We always hear this term “combine warrior” around this time of year. Guys who blew up the combine like Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, John Ross, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Tony Mandarich, Vernon Gholston. The list goes on and on. Every single guy on that list who I mentioned has failed to live up to their draft hype, and all of them were first-round picks.
Brady Quinn – 24 reps on Bench Press, finished his career with a 12-17 TD/INT ratio
JaMarcus Russell – LOL
John Ross – Taken 9th overall after a 4.22 40, has missed 22 career games over 3 seasons after being picked 9th overall.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – John Ross before there was John Ross. Taken 7th overall after running a 4.3, released by Oakland after 56 games and 11 TDs
Tony Mandarich – Bigger bust than Russell in my opinion. Packers passed on Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, and Derrick Thomas to select him. Ran a 4.65 40 and threw up 39 reps on the bench press as an Offensive Tackle (mostly due to the steroids). Later taken to court for sexual assault.
Vernon Gholston – Threw up 37 reps on bench at the combine and ran a 4.65 40. His 40, bench, and vert were all 1st for D-Lineman. Finished without a single career sack.
To be fair to guys like Mandarich, Gholston, and Russell – they were considered top (and very safe) picks before the combine even began. Mandarich was often called the best O-Line prospect ever, Gholston was coming off of a 14 sack season and Russell had one of the best arms of all time. They probably still would have gone where they did without their combines, but they caused teams to ignore some obvious red flags. Mandarich was juicing. Russell was overweight and wasn’t committed to learning a new system. The real issue arises with guys like Ross and Heyward-Bey. They fly up draft boards because of their flashy 40 times. Ross had injury issues at Washington. Heyward-Bey didn’t (and never did) have a complete grasp on an NFL route tree and was plagued by drops (he had a 22% catch rate his rookie season). You can’t let a shiny combine number cause you to overlook what’s right in front of your face.
Now let’s look at a guy like Orlando Brown Jr.
Brown was labeled undraftable by some after what was called the “worst combine performance ever”. His 40 time of 5.85 was “historically bad”, and he finished last in all categories among offensive lineman. His 18 reps on bench press were only 2 more than our very good friend Kurt Benkert, who was the only QB to bench that season. So surely Orlando is already out of the NFL after going undrafted? Nope. He was selected in the third round by Baltimore in the same draft as Lamar Jackson & Mark Andrews. Brown made the Pro Bowl this season and has been quietly one of the best tackles in all of football. Not bad for a guy who was “undraftable”.
Has the combine revealed some stinkers? Oh yeah. Just look at Jachai Polite. He flunked out of his first-round grade after faking an injury and performing horribly in the interviews. He’s on the Rams practice squad after being cut by New York & Seattle (he was a 3rd round pick by the Jets and was cut before camp ended). Am I saying the combine has no value? Absolutely not. It’s a ton of fun to watch, my point I’m making is, don’t let it blind you from obvious flaws in prospects.