The NFL Combine Cautionary Tale (Again)

Another year, another few days of the NFL’s meat market — ERRRR, I mean the NFL Combine.

College football players convene with NFL coaches, general managers and scouts in what is the ultimate job interview for the upcoming NFL Draft next month.  From the interviews conducted, to the various drills that allow GMs, scouts and coaches to examine the measurables.

And this is where those same GMs, scouts and coaches get themselves in a heap of trouble.  Falling in love with how college players look and perform in t-shirts and shorts instead of relying on how they perform ON FILM.

Case in point the 40-yard dash.  This is where several college players saw their draft stock rise — and fall.

An example that comes to mind is Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Diehard NFL fans know him as an integral special teams player for my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, but not many people know that he started his career as an Oakland Raider.  Heyward-Bey had his 40 time clocked at 4.3 (!), and his speed enamored former owner Al Davis (RIP) so much, the Raiders over-drafted him (seventh overall pick).  At the height of his career, Heyward-Bey never had more than five TD receptions in a season.  Not good for a guy drafted in the top 10.

However, Heyward-Bey (and others) do not hold a candle to the ULTIMATE workout warrior: Mike Mamula.

In 1995, Mamula had the NFL Combine of the ages.  He benched 225 pounds 28 times, he had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches, and he exploded for a 4.58 time in the 40.  Those results helped Mamula, who was once a projected second- or third-round pick, become the Philadelphia Eagles’ seventh overall selection in the 1995 NFL Draft.  And the Eagles traded their No. 12 overall pick and two second-round selections to the Buccaneers in order to move up and draft him.

And while his NFL career was not considered “bust-worthy”, it certainly was not what the Eagles would have hoped giving up so much to trade for him.  In just five seasons in Philadelphia, Mamula had 31.5 sacks — including a career-high 8.5 in 1999.

Because Mamula’s subsequent NFL career did not track with projections extrapolated based upon his top combine showing, he is often pejoratively referred to as a “Workout Warrior”.  Thus becoming the ultimate cautionary tale for athletes who excel during the Combine, improve their draft standings, and have a “meh” NFL career.

This year’s candidate is Montez Sweat.

Sweat, at 6-foot-5⅞, 260 pounds, ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, which was the fastest time recorded by a defensive lineman at the combine since 2006.  He also was faster than 21 of the 23 running backs who ran the 40 at this year’s combine.

While Sweat had a solid collegiate career at Mississippi State — he finished his 2018 season with the Bulldogs with 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, and he had 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2017 — let’s hope those aforementioned GMs, coaches and scouts don’t make the same mistakes they made with Heyward-Bey, Mamula and a host of other Workout Warriors.

Only time will tell…


Categories: NFL

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