10 Most Impressive NFL Combine Performances of All Time
The NFL Scouting Combine is one of the best chances for upcoming prospects to prove their worth to NFL scouts, coaches and owners alike. That being said, it can also be quite misleading.
The combine has helped guys like Mike Mamula go from a mid-round guy to a first-rounder, while it has also hindered the draft stock of players like Tom Brady.
Over the years, we've seen several guys take full advantage of this opportunity, as a Mamula or a Brady, thus earning themselves a high selection in the draft because of it.
While there are some guys who are legitimate athletes whose performances mirror their actual football ability, there are a handful of others who do much better in shorts than in pads.
When it comes to deciding who has had the best combine performance, there are many things one could use as a measuring stick, but above all, those things have to have been memorable. There are guys on this list who dominated in each workout at the combine, while others made a similar impression by competing in just a couple of drills.
Every man on this list had a workout to remember at their respective combine, no matter how many drills they participated in, and they will all be remembered for the showings they had.
*All stats courtesy of NflDraftScout.com, via CBSSports.com, unless otherwise credited*
J.J. Watt, DE
- J.J. Watt is often heralded as an overwhelmingly strong player, but his athleticism was on display at the combine when he surprised all scouts with his tremendous leaping ability and surprising quickness.
Tim Tebow, QB
- Say what you will about Tim Tebow, but the dude can put together a d--n good workout. He excelled in the vertical and broad jump and also ran a pretty solid 40-yard dash for a 240-pound quarterback.
David Pollack, DE/OLB
- David Pollack is the classic "what could have been" story. He had a great career at Georgia with the Bulldogs and had an even better combine performance. Pollack's pro career was cut short due to a neck injury, and we never truly saw what he could've become.
Mario Williams, DE
- Just as Watt proved himself as a well-rounded athlete at the combine, Mario Williams did a pretty good job of that too. He ran a 4.7 40 time at 295 pounds to go along with his 35 bench-press reps and 40.5" vertical jump.
10. Matt Jones, WR
Matt Jones is one of the most freakish athletes to ever participate in the combine.
At 6’6”, 240 pounds, Jones was a quarterback in college, but that changed once he lit up the combine with his 4.37 40-yard dash and 39.5-inch vertical. At that point, he was an obvious wide receiver in several teams’ minds, and that’s ultimately what the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted him as in the first round of the 2005 draft.
Jones was actually doing pretty well in the NFL before off-the-field issues derailed his career, but he will always be remembered for having a great combine.
9. Vernon Gholston, OLB/DE
The former Ohio State Buckeye had a promising collegiate career and was already high on many draft boards, but his outstanding combine performance helped him rise above all but five other men.
Gholston ran extremely fast for a linebacker and also tied the previous record of 37 reps on the bench press. He also nailed his vertical leap, jumping 41 inches in the air, thus bolstering his draft stock even more.
The New York Jets ended up selecting him with the sixth overall pick in 2008 but never quite got the player they thought they would. Gholston has not played a down of football in the regular season since 2010 and has yet to record a sack in his professional career.
8. Chris Johnson, RB
Nowadays, he’s not quite the player he was, but back in the day Chris Johnson was once worth the headaches. The ECU product broke the record for the fastest 40 time in combine history when he ran an official time of 4.24.
It propelled him from being a second- or third-round-caliber running back to a first-round starter in the NFL.
He went on to shatter the record for yards from scrimmage in a season with 2,509 and rushed for 2,006 yards in his best season.
7. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is one of those small-school guys who earned his way into the NFL largely because of the combine. He ran a sub-4.3 40-yard dash and proved his ability to flip his hips and cut on a dime in the position drills. Rodgers-Cromartie had a broad jump of 10'11" and also had a vertical leap of 38.5 inches.
DRC’s combine performance, along with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, skyrocketed his draft stock, vaulting him into the middle of the first round where the Arizona Cardinals drafted him 16th overall in 2008.
He's since become a very respectable corner in this league, and he may not have gotten the chances he did if not for the combine.
6. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Coming out of Maryland, Darrius Heyward-Bey was nowhere near the top of most teams’ draft boards. In fact, it’s hard to believe the team that ended up drafting him, the Oakland Raiders, had him slotted as a top-10 pick before the combine.
DHB ran a blazing 4.3 40-yard dash and caught the eye of then-owner Al Davis (rest in peace), who ended up pulling the trigger on him on draft day.
Heyward-Bey, who was projected to go either later in the first round or sometime in the second, was selected seventh overall by the Raiders in 2009 and has yet to live up to the in-house hype he received.
5. Deion Sanders, CB
The combine is where the "Prime Time" persona was taken to another level. Deion Sanders began his legacy as one of the best cornerbacks to ever play the game of football. The funny thing is, he only participated in one drill.
He ran a hand-timed 4.2 40-yard dash and actually ended up running straight into a limousine that was waiting outside for him.
His career was no whisper, and the combine was just a preview of what was to come. It’s safe to say that the ego of "Neon Deion" was inflated on that day, but it was for a good reason.
4. Dontari Poe, DT
It’s positively unnatural for a 346-pound man to run 40 yards in under five seconds, but, as we’ve learned, Dontari Poe is not a natural man.
The monster from Memphis ran an official time of 4.9 and threw 225 pounds up 44 times. His size and pure athleticism made him a prospect whom many teams just couldn’t pass up, and the Kansas City Chiefs ended up taking a chance on him in the first round of the 2012 draft.
Poe’s career got off to a shaky start, but he's shown much improvement from his rookie season and is proving to be a very stable piece of the Chiefs’ vaunted defense.
3. Vernon Davis, TE
Vernon Davis had an amazing combine performance and caused quite a stir with his eye-popping 4.38 40-yard dash. A sub-4.4 time is tremendous for any position, but it was especially impressive coming from a 6’4”, 255-pound tight end from Maryland.
Davis preceded his case-making 40 time with a resounding 42 reps of 225 pounds on the bench—an unheard of combination. His stellar combine performance led to him being drafted sixth overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2006, and Davis has since had an amazing NFL career.
2. Mike Mamula, DE
Mike Mamula is the definition of “workout warrior.” He did have a solid collegiate career and was projected to have a solid NFL career. Mamula wasn’t high on too many scouts’ draft boards, but that all changed once the combine came around.
Instead of practicing to get better at football, Mamula practiced to get better at every combine drill, and he ended up blowing everyone away with the numbers he put up that day. The 6’4”, 250-pound defender ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, leaped 38 inches vertically and did 26 reps of 225 pounds on the bench.
Mamula also scored 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic test, and that was enough for the Philadelphia Eagles to make a move and trade up to get him.
His underwhelming NFL career was leaps and bounds different than what was expected, and he will always be considered as one of the most disappointing players in NFL history.
1. Bo Jackson, RB
Bo Jackson could’ve been the best football player ever.
He had a great college career at Auburn and showcased his unique skills and athleticism at the 1986 combine. While it doesn’t go down in the books as an “official” time, Jackson did run a hand-timed 4.12 40-yard dash that day, per StatisticBrain.com, the fastest verifiable time in NFL history.
He quickly became one of the best players in the NFL before his career came to an untimely end when it was unfortunately cut short by a hip injury.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!