Right now, every scout in the NFL is in Indianapolis, observing, analyzing, and ranking draft prospects at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. And while there is little evidence to suggest that a strong performance at the combine is any indication of future success in the NFL—one study claims, not surprisingly, that a player’s college performance is actually a better indicator—it certainly is true that teams believe a good combine performance matters. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be so many notable example of draft stock rising as a result of a strong combine showing.
Regardless of the usefulness of the NFL combine, it certainly is entertaining to see which players are the fastest, the strongest, or the most agile. And every once in a while, a guy turns in combine performance for the ages.
Today we’re going to take a look at 12 of the best combine performances of all-time. So if you find you are having a little NFL withdrawal right now and can’t wait for the 2013 draft, you should definitely take a look.
Matt Jones was a 6'6" 237-pound quarterback for Arkansas that nobody thought would be selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. However, after the guy ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash, turned in 39.5" verticle, and stuck a 10'10" broad jump, the scouts salivated at his athleticism. Thus, he ended up being taken with the 21st overall pick in the first round by the Jaguars...as a wide receiver.
12. Matt Jones (2005)
Justin Ernest was a defensive tackle out of Eastern Kentucky who never made it in the NFL. However, he does hold one football record: in 1999, he turned in the best ever performance in the bench press, doing 225 pounds an insane 51 times. That may not have been enough to make him a pro, but it sure made him a star that day.
11. Justin Ernest (1999)
Some people wondered whether Dwight Freeney, at just 6'1", was too small to play defensive end in the NFL. However, he dispelled doubts at the 2002 combine by running a 4.48 forty, doing a 37" vertical, and 28 reps of 225 pounds. Sure, those weren't as good as his 4.40 forty and 40" vertical recorded at Syracuse, but they still made him one of the fastest and strongest DEs in the game. And of course, we now know him as a 7x Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion.
10. Dwight Freeney (2002)
Stephan Paea was a consensus All-American defensive tackle at Oregon State, so it's not like he was chopped liver. However, what really helped the guy get selected 53 overall was his incredible show of strength at the combine. There he turned in the second-best bench press performance of all time, doing 49 reps of 225 pounds a 4.98 40—very respectable for a guy who's 6'1" and 303 pounds.
9. Stephen Paea (2011)
Chris Johnson might have made this list if I extended it past the top 12. He had the best 40 time at the 2008 combine, clocking in at a ridiculous 4.24—the best time since they started measuring it electronically rather than by hand. However, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a better overall performance in 2008. He not only had a brilliant 4.29 forty. He also did 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, and a 38.5" verticle (2nd best). That propelled him from Tennessee State to the 16th overall pick in the draft.
8. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2008)
Why were Bruce Campbell's 4.75 forty, 32" verticle, and 34 reps of 225 pounds so impressive? Because the dude was a 6'6" 314-pound offensive tackle, that's why. That kind of speed for a guy of that size is pretty much unheard of, and with that showing he went from a guy who wouldn't have gone drafted to a guy who went 106th overall and now has a solid NFL career.
7. Bruce Campbell (2010)
Cornerback Fabian Washginton wasn't figured to be a first round pick in 2005. However, after he ran a ridiculous 4.25 forty—only .01 seconds shy of the official record—and stuck a 10'9" vertical (10' is good, and 11' is extraordinary), his stock rose dramatically. Eventually he was chosen 23rd overall by the Raiders.
6. Fabian Washington (2005)
Right now you might be thinking, "Mike Who?" The guy hardly had a legendary NFL career. In fact, he only played 5 seasons for the Eagles from 1995-2000. However, Mamula is credited as being one of the first guys to do what everyone does today: train for the specific drills at the combine. As a result, the linebacker did 28 reps of 225 pounds (20 is decent to good), had a 38" verticle, and a 4.58 forty—which is excellent for his position. This performance bumped him to 7th overall in the draft—a position he never lived up to.
Today, when a guy comes into a combine as an unknown and leaves as a hot prospect, they always compare them to Mike Mamula...pejoratively.
5. Mike Mamula (1995)
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey gave one of the great combine performances back in 2009. He was first in the 40 with a 4.25, very solid in the vertical with a 38.5, good in the broad jump with a 10'6" leap, and good in the cone drill (testing route running speed) at 6.80. The showing made him the 7th overall pick in the draft...of course, that was the same team that took Jamarcus Russell, so take that for what it's worth.
4. Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009)
Deion Sanders wasn't going to do the 40-yard dash at the 1989 NFL combine, because apparently he didn't think he needed to prove his speed any more. However, Gil Brandt (currently an analyst at the NFL Network) spoke to him and convinced him to participate.
It worked, and Sanders ran a hand-timed (and thus unofficial 4.2 forty...then kept running right off the field, down the tunnel, and either (a) into the locker room or (b) into a stretch limo. (There are multiple versions of this story, which is always the case when talking about a legend.)
3. Deion Sanders (1989)
Vernon Davis's 2006 NFL Combine was ridiculous. The guy ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds, then turned in a 10'8' broad jump, a crazy 42" vertical, and a whopping 33 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. That's why the tight end was the 6th overall pick of the 2006 draft.
2. Vernon Davis (2006)
Bo Jackson is without a doubt one of the greatest athletes of all-time. At the 1986 NFL Combine, the 1985 Heisman winner ran the best 40 of all-time: 4.12 seconds. Sure, it was hand-timed, but that's still the stuff legends are made of. Unfortunately, he was only able to rush for 2,782 yards in his all-too-short NFL career.