Taking A Look At Recent NFL Combine Standouts
The NFL Combine is attractive viewing because we like to watch the elemental power of the human body. Faster, higher, stronger. Just how far can we go as a species? The combine is the answer to that question within a certain segment of the population.
Way too many people — usually those who gab at your local pub or get paid to gab on local talk radio — use the numbers that come out of the combine to predict a player’s future in the NFL.
Instead of gleaning the most about a football player looking for a football-playing job by watching them actually play football, these prospective employees get run through a glorified physical fitness test, the results of which could either add or subtract millions of dollars from their bank account.
There are some teams (read: Raiders) that put too much weight into the overall value of the combine as well. So, what happens to these “Workout Warriors”? Here is a recap of the best performers in the top four combine events (40-yard dash, broad jump, vertical leap and bench press, in my opinion) over the past 10 years.
Screw the shuttle drills. There is a raw appeal to faster, stronger, higher. Agility is the offspring. Plus, no one ever watches in awe as someone runs around a series of small orange cones.
Notes: The lengths of the jumps and leaps will be presented in inches. Each player in the bench press does reps of 225 pounds, and the 40-yard dash, obviously, is presented in seconds.
On to the feats of athleticism!
Best 40-yard dash: Kevin Garrett (4.32), cornerback, SMU: Fifth-round pick by the Rams who played mostly on special teams. He bounced around between 2004-07. His football career ended in 2008 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He recorded 21 tackles and no INTs in the NFL.
Best broad jump: Justin Fargas (137), running back, USC: He put up a 1,000-yard season with the Raiders in 2007, but that was about it. He was done in by knee troubles and last played in 2009. He is the son of the guy who played Huggy Bear in “Starsky and Hutch.”
Best vertical leap: Nate Burleson (42.5), wide receiver, Nevada: Still a decent NFL wideout at age 31. I think people either underrate or disregard him because he was so grossly overpaid by the Seahawks in 2006 and pretty much bombed there. But he’s a pretty solid possession receiver. I thought his career was starting to take off when he tore an ACL in 2008, and he is now rehabbing a broken leg.
Best bench press: Tony Pashos (38), offensive tackle, Illinois: Started 67 games in nine seasons spent between four teams.
Best 40-yard dash: Michael Waddell (4.31), cornerback, North Carolina: He apparently ran a 4.19-40 back in high school. Uh, OK. A knee injury in 2006 pretty much marked the end of his career. In two seasons before that, he played in 32 games, making five starts with the Titans. He failed to make the Florida Tuskers’ roster in 2009.
Best broad jump: Tom Crowder (132), wide receiver, Arkansas: He was a wide receiver who caught three more passes in college than I did. He spent some time with the Cowboys in 2004 and 2005 but never got into a game before he was released in 2006.
Best vertical leap: Bob Sanders (41.5), safety, Iowa: Man, what could have been if he had stayed healthy? Sanders was one of the league’s best players not too long ago. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and was a two-time All-Pro. Unfortunately, those were the only two seasons in which he played more than six games. He ended each season from 2008 through 2011 on injured reserve. His knees just couldn’t hold up.
Best bench press: Isaac Sopoaga (42), defensive tackle, Hawaii: A successful space eater who started 64 of 66 possible games from 2008-11. He has spent nine seasons with the 49ers.
Best 40-yard dash: Stanford Routt (4.27), cornerback, Houston: That 40-time was the combine’s fastest under electronic timing until 2008. The Raiders drafted him in the second round.
How about that?! The Raiders draft the player who ran the fastest? What a shock!
He was decent at times in Oakland despite being usually allergic to tackling. By the time he got to Kansas City, he was one of the league’s worst corners. But at least he made $11 million this past season despite being cut by two teams.
Also, Fabian Washington ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash that year at 4.29. The Raiders took him in the first round. The Packers had the next pick in that first round, and they took a quarterback out of Cal. But he couldn’t beat Fabian Washington in a race.
Best broad jump: Scott Starks (137), cornerback, Wisconsin: Another guy who played a few years and then saw his body tap out. He started one game in five seasons with the Jaguars.
Best vertical leap: Gerald Sensabaugh (46.0), safety, North Carolina: At the time, Sensabaugh’s vert was a combine record. He’s a good player who signed a six-year, $25 million in December 2011.
Best bench press: Scott Young (43), guard, BYU: That rep count was seven more than anyone else at the combine that year. But Young didn’t make an impression in the NFL. He played in 14 games in five seasons with three teams. He retired in April 2011 at the age of 28.
Best 40-yard dash: Tye Hill (4.30), cornerback, Clemson: And we have our first first-rounder as The Rams spent the No. 15 pick on Hill. He was a very good player in college and finished in the top 10 in the vert and broad jumps at the combine. But that 4.3o really put teams on notice. Too bad that speed didn’t show up on the field. Hill got routinely burned by wideouts and also dealt with a long list of injuries. He was a part of four teams and has been unsigned since prior to the 2011 season.
Best broad jump: IT’S A TIE! We’ve got Will Blackmon and Pat Watkins both landing after 133 inches. Blackmon was a decent return man in the pros, but nothing more. He hasn’t been the same since a 2009 ACL tear. He won a Super Bowl with the Giants in 2011 and hasn’t played since. Also, if you Google Will Blackmon, you immediately get this.
Watkins has a championship on his record, too — he won a Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts last year. From 2006-10, he spent five nondescript seasons as a defensive back with the Cowboys and Chargers.
Best vertical leap: Vernon Davis and Mark Anderson both reached 42.0 inches. Until 2009, Davis was known as a first-round Adonis and the subject of Mike Singletary’s epic rant. Davis finally did become a “winner,” in Singletary’s words. Now, fantasy owners are wondering if 2013 Vernon Davis will be the guy who fell off a cliff in the second half of last season or put up big numbers in the playoffs.
For Anderson, you’ve got to realize that a 42-inch standing leap for a defensive end is just insane. But here is a basic summary of his career:
2006 with the Bears: awesome.
2007-10 with the Bears and Texans: sucked.
2011 with the Patriots: awesome.
2012 with the Bills (and a new four-year, $19 million contract): sucked and then injured after four games.
2013: Bills? Maybe not. He might get cut again.
Best bench press: Mike Kudla (45), defensive end, Ohio State: Never played in a regular-season game because of continuous hamstring problems, among other reasons. As of 2010, he was working for State Farm Insurance.
Best 40-yard dash: Yamon Figurs (4.30), wide receiver, Kansas State: A receiver who can run but can’t catch? Uh-oh. He had five receptions in four seasons. Latest football action came last year with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Best broad jump: Daren Stone (132), safety, Maine. Stone jumped out of Maine and into obscurity. Three years in the league and done. Fourteen total tackles.
Best vertical leap: Quincy Black (41.5), linebacker, New Mexico: He has been a reserve player for the Buccaneers for six seasons. However, he might be forced to call it a career.
Best bench press: Tank Tyler (42), defensive tackle, North Carolina State: I remember him being entertaining in the 2007 edition of “Hard Knocks.” He hasn’t played since 2009, but it doesn’t matter because he is a star.
Best 40-yard dash: Chris Johnson (4.24), running back, East Carolina: It is still the combine’s best 40 time under electronic timing. That was back when Johnson had “getting-away-from-the-cops speed.” For the past couple of years, he’s been much easier to arrest.
Officially, he has yet to be arrested.
Best broad jump: Jerome Simpson (136), wide receiver, Coastal Carolina: Now, he has been arrested. Simpson’s jumping skills have never been in doubt, especially after he flew over a six-foot-two-inch man in 2011.
Best vertical leap: Carl Stewart (39.0), fullback, Auburn: It sounds like he should be a NASCAR driver. Stewart signed as an undrafted free agent but never played. He is working as an accountant in Houston, apparently.
Best bench press: Jake Long and Vernon Gholston both lifted the bar 37 times. Their pro careers certainly didn’t match.
Long, the No. 1 pick in that year’s draft, has been to four Pro Bowls in five seasons.
I absolutely loved Gholston coming out of Ohio State. The Jets did, too. They took him with the No. 6 pick, and he turned into one of the biggest busts in recent memory. He hasn’t played in a game since 2010. In 45 career games, he recorded 42 tackles and zero sacks.
Best 40-yard dash: Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.25), wide receiver, Maryland: The Raiders again just look for the fastest guy available. When they took him ahead of Michael Crabtree, the football nation was absolutely flabbergasted. And through three seasons, it didn’t look like an awful pick by comparison. That’s not to say DHB has been special; he hasn’t. He has been inconsistent, a victim of the Raiders’ QB failures and unable to be a true game-changing weapon.
But Crabtree was very blah until 2012. And then, oh, 2012. Crabtree posted 61 catches, 823 yards and seven touchdowns in his final eight games, playoffs included.
Crabtree is finally starting to look like a franchise player. Heyward-Bey looks like just another fast guy.
Best broad jump: Donald Washington (135), cornerback, Ohio State: He was a fourth-round pick of the Chiefs. He’s a reserve DB and works on special teams. He has been a free agent since the end of the 2011 season. And I’m sure this had no effect on his job status.
Best vertical leap: Donald Washington (45.0), cornerback, Ohio State: DOUBLE UP! I guess while we’re here, I might as well let you know that Washington ran a 4.50-40 and completed nine reps on the bench press.
Best bench press: Louis Vasquez (39), guard, Texas Tech: Drafted in the third round by the Chargers, he has started every game in which he has played. He is a free agent, but the Chargers will reportedly make re-signing him their top priority.
(This is where it gets tough to judge players on what they have done in such a short time, but what the hell?)
Best 40-yard dash: Jacoby Ford (4.28), wide receiver, Clemson. I won’t even tell you which team drafted him, because you already know. He showed some real promise in 2010, but after suffering Lisfranc injuries in back-to-back seasons, he might have lost a good portion of his money-making speed.
Best broad jump: Dekoda Watson (134), linebacker, Florida State: He has played mostly on special teams in three seasons with the Bucs. However, he has excelled in that role and was named Special Teams Player of the Month in November 2012.
Best vertical leap: A.J. Jefferson (44.o), cornerback, Fresno State: He was an undrafted free agent who was traded from Arizona to Minnesota less than two years after getting picked up. He started in seven of the Vikings’ final eight games this past season.
Best bench press: Mitch Petrus (45), guard, Arkansas: Started three games for the Giants in 2010, but he joined the Patriots and the Titans in 2012. He played all of 20 snaps in two games with the Pats. He is an option for NFL teams that are only the most desperate along the O-line.
Best 40-yard dash: DeMarcus Van Dyke (4.28), cornerback, Miami: It didn’t take the Raiders long to realize their mistake as they cut DVD about 16 months after selecting him in the third round. He played sparingly in nine games with the Steelers last year.
Best broad jump: Clyde Gates (131), wide receiver, Abilene Christian: Extremely raw, but hey, he’s a good athlete, so he gets drafted in the fourth round by the Dolphins, who turn around and release him prior to the 2012 season. Now Gates is wasting away on the Jets. But every player on the Jets is wasting away, so …
Best vertical leap: Virgil Green (42.5), tight end, Nevada: Obviously an athletic freak with those kinds of hops for a tight end, but he is a project who is currently buried on the Broncos’ depth chart.
Best bench press: Stephen Paea (49), defensive tackle, Oregon State: Those 49 reps are the most by any player at the combine since 1999. He made 14 starts last season and looks like a solid player. That’s all I cay say.
Best 40-yard dash: Josh Robinson (4.33), cornerback, THE NEW U, BITCHES!: This man from my alma mater had an up-and-down rookie year, but he showed good ball skills, nabbing three interceptions. I refuse to say another bad word about him.
Best broad jump: Stephen Hill (133), wide receiver, Georgia Tech: Hill caught five passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns in the first game in his career. Then, because of injuries and because he was on the Jets, Hill caught a total of 16 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown in 10 other games.
But no, let’s bring up Jerry Rice when talking about Stephen Hill. That seems like something rational.
Best vertical leap: Kashif Moore (43.0), wide receiver, Connecticut: He went undrafted and spent 2012 bouncing around different practice squads. More alarming: I can’t even find his Wikipedia page.
Best bench press: Dontari Poe (44), defensive tackle, Memphis: He became a draft darling with his lifting performance and then running a 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds. That is pretty amazing for a guy who weighs 350 pounds.
The Chiefs took him with the 11th overall pick. He appeared to be in over his head during training camp, but he was a 16-game starter last year and named by the Kansas City Star as the team’s rookie of the year.
To recap, that’s 42 players in total. Four of them became Pro Bowlers, which is quite a good ratio. But from 2003-2008, 13 of those 27 players were completely out of the NFL in five seasons or less. No practice squads or bouncing from team to team, almost half of the field was gone, baby, gone. And just by guessing, I think at least six of the 15 presented players from 2009-12 will fall into that category, too.
So, while I listen about how crazy it is that six offensive linemen ran sub-5.00 40s and how much it will help them going forward (“We’ve never seen this before!”), I can’t help but roll my eyes. Just because you are a great athlete doesn’t mean you are a great (or even useful) NFL player.