After last year's event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL Scouting Combine was back in full force the first week of March at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Pro days followed but the Combine remains the most important showcase leading up to the draft, which this year will take place April 28-30 in Las Vegas.
Many football fans don't even care for the Combine, also known as the "Underwear Olympics," but its significance is not lost on those participating. During a traditional Combine, drills such as the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, and cone drills are just part of the lengthy and exhaustive process these players are about to embark on as they seek to fulfill their dream of playing in the NFL.
So which players aced their opening interviews by opening eyes at the Combine? Here are 10 workout warriors who impressed those holding the stopwatches, measuring tapes and clipboards.
Note: Players are listed in chronological order, from earliest to most recent.
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.
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 stopwatch 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.
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.
Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006
Davis looked like a bodybuilder 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.
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.
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.
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.
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia – 2022
Even though he checked in at 6'6" and 341 pounds, Davis made it clear there's much more to him than just size. Not only did he post a 4.78 40-yard dash, the fastest time ever at the Combine for someone who weighed at least 315 pounds, he also led all defensive tackles with a broad jump of 10'3" and was second in the vertical jump (32") as well.