With Shohei Ohtani coming to Camden Yards this week looking to extend his lead atop the MLB home run leaderboard and also throw another gem on the mound for the Los Angeles Angels, two-way player hypotheticals have extended over to Ashburn, Va.
"I don't know if we have a guy like that in the league right now," Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera said when asked about two-way players in the NFL after practice on Tuesday.
It's no wonder Rivera was asked the question. Everyone is mesmerized by the kind of season Ohtani is having. He continued to dazzle last week in Detroit, where he stole his 17th base and hit his 40th home run and threw 90 pitches in eight innings with eight strikeouts and just one run allowed. Orioles fans will get to see it in person this week in a three-game series. Ohtani is set to pitch the middle game on Wednesday.
Having a pitcher sport a 2.79 ERA as a generational slugger and leadoff hitter is quite rare. The specific skillsets to accomplish both takes countless hours of practice and refining. There's a reason people bring up Babe Ruth when talking about Ohtani.
It's just as rare in the NFL, an elite level where players are instructed specifically by position. We've seen great NFL players like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders play two sports and excel, but playing both sides of the ball full time in the NFL went extinct in the early 1960s.
Still, just like how Ohtani proved it could be done in the majors, surely a few NFL players who excelled on both sides of the field while playing in high school could translate that two-way success at the highest level, right?
"There are guys who have those kind of skillsets that can play two-way," Rivera said. "I mean Chase Young or a Montez Sweat could probably play tight end with their athletic abilities. On the inverse, there's some tight ends that could probably play defensive end. That's interesting, DBs-WRs, yeah there's a few of those guys around."
Did your mind also jump to Ryan Fitzpatrick rolling out to his right in the redzone on a play-action pass to Young in the corner of the end zone? That's because it's incredibly fun to imagine these hypotheticals, but still rare to execute in game situations. Rivera simply puts that down to how many hours there are in a day.
"I just think it's tough to split your time," Rivera said. "I mean I think the last time it was done in the NFL was Coach (Bill) Belichick had a receiver that played DB as well. There are people that are probably capable of it, you just gotta put the time into it."
Belichick's receiver was Troy Brown, a three-time Super Bowl winner who retired with the Patriots record for receptions (557). In his 15-year career, Brown also made 39 tackles, broke up five passes, and made three interceptions.
Belichick also used the likes of Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski in situations like defending Hail Mary's, and even got 91 defensive snaps, 13 tackles, and one fumble for a touchdown return out of Julian Edelman. Fans have also seen touchdowns out of defensive ends like J.J. Watt, who has three receiving TDs to match his three fumbles returned for a TD.
While Belichick's innovative thinking has been successful over the years, he's also proven his talented position players can make a positive impact on the other side of the ball when called upon. Judging by how Rivera answered that fun question, though, don't expect too many of those wrinkles in Washington's redzone playbook this season.