The NFL Scouting Combine has come a long way from when it first started in 1982. Gone are the days when college football players would show up and run drills for the first time while coaches with stopwatches would time them in relative obscurity. Today, athletes practice each drill like bench press, 40-yard dash, and vertical jump hundreds of times before arriving and their performances are timed electronically in front of a national television audience.
Electronic timing also allows us to keep an accurate tally of the all-time records for drills at the Combine. (Note: The International Association of Athletics Federation recommends adding 0.24 seconds to all hand times to accurately allow for human reaction.) Here are the NFL Scouting Combine records by drill in the era of electronic timing.
Bench Press – Justin Ernest (1999)
The NFL Scouting Combine tests athletes’ strength and stamina by seeing how many times they can bench press 225 pounds. The only player to do it more than 50 times is Ernest when the Eastern Kentucky defensive tackle had 51 repetitions at the 1999 Combine. Sadly, it did not elevate his draft status that suffered because of an injury-plagued senior year. Ernest went undrafted and played with the New Orleans Saints for only one season.
20-Yard Shuttle Run – Jason Allen (2006)
The Tennessee cornerback gave an exceptional performance at the Combine, including a record 3.81-second completion of the 20-yard shuttle run. He was drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins and played until the Cincinnati Bengals released him in 2013.
60-Yard Shuttle Run – Shelton Gibson (2017)
The 20-yard shuttle measures quickness and ability to shift direction, but the 60-yard shuttle measures endurance, especially among linemen and linebackers. However, everyone competes so the best times belong to the fastest players. At the 2017 Combine, Gibson had the best ever time with 10.81 seconds. The former West Virginia wide receiver was drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles and won a Super Bowl ring in 2018.
Vertical Jump – Gerald Sensabaugh (2005)
The East Tennessee State safety bounced back from watching his program being disbanded his junior year to having a good senior season at North Carolina. At the Combine, the former Tennessee state long jump champion had a vertical of 46 inches on the nose, the best of all time. That performance helped lead to Sensabaugh being drafted in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars and he played there and with the Dallas Cowboys for eight seasons.
Standing Broad Jump – Byron Jones (2015)
The standing broad jump has not been in the Olympic games since 1912 and Norway is the only country where it is a national championship event. Therefore, an athlete who sets the Combine record will likely set the world record too. That’s just what Jones did in 2015. The UConn safety leaped 12'3", breaking Jamie Collins’ record of 11'7". That performance, along with his other Combine feats, made Jones a first-round pick for the Dallas Cowboys, where he is the team’s starting cornerback.
Three-Cone Drill – Jordan Thomas (2018)
The Oklahoma defensive back completed the drill designed to test agility in 6.28 seconds, the fastest time ever in the electronic era. It did not help him overcome a poor performance in other areas and Thomas went undrafted.
40-Yard Dash – John Ross (2017)
Before we get to Ross, it is worth mentioning a few other players who set records in this category. Bo Jackson recorded a time of 4.12 seconds in the 1986 Combine, but that was during the hand-time era. And of course, Chris Johnson shocked scouts with a record time of 4.24 in 2008. But in 2017, Ross was timed at 4.22 with a run so intense that he strained his calves at the end of it.
The injury forced the former Washington wide receiver to miss some of the other drills, but he still was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals with the ninth pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
There was plenty of speed on display in Indianapolis this year, including from some unexpected sources. But the two that generated the most buzz were a pair of Baylor Bears. On Thursday, wide receiver Tyquan Thornton originally appeared to have topped Ross' record when he was initially clocked at 4.21 seconds. But his official time came in at 4.28, tying him for the sixth-fastest time. Thornton was one of eight wide receivers to run 4.4 or faster on Thursday, a Combine record.
Then on Sunday, his teammate, cornerback Kalon Barnes did Thornton better, or in this case, 0.05 seconds faster. Barnes blistered what was officially timed as a 4.23, putting him just 0.01 seconds shy of Ross. Additionally, UTSA corner Tariq Woolen clocked a 4.26, tying him for the fourth-fastest 40 of all time.
Wonderlic Test – Pat McInally (1975)
The evolution of the Combine has resulted in the elimination of the Wonderlic, starting with the 2022 event. Prior to its removal, the Wonderlic was a test consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions that assess a player’s aptitude for learning and problem solving and has been utilized since the 1950s. On average, Combine participants answered around 20 questions correctly. McInally holds the distinction of answering all 50 correctly to record the only perfect Wonderlic score in NFL history (To be fair, the wide receiver and punter did go to Harvard). McInally was drafted in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals and was the team’s punter until he retired in 1985. He then conceived the idea of Starting Lineup action figures and became Wonderlic’s director of marketing and testing in 2006.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.