Bo Jackson, widely regarded as one of the best all-around athletes of all time, believes he would dominate in today's NFL. He appeared on Deion Sanders' podcast and did that classic retired athlete bit where he bemoaned the lack of physicality in the modern game and said he would average 350-400 yards per game if those guys tried to tackle him like they do now.
""Nobody wrap up and tackle no more," Jackson said. "With me being a ball carrier, my coach taught us, number one, he said, 'I know you can run, but I'm gonna teach you how to carry that football.' He said, 'that football is like your newborn baby, don't ever put it on the ground. And keep it away from the enemy.' "It's like this - and I watch technique - I don't see nobody hitting or wrapping up. Everybody's running into each other and trying to use their shoulder pads to knock the ball carrier down. And I'm like, if I played during this era, man, I'd be averaging 350-400 yards a game ... because nobody wraps up anymore. They run into each other with their pads.""
That's an interesting claim. Let's look into this, shall we?
The first and really only step in considering if any old athlete could, in fact, dominate the game now is to compare opponents. Jackson, listed at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds with a reported 4.13 40-yard dash, is unparalleled among even today's elite athletes. In his best season as a Raider, he played 11 games and ran for 950 yards and four touchdowns in 1989. His best game that season came against the Bengals, when he ran for 159 yards on merely 13 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Who was he running over that day? The starting defensive line (consisting of Tim Krumrie, Jim Skow, and Jason Buck) were, on average, 6-foot-3 and 263 pounds. Aaron Donald is 6-foot-1, 284 pounds. He is not your average football player, but he is, in fact, on the smaller side for a defensive tackle. So while Jackson was bigger and stronger than anyone in his heyday, he would not have that advantage in today's game.
Jackson was obviously exaggerating a touch, but as we hear over and over, athletes today are bigger and faster than they were 20 years ago. Regardless of technique, Bo might find it surprising how difficult it is to run through a J.J. Watt arm tackle. Or just how hard a flying Tyrann Mathieu can hit when he gets a full head of steam, whether he uses his arms to wrap up or not.