Analysts, scouts, and coaches are only human, and with human judgement comes human error. Opinions abound during the NFL Combine, as prospects run the 40-Yard Dash, Bench Press, jump and perform other physical tests in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams. But how much stock should you put in a player’s performance? Does a blazing 40 time translate to the field? Does benching 225 pounds over 20 times equal football strength? These questions have been asked for years, and for good reason. From players who had a poor combine and went on to dominate in the NFL to guys who proved to be nothing more than workout warriors, here are the five biggest misses teams and analysts have made at the NFL Combine.
1. Joe Haden Knocked for Being Slow
Back in 2010, Florida Gators cornerback Joe Haden was gearing up for the NFL Combine and looking like a top ten pick in the upcoming Draft. But after he ran a slightly disappointing 4.57 in his 40-Yard Dash, analysts from the NFL Network started second guessing just how good Haden might be. Analyst Bucky Brooks said, ”it’s going to be hard for some scouts to get that 4.57 out of their mind when they think about [Haden] being an elite player. It’s rare for a team to take a guy with that kind of speed as a top 15 or top 10 pick.”
Well, Haden ended up going number seven overall to the Cleveland Browns, but the criticism didn’t stop. Michael Lombardi, writing for NFL.com, stated that ”According to coaches around the league, Browns first-round pick Joe Haden has not been very impressive in camps and might not have enough speed to play corner.”
All Haden did was record 64 tackles and six interceptions his rookie year. Going into his fourth year in the league, Mr. Haden is doing just fine for himself.
2. Jonathan Sullivan Lasts 3 Seasons
Sullivan is a classic case of a player’s draft stock shooting up because of a stellar workout. After running a 5.03 40-Yard Dash (impressive for a guy who weighed over 300 pounds) and performing well in many other areas of the 2003 Combine, Sullivan caught the attention of the New Orleans Saints, who decided to take him with the sixth overall pick in the draft. After a handful of mediocre seasons and an arrest for possession of marijuana, Sullivan was out of the league in three years. Ouch.
3. Vernon Gholston Fools the Jets
After plowing through quarterbacks as a defensive lineman for Ohio State, Gholston put his freakish athletic talents on display during the 2008 NFL Combine. He ran an insanely fast 4.56 40 and pumped out 37 reps during the 225- pound Bench Press, tying a Combine record. Scouts raved about his ability, and NFL.com called him a ”remarkable talent.” Telling the difference between a guy who can perform at a high level in the weight room and one who can translate those skills onto the field can be tricky, but hey, that’s what NFL scouts get paid to do, and the New York Jets swung and missed. After getting chosen with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Gholston played three underwhelming seasons before being released in 2010. He hasn’t seen the field since.
4. Matt Jones Wows Peter King
A former quarterback at the University of Arkansas, the 6’6” Matt Jones turned heads at the 2005 Combine when he ran a 4.37 40-Yard Dash and leaped more than 40 inches in the vertical. No one knew where he would play (quarterback, wide receiver, tight end?), but he led respected Sports Illustrated writer Peter King to remark that ”we haven’t seen this kind of player come around in a long time.”
Turns out we had. The Jacksonville Jaguars took Jones in the first round and tried him out at wide receiver, an experiment that went all kinds of wrong. Jones strung together a few mediocre seasons before his bout with substance abuse prompted the Jags to release him. He was then cut by the Cincinnati Bengals before training camp in 2010.
5. Vontaze Burfict’s Draft Stock Plummets
Vontaze Burfict was a stud linebacker during his college career at Arizona State, but the projected first-round pick came into the 2012 NFL Combine with some baggage after being pegged as a hothead. He did himself no favors at the Combine, running an uber-slow 5.09 40-Yard Dash and reportedly blaming his coaches for his up and down junior season in team interviews.
Burfict went completely undrafted after the Combine, a shock for a guy who was once considered one of the top three linebackers in the 2012 draft. Burfict signed on with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he would start 14 games and lead the team in tackles with 127. He’s also been incident-free during his time in the NFL. Sometimes you’ve got to dig a little deeper on a guy, and 31 teams whiffed on Burfict.
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