With the 2019 NFL Combine now in full swing, I decided to take a look back at the best and worst performances in Combine history. Not every super athlete turned into an NFL superstar and not every poor performance saw the player relegated to the dustbin of history. Some of these performances were rightly called out as historic when they happened, but some just flew under the radar, either due to other storylines being more prevalent or simply due to the Combine lacking the luster that it has today as a national viewing experience. There’s no real science to why I chose these instead of others, so be sure to let me know who I overlooked in the comments.
Best Quarterback Combine Ever - Cam Newton
We’re kicking off with an easy one, I know, at least on the high end. There were plenty to choose from, just among the recent draft classes, but the top of this group had some pretty insane athletes. Whether it was Akili Smith setting a then record for a QB 3-Cone at 6.99 seconds while running a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash way back in 1999, Josh McCown ranking 96th percentile or higher in literally every drill he participated in 2002, or Tim Tebow posting a (somewhat ironic) 6.66 3-Cone time in 2010, there’s no shortage of great athletes. Nobody else deserves this mention, however, besides Cam Newton, whose 2011 performance is unlikely to ever be replicated even before you consider his size.
Worst Quarterback Combine Ever - Steve Beuerlein
Tom Brady haters, you can put your pitchforks away, this one was actually fairly easy. While people love to laugh at Tom Brady’s now iconic-in-an-ironic-way Combine performance, that’s mostly due to his chunky weigh in picture and horrid 5.24 40-yard dash. His explosion drills were equally awful, but his agility drills weren’t bad at all. Both his shuttle and cone times were almost exactly average.
Steve Beuerlein, on the other hand, did not have such luck. Posting a very poor 40 time was actually the high point for the eventual 1999 Pro Bowler, and he would go on to post some of the most abysmal explosion numbers in Combine history. It wasn’t all bad, as he would go on to make the aforementioned Pro Bowl 13 years into his career and was the No. 1 draft selection in the 1995 Expansion Draft, throwing the first passes for the Jacksonville Jaguars... before being replaced by Mark Brunell in Year 1.
Best Running Back Combine Ever - Chris Darkins
Before you ask “Who?” let me clear the air on who Chris Darkins gets the nod over. I had thought, initially, about giving this to Saquon Barkley. Barkley dominated the 2018 Combine, posting elite numbers in nearly every drill, hitting over 90th percentile in every drill he performed... except the Short Shuttle. He had a fine shuttle, just not a great one. And he did it all at 233 pounds!
I also considered giving this to Edgerrin James, whose 1999 Combine performance hit some pretty ridiculous marks, or James Stewart, who did the same in 1995. Both of those guys missed a whole category each, though, so it felt wrong to include them.
Instead, I went with Chris Darkins, a former fourth-round pick for the Packers in 1996 who hit elite marks everywhere, above 93rd percentile in all drills and hitting historic marks in two: the 10 split (1.54) and short shuttle (3.91). It never translated to the field, however, as Darkins only had a few kick returns to his credit in his very short NFL career. Oh, he was also arrested in 2016 for an alleged role in a drug ring.
Worst Running Back Combine Ever - John Settle
One of the profiles that gave me the idea for this very article, John Settle was the first 0.00 RAS running back, posting the worst score in the first year that RAS covers (1987) and one that would hold up as low as 0.08 out of 10.00 today.
He would go undrafted that season but would land with the Atlanta Falcons and, oh boy, did he have a great kick off to a heck of a career! Settle would go on to net the first 1,000-yard season by an undrafted free agent ever, posting 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns, earning All-Pro honors. Settle would leave pro football in 1991 having never quite recaptured that magic, but he became a running backs coach at Fresno State where he taught six 1,000-yard rushing running backs. He moved on to Wisconsin where he again coached with one of the most prolific rushing attacks in college football. He landed with the Carolina Panthers during their two-headed monster years, coached for the Browns, then went back to college ranks, eventually landing back at his old stomping grounds in Wisconsin.
Best Wide Receiver Combine Ever - Matt Jones
Yeah, yeah, Calvin Johnson! Julio Jones! I get it, they’re awesome and they both crushed the Combine. Calvin, however, skipped out on agility drills, while Julio Jones posted some sick numbers everywhere but the short shuttle, where he scored just average. Here’s the thing, though, that’s not even the most impressive showing! Sick as it was, there’s still one better.
Matt Jones, who played quarterback for Arkansas, would post elite speed, explosion, and agility scores while measuring in at over 6-foot-6 and 242 pounds! His short shuttle, by far his weakest drill, was still only just outside of elite range. Jones would flop in the NFL, never living up to his first-round draft selection and getting arrested multiple times for cocaine and alcohol related issues. Apparently he’s in radio now, back in Arkansas.
Worst Wide Receiver Combine Ever - Robert Wilson
Another guy you probably haven’t heard of, Robert Wilson came out of Florida A&M way back in 1997. He had a very short, relatively uneventful career for the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints, but his Combine was something else. Posting below average numbers in every event, could you even imagine a wide receiver who’s under 5-foot-11, only 176 pounds, and running a 4.82 40 finding ANY success in the NFL today? It’s kind of incredible he caught 32 passes for 431 yards over four seasons.
Best Tight End Combine Ever - Mike Gesicki
I labored over including Vernon Davis here instead. A trailblazer, Davis posted an insane 4.4 flat 40-yard dash time coming out, and that’s hard to top. When it came down to the Combine as a whole, however, it was hard to top Mike Gesicki. Unlike Davis, Gesicki wasn’t undersized at the position, but with the exception of the bench (he has 34 1/8” arms), he posted above 95th percentile in every drill. Gesicki’s talents were undeniable, and if he could block he likely would have been picked higher than 42nd overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He currently plays for the Miami Dolphins and is expected to take on a bigger workload in Year 2.
Worst Tight End Combine Ever - Dave Moore
Like Tim Settle, Dave Moore was a big part of what influenced this research. There were admittedly a couple more players who had worse Combines than Dave Moore in the 90s, but none who had any real shot at the NFL anyway from what I was able to discern. So I’m taking a small liberty here.
Moore was a seventh-round pick by the Miami Dolphins, but he wouldn’t last there long. That’s a bit ironic, considering he would last a very, very long time in the NFL. Moore’s Combine in 1992 was worse than what would be considered acceptable by a blocking specialist these days, but after flaming out quickly with Miami he would land in Tampa Bay, where he would spend 13 of his 15-year NFL career, ending in the best way it can playing in his first Pro Bowl in 2006 (as a Long Snapper). Not bad for a guy whose Combine was so bad it wasn’t even good for a long snapper, huh?
Best Offensive Lineman Combine Ever - Taylor Lewan
Some of these aren’t very difficult. Taylor Lewan’s 2014 Combine was easily and indisputably the best Combine for any offensive lineman at any position. Even if you include his only passable weight score, Lewan averaged over 90th percentile in every drill with his ‘worst’ on field drill being the vertical where he posted an 84th percentile 30.5” vert. Lewan is still playing at a Pro Bowl level for the team that drafted him, the Tennessee Titans.
Worst Offensive Lineman Combine Ever - Mike Devlin
Unlike most of these, I wanted to include the present day RAS card for Mike Devlin. You see, despite coming out in the 1993 draft, where he was selected in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills, Mike Devlin’s Combine stands as a beacon, the worst Combine at his position of all time.
Undersized even for the time, Devlin posted a 5.65 40-yard dash time and a vertical jump of only 21 inches. Somehow, Devlin would manage a decent NFL career, lasting for seven seasons. He even started a bit for the Arizona Cardinals from 1996-98. Devlin would take up coaching in 2000, making the leap to NFL position coach in 2006 and taking his present job as the offensive line coach for the Houston Texans in 2015. So it all worked out alright in the end!