The NFL Combine has produced some amazing performances over the years. Prospects have blown away scouts with natural talent and raw ability—often catapulting themselves up draft boards in the process.
The combine is the real first impression that players can make on scouts, and a bad performance can be the difference between getting drafted and not making it to the NFL. The combine offers teams the chance to measure players in a number of different workouts, including the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, cone drill, and broad jump. Players need a combination of speed, athleticism, strength, and agility to make it into the NFL, and the event is the perfect place for prospects to show that off.
The workout warriors do not always end up as starters or superstars in the NFL—but damn can they put on a show in the gym.
Here is a look at some of the best NFL Scouting Combine workout warriors of all time:
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State, 2019
Montez Sweat is really fast for a defensive lineman. The Mississippi State star put together a record performance at the NFL scouting combine, running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash to set the record for defensive linemen at the NFL combine. Expect Sweat to be taken high in the draft after that performance.
Montez Sweat’s 40 is officially 4.41 seconds, a record for defensive linemen at the combine since 2003. https://t.co/CImlw4h1Lz
— USA TODAY NFL (@usatodaynfl) March 3, 2019
John Ross, Washington, 2017
The Washington star did the unthinkable at the 2017 combine—he broke Chris Johnson’s record in the 40-yard dash. Even though Adidas was planning to give away an island to anyone who could do it (as long as they did it in their cleats), Ross donned a pair of Nike’s and ran his way into history. Ross threw down a 4.22-second 40-yard dash and basically guaranteed himself a spot in the NFL.
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, 2017
After getting a ton of hype through the season that he would likely be the top prospect in the NFL draft, Garrett aced every workout at the Combine, giving scouts an absolute show in his drills. As one NFL defensive coordinator put it to the MMQB: “I don’t have a player comparison for what I just saw. He looked like Wolverine.”
The 6’4”, 272-pound athletic beast put up an absurd 4.64-second 40-yard dash, faster than Miami Dolphins star Jarvis Landry, crushed 33 reps on the 225-pound bench press, had a 10’8″ broad jump, and a 41’ vertical leap, three inches higher than Odell Beckham. Yeah, that was some performance:
Chris Johnson, East Carolina, 2008
This dude is just fast. The 40-yard-dash is considered to be the most important workouts for running backs, and Johnson aced this test with a legendary 4.24-second time. Johnson immediately shot up draft boards based on his speed and ended up as a first round pick for the Tennessee Titans, where he soon proved his worth on the gridiron: He rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons in the league, and in 2009 he led the NFL with 2,006 rushing yards. Johnson held the record for the fastest 40 until Washington wideout John Ross broke it in 2017.
J.J. Watt, Wisconsin, 2011
Watt had one of the top all-around workouts in combine history: He was the best performer among defensive ends in all drills except the 40-yard-dash. Watt brought his freakish athleticism to the NFL after being drafted by the Houston Texans with the 11th overall pick in the first round. It didn’t take long for Watt to dominate the league—he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times over his first five seasons.
Stephen Paea, Oregon State, 2011
Paea was drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears after dominating the 225-pound bench-press with a then-combine record 49 reps. Born in New Zealand, Paea didn’t even start playing football until high school—but he did grow up playing rugby. Those skills translated well to football and the 6’1’’, 303-pound Paea ended up an All-American defensive end and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year while playing for the Beavers.
Fabian Washington, Nebraska, 2005
Washington posted one of the fastest 40-yard-dash times in combine history—a blazing 4.29 seconds. The Oakland Raiders liked him enough to make him a first round pick, after which he started all 16 games at cornerback as a rookie. Washington finished his career with the Ravens after playing in Oakland, recording six interceptions over six seasons in the league.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland, 2009
Heyward-Bey put up some fantastic numbers at the combine—including a wickedly fast 4.3-second 40-yard dash. The wide receiver impressed the Oakland Raiders enough to pick him in the top 10, ahead of future standouts like Percy Harvin, Clay Matthews, Alex Mack, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy. During his time in Oakland, though, Heyward-Bey’s production didn’t quite measure up to his talent—he only had 11 touchdowns in four seasons with the team.
Brodrick Bunkley, Florida State, 2006
Bunkley was simply a beast at the combine—crushing 44 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. Bunkley was taken with the No. 14 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles after being an All-American defensive lineman with the Seminoles. Bunkley never quite lived up to his combine hype in the league, but he had a solid career while playing in 130 games over eight seasons.
Matt Jones, Arkansas, 2005
Jones is the perfect example of a workout warrior who didn’t quite make it in the NFL, but boy did he put on a show at the combine. The 6’6″, 237-pound quarterback worked out as a wide receiver, posting a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and an impressive 39.5″ vertical jump. The measurables led the Jacksonville Jaguars to pick Jones in the first round with the 21st overall pick, but Jones finished his career with just 15 touchdowns in four seasons in the league.
Deion Sanders, Florida State, 1989
Sanders took on the combine in the only way a player nicknamed “Prime Time” could—he dominated. The two-time All-American cornerback clocked in with a 4.27-second 40-yard dash, showing off the speed that would allow him to be a two-sport pro. Sanders was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and also played for the Atlanta Braves, appearing in the 1992 World Series. Sanders was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and finished his career with 53 interceptions.
Vernon Davis, Maryland, 2007
Davis showed off his freak athletic ability at the combine with a 4.38-second 40-yard dash—absurdly impressive for for a 6’3″, 252-pound tight end—along with 33 reps on the bench press and a 42″ vertical jump. Davis was selected sixth overall by the San Francisco 49ers and later established himself as one of the most productive tight ends in the league. Davis caught 55 touchdowns during his time playing in the Bay Area and won Super Bowl 50 as a member of the Denver Broncos.
Mike Mamula, Boston College 1995
Mamula put up one of the best combine performances of all time, making him a true workout warrior among NFL prospects. The defensive end had come into the draft process pegged as a likely third or fourth round pick, but his combine performance changed all of that. Mamula banged out 28 reps in the bench press, exploded for a 38.5″ vertical leap, and ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash—unheard of for a guy measuring at 6’4″ and 252 pounds.
The Eagles liked what they saw so much, they traded up from No. 12 to the No. 7 overall pick to draft him. Mamula showed off his athletic ability on a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Rams in 2000—one of two TD’s he scored in his NFL career. While Mamula did not quite live up to those lofty expectations for the Eagles, he had a solid run for the team, finishing with 31.5 sacks in 77 games.
Bo Jackson, Auburn, 1986
Many fans consider Jackson to be the record-holder for the fastest 40-yard dash time with a 4.12-second performance—but that was done with a hand timer, so it may not be “official.” One thing is for certain, though: Bo was one of the most athletically gifted—and arguably THE most athletically gifted—physical specimens to ever put on pads.
In a twist of fate, Jackson was drafted with the number one overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—but he never ended up playing there. After things didn’t work out with the Bucs, Jackson found his way to the Los Angeles Raiders, playing four years and averaging an astonishing 5.4 yards per carry. Jackson showed off his amazing athletic ability with a 91-yard touchdown run against the Seattle Seahawks—Jackson ran so hard during this play that he ended up in the tunnel behind the endzone by the time he finally slowed down. During his time in the league he also played professional baseball with the Kansas City Royals, making the American League All-Star team in 1989.
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