Just what the hell is a “video game athlete” anyway? It’s a question raised right now as SB Nation celebrates “Video Game Week” across its sites for the next few days.
The Minnesota Vikings blog Daily Norseman answers literally with the version of Bo Jackson in Tecmo Super Bowl. At New York Giants blog Big Blue View, they highlight five runs by Saquon Barkley that “looked like they belong in a video game.” Similarly, Arrowhead Pride checks back on seven instances of a “video game stat line” in Kansas City Chiefs history.
Unsurprisingly, four of the seven moments are for running backs or entire backfields and a fifth belongs to receiver Stephone Paige. “Video game athlete” almost always translates to “running back” or at least a skill position player of some kind.
The most obvious answer is that the player with the ball in his hands is the player who can show off his physical gift that got him to the professional level. When those go above-and-beyond their pro peers, we recognize players like Bo Jackson, Saquon Barkley, and Jamaal Charles even more for those traits that make them unique. You can’t often find those same moments with non-skill players, even if we’re talking about Aaron Donald, Richard Sherman, Joe Thomas, or even Rob Gronkowski.
“Video game athlete” is really about opportunity, not skill. Pretty much everyone at the NFL level is a video game athlete otherwise they wouldn’t be the ones that EA put in the video games. Relative to their peers, an exceptional center, defensive tackle, or punter should get the same consideration for being a “video game athlete” as a running back or receiver. We simply don’t get as many moments to watch them show off what makes them an exception.
And we all know that Rams punter Johnny Hekker is quite the exception.
Through his first six seasons, Hekker was a first team All-Pro four times. In history, only 60 players have accomplished at least four All-Pro honors through six seasons. Consider that of the 25 players who had at least five All-Pro honors in that time, only five aren’t in the Hall of Fame:
Aaron Donald and Patrick Willis are among them simply because they aren’t eligible yet. The other three are Lavvie Dilweg (1927-1931), Ox Emerson (1932-1936), and Larry Grantham (1960-1964). The four-timers club is also almost all Hall of Famers among those who are eligible. Is Hekker on that path?
All we know for certain is that few players at punter or any other spot have dominated their position so thoroughly. He is also 14-of-23 as a passer, displaying versatility and trust in a punter that few teams have. While past names like Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, and Todd Gurley certainly conjure up the initial thoughts of being a “video game athlete” with the Rams, how about Hekker?
He’s not just an exceptional punter, he’s a notable athlete and NFL player. And he might not even be halfway through his career.
Super Bowl LIII— Special Teams Podcast™ (@specialteamspod) May 27, 2020
Some call the Patriots’ 13-3 SB53 victory a boring game, I call it the single greatest display of punting & SPECIAL TEAMS from the Patriots’ Ryan Allen @R_Allen86 & the Rams’ Johnny Hekker @JHekker, including Hekker’s SB record 65 yarder. 14 tot punts, 8 inside 20 pic.twitter.com/hban1JEzbs