Chris Henry was a running back at the University of Arizona from 2003 to 2006. After redshirting, he rushed for 159 yards as a freshman, 119 yards as a sophomore and 581 yards as a junior. Henry had 859 career rushing yards over three seasons before skipping his senior season and declaring early for the NFL Draft. For a frame of reference, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey led the nation in rushing last fall with 1,929 yards.
The Tennessee Titans selected Henry in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft with the 50th overall selection. Eleven Pro Bowlers and 14 more running backs, including Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Bush, were selected after the Wildcats running back.
Henry rushed for 122 yards in 11 career games over four seasons with two teams and his career was headlined by a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy during his rookie year.
So why would a smart NFL guy like Jeff Fisher waste a valuable draft pick on a guy who wasn't productive, didn't win many games and didn't even start on the college level? The answer is a common narrative told across NFL front offices every season: The Combine. Henry wowed scouts, checking in at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds with a 4.40 40-yard dash, 26 bench reps (225 lbs) and a 36” vertical leap. Those numbers meant nothing once he put on the pads and had to play football.
For every combine freak of nature that pans out — like Vernon Davis, for example — there are boatloads of Chris Henrys. Last season, Stephon Gilmore and Dontari Poe used impressive combine showings to land in the top 11 picks of the 2012 draft. Whether or not Buffalo and Kansas City made quality decisions with those two remains to be seen.
So who will be this year’s workout warriors, freaks of nature and combine stars?
Note: NFL.com player ratings are on a scale of 100 and are in parentheses. Twelve of the 333 combine invitees are currently ranked 90.0 or higher, 52 players are ranked in the 80s, 64 in the 70s and 105 in the 60s. The other 100 prospects rank below 60.0.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (90.6) 6-3, 210
There might not be a wide receiver at the combine who has more physical talent than Patterson. And he is already close to being a first-round lock, however, he is an extremely unrefined prospect. He has elite size, speed, power, burst, special teams talent and versatility. But he needs to learn how to play the wide receiver position and that can only come with time spent on the field. He has played just one season of college football and it shows, but his combine numbers will be off the charts.
Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon (88.0) 6-7, 245
If scouts are looking for the next Aldon Smith, from a physical standpoint, Jordan will be their guy. He has elite size, length, range and athletic ability for a pass rusher. He can cover a lot of ground in short order and enjoys playing a physical style of football. However, he lacks overall power and strength and will have to overcome a stigma that he played with inconsistent effort at Oregon. This prospect is already a first-rounder but could easily find himself in the top ten with a freakish performance at the Combine.
Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (84.0) 6-3, 235
From a physical standpoint, Ogletree is the perfect middle linebacker. He has elite speed to play sideline-to-sideline. He possesses a tough-nosed attitude and won’t hesitate to deliver a big hit. He can cover in pass defense and plays with great quickness. However, he has had plenty of off-the-field issues, including a recent DUI arrest, and missed time due to suspensions at Georgia. Once he learns to control his aggressiveness, he could be a three-down star in the NFL.
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State (74.1) 6-7, 275
The massive defensive line prospect will be extremely intriguing to watch at the combine. He towers over most college offensive lineman and absolutely looks like an NFL starter. He was an elite recruit for a reason and his length and power will be an asset to someone. Understanding the game, maintaining his focus and keeping his motor going full throttle will be key in determining the NFL future of this former Spartan.
John Simon, DL, Ohio State (70.5) 6-2, 260
Simon won’t wow scouts with his 40-time, overall size or length, but when it comes to power and strength, few can match this workout warrior. He owns all types of weight room records at Ohio State and will be extremely impressive in his personal interviews with coaches and front office types. He is one of the top leaders at the combine.
Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri (70.0) 6-2, 230
Gooden has the power and strength to play outside linebacker in the SEC and the speed and agility to cover in space in the Big 12. He has been slowed by injuries over the course of his career, but his athletic ability will be obvious in Indy. He is great in the open field and will be able to play sideline-to-sideline. This is one workout warrior that will absolutely find his way into a starting lineup. Gooden is much more of a sleeper than a bust.
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU (70.0) 6-3, 195
Size is a coveted asset for cornerbacks in the modern pass-happy NFL and Simon has it in spades. The LSU coverman can turn and run with receivers with relative ease and it led to plenty of big plays during his three years in Baton Rouge. He doesn’t have the quickness or elite speed of former teammate, Morris Claiborne, who was selected by Dallas in last year's draft with the sixth overall pick, but Simon is bigger, stronger and nearly as intriguing. The scouts at the combine will see an excellent athlete with rare size and small technique issues they believe they can fix.
EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State (68.7) 6-5, 240
In a QB class that features nothing but pocket passers, Manuel’s massive frame and underrated athletic ability will stand out in Indianapolis. His maturity and interviews will be impressive as well. He was an elite recruit who developed slowly and dealt with injuries but led his team to an ACC title as a senior. In the modern era of mobile quarterbacks, Manuel will easily be the best athlete among all the other seemingly statuesque signal callers at the combine.
Marquis Goodwin, WR, Texas (68.6) 5-9, 180
Goodwin might be the fastest player at the combine. The wide receiver has won World Junior Track Championships and was a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, finishing 10th in London in the long jump. He is small, unpolished and will have to define his ability as a pass catcher, but speed can’t be coached and Goodwin has it in spades.
Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon (67.1) 6-4, 245
In the new era of hybrid outside linebackers and defensive ends, Alonso possesses excellent athletic ability. He can rush the passer, drop into coverage and hold his ground against the run as his Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game award proves (five tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin). He is a freaky athlete who will wow scouts with his upside. However, his downside is all self-inflicted miscues. He has had multiple arrests stemming from a DUI and public intoxication and also dealt with a torn right ACL.
Marcus Davis, WR, Virginia Tech (63.8) 6-4, 230
Few players have more athletic ability than the Virginia Tech wide receiver. He has a massive frame and excellent speed to start on the outside and will bring a vertical threat to an NFL offense. He has all the physical tools to excel on Sundays and will be very impressive at the Combine. However, blocking, route running, focus and consistency kept Davis from ever exploding on the college gridiron. Scouts beware.
Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA (60.8) 6-7, 258
As far as size and athleticism at the tight end position, few will be as impressive at the combine as the former top prospect. The UCLA tight end teased coaches and fans with elite speed and agility for a player of his size. His career culminated with his best year, catching 12 touchdowns in 2012. However, he struggles as a run blocker and doesn’t exhibit top-notch toughness that most NFL tight ends need to be successful.
Other names to watch:
Datone Jones, DT, UCLA (85.6) 6-5, 280
Elite recruit with excellent size who underachieved his entire career until his final season.
Jonathan Cyprien, S, FIU (84.6) 6-1, 210
Won’t wow scouts with measurables, but huge thumper and elite tackler.
Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech (74.4) 6-3, 210
Total knuckle-head who cares only about himself… but a freakish athlete.
Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State (68.0) 6-1, 230
Extremely impressive athlete who never posted big numbers at either Oregon or Kansas St.
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State (67.0)
Doesn’t posses high-end speed but elite size, power, strength and dependability.