Every March it happens. Hundreds of college football players gather in Indianapolis for the Underwear Olympics, wearing shorts and dry-fit muscle shirts to perform all kinds of drills in hopes of impressing potential NFL employers. It's become so big that major portions of it are now televised. But just how big a deal are good or bad performances at the combine? Should scouts really care if a player ran a 4.5 instead of a 4.6 in the 40? From what I can tell, teams should exercise a 'buyer beware' mentality.
Here are five college players who absolutely killed it at the combine, but didn't live up to those expectations in the NFL.
Mike Mamula (LB)
Mamula attended Boston College from 1991-1994. His early college career was hampered by a shoulder injury but in his final two seasons he recorded a whopping 29 sacks, garnering him some NFL eyeballs. At the 1995 combine, Mamula became the boy that every team wanted to ask to the dance. He put up a 38 ½” vertical jump and ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash. The Eagles fell so hard for him that they moved up five spots in a swap with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and grabbed Mamula with the 7th overall pick. Mamula lasted only five years in the NFL, all with the Eagles, recording just 209 combined tackles and 31.5 sacks. But hey, Eagles fans, don’t feel bad. Tampa drafted some bum named Warren Sapp with the pick you gave them. Wait, what?
Matt Jones (QB)
Matt Jones spent four years at the University of Arkansas as the team’s quarterback. He threw for over 5,800 yards in his career and ran for over 2,500 more. It was at the 2005 combine when teams stood up and took notice. His sub-4.4 40 time and 10’10” broad jump made the Jacksonville Jaguars use the 21st pick in the draft to take Jones and convert him to a full-time wide receiver, hoping to take advantage of his size and speed. He spent four seasons in Jacksonville averaging 40 catches a year and accumulating only 2,153 yards. Jones missed the final four games of the 2008 season due to cocaine charges and was ultimately dumped before the 2009 season due to a second violation of the NFL substance abuse policy. By the way, three picks after Jones, a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
Chris Henry (RB)
Not to be confused with Derrick Henry, Chris Henry went to Arizona University from 2003-2006. As a running back he ran for 892 yards total in his career with a measly 3.3 YPC average. For some reason he felt these numbers were good enough to come out early and enter the 2007 NFL Draft. Like they say, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and in 2007, it was the Tennessee Titans. Henry’s 4.40 40-yard dash, 26 reps of 225 pounds, and 32” vertical jump got Henry taken with the 50th overall pick in the draft. Henry had just 32 carries and 122 career yards with the Titans and was completely out of the NFL by 2011. Henry was basically the “Achy-Breaky Heart” of Nashville football.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (WR)
Heyward-Bey played for three seasons at the University of Maryland before declaring for the 2009 NFL draft despite a fairly pedestrian career with only 138 catches and 2,089 receiving yards. At the 2009 combine however, Heyward-Bey blew away the Raiders with his 4.3 40-yard dash and it was enough to get him taken 7th overall. He played just four seasons with the Raiders catching 140 balls for 2,071 yards. He was with the Colts for a cup of coffee and has been with the Steelers since 2014, but has only 33 catches total with them. Speed kills folks, and in this case it killed the Raiders.
Stephen Hill (WR)
Hill was a wide receiver for Georgia Tech from 2009-2011. Playing WR for Georgia Tech during that time period was like being the organizer of the Vikings Super Bowl parade. Hill had just 49 catches for 1,248 yards in his time at Georgia Tech. At the 2012 combine though, Hill posted a 4.36 40-yard dash time. The Jets decided to spend their 2nd round pick on the speedster just like the girl who thinks she can take the bad boy and make him into someone all parents would love. Hill felt right at home with the Jets catching only 45 balls for 594 yards in two years.
So there you go. Five guys who did great things in shorts and t-shirts that did nothing in helmets and pads. I guess game film is just too boring for some scouts to watch.
Until next time stretch before you drink a 40, make your only vertical a funnel with a hose attached, and save your shorts and tees for that beach vacation.
Yours in football,
Mike Zimmers Ears is a Minnesota Vikings fan and regular contributor on Blitzed. He also hosts his own Vikings podcast Sound the Gjallahorn.