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The greatest athletes in the history of the "Underwear Olympics"
The NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 22-25) is crossing the finish line on another so-called “Underwear Olympics.” The Combine is just one step in the job interview process leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft (May 8-10). But make no mistake, millions of dollars are on the line during the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic test and BOD Pod tests.
With all 32 teams bringing a who’s who of owners, general managers, head coaches, coordinators and scouts to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, some players shrink in the spotlight. But these 15 prospects were workout warriors who aced their tests at the NFL Scouting Combine.
1. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1985
The two-sport tall tale weighed in at a chiseled 6’1”, 230 pounds before running an unofficial hand-timed 4.12 in the 40-yard dash — a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring effort that is still a part of Combine folklore.
2. Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State – 1989
In hindsight, the most impressive thing the “Incredible Bulk” did was pass his steroid drug screening during the Combine. At 304 pounds, Mandarich ran a 4.65 in the 40, exploded for a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and ripped off 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
3. Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006
Davis looked like a body builder or, at the very least, an actor from an Under Armour commercial en route to running a 4.38 in the 40, skying for a 42” vertical, 10’8” broad, and slamming 33 reps on the bench press.
4. Mike Mamula, LB, Boston College – 1995
After all these years, Mamula remains the go-to cautionary tale of the Combine. The BC beast vaulted up draft boards after a 4.58 in the 40, 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test. Mamula never looked as good in pads as he did in shorts.
5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012
The fastest quarterback in Combine history — faster than uber athlete Cam Newton and draft classmate Andrew Luck — RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL and commercial superstardom, with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.
6. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis – 2012
While the Heisman Trophy-winning RG3 was a high-profile, pretty boy quarterback looking like a million bucks in Indy, Poe was a relative unknown fat boy nose tackle making himself who knows how many millions with his effort at the Combine. The 6’4”, 346-pound heavyweight ran a 4.98 in the 40 and powered through 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
7. Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina – 2008
Before he became CJ2K, the gold-grilled CJ4.24 was the gold standard official record-holder in laser-timed 40-yard sprints, posting a 4.24 and hitting the first-round finish line in-stride. CJ has not, however, been able to set up a race against Usain Bolt.
8. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State – 1989
The ultimate showman (and show-boater), Deion showed up fashionably late (and probably fashionably loud) to the Combine, then ran his 40-yard dash only once — in a time between 4.19 and 4.29, depending on whose hand-timed stop watch you trust. But Prime Time didn’t stop running once he hit the finish line; Sanders ran out of the building to a limousine waiting to take him to the airport.
9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech –2007
With his draft stock holding strong near the top of the class, Johnson planned on kicking back and watching the festivities. But once the fireworks started, Megatron’s competitive juices started flowing and he decided he wanted to run after all. The only problem? He didn’t bring any track shoes. So Johnson borrowed a pair of spikes from East Carolina’s James Pinkney — then proceeded to run a blistering 4.32 in the 40.
10. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama – 2011
With everyone in the building looking for the “next Megatron,” Julio gave scouts a sneak peak at the new model of NFL wideout — weighing in at 6’3”, 220 pounds before flying for a 4.39 in the 40, skying for a 38.5” vertical and exploding for an 11’3” broad jump.
11. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin – 2011
In hindsight, the numbers that Watt put up at the Combine were a window into his dominant Defensive Player of the Year future. At 6’5”, 290 pounds with 11 1/8” hands and 34” arms, Watt ran a 4.84 in the 40, soared for a 37” vertical and 10’ broad jump, and threw up a long-armed 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
12. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma – 2013
A high school quarterback turned college tight end turned NFL top-5 pick offensive tackle, Johnson took an unorthodox route to the league. But the 6’6”, 303-pounder put on an incredible display of athleticism, with a tight end-style 4.72 in the 40, a 34” vertical and 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench.
13. Matt Jones, QB/WR, Arkansas – 2008
Another change-of-position guy (albeit with far less success), Jones was a 6’6”, 237-pound quarterback with questionable mental makeup but 4.37 speed in the 40. The Jaguars thought he could play wide receiver. As usual, Jacksonville was wrong.
14. Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State – 2008
One of the main reasons teams remain skeptical of off-the-charts Combine stats, Gholston was the classic “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.” In shorts and a muscle shirt, Gholston ran a 4.67 in the 40, had 37 reps on the bench and lifted off for a 35.5” vertical and 10’5” broad jump.
15. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina – 2014
The ghost of Gholston haunts every team leery of every physical freak at the Combine. Clowney has a Julius Peppers meets Zeus frame of 6’5” and 266 pounds. After essentially taking off his junior season, Clowney came down from on high long enough to run a brilliant 4.53 — faster even than Johnny Football — and post a 37.5” vertical and 10’4” broad jump. His 21 reps of 225 pounds were a potential red flag, if only because the lower-than-expected number woke the trolls who question Clowney’s motor. No one questions his athletic ability.