It seems that every year, just like clockwork, there is an off the field distraction for at least a handful of NFL hopefuls leading up to the NFL Draft Combine. Last season, it was the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend story right after the former Notre Dame Linebacker’s season ended. This season, all eyes will be on SEC Defensive Player of the Year and former Missouri Defensive End, Michael Sam, who has come out as the first openly gay athlete seeking to be drafted. While many scouts had Sam being drafted in the middle rounds, it will still be interesting to see how his announcement will affect his draft stock.
Whether it be the psychological pressure on Te’o last season or just his lack of speed and agility, Te’o had a sub-par combine in 2013, which cost him in the long run at the draft. Hopefully, Michael Sam won’t fall victim to the outside pressure that he will certainly face as he enters the combine. For as many bad performances as there have been at the combine, there have been an even larger number of standout performances. These include the breakout of small school standouts such as Pierre Garcon, the former Mount Union College WR who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts.
The following list consists of the top 10 most memorable performances from the NFL Draft Combine throughout the years. Included in the list are combine duds, stars, and surprises from one of the toughest job interviews on earth.
10. Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland
During the 2006 combine, Davis was expected to come out as the nation’s most athletic and gifted tight ends; he did not disappoint. As a finalist for the Mackey Award, he really needed a strong showing to prove to GMs he was capable of being a first round draft pick. Davis went on to record a 4.38 40-yard dash, 42 inch vertical jump, and a 10 ft. 8 inch broad jump. For a baseline, 10 feet is great and 11 is extraordinary; Davis jumped a full foot further than second longest jump for tight ends.
The San Francisco 49ers were so impressed that the team drafted him in the first round to a monster contract. Since then, Davis has cemented himself as one of the most athletic players in the league, along with being one of the nicest.
9. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State
In typical “Prime time” fashion, Sanders initially did not want to run the 40-yard dash while he was there. He later recanted that remark and went on to run a 4.2 dash, the second fastest in combine history behind Bo Jackson’s 4.13 in 1986. For this reason, he has one of the greatest combine performances of all time. After a historic career at FSU and the combine, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Sanders in 1989 with the fifth overall pick. During his career, Sanders made it to the Pro Bowl eight times, won two Super Bowls, and was a NFL/NFC Defensive Player of the Year twice.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011 and he holds the NFL Career record for most defensive touchdowns with 19. He is now a commentator for the NFL network and has played in minor movie roles, along with recording two albums in 1994 and 2005.
8. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
One of the main reasons that the Raiders chose DHB was because of his speed. Everybody knew coming into the combine that he could run, but nobody saw a 4.25 40-yard dash coming. DHB managed to display a lack of route running skills and a bad set of hands at the combine, but he did impress with a 126 inch broad jump and 38.5 inch vertical.
The Raiders drafted Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick, making him the first WR drafted in the 2009 draft, passing on Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. He dealt with injuries as a rookie and never really blossomed into the player he should have become for the Raiders. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 and only managed to record 300 receiving yards on 29 receptions. Even though he has one of the highest 40-yard times of the combine, he is considered a draft bust by many fans and NFL analysts.
7. Fabian Washington, CB, Nebraska
Known for his durability and work ethic, Washington never really stood out to scouts prior to the combine. With 11 interceptions in three seasons as a Cornhusker, Washington chose for forgo his senior season and enter the draft. However, at the combine, he wowed scouts with a 4.29 40-yard dash, 41.5 inch vertical, and 10 ft. 9 inch broad jump. His athleticism at the combine put many owners on notice, particularly Al Davis of the Raiders who drafted him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2005 draft.
As a professional, Washington has gone unnoticed in the league for the most part. He was traded to the Ravens in 2008 for a fourth round pick. He was decent while as a Raven but after a brutal knee injury, he was never the same. In his seven seasons in the league, Washington managed just six interceptions and no touchdowns.
6. JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin
If there were one word to describe JJ Watt it would be athleticism. At the 2011 combine Watt ran a 4.84 40-yard dash while tallying a 37 inch vertical, and repping 225lbs on the bench 34 times. His show at the combine was the launching pad for a career with the Houston Texans after they made him the 11th overall pick in the draft.
As a Texan, Watt has gone on to make the Pro Bowl twice, be named Defensive Player of the Year, and lead the league in sacks. He is one of the fiercest defenders in the league and has over 36 sacks in his young career already. Watt also stays busy with his charity, the Justin J. Watt foundation, that helps support after-school programs in Wisconsin and Texas.
5. Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State
One of the most disappointing combine performances of all time has to be from Maurice Clarett in 2011. After a promising career for the Buckeyes, Clarett left the school in 2003 after a host of off-the-field incidents, including an academic scandal and impermissible benefits. After initially being denied entry into the NFL Draft because he had only played one season at OSU, he was admitted to the 2005 NFL Draft and spent a year preparing for the combine.
During the time he spent away from the field, it appeared that Clarett had done nothing to get in shape for one of the biggest moments of his life. He showed up severely overweight and slow, running a 4.82 40-yard time. After such a poor performance, he walked out and left. In a surprising move, the Denver Broncos drafted him 101st overall during the draft in hopes he would pan out. Clarett never got much going while in the NFL and he had run ins with his coaches. He was released before the season officially even started.
4. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas AM
Damontre Moore was one of the most promising prospects in the 2013 draft as a DE/LB hybrid. After failing most of his interviews with scouts, Moore needed a strong physical showing to be back in the graces of top executives and be drafted high. That did not happen. On his bench press, Moore managed just 12 reps. There are WRs that can do more than 12 reps! His 4.95 40-yard dash was 22nd in his group, one of the lowest recorded.
These stats seemed to make an impact on his draft stock, as he went from being a top rated player on many boards, to falling out of the first round. Moore was drafted in the 3rd round by the New York Giants as a 4-3 defensive end, not linebacker like he had played at A&M. This past season, Moore recorded 11 tackles and one forced fumble.
3. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
Another example of a player with high hopes, Burfict came into the 2012 combine as one of the highest ranked linebackers in the country. In the weeks leading up to the combine, there were rumors of off-the-field incidents and issues that had arisen in Burfict’s past. He came into the combine needing to show scouts that these were past him, but he wasn’t able to do that. He ran a 5.09 40-yard dash and managed just 16 reps on the bench press.
The fall from grace was in full effect for Burfict, as he sat idly through the entire draft and went undrafted. Eventually, the Cincinnati Bengals signed him as a undrafted free agent and it has paid off for him and the team. He made the Pro Bowl this season and led the league in tackles with 171, a Bengals record. Its unfortunate that Burfict had such a bad showing at the combine, he went from potentially making millions of dollars per year, to making less than the league minimum of $500,000 in 2013.
2. Mike Williams, WR, USC
Similar to Clarett, Mike Williams had the world in his hands as a standout WR for the USC Trojans in 2003. Wanting to leave school early and go into the 2004 Draft, Williams’ appeal was denied and he sat out the entire 2004 season to work on his skills. Unfortunately for him, it hurt his speed and draft stock. He ran just a 4.59 40-yard dash and many scouts actually wanted him to become a tight end, rather than WR.
Of course, Williams declined these requests, which further hurt his draft stock. This didn’t seem to matter much to Matt Millen of the Detroit Lions, who drafted Williams 10th overall. Through two seasons with the Lions, Williams managed only a couple hundred yards and one touchdown as he faced injuries and off-the-field incidents. He was eventually traded to the Raiders along with Josh McCown. He bounced around the league and eventually left by the end of 2012.
1. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
Andre Smith one of the most highly-regarded linemen in the 2009 draft. Coming in at over 300lbs, Smith was a mammoth of a man, who was supposed to have the strength and speed to make him one of the best available offensive linemen. He showed up to the combine at 332lbs, one of the biggest men there. He ran a 5.28 40 time managed just 19 reps on the bench. He is best known for being the lineman who ran the 40-yard dash without a shirt on, a sight that you can certainly live without.
Out of frustration, Smith left the combine early, without telling the group leader and his agent. He also managed to bomb the interview portion of the combine, dropping him on analyst and scout big boards. Despite all of this, he was drafted sixth overall by the Cincinnati Benglas and has played in 59 career games since 2009. Smith resigned a contract in April 2013 for an estimated $18 million over three years.