All eyes will be on Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this week as an elite crop of former college football players enter the NFL Scouting Combine. They’re coming to make a statement, or in some cases, disprove statements that have been made about their abilities.
A strong combine performance can make or break aspiring professional football players’ draft stocks, after all.
It’s been that way since the origins of the event—then called the National Invitational Camp—in 1982.
Standardized testing in a variety of areas such as physical workouts, agility drills, weightlifting, intelligence and character will determine who is NFL-ready and who is not.
It’s a great tool for evaluating sub-Division I players too, as it measures specific skills that are hard to quantify due to that player’s performance against lesser competition.
Let’s take a look at some prospects who blew away scouts at the scouting combine and made a name for themselves in draft war rooms as a result.
The NFL Scouting Combine raised Kevin Kasper to a very high level, prospect-wise, after setting several impressive marks. Those numbers never really translated to NFL success, but he did make it hard for scouts to make that distinction with his performance.
Kasper posted a 4.42 40-yard dash and blew away the vertical leap with a 43.5-inch jump. His 3.73 20-yard shuttle time is unofficially the best ever at the combine.
John Engelberger convinced some scouts to take a shot on him after an impressive performance at the 2000 NFL Scouting Combine.
He put up just 24 reps on the bench press, but he made up for it with some nice performances in the other events, including a 4.28-second shuttle time and a 4.73 40-yard dash.
Scott Fujita, a 6’6”, 248-pound linebacker out of California, made waves at the combine after posting a wide receiver time in the 40-yard dash. His 4.64-second sprint sent him shooting up draft boards.
But he wasn’t done impressing there. As an encore, he vaulted himself 42 inches in the vertical leap, solidifying himself as a fifth-round pick in the 2002 NFL draft.
The Oakland Raiders’ obsession with speed during the beginning of the 21st century is no secret. Fabian Washington is among those picked by the team for his flashy attributes at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He posted a blazing-fast 4.29 40-yard dash time and an impressive 41.5-inch vertical leap.
Santana Moss didn’t participate in more than two events at the 2001 NFL Scouting Combine. He didn’t have to, though, as he made a loud enough statement with just those two.
The 5’10” wide receiver greatly impressed with a 4.31-second 40-yard dash time and a 42-inch vertical leap.
There is no doubt that in hindsight every team would have taken Dwight Freeney with their No. 1 pick in the 2002 NFL draft. Freeney has proven to be a matchup nightmare for teams throughout his impressive career, and it all started with a great showing in Indianapolis.
He put up 28 bench presses, then ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and recorded a 37-inch vertical leap. That combination of size, speed and athleticism resulted in the monster we have witnessed wreaking havoc on the NFL over the past decade.
Chris Chambers never lived up to his incredible NFL Scouting Combine performance. His numbers don’t lie, though, as he proved to be one of the better performers in the history of the event.
Chambers notched a 4.33-second 40-yard dash time and sprung to a silly 45-inch mark in the vertical leap.
Darrius Heyward-Bey’s combine performance influenced some scouts so much that they ignored his football deficiencies in order to grab his flashy speed.
Heyward-Bey clocked at blazing 4.25-second 40-yard dash time and registered a 38.5-inch vertical and 126-inch broad jump. He ended up getting drafted No. 7 overall, ahead of Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Crabtree and Kenny Britt—all more successful to this point in their young careers.
Bruce Campbell, a 6’7”, 314-pound mauler, set the bar high for offensive linemen in future editions of the NFL Scouting Combine with his 2010 performance.
He ran an uncanny 4.75-second 40-yard dash while also demonstrating his power by putting up 34 repetitions on the bench press.
Any player with the least bit of buzz surrounding him can definitely solidify that interest with a good showing at the combine.
Mario Williams did that and more by blowing away three of the biggest tests in Indianapolis.
He demonstrated his speed by clocking a 4.7-second 40-yard dash. Next came his power, as he pumped 35 repetitions on the bench press. Finally, he demonstrated a 40.5-inch vertical, displaying his unique versatility and agility for a large pass-rusher.
The St. Louis Rams took a gamble on Adam Archuleta in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft after an impressive NFL Scouting Combine performance put him on everyone’s radar.
An undersized linebacker in college, Archuleta transitioned to safety at the pro level after displaying all of the tools needed to be able to do so at the combine.
He finished with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, a 39-inch vertical leap and 31 reps on the bench press, showing his wide-ranging ability.
Vernon Gholston used his physical advantage to dominate while playing at Ohio State. He used it at the NFL Scouting Combine, too.
Gholston showed every sign of being a potential top performer at the next level, and everyone thought it as well. The New York Jets selected him No. 6 overall in the 2008 NFL draft, but he never lived up the to his combine performance.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, put up 37 repetitions on the bench press and leaped to a mark of 35.5 inches.
No one, including Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, knew what to make of Matt Jones coming out of college. The 6’6” quarterback was a freak athlete, but he didn’t seem to have a position in the NFL.
The scouting combine gave him a forum to dispel all concerns about his ability, prompting the Jacksonville Jaguars to take a gamble on him in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft.
Jones impressed, running a 4.37 40-yard dash and nearly hitting 40 inches in the vertical leap.
Coming out of a Football Championship Subdivision school (Tennessee State) like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did made his NFL Scouting Combine performance essential to teams noticing his vast potential.
He didn’t disappoint in Indianapolis, lighting up every event to distance himself from his peers. Rodgers-Cromartie ran the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds, leaped 10’11” in the broad jump and recorded a 38.5-inch vertical.
Bo Jackson’s performance at the 1986 NFL Scouting Combine, like Deion Sanders’, is up for some debate. His 4.12-second 40-yard dash time is the best verifiable time ever recorded at the event (h/t Frank Cooney, USA Today).
There is no official record for 40-yard dash times, but if there were, Jackson’s record would be the one to beat.
Deion Sanders didn’t participate in all of the 1989 NFL Scouting Combine, but he had no reason to.
"Prime Time" got his nickname from his legendary performance in Indianapolis. He walked in late, ran one event, one time—the 40-yard dash—and then promptly bolted, still in stride, into a limousine and left.
He didn’t need to do anything else either, as his 4.29 time (h/t Peter Schrager, Fox Sports) was more than enough of a statement for him—and scouts. Sanders was picked fifth overall in 1989 draft.
Seen as a serviceable NFL prospect, Boston College’s Mike Mamula shot up draft boards after a solid, all-around beasting at the combine.
Mamula never lived up to the hype he created for himself there, but he put on a show in Indianapolis. The 6’4”, 252-pound defender ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, answered 49 of 50 questions right on the Wonderlic test and put up 225 pounds 26 times on the bench press (h/t RealClearSports).
Calvin Johnson had some red flags prior to his incredible 2007 NFL Scouting Combine performance.
The 6’5” receiver weighed in at around 239 pounds, approximately 12 pounds heavier than the weight at which he was expected to come in.
Johnson, who was going to forgo running the 40-yard dash until his pro day, borrowed a pair of running shoes and smoked it with a 4.35-second sprint.
Tennessee’s Chris Johnson made a name for himself at the NFL Scouting Combine. The small running back from lesser-known East Carolina torched the radar gun by registering a 4.24 40-yard dash time.
He didn’t slouch in the other events, either. His 35-inch vertical leap and 10’10” broad jump didn’t hurt his cause.
San Francisco’s star tight end, Vernon Davis, wasn’t always assumed to be an NFL star.
A huge 2006 NFL Scouting Combine performance helped teams understand that he might be, though, prompting the San Francisco 49ers to select him sixth overall in the draft.
Davis absolutely annihilated every drill, recording an unthinkable 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash in the process.
He also demonstrated he had power (33 bench repetitions) and agility (4.17-second shuttle), making him a sure-fire first-round pick.