………9. K. Johnson 41.5

10) K. Cochran 34…………………..10. D. Johnson 41.5

Nobody in the top 10 of the NBA draft would even be in the top 10 of the NFL draft. The NFL has more than 15 guys over 40 inches! The NBA has zero! The top ten NFL guys are on average 20% better. That’s not “NFL players are somewhat better jumpers than NBA players.” That’s “NFL players destroy NBA players in vertical jumping.”

Most other sports are obvious. Track and Field goes in a straight line. Beyond the fact many NFL players were all-state in track but went into football for monetary / status / love violence reasons, it’s questionable to state anybody in track is more athletic than a sport requiring all the different dimensions football does.

Baseball you can too often have a beer belly and be a hall of famer. You can too easily specialize, barely having to do more than a single movement. For instance, good hitter, fielder who doesn’t move (first base), pitcher. Even in the positions which throw a ball, pitcher and quarterback, there is a hell of a lot more going on for quarterbacks than pitchers. Like that whole potential of getting your head torn off.

Nobody actually thinks hockey players could out run, jump, lift, NFL players. Let’s be real. If your sport has no black athletes, it’s not that athletic.

I’m not going to go into every sport here. I realize those in other countries largely don’t even care about these sports, and are thinking “What about football to the rest of the world? Or rugby?” Succinctly, I’d say the same thing about CrossFit. Pure speed, change of direction, leaping ability, size, every athletic measure but endurance is borderline obviously in favor of NFL players.

When in doubt, a simple way to view it is take NFL players and put them in the sport of question. Ok, now take the sport in question, and put them in the NFL. If the NFL players would obviously have an easier time with the transition, that tells you who is the better pure athlete.

Now for that endurance question…

CrossFit

On the surface, CrossFit is actually a much harder comparison. Because it’s meant to be all over the place, it’s tough to give a head to head comparison.

CrossFit does have agility, sprinting and strength events. Agility / sprinting wise, again, we’re not drunk here. These guys can’t move like NFL players do.

Strength wise? We might think hey, CrossFitters are pretty strong. Then we realize NFL players are dramatically heavier. The only way there is a comparison is if we only look at wide receivers.

Black lines are recent players.

NFL players are overwhelmingly not fat. Given a similar height, considering how much more muscle they have, they’re going to be stronger.

Granted, many NFL players are taller than CrossFitters. Let’s think about positions which are around the same height. Corner Back, Running Back, Linebacker. CrossFitters run 5’7″ to 6’3″. That’s about right for these NFL positions.

The biggest debate a CrossFitter is going to have is endurance. “NFL players can’t last like we can. If we only lifted like they did, or let ourselves be that heavy, then we’d be stronger too.”

How do we compare this?

Superstars

It occurred to me athletes used to take part in a show called Superstars. Athletes from all kinds of sports would compete in a version of the decathlon. NFL players would golf, baseball players would shoot hoops, they’d all have to run.

The show is off the air now. The last time it ran was 2001. Here are the results from the 2001 half mile run:

Credit: http://www.thesuperstars.org/comp/01final.html

  • Tiki Barber was a 205 pound running back for the Giants.
  • Ronde Barber was a 185 pound corner back for the Buccaneers
  • Ray Lewis was a 240 pound linebacker for the Ravens

Rich Froning and Mat Fraser are the most dominant CrossFitters of all-time. They are 195 and 190 pounds.

  • According to an interview with Chris Hinshaw, Froning’s running coach, when Froning won his four CrossFit games, he had a six minute mile best.
  • In Sports Illustrated Fraser said he’s trying to squat 500 pounds and run a five minute mile. Let’s say his best is 5:30.

-> By the way, here’s Derrick Henry, an average NFL running back, squatting 500 pounds…at 6’3″:

Saquon I’m-not-even-out-of-college-yet Barkley, another running back, repping 495 lbs:

Using some random pace converter,

  • Ronde Barber’s 2:09 half mile converts to a 4:40 mile.
  • Tiki Barber’s 2:18 half mile converts to a 4:59 mile.
  • Ray Lewis’ 2:20 half mile converts to a 5:04 mile.

I hope that floors you. RAY LEWIS IS TWO HUNDRED FORTY POUNDS!

“Lewis is rare.”

Ray was 6’1″, 240 pounds, and ran a 4.58 40 yard dash. If we look from 2004 to 2017, just at the NFL combine -not everybody even participates in it(!)- there have been 78 players similar to Lewis. That is, linebackers who have run a 4.68 40 yard dash or under.

NFL players typically go into the combine at 21 years old. So, if you go in 2004, then 2017 you’re 34 years old, which was the oldest contestant in CrossFit this year. The CrossFit games are 40 athletes per year. That means in the last 13 years, there have been enough NFL, Ray Lewis like linebackers, at 21 years of age (not even peak athletic age), to have taken up TWO CrossFit Games’ fields. Meaning not a single CrossFit athlete would get into the competition. They wouldn’t even get into a second tier competition. And we’ve only examined one position.

By the way, NFL players do not train to run half miles! They did the Superstars show with I guarantee at most a couple weeks of dicking around training. It’s not like they spent years training for this like CrossFit athletes do.

Even if the NFL players had, at worst, the same endurance capacity as the CrossFit athletes, they’re going to destroy them on every other metric. I mean, if CrossFitters were better at every metric, why the hell would they be doing a sport they can barely make any money in??? (To win the Games isn’t even close to a game check for a good NFL player.) Again, Ray Lewis is fifty god damn pounds heavier than the best CrossFitters. Is he really losing any type of lifting contest??? He chased down the most elusive humans in existence for a living. Is he really losing any sprint or agility contest?

Mat Fraser actually ran a mile as part of the Murph event. He did it with a 25 pound vest on. His first mile, where his legs were freshest, was about 7:20.

Even if you want to say he was saving some energy for the rest of the event, you’d have to take TWO MINUTES off that mile time to get to Tiki Barber, and he’d STILL be 15 pounds lighter than Tiki and over THIRTY pounds lighter than Lewis.

Besides offensive lineman, NFL players are going to easily run six minute miles. (If you gave the linemen time to train and lose weight, they’d be there too. They are very athletic, but being so heavy doesn’t make it as apparent.) Meaning they would easily be more than sufficient CrossFit endurance wise. This is, I cannot overstate, with no dedicated endurance training.

The only other metric left would be mental toughness…have you seen Ray Lewis speak? He talks as if he’s a professional human hunter motivational preacher. Have you seen what NFL players are willing to do to win? Run around with a catheter in them? Play with broken limbs, ruptured ligaments. Willingly accept a greater likelihood of brain degeneration. Pay one another thousands of dollars if they injure an opponent? Happily say they’d prefer to die on the field than anywhere else? I’m not going to say NFL players are by themselves in this category (combat sports can’t be ignored), but at worst they’re standing with friends at the top.

I enjoy CrossFit the sport. It’s entertaining and certainly physically impressive. But CrossFit, particularly the males, have progressively been giving an impression of genuinely believing they’re the fittest on Earth. (Even Fraser looks to be falling into this.) In reality, they are other sport rejects. (Fraser was a mediocre olympic weightlifter.) Which makes a lot of sense. One reason they think they’re so fit is because they’ve never gotten to a level, such as high stakes football, to see what true freaks are. NFL players are rare people. Most will not come across them in their lifespan, certainly not in an athletic contest.

Let’s not allow clever marketing to cloud reality.

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Posted in: Sports