Do Workout Warriors Work Out?

Joe Robbins

A look at the success rate of NFL Combine workout champs.

Every year around this time most of the country's best college football players trek down to Indianapolis, Indiana, get out of their pads and into full body compression suits and run through a battery of physical and mental drills designed to give NFL coaches and scouts more in depth knowledge of the players' physical and mental abilities, as well as an easy means of comparing one against another in identical conditions. Every year one or more players surprise at the Combine by displaying theretofore unsuspected freakish athleticism in the drills, and begin the ritual climb up mock draft boards. Every year one or more guys who showed relatively little during their actual playing days get picked in the first round of the NFL draft because of their incredible performance at the Combine drills, Dontari Poe being the latest in a long line of such workout warriors in 2012.

Given that so much time and effort is devoted to these drills every year by athletes and scouts alike, I thought it might be interesting to track the best performances over the last dozen years at the various drills and see how their NFL careers worked out. Here's what I found. When reading these charts, keep in mind that every drill other than the weight lifting is skewed heavily toward smaller, lighter, faster players, so whatever we may or may not be able to conclude here applies mainly to RBs, WRs, DBs and the occasional LB. Here are the results:

All Figures From The Period 2000-2012

Top 15 Performances

40 Yard Dash

4.24 Chris Johnson, (RB), East Carolina - 2008

4.27 Stanford Routt, (CB), Houston - 2005

4.28 Jerome Mathis, (WR), Hampton - 2005

4.28 Jacoby Ford, (WR), Clemson - 2010

4.28 Demarcus Van Dyke, (CB), Miami - 2011

4.29 Fabian Washington, (CB), Nebraska - 2005

4.29 Johnny Knox, (WR), Abilene Christian - 2009

4.30 Darrent Williams, (CB), Oklahoma State - 2005

4.30 Yamon Figurs, (WR), Kansas State - 2007

4.30 Darrius Heyward-Bey, (WR), Maryland - 2009

4.31 Aaron Lockett, (WR), Kansas State - 2002

4.31 Santana Moss, (WR), Miami - 2001

4.31 Justin King, (CB), Penn State - 2008

4.31 Tyvon Branch, (CB), Connecticut - 2008

4.33 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, (CB), Tennessee State - 2008

4.33 Mike Wallace, (WR), Mississippi - 2009

4.33 Josh Robinson, (CB), Central Florida - 2012


10-yard splits (40 yard dash)

1.40 Chris Johnson, (RB), East Carolina - 2008

1.40 Justin King, (CB), Penn State - 2008

1.40 Cedric Peerman, (RB), Virginia - 2009

1.41 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, (CB), Tennessee State - 2008

1.43 Eric Weddle, (SS), Utah - 2007

1.43 Aundrae Allison, (WR), East Carolina - 2007

1.43 Marcus McCauley, (CB), Fresno State - 2007

1.43 Quintin Demps, (FS), Texas-El Paso - 2008

1.43 Marcus Walker, (CB), Oklahoma - 2008

1.43 Tyvon Branch, (CB), Connecticut - 2008

1.43 Antwaun Molden, (CB), Eastern Kentucky - 2008

1.43 DaJuan Morgan, (FS), North Carolina State - 2008

1.43 Jonathan Zenon, (CB), LSU - 2008

1.43 Jonathan Wilhite, (CB), Auburn - 2008

1.43 Will Franklin, (WR), Missouri - 2008

1.43 Leodis McKelvin, (CB), Troy - 2008

1.43 Mike Wallace, (WR), Mississippi - 2009

.

20-yard splits (40-yard dash)

2.40 Stephon Gilmore, (CB), South Carolina - 2012

2.41 Chris Johnson, (RB), East Carolina - 2008

2.41 C.J. Spiller, (RB), Clemson - 2010

2.43 Fabian Washington, (CB), Nebraska - 2005

2.43 Chris Rainey, (RB), Florida - 2012

2.44 Karl Paymah, (CB), Washington State - 2005

2.44 Patrick Peterson, (CB), LSU - 2011

2.44 Jacoby Ford, (WR), Clemson - 2010

2.45 Mike Wallace, (WR), Mississippi - 2009

2.45 Coty Sensabaugh, (CB), Clemson - 2012

2.46 Aldrick Robinson, (WR), Southern Methodist - 2011

2.46 Aundrae Allison, (WR), East Carolina - 2007

2.46 Roc Alexander, (CB), Washington - 2004

2.46 Emmanuel Sanders, (WR), Southern Methodist - 2010

2.46 Justin King, (CB), Penn State - 2008

2.46 Taylor Mays, (FS), Southern Cal - 2010


225 Pound Bench Reps

49 Stephen Paea, (DT), Oregon State - 2011

45 Leif Larsen, (DT), Texas-El Paso - 2000

45 Mike Kudla, (DE), Ohio State - 2006

45 Mitch Petrus, (OG), Arkansas - 2010

44 Brodrick Bunkley, (DT), Florida State - 2006

44 Jeff Owens, (DT), Georgia - 2010

44 Dontari Poe, (DT), Memphis - 2012

43 Scott Young, (OG), BYU - 2005

42 Isaac Sopoaga, (DT), Hawaii - 2004

42 Tank Tyler, (DT), North Carolina State - 2007

41 Igor Olshansky, (DT), Oregon - 2004

41 Terna Nande, (OLB), Miami (OHIO) - 2006

41 David Molk, (C), Michigan - 2012

40 Justin Blalock, (OG), Texas - 2007

40 Manuel Ramirez, (OG), Texas Tech - 2007


20-yard Shuttle

3.73 Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa - 2001

3.75 Dunta Robinson, (CB), South Carolina - 2004

3.76 Deion Branch, (WR), Louisville - 2002

3.82 Dante' Hall, (RB), Texas A&M - 2000

3.82 Carlos Rogers, (CB), Auburn - 2005

3.83 Kevin Bentley, (OLB), Northwestern - 2002

3.83 Terence Newman, (CB), Kansas State - 2003

3.83 Jason Allen, (FS), Tennessee - 2006

3.84 Justin Beriault, (FS), Ball State - 2005

3.84 Troy Walters, (WR), Stanford - 2000

3.85 Rashad Holman, (CB), Louisville - 2001

3.86 Jason Hebert, (FS), Rice - 2002

3.87 Randy Fasani, (QB), Stanford - 2002

3.87 Coy Wire, (SS), Stanford - 2002

3.88 Ryan Tolhurst, (WR), Richmond - 2002

3.88 Kevin Curtis, (FS), Texas Tech - 2002

3.88 Joey Thomas, (CB), Montana State - 2004

3.88 Kendrick Starling, (WR), San Jose State - 2004

3.88 Jeff Shoate, (CB), San Diego State - 2004



3-Cone Drill

6.34 Sedrick Curry, (CB), Texas A&M - 2000

6.42 Jeff Maehl, (WR), Oregon - 2011

6.44 Buster Skrine, (CB), Chattanooga - 2011

6.45 Scott Long, (WR), Louisville - 2010

6.46 Dane Sanzenbacher, (WR), Ohio State - 2011

6.48 Rogers Beckett, (FS), Marshall - 2000

6.48 Carlos Rogers, (CB), Auburn - 2005

6.48 Terrance Toliver, (WR), LSU - 2011

6.50 Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan - 2007

6.50 Chykie Brown, (CB), Texas - 2011

6.50 Cecil Shorts III, (WR), Mount Union - 2011

6.50 Chris Rainey, (RB), Florida - 2012

6.51 Jon McGraw, (SS), Kansas State - 2002

6.54 Anthony Gonzalez, (WR), Ohio State - 2007

6.54 Trindon Holliday, (WR), LSU - 2010

.

Vertical Jump

46 Gerald Sensabaugh, (FS), North Carolina - 2005

45 1/2 Derek Wake, (OLB), Penn State - 2005

45 Chris Chambers, (WR), Wisconsin - 2001

45 Chris McKenzie, (CB), Arizona State - 2005

45 Donald Washington, (CB), Ohio State - 2009

44 A.J. Jefferson, (CB), Fresno State - 2010

43 1/2 Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa - 2001

43 1/2 Dustin Fox, (FS), Ohio State - 2005

43 1/2 Dorin Dickerson, (TE), Pittsburgh - 2010

43 1/2 Kashif Moore, (WR), Connecticut - 2012

43 Cedric James, (WR), TCU - 2001

43 Nate Burleson, (WR), Nevada - 2003

43 Scott Starks, (CB), Wisconsin - 2005

43 Darius Butler, (CB), Connecticut - 2009

43 Eric Berry, (FS), Tennessee - 2010


Broad Jump

11'05" Justin Fargas, (RB), Southern Cal - 2003

11'05" Scott Starks, (CB), Wisconsin - 2005

11'04" Terence Newman, (CB), Kansas State - 2003

11'04" Chris McKenzie, (CB), Arizona State - 2005

11'04" Jerome Simpson, (WR), Coastal Carolina - 2008

11'03" Hilton Alexander, (WR), Morris Brown - 2001

11'03" Boss Bailey, (OLB), Georgia - 2003

11'03" Donald Washington, (CB), Ohio State - 2009

11'03" Julio Jones, (WR), Alabama - 2011

11'02" Jonathan Carter, (WR), Troy - 2001

11'02" Chris Chambers, (WR), Wisconsin - 2001

11'02" Cedric James, (WR), TCU - 2001

11'02" Anthony Alridge, (RB), Houston - 2008

11'02" Carl Stewart, (FB), Auburn - 2008

11'02" Darius Butler, (CB), Connecticut - 2009

11'02" Dekoda Watson, (OLB), Florida State - 2010

The reader can draw his own conclusions from this data set, but a few things jump out at me.

1. Other than the bench press, the data presented here only really applies to RBs, WRs and CBs -- the speed demons of the league. No other positions are represented by more than a handful of players so nothing meaningful can be inferred about, for example, what sprint times mean for LB or DL or QB performance.

2. These performances are the best of the best. A large majority of these performances were the best in their particular draft class. So if a guy performed extremely well, even the best in his draft class at his position, he may still not show up here.

3. (Only half joking) If you want to succeed in the NFL, avoid giving a record setting performance in anything other than the sprints. The guys with the other records: Stephen Paea, Kevin Kasper, Sedrick Curry, Gerald Sensabaugh, Justin Fargas... Yikes! The jury's still out on Paea, but overall that's not an NFL Who's Who list, it's an NFL Who's that? list.

4. The 3 Cone Drill and the Vertical leap appear to be neck and neck for most useless drill. Both lists are filled with complete nonentities, with just one or two decent players sprinkled in.

5. While the headlines go to the 40 times, it appears that the 10 and 20 yard splits may have more significance. The top 10 40 times, with the exception of Chris Johnson, belong to a parade of mediocrities. In contrast, the top 10 10 and 20 yard splits include, in addition to Johnson, such standouts as Eric Weddle, Patrick Peterson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, C.J. Spiller, and, although the jury's still out on him, Stephon Gilmore. This correlates with football common sense, as players are not often asked to sprint 40 yards in the NFL, but explosion over 10 to 20 yards is much more closely related to what players do on the field. Perhaps we should start ignoring 40 times a bit more and focus more on the 10 and 20 yard splits.

6. As a group, these workout warriors are strikingly unimpressive. Keep in mind, all of these guys were invited to the Combine, meaning that, in the NFL's estimation they were among the college players most likely to be drafted, prior to their combine performance. In other words, these aren't just a collection of the best sprinters and athletic freaks who happen to play football -- these are the best football players who happen to be athletic freaks. Given that, it really pops out at you how few of the names on these lists ever amounted to anything in the NFL. By my rough calculation, no more than 15 of these players ever became even an average NFL player, and only a handful ever became full fledged stars. That is a strikingly low rate of success in a list of more than 100 players with freakish athletic abilities.

7. These numbers don't tell the story of more than 95% of Combine Participants. All the excellent but not quite top 15 performances are omitted, as are the performances of virtually all players other than RBs, CBs and WRs. It may be that freakish performances have a much higher success rate in the NFL at other positions, so that, for example, a top 15 list by position rather than for all Combine participants yields a much higher success rate. I'll try to put together something on this at a later date.

8. I suspect, without any empirical evidence to back it up, that the Combine numbers are better used at the bottom end of the scale than at the top. That is, used as a tool to weed out certain players who don't possess the minimum athleticism to thrive in the NFL the Combine may have a much more interesting story to tell. For example, Jerry Rice famously ran a 4.7 40 yard dash, and is always presented as the poster child for 40 times being meaningless, as in "How can you say WR X is too slow when the greatest WR of all time was just as slow??!!!" But I think Rice is the proverbial exception that proves the rule. Other than him, I don't think there are more than a handful, and perhaps none at all, of WRs who have enjoyed NFL success after running a 4.7 or slower. Similarly, perhaps the Combine is best used not to identify hidden gems who may have been overlooked, but rather to identify very productive college players who may not have quite the athleticism required in the NFL. Of course there are always the occasional exceptions, like Rice, or Burflict last year, but if you're going to use the Combine numbers at all, maybe their best use is to weed out risks to avoid.

So, what about you? What story do you think these numbers tell? And do you think workout warriors are generally a good bet to work out in the NFL?

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