Catch Me If You Can
The NFL Draft Combine offers one last chance for college football players to strut their stuff in front of NFL scouts. Every year since 1982, the Combine has operated weeks ahead of the NFL Draft.
It’s an opportunity for hopefuls who want to turn pro to bolster their draft stock and shore up their chances of being drafted and landing an NFL contract. The event has become an annual tradition for football fans, growing in popularity thanks to the likes of Deion Sanders and Shaquem Griffin.
Bo Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, opened the eyes of many scouts with a 40-yard time that laid the foundation of the many cornerstones of his career.
His Combine listed his 40-yard run at 4.12 seconds, and even if the number doesn’t seem right, it made the event must-see TV every year after.
Original Combine Warrior
By the 1990s, the Combine was slowly gaining importance for college players hoping to make it pro. Players never put as much stock into the drills as they do now, thanks to Mike Mamula.
Having prepared months before the event, Mamula impressed scouts his 4.58 time in the 40, a vertical leap of 38.5 inches, and 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Last Minute Decision
Much like another NFL player on this list, Calvin Johnson showed up to the Combine expecting not to run the 40-yard dash. Megatron’s competitive nature got the better of him and he convinced himself to run the 40.
He would rip off an impressive 4.35-second dash, good enough for third-best among wide receivers at the 2007 Combine.
Open Your Eyes
Few people expected Vernon Davis to be explosive in front of scouts before establishing a name for himself at the Combine.
Davis worked his way into the top 10 of the 2006 NFL Draft by posting a remarkable 4.38 seconds in the 40, bench-pressed 225 pounds for 33 reps, and showed off a 42-inch vertical leap.
Before being drafted, Gerald Sensabaugh did something nobody ever saw when it came to the vertical jump. His 46″ jump was the highest record ever placed by anyone in the Combine. Sensabaugh’s career was split between the Jaguars and Cowboys from 2005-2012.
The NFL Combine bench press record was set in 1999 when Justin Ernest completed 51 reps. Then, Stephen Paea opened eyes when a video of him lifting 44 reps went viral a year before his Combine.
Under pressure, he couldn’t get past 50, but his 49 reps were 11 better than the next-best prospect in 2011 and five more than any other prospect has put up in the 21st century.
It’s not a memorable moment on this list, but it’s worth the laugh. You get two attempts at running the 40-yard dash and it wasn’t the best moment for Vick Ballard.
The Mississippi State alumni wiped out on his first run, then ran a dismal 4.65 on his second attempt.
A Punter Like No Other
It was a punter that stole the show at the 2014 Combine. Specialists often opt out of the drills, but Pat O’Donnell did the opposite.
His athleticism showed off when he dropped a 4.64 on the 40 (faster than Johnny Manziel’s 4.68) and did 23 reps on the bench press, two more than first overall pick Jadevon Clowney.
J.J. Watt was quick to silence doubters with his Mike Mamula-like Combine. The four-time Pro Bowler finished tied for fourth among all players in the bench press with 34 reps.
His vertical leap of 37 inches also ranked fourth among defensive front-seven players. Despite his slow 40 time of 4.84, Watt was the revelation of the 2011 Combine.
New Low For Morris Claiborne
One of the most bizarre rituals of the Combine is an assortment of physical tests mixed in with the mental examination known as the Wonderlic test.
An incredibly poor performance on the test raises red flags for NFL scouts — just ask Morris Claiborne about that. He scored four out of 50 on the test back in 2012, but still went sixth overall to the Cowboys.
Bench-pressing 225 pounds with one hand? Say no more. Shaquem Griffin put on a clinic at the 2018 Combine.
He completed 20 reps with a prosthetic hand, something that would appear impossible to try. Nonetheless, Griffin defied the odds while raising his draft stock significantly higher.
Walk It Out
Football fans might recall an interesting moment from Deion Sanders’ early days. During Prime Time’s Combine in 1989, he wasn’t even slated to participate until he decided to join in last minute.
Sanders ran the 40 in 4.30, then again in 4.27. The thing he is, he didn’t stop. He kept running while waving to the scouts, then headed for the tunnel.
Leap Of Faith
Byron Jones was not expected to participate in any physical drill at the 2015 Combine. Thanks to his shoulder healing in time, Jones was able to do things like the vertical jump.
He would break a world record with his 12’3″ leap, a record that stood for nearly five decades.
One Handed 40-Yard Dash
Shaquem Griffin put on a clinic at the 2018 Combine. First, it was the bench-press, then it came to the 40-yard dash.
His time of 4.38 was so good that he beat three notable players currently in the NFL. The prospect outhustled the likes of Richard Sherman, Julio Jones and Ezekiel Elliot’s time on the 40.
Do It Like Tavon
Tavon Austin backed up his senior year at West Virginia with a 4.34 on the 40. The Rams were so smitten by his running that they just had to draft Austin at the 2013 NFL Draft.
They traded up from the No. 16 spot to the No. 8 spot just so they could draft Austin… which hasn’t quite panned out.
The Donald Effect
Aaron Donald managed to pump out 35 reps during the bench press event. With a 4.68 on the 40, Donald had a measurable aspect to be a dominant defender on the football field.
His performance helped scouts match those measurements with a dominant senior season at Pitt, and he’s been a force since day one.
First Overall Potential
Much like Shaquem Griffin, Saquon Barkley handed out invitations to his freak show Combine performance. The Penn State prodigy record a 4.40 on the 40, 29 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, and a jaw-dropping 41″ on the vertical jump.
Now would be the time for the Cleveland Browns to get serious about drafting Barkley first overall.
Best Broad-Jump Distance
How do you go from a small-college to a first-round draft choice? Dominate at the Combine, like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He tied for the best-board jump distance with Aqib Talib and posted the fourth-best 40 time with 4.33. Thanks to building momentum at the right time, the Arizona Cardinals drafted him 16th overall in 2008.
Bey’s Stellar Combine
Opting to go to the draft a year before graduating college, Darrius Heyward-Bey had a Combine to remember. His 40 time of 4.3 seconds was the best among wide receivers, which fascinated the eye of Oakland Raiders scouts.
He never reached 1,000 yards in his first four seasons, but Bruce Campbell put up the same numbers one year later, and he was drafted by the Raiders too.
Poe Of Strength
Dontari Poe is faster than you think. Despite being a 340-plus defensive tackle, Poe ran an official 4.98 at the 2012 Combine.
On top of that, he ran it with ease with a certain elegance and grace. Oh, and he completed 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.