A total of 43 Olympians also played in the NFL, according to Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.
Some more Olympians were also drafted but never played in the regular season.
That list includes Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic champion who was taken in the 12th round by the Dallas Cowboys in 1984, before competing at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Lewis, who did not play football at the University of Houston, also never played in the NFL.
Other Olympians who played in the NFL weren’t drafted. Like Jim Thorpe, co-gold medalist at the first Olympic decathlon in Stockholm in 1912, who played in the NFL before the draft debuted in 1936.
But how many Olympians were drafted into and played NFL football? 23. That includes Nos. 1, 2 and 3 overall picks.
The only Olympian to be drafted first overall was Sam Francis, who placed fourth in the 1936 Berlin Olympic shot put. The following fall, as a running back for the University of Nebraska, he was runner-up in Heisman Trophy voting. The Philadelphia Eagles took him first in the next year’s draft, then traded him to the Chicago Bears. Francis played four NFL seasons before serving with the U.S. Army in World War II.
Johnny “Lam” Jones, the No. 2 overall pick in 1980 by the New York Jets, played five NFL seasons as a wide receiver after earning an Olympic 4x100m gold medal in Montreal in 1976 as an 18-year-old. He remains the youngest U.S. Olympic champion sprinter.
Ollie Matson earned 400m bronze and 4x400m silver at the 1952 Helsinki Games. The Chicago Cardinals took him third overall in 1952. A running back, he played 14 NFL seasons and became a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
The full list of Olympians who were drafted into and played in the NFL, compiled thanks to data from Olympedia and the OlyMADMen:
Sam Francis — 1st pick, 1937 (first round)
John “Lam” Jones — 2nd pick, 1980 (first round)
Ollie Matson — 3rd pick, 1952 (first round)
Larry Burton — 7th pick, 1975 (first round)
Clyde Scott — 8th pick, 1948 (first round)
James Owens — 29th pick, 1979 (second round)
Jahvid Best — 30th pick, 2010 (first round)
Ron Brown — 41st pick, 1983 (second round)
Henry Carr — 43rd pick, 1965 (fourth round)
Bob Pickens — 44th pick, 1966 (third round)
Gerald Tinker — 44th pick, 1974 (second round)
Ray Norton — 46th pick, 1960 (fourth round)
Milt Campbell — 53rd pick, 1957 (fifth round)
Marquise Goodwin — 78th pick, 2013 (third round)
Bob Hayes — 88th pick, 1964 (seventh round)
Frank Budd — 96th pick, 1962 (seventh round)
Herschel Walker — 114th pick, 1985 (fifth round)
Randy Dean — 117th pick, 1977 (fifth round)
Michael Carter — 121st pick, 1984 (fifth round)
Jim Hines — 146th pick, 1968 (sixth round)
Michael Bates — 150th pick, 1992 (sixth round)
Nate Ebner — 197th pick, 2012 (sixth round)
Tommie Smith — 226th pick, 1967 (ninth round)
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