NFL Combine: Beware of the Workout Warrior

Thomas HoweCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24:  Defensive back Nic Harris of Oklahoma runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images

The scouting combine is upon us, and it’s time once again for scouts, head coaches, and GMs around the league to head to Indianapolis and evaluate draft prospects for 2010.

Running a fast 40-yard dash, benching 225 pounds numerous times or generally putting up better numbers than expected at the combine can really skyrocket a draftee’s status.

Equally, having a poor combine can cause a player to fall down draft boards, potentially costing the youngster millions of dollars.

You only have to cast your minds back to last year’s combine involving Michael Crabtree and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Crabtree, a standout sophomore at Texas Tech, played two seasons for the Red Raiders. He amasseed 231 receptions, 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns. Crabtree had surgery after the college season and elected not to participate in drills at the combine or run a 40-yard dash at his pro day. A wide receiver not running the 40 is like asking Peyton Manning not to throw.

Heyward-Bey, on the other hand, did compete at the combine and lit it up, clocking a 4.3 second 40-yard dash and jumped a vertical of 38.5 inches. His production in college wasn’t near Crabtree’s level; however, having a great combine certainly gained Al Davis’ attention.

Heyward-Bey was selected seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders, whilst Crabtree, who was rated the best receiver in the draft, fell to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 11. Subsequently, Heyward-Bey was offered a five-year deal, guaranteed $23.5 million, whereas Crabtree is guaranteed $17 million.

Heyward-Bey certainly has to be labeled a "workout warrior.’"

What’s a workout warrior?

A workout warrior is an athlete that has superior measurables and physical attributes who outperforms expectations.

The label brings about intrigue, excitement but also caution. Over the years it has somewhat become a negative label amongst the NFL community when referring to a draft prospect. Every year we hear about a select few as workout warriors, all impressing scouts with numbers they have put up in the combine.

So where did the workout warrior come from?

The first player to earn the title "workout warrior" was Michael Mamula. Mamula and others who earned the title in past years will be referenced over the course of the week, especially when draft experts are cautious about overachieving combine performances.

Mamula was projected as a late third round pick in the 1995 draft. As an undersized junior defensive end, he racked up 17 sacks in his final year at Boston College before declaring for the draft, gaining some interest from teams around the league.

Mamula attended the combine and put up tremendous numbers, particularly impressing in the 40-yard dash notching up a 4.63 seconds, which was faster than any defensive end or linebacker in the draft. In addition, he bench pressed more than any offensive lineman in the draft that year.

Mamula was selected No. 7 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1995 NFL draft. Professional players say that the NFL stands as "Not For Long." Mamula's career was just that, lasting only five years. In 77 games for the Eagles, Mamula only managed 207 tackles and 31.5 sacks. He retired from the league in 2000 due to nagging injuries.

Mamula's NFL career certainly didn’t live up to its expectation, and it was because of this that he has never shaken off the "workout warrior" label.

Although Mamula was labeled as the first ever workout warrior, Green Bay fans only have to cast their minds back to the 1989 NFL Draft. Their first pick, second overall, went on left tackle Tony Mandarich. He was a 6’6", 315 lbs Greek god, whose physique was unheard of at that position. At the combine that year, he ran a 4.65 40, long jumped over 10 feet, benched 39 reps and had a 30-plus-inch inch vertical jump.

As Packer fans well know, Mandarich has gone down in history—alongside Ryan Leaf—as the greatest NFL bust of all time. That year, Green Bay passed on Hall of Famers such as Derrick Thomas, Barry Sanders and Deion "Primetime" Sanders.

In recent memory, Vernon Gholsten, a first round projection before the combine, had a phenomenal combine, improving his stock with many touting him as a surefire top five selection. Gholsten excelled at Ohio State, starting 25 games, finishing with 87 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and also 22.5 sacks.

Gholsten was taken sixth overall by the New York Jets, who were said to be excited by his speed (4.58 40-yard dash), strength (37 reps of 225 lbs) and long arms. They believed they had found the prototype outside line backing pass rusher. Gholsten's rookie year was undoubtedly disappointing.

He didn’t start a single game and only made 13 tackles (five solo). Gholsten was said to have really struggled to get a grip with the Mangini 3-4 defense. The appointment of Rex Ryan and his 3-4 defense didn’t help the youngster much. Jets fans are hoping that they see some return onthe $21 million guaranteed money from his five year, $50 million contract in 2010.

Who to watch in this year’s draft?


Bruce Campbell—OT—Maryland

Campbell is an absolute monster, measuring 6’7", 310 lbs. He has been said to run a sub 4.8 second 40-yard dash and can also have 32+ reps in the weightlifting drill. This certainly will not hurt his stock. looking back to Joe Thomas’ combine in 2007, his stock rose after running a 4.7 40-yard dash.


Taylor Mays—S—USC

Mays is an extremely gifted athlete who has been suggested to be of the late Sean Taylor's mould. His freakish attributes have been reported to run a 4.25 40-yard dash during last year’s spring training camp. At 6’4", 230 pounds, he is built like a linebacker playing safety, which translates to his hard hitting.

A good combine and the addition of former USC head coach Pete Carroll selecting for the Seahawks at six, is just one of the possibilities where Mays may land.


With so much guaranteed money and huge contracts on the line, franchises simply cannot afford to invest in workout warrior draft busts like Tony Mandarich or Mike Mamula.