Workout warriors commence. The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine is just days away and, soon enough, collegiate prospects will be earning and losing millions of dollars based on the tenths of seconds of their 40-yard dashes and vertical leaps.
Of course, there is much more that goes into the combine than just the workouts. Team doctors poke and prod each prospect, and teams conduct intense interviews to gauge players' attitudes, work ethic, and moxie under pressure.
But let's face it: When a player runs a 4.3-second 40, teams start drooling despite the long history of "workout warriors" who turned into mega busts. The following 10 players made scouts forget those cautionary tales by posting some of the most incredible workouts in NFL Scouting Combine history. Some struck gold and others fell flat on their faces, but all will thrive in the combine record books forever.
After walking on to Virginia Tech as a freshman defensive end, John Engelberger became a real-life Rudy. He worked his way into a starting role, landing spots on second-team All-American and first-team All-Big East rosters after his senior season. Despite these impressive accolades, Engelberger was wildly undersized for the NFL.
He had a sufficient 6'4" stature, but weighed in at only 260 pounds. However, Engelberger took to the 2000 NFL Scouting Combine to show that what he lacked in size he made up for in athleticism and strength. He ran a 4.65-second 40 and posted a 34-inch vertical.
Engelberger rose up draft boards and the San Francisco 49ers selected the undersized lineman in the second round. He enjoyed a successful career with the 49ers and a mildly-successful stint with the Denver Broncos.
During the 2001 offseason, Arizona State safety Adam Archuleta began gaining steam as "the most instinctive player in the draft," according to Frank Coyle of Draft Insider's Digest.
Archuleta was a stud at ASU where he occasionally stepped up to play linebacker, showing a unique blend of size, strength and smarts. This skill set was put to the test at the 2001 NFL Scouting Combine, and Archuleta delivered. He weighed in at a solid 5'11", 215 pounds, ran a 4.37-second 40, knocked out 31 reps on the bench press and posted a 39-inch vertical.
Soon enough, the St. Louis Rams called his name with the 20th-overall selection. Archuleta had great success with the Rams. He hit the free-agency market in 2005 when the Redskins (surprise) made him the highest-paid safety in football. Since then, he has almost completely fallen off the map and he is now out of the league.
Despite an unspectacular career at the University of Arizona, running back Chris Henry chose to forgo his senior season and declare himself eligible for the 2007 NFL Draft.
Henry was a relative unknown in national talking circles until he took center stage at the combine. He ran a 4.40-second 40, knocked out 26 reps on the bench press and posted a 36-inch vertical leap.
Henry's stock immediately soared and the Tennessee Titans drafted him in the second round with the 50th-overall pick in the draft. He shined in the playing time he received, but he was slapped with a four-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance. Henry never really resurfaced and has spent his career as a journeyman backup.
Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis loves himself some speed. So when Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30-second 40 yard dash at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine, cementing himself as the fastest player in the draft, he was a natural fit for the silver and black.
DHB had been projected as a late first-round pick, but his 4.30-second 40 (some reported it was a 4.25) 4.18-second shuttle, 38.5-inch vertical, and a 10'6" broad jump helped him to receive millions of dollars.
In the weeks leading up to the 2005 NFL Scouting Combine, the curious case of Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones became a scorching hot topic. Jones played quarterback at Arkansas, but his 6'6", 237-pound frame and skill set hinted that he would be better suited playing wide receiver at the next level.
At the combine Jones blew everybody away. He ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and posted a 39.5-inch vertical leap. Jones' performance persuaded the Jacksonville Jaguars to select him with the 21st-overall pick in the '05 NFL Draft.
After two promising years with the Jags, Jones' career fell into a complete tailspin. He continually struggled with substance abuse issues and he is currently out of the league.
Prior to the 2008 NFL Draft, Eastern Carolina running back Chris Johnson's slim 200-pound frame had many, like Pat Kirwan, pin him as a second or third round pick. Johnson played against lower-tier talent at ECU, and he had picked up most of his momentum from a monstrous bowl game performance.
But Johnson took center stage at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine. He put his lightning speed and super-human agility on display, running a 4.24-second 40 (the second fastest in combine history), hitting a 43.5-inch vertical leap, and a 10'10" broad jump. It was a truly epic performance.
Johnson catapulted himself in to the first round where the Tennessee Titans scooped him up with the 28th-overall pick.
A legendary career at Ohio State had linebacker Vernon Gholston on track for a great NFL career. He was highly heralded as one of the most freakish athletes in the draft, weighing in at 6'3", 266 pounds.
Gholston took the momentum from his collegiate days with him to the combine where he ran a 4.58-second 40 (at 266 pounds—incredible), hit 41-inches on the vertical and pumped out 37 reps on the bench press.
Hands down the most versatile defensive prospect in the 2008 NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected him with the sixth-overall pick. To make a long story short, Gholston has become an afterthought on the Jets roster and has come to define the workout warrior prospect.
After a relatively-productive collegiate career that figured to land him in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft, Boston College linebacker Mike Mamula exploded onto the national scene.
Mamula went b-a-n-a-n-a-s at the 1995 NFL Scouting Combine. He weighed in a 6'4", 248 pounds, and proceeded to run a 4.58-second 40-yard dash, post a 38.5-inch vertical, pound out 26 reps on the bench press and, according to USA Today, scored a 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic.
This defensive end-linebacker combo suddenly became the hottest commodity in the NFL Draft. And come draft day, the Philadelphia Eagles traded up from 12th overall to seventh overall to secure Mamula. He has since become the poster child for the workout warrior, but he actually enjoyed a semi-productive career in Philly, just not quite to the level his combine suggested he would.
To describe Vernon Davis' combine performance as anything but insane would be doing it a disservice. Davis, at 6'3", 254 pounds, ran a ludicrous 4.38-second 40, hit 42 inches on the vertical and 10'8" in the broad jump, and he posted 33 reps on the bench press. Literally unbelievable.
The former Maryland Terrapin standout completely demolished all other tight ends in the 2006 NFL Draft. He was selected with the sixth overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers and he has finally started to utilize his godly talents at the NFL level.
In 1989, before Under Armour wind-resistant, speed-enhancing technology, before Nike-tailored turf shoes for prospects and before pre-combine diets and workout regimes were drawn out to strict schedules, Florida State cornerback Deion Sanders ran a 4.24 40 yard dash.
Remarkably, over 20 years later, it remains the fastest time in combine history.
Fearing his unwavering desire to play Major League Baseball, many teams became hesitant to invest in the former Heisman Trophy winner.
But Jackson won many of his supporters back by allegedly running the 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds. It is the stuff of legends. And Bo was no skinny wide receiver. He was 225 pounds of pure, godly muscle.
The man had easily 25 to 30 pounds on Primetime, yet shaved almost a full tenth of a second off of his time. It might not sound like much, but in combine terms a tenth of a second could be the difference between millions of dollars. Even with the remarkable innovations in training and form, nobody appears ready to ever topple Bo or Deion. Maybe today's prospects should follow their workout regimens.