The 2018 NFL Draft is still two months away but the process begins in earnest for those hoping to play on Sundays with the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis set for Feb. 27-March 5.
While some jokingly refer to the week-long event as the “Underwear Olympics,” the reality is that the Combine is the first opportunity for invited players to make a strong initial impression on their potential future employer.
Regardless of whether this a made-for-TV event or something that’s not worthy the hype and attention it receives, drills such as the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic and BOD Pod tests are just part of the lengthy and exhaustive process these players are about to embark on leading up to this year’s draft, which will take place April 26-28 in Dallas.
So which players aced their opening interviews by opening eyes at the Combine? Here are 10 workout warriors (in alphabetical order) who impressed those holding the stopwatches, measuring tapes and clipboards.
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.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012
The fastest quarterback in Combine history, RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL (at least initially) and commercial superstardom — with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.
Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1986
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.
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.
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.
Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut – 2015
Jones literally jumped at the chance to impress at the Combine in 2015, putting up an eye-popping 12’3” in the broad jump. His mark was the best posted in the Combine in the past decade by eight inches. He followed up his broad jump with an equally impressive vertical jump of 44.5” (third-best at Combine over past 10 years), and subsequently watched his draft stock soar all the way to the latter part of the first round.
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.
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.
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.
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-foot-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.