It can be extremely difficult to judge NFL hopefuls on any kind of level playing ground due to the wide variety of college football. A player who comes from a huge state school utterly devoted to football may have a different experience and training schedule than a player who was on a team at a small private school. There is, after all, a reason that some of the Big 10 coaches get paid millions – they send large numbers of players to the big leagues because they train them well.
At the same time, even amongst schools of a similar caliber, playing styles can be different – one coach may opt to be heavy on offense, while another coach might advocate that their team really strengthen their defense in order to succeed. With so many variables, how exactly do you examine several players all coming from different colleges? Easy – Combine week.
At the Combine, all the NFL hopefuls are put through the exact same set of tests – they show up for a week at Lucas Oil Stadium and prepare themselves as best they can. There are several physical tests designed to measure different physical abilities such as strength and agility: the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, 20 yard shuttle, 3-cone drill, 60 yard shuttle, and 255 pound bench press repetitions, as well as certain drills specific to certain positions. The players are measured, screened for illegal substances, evaluated for injury, and interviewed. They take the Cybex and Wonderlic Tests and hope for the best.
The Combine lets scouts see how each player measures up on similar tasks, helping to establish a sort of baseline. However, scouts should take Combine results with a grain of salt – there are several athletes who have performed poorly at the Combine and gone on to have long and successful NFL careers. The best example, cited nearly every single Combine week, is a certain skinny young quarterback by the name of Tom Brady. He bombed his Combine, but managed to do quite well for himself.
Here are 15 NFL stars who had horrific Combine performances.
15 Calais Campbell
Campbell was a 6’8, 290 lb beast going into the Combine and everyone expected great things from the University of Miami defensive end, who was incidentally ranked in the top 10 in his position by several scouting websites. According to the Orlando Sentinel, however, he disappointed, managing to push out only 16 bench press reps, run a fairly slow time in the 40 yard dash, as well as a disappointing 7.45 in the 3-cone. His combine performance resulted in him going as a second round pick rather than a first round, as many projected he would. Regardless, he’s been succeeding since then, playing with the Arizona Cardinals with a Pro Bowl appearance to his name.
14 Elvis Dumervil
When Dumervil wandered onto the fields of the Combine from Louisville, his college record was almost completely forgotten – every scout and team merely saw his small stature (5’11, 257 pounds at the time) and wrote him off. The impression that his size made led him to be picked only in the fourth round, despite a respectable 30-rep bench press and fast enough dash times. However, he proved everyone wrong by becoming a star, moving from defensive end to outside linebacker and racking up 295 tackles and 90 quarterback sacks to date. He’s appeared at the Pro Bowl four times and won countless other accolades in his NFL career thus far.
13 Vontaze Burfict
As the NFL has seen with players like Johnny Manziel and his giant ego, physical skill isn’t the only factor in games – it’s equally important to select players who are hard-working, team-players if you want a successful team. Burfict’s terrible combine performance wasn’t because he was physically lacking, it’s because Burfict had a bad reputation for his attitude. Thus, despite being heralded as one of the top linebacker draft picks, he went undrafted until the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis saw potential in Burfict and snagged him. Though he’s only had two years in the NFL thus far, he’s been proving those who failed to draft him wrong.
12 Kam Chancellor
Chancellor showed up at the Combine strong – 6’3, 231 pounds, with a respectable 22 rep bench press. However, he wasn’t the quickest (clocking a 4.69 40 dash, according to ESPN) and many teams questioned whether he was in the right position, thinking he may need to switch from a college safety to an NFL linebacker. Fair enough – in his college career alone he moved from potential quarterback to cornerback to rover to free safety. The Seahawks took a chance on him, picking him up in the 5th round, and he’s been an integral part of the Legion of Boom ever since, as their strong safety with three Pro Bowl appearance and a Super Bowl to his name.
11 Joe Haden
Haden walked into the Combine as one of the golden boys at his position of cornerback – he was clearly the top choice for every team in attendance. Then he worked out. Haden, at only 5’11 and 193 lbs, performed a pitiful 35-inch vertical jump and a slow 4.57 40-yard dash, according to Bleacher Report. His poor performance nearly jeopardized his draft chances, but luckily his highly regarded stock prior to the Combine managed to save him and he was still selected seventh overall by the Browns. They’re likely grateful they took the chance, as he’s been a great cornerback at the NFL level since.
10 Arian Foster
Foster was already questionable coming into the Combine, as teams had some concerns about his ball security. He made things worse by running an embarrassing 4.68 40-yard dash. He was projected to go in the fifth or sixth rounds, not too great compared to many stars who entered the Combine as nearly guaranteed first rounders, but Foster fell even lower and went undrafted. The Houston Texans signed him as an undrafted free agent and they’re likely pretty damn happy they did, as he’s set countless Texans records (including most career rushing yards, career rushing TDs and more). While he’s had a few issues with injuries, he’s still considered one of the best running backs in the league.
9 Zach Miller
In 2007, the year Miller showed up for the Combine, the pickings in the tight end position were pretty slim – only four were selected within the first four rounds. Zach Miller, coming from Arizona State, seemed to be one of the best of the bunch. And then he ran his 40 at a turtle’s pace, clocking in at 4.87 seconds, according to ESPN. There were only four tight ends at Combine that year who were slower than him, and none of them ended up being drafted. However, Oakland still picked him up in the second round and his pro career has been strong since. After a successful 2010 season, for which he earned a Pro Bowl spot, Miller moved from Oakland to Seattle where he won a Super Bowl ring, though his receiving yards have decreased year by year.
8 Antonio Brown
Brown didn’t exactly stun anyone during the Combine – in fact, his 4.55 40-yard dash was fairly slow, and he managed a measly 13 bench press reps, a stat that placed him at the bottom of the wideout class, according to ESPN. The Steelers accordingly took him in the sixth round – fairly low for a future NFL superstar. He’s rewarded Pittsburgh and then some for their choice, as he was the NFL’s leading receiver in the most recent season with 129 catches and over 1,600 yards. Add three Pro Bowl appearances to that, and it goes to show that a Combine performance isn’t everything.
7 Justin Houston
Houston sauntered into the Combine at 6’3, 270 pounds and was projected to be a first round pick. His athletic performance was admirable – a 4.68 40, 30 bench press reps, a 36.5 vertical and more, according to NFL.com. So why did this promising prospect drop to the third round? Well, he failed a drug test – and a scheduled one, at that, which led many to question his character and his discipline. The Chiefs took him and he’s been doing quite well for them since, with three Pro Bowl appearances and a near record for NFL sacks leader in 2014. Luckily, his Combine week drug test drama hasn’t been a frequent re-occurrence – while many other NFL players are caught for use and possession of illegal substances, Houston hasn’t been caught with the stuff since.
6 Alfred Morris
Morris wasn’t exactly at the top of everyone’s radar when it came to running backs in the 2012 Combine. First of all, he came from Florida – Atlantic, not State. Second, his 40-yard dash was fairly slow for the running back position at 4.67, and he squeezed out only 16 reps during the bench press, according to NFL.com. For other tests, such as the vertical and cone drills, he was at the middle of the pack, not really shining at anything. His Combine performance resulted in a sixth round pick. He then went on to tear it up with the Washington Redskins, averaging easily over 1,000 rushing yards in every one of his seasons and winning countless accolades for his rookie performance. Morris’ Combine allowed him to be snagged as a sixth-round bargain, but many teams are probably wishing they had him now.
5 NaVorro Bowman
There are players who have done worse than Bowman at Combine over the years, but the reality is, with so many college hopefuls looking to be the lauded first round draft picks, even an average performance can be damaging. He was all over the place, running a strong 6.91 3-cone time, an awful 11.52 second-shuttle time, and an average 4.77 40-yard dash, according to ESPN. His Combine performance pushed him to the third round, where the 49ers snapped him up. He’s now tearing the league up with Patrick Willis as San Francisco’s incredible linebacking tandem. He had a little trouble in 2014, as he was forced to sit a season out due to a torn ACL/MCL recovery, but if he manages to fully recover, he should once again be an integral part of San Francisco’s team.
4 Terrell Suggs
Suggs dominated in his college career at Arizona State, setting an NCAA single-season record in the year before he was drafted. However, at the Combine he ran a fairly disappointing 4.84 40-yard dash and hoisted only 18 bench press reps, according to BaltimoreRavens.com. Though his performance made a lot of scouts question whether he was truly a top prospect, Suggs was outspoken, stating that he knew he didn’t perform his best at the Combine but that scouts should look to his football ability, not his Combine ability, to make judgments. The Ravens ended up taking him 10th overall, despite his lackluster Combine, and he’s played with them his entire career – which includes a Super Bowl win, six Pro Bowl appearances, and more.
3 Anquan Boldin
Boldin was a strong college player at Florida State, converted from quarterback to wide receiver to get more playing time in college. When he showed up to the Combine, however, he seemed to have two lead feet. His 40-yard dash time (4.7 seconds) put him last among all the wide receivers at Combine that year – not really a spot you want to be in. He was also on the slower side in other agility drills such as the 3-cone. The Arizona Cardinals took him 54th overall, despite his poor performance at the Combine, and he immediately went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has since been a staple on every team he’s been on and has remained one of the strongest wide receivers in the league.
2 Drew Brees
Brees had incredibly strong college years, absolutely smashing both NCAA records, Big Ten Conference records, and records at the university where he was playing (Purdue). You would think he’d be on everyone’s radar when he walked into Combine, but there was one problem. At just under 6’0 when he showed up, he didn’t exactly look like a star quarterback in many scout's eyes. He’s since gone on to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, with nine Pro Bowl appearances, a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP, and much more. He’s also revolutionized the concept of what a quarterback needs to look like, helping other rising stars like Russell Wilson and Johnny Manziel, who also stand at 5’11 and 6’0, respectively.
1 Tom Brady
When anyone mentions terrible Combine performances, or even the Combine in general, there’s one name you know will come up – Tom Brady. Brady’s 40-yard dash was incredibly slow at 5.28 (the second worst at his position in his Combine year), and it was weirdly awkward. He wasn’t exactly the most muscular and built player, his arm strength was average, and he certainly wasn’t the most quick and nimble on his feet. The scouts almost uniformly wrote him off and he wasn’t taken until the sixth round, a round often reserved to third-string players or players who end up having very short careers. The Patriots are probably pretty glad they took a risk on the young quarterback who flailed at the Combine – Brady’s been with them since being drafted in 2000 and has gotten them four Super Bowl Championships, three Super Bowl MVPs, ten Pro Bowl appearances, two NFL MVP awards and more. Brady is basically the poster boy for not putting all your stock in Combine performances.