Often teams place too much value in a prospect’s Combine workout. Instead of treating it as one part of their lengthy scouting process, they witness an amazing workout and are lured into believing a prospect may be something special. Many times, the player is great at working out, but struggles when lined up against competition. It’s crucial teams separate pure work-out warriors from those who can actually play on the gridiron. A team’s decision to draft the wrong prospect because they overvalued their Combine workout can cost them millions of dollars when they invest in that athlete.
While the event does have a tendency to be over-hyped, it can be valuable for some prospects. In a sense, they can use the Combine to introduce themselves. It’s a prospect’s moment to make a first impression on teams that may otherwise have placed little to no value in them before their workout. For others, the Combine is just another event, in a line of many, to build up their draft status.
While reading, you may notice how all of these players dazzled teams with similar drill types. Many scouting reports measured the prospects potential to succeed in the NFL by emphasizing 40-yard dash results, the amount he could bench press, and how high he could jump. You won’t see my drool over the 20-yard shuttle or the 10-yard dash. Even the 3-cone drill was a rare find in these hyped reports, and even fewer reports indicated how well the prospect interviewed with teams behind the cameras.
These similarities indicate many teams often overvalue prospects on a few made-for-TV events. The 40-yard dash was fun to run in grade school gym class, but does it really measure or predict a prospects success rate in the NFL? It may help to determine some aspects of a player’s game, but not everything. Receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin failed to run a 4.5 40-yard dash coming out of college and we consider them all-stars. Vernon Gholston set the record for bench presses with 37 at 225 pounds, but could not play a lick of football. We consider him a bust.
The criteria I used to rank the listed players is pretty simple and straightforward, but always fluid. In other words, it’s open for interpretation. First, let’s get one thing straight: there is no science behind these choices. I graded these players on the following information:
1. I placed the most value on the player’s ability to impress teams, scouts, critics and the world during their Combine work out. I looked at the number of drills that made that player stand out from his colleagues. I may place less value in a player who impressed only in the 40-yard dash than one who impressed in multiple work outs.
2. I did look at a player’s college career, to a point. How hyped was he heading into his Combine work out? Did the workout hurt or help his draft status?
3. When the player was drafted played a role in his ranking. I ranked first round picks higher on this list than later picks who impressed at the Combine, simply because teams expected more out of their first-round selection.
4. The player’s tenure in the league. Because this isn’t a bust article, I cut players slack if they have only been in the league a couple of years.
So there is the criteria. Sound off below! Who are the players that should be on this board, but I snubbed? Would you rank these players in the same fashion and with the same criteria?
10. Bob Sanders, S, Drafted 44th Overall by the Colts in 2004
It’s tough to include Bob Sanders on this list for two reasons. First, whenever I watched him play, he always played tough and seemed to swarm the ball. And second, he’s been recognized for his on-the-field efforts. He was named the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year, joined the AFC in the 2005 and 2007 Pro Bowls and was awarded 2005 and 2007 First-Team All-Pro. So why include him on this list? Injuries. Sanders’ two great years with the Colts proved that, if healthy, he could have done so much more.
At only 5 feet 8 inches, Sanders set the combine’s best vertical jump at 41.5 inches, posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds and the 3-cone drill of 6.7. He only played in more than 6 games twice, and both of those years he won awards. At the end of each season between 2008 and 2011, Sanders landed on injured reserve. He hasn’t played in a game since 2011.
It is valid to argue that it’s unfair to put Sanders on this list because his injuries prevented him from being more. I see both sides of the argument. In this case, I kept it black and white and very simple. Excuses aside, Sanders was a workout warrior who struggled (no matter how) to produce consistently at the next level.
9. Stephen Hill, WR, Drafted 43rd Overall by the Jets in 2012
It’s best we judge a young receiver after they’ve played in the league a couple of years. I wouldn’t call Hill a bust yet, but he’s struggled to show the Jets that he could be a go-to receiver. The Jets had high hopes for Hill when they drafted him, but he’s failed to impress. Near the end of last season, Rex Ryan said of Hill’s performance, “Well, it certainly hasn’t been where we thought it would be and where we hoped it would be.”
When the Jets selected him 43rd overall, they had hoped his speed and deep-threat ability would translate to the NFL. At Georgia Tech in 2011, he posted over 800 yards and averaged 29.3 yards per catch on only 28 receptions. He then followed up that performance by running a blazing 4.28 second 40-yard dash at the 2012 combine.
Although he looked explosive on paper, some critics wondered about his route running skills and ability to recover from jams at the line of scrimmage. In two years with New York, he’s only averaged a total of 22.5 receptions, 297 yards and two touchdowns.
8. Tye Hill, CB, Drafted 15 overall by the Rams in 2006
You can’t be a first-round pick, own a combine drill, fail in the pros, and not be on this list. Hill lasted only three years with the Rams and a total of five seasons in the NFL. After the Rams released him, he signed with Atlanta and Detroit, and in 2010 he failed to survive the Titans’ final-roster cuts.
Hill’s impressive college career forced scouts to notice him. In 2003, Clemson awarded Hill Defensive Player of the Year. In 2004, he deflected a single-season school record 21 passes and in 2005, was a finalist for the Thrope Award for the nation’s top defensive back. At the combine, Hill posted a blazing 4.34 second 40-yard dash and finished in the top 10 in the vertical and broad jumps. He was primed for a solid NFL career.
He looked promising during his first season with the Rams. In 16 games, he recorded 47 tackles, three interceptions and six passes defensed, but soon his production slumped. He would only play in 12 more games with the Rams and rack up a lowly 54 tackles and one interception.
7. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Drafted 7th Overall by the Raiders in 2009
While Heyward-Bey didn’t wow teams in a ton of Combine categories, he did impress the Raiders with his speedy 4.25 40-yard dash. Many analysts had projected teams to select Bey in the late first round and early second round, but Oakland reached and selected him with their seventh-overall pick in the 2009 draft.
His stay in Oakland was short-lived. After just four years with the team, the Raiders released him, and he signed a one year, $2.5 million contract with the Colts. Reports indicate his time in Indianapolis may be even shorter than it was in Oakland. In 2014, he slid down the Colts’ depth chart as other players, like undrafted free agents Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen, passed him.
While in Oakland, Heyward-Bey recorded only 140 catches and 11 touchdowns; although he did show some flash in 2011 when he nearly recorded a 1,000 season. It’s not totally his fault he was a bust. Bey was selected too early. If a team selected him later in the draft, he would have felt less pressure to put up first-round numbers. Still, he failed to live up to the expectations brought about by his combine workout.
6. Matt Jones, WR, Drafted 25th Overall by the Jaguars in 2005
Jones showed tons of football promise while at the University of Arkansas. In fact, he showed so much potential, coaches at the Combine dubbed the former quarterback/wide receiver “The Freak.” For a 6-foot-6-inch, 242-pound college quarterback, his combine statistics were off the charts. He ran a 4.37 second 40-yard dash, jumped a vertical 39.5 inches and owned a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump. With unbelievable measurable and statistics, teams had little idea where Jones should play. They did know, however, they were excited to see him potentially on their field.
Other critics, like NFL expert Mike Mayock, had been a bit more skeptical of Jones’ ability to transition to pro football. While the quarterback’s stats blew teams out of the water, his poor practice habits raised red flags. Said Mayock, “He was last in every line. He didn’t seem like he cared a whole lot…it screamed buyer beware. And unfortunately for the Jaguars, they bought it.”
In four seasons with the Jaguars, Jones totaled only 166 receptions and 15 touchdowns. After his failed tenure in Jacksonville, he found little solace with the Bengals and other teams. The Bengals cut Jones, and he then opted to retire after he declined an invitation from the Redskins.
5. Charles Rogers, WR, Drafted 2nd Overall by the Lions in 2003
Charles Rogers started a first-round trend for the Lions. For the next two years after the Lions selected Rogers, they chose a wide receiver with their first-round pick, but all failed to make a major impact. Rogers was a standout high-school and college player that many compared to Randy Moss. His combine numbers even backed up their assessment.
In his final season at Michigan State, Rogers caught 68 passes for 1,351 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was also named All-Conference and All-American and awarded the 2002 Biletnikoff Award, which is presented to the top receiver in college football. He had a similar year statistically as a sophomore with Michigan State. One scouting report heralded Rogers as “intimidating” and someone who “has defenders playing back on their heels.” They also called him a “big strong receiver who impacts the game as both a game controlling or game breaking wide out.” At the combine, he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash, which impressed many because he had 6-foot-3 inch, 220 pound body frame.
Scouts stood correct about Rogers’ freakish abilities, but failed to predict how well he’d translate those skills on the gridiron. He signed a six-year contract worth $39.5 million, but was cut prior to the 2006 season. In his 15 game NFL career, he recorded a sad 36 receptions for 440 yards and four touchdowns.
4. Adam Archuleta, SS, Drafted 20th Overall by the Rams in 2001
Critics questioned Archuleta’s ability to play at the pro level because he was only 5-foot-11 inch and 211 pounds. He used the combine to prove his critics wrong. To this day, Archuleta’s combine performance may still rank as the best ever for a safety. He clocked a 4.46 second 40-yard dash, posted a 39-inch vertical leap and complemented those efforts with 31 reps in the 225 bench press. Those results, likely assisted by a workout routine that involved plyometrics, helped propel Archuleta to the first round of the 2001 draft.
He performed better than some of the other entries on this list, but failed to live up to the hype. After six season with the Rams, the Redskins signed Archuleta to a six year, $30 million contract, which made him the highest-paid safety. After just one season, they traded him to the Bears for a sixth round pick. Archuleta, now in broadcasting, looks back at his time in Washington and says he became a “miserable dredge of a person.” After some time away from the game, he’s had time to relax, reflect and clear his mind.
3. Johnathan Sullivan, DT, Drafted 6th Overall by the Saints in 2003
Sullivan’s college career and outstanding Combine performance impressed the Saints. Because New Orleans figured a team would draft Sullivan well before they were on the clock, they worked furiously to trade up to select the quiet kid from Griffin, Georgia. Eventually, finding a suitor in the Arizona Cardinals, the Saints traded their number 17 and 18 picks for the Cardinals’ number six selection. The Saints owned two first-round picks in this draft because they had traded running back Ricky Williams to the Dolphins. Instead of using that first rounder to add more talent, they traded up to select Jonathan Sullivan, who would become one of the worst players in their team’s history.
The 300-pound Sullivan had wowed teams at the combine, posting a 40-yard dash time of 5.01. In his only two years at Georgia, he recorded 154 total tackles, nine sacks and four passes defensed. Upon entering the draft, most teams saw Sullivan has a player who could terrorize opponents. Even the Patriots, who traded for Sullivan only three years into his career, had him high on their draft board. In the end, it was all for not. In just 17 starts, the former Georgia standout, totaled only 102 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
2. Courtney Brown, DE, Drafted 1st Overall by the Browns in 2000
A first overall draft pick is supposed to become the cornerstone of a franchise, but the feeble, often-injured Brown was unable to become that building block. Prior to being drafted, Brown had blown scouts and teams away with his off-the-charts combine performance. At 6-foot-4 and almost 300 pounds, he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and had 26 bench reps. Combined with his stellar collegiate career, teams thought Brown was poised to become a monster in the pros.
Whether because of a lack of talent or injuries, his career never took off. The only full season he played was his rookie year where he posted 61 tackles and four and a half sacks. In his final three years, he totaled a measly eight sacks and 51 tackles. After five mediocre seasons with Cleveland, Brown played one year with the Broncos, but they released him because his knees were in critical condition.
1. Vernon Gholston, DE, Drafted 6th Overall by the Jets in 2008
Before the 2008 draft, NFL.com posted their scouting report on Vernon Gholston. The most interesting aspect of that report was how the scouts only mentioned his strengths and failed to list any weaknesses. Let me repeat that again. According to this scouting report, Gholston didn’t have a single weakness.
In three years with the Jets, the defensive end/linebacker failed to record a single sack. According to Michael Salfino of Wall Street Journal, since the NFL began recording sacks in 1982, Gholston is the only player selected in the top 10 of a NFL draft to fail to record a sack in his career. His monstrous combine workout and collegiate career, as well as epic failure at the pro level, easily propels Gholston to the top of this list.
Like the Jets, many teams were blown away by his Combine work out. At the Combine, the 6-foot-3, 266-pound prospect recorded a 35.5 inch vertical leap, ran a speedy 4.67 second 40-yard dash and managed a mind boggling 37 reps at 225 pounds. The latter statistic was a record. Gholston took the phrase “work-out” warrior to a whole new level, but that’s where his impact at the pro level stopped. The Jets released Gholston in the 2011 off season and he hasn’t played a down in the NFL since.
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