NFL coaches, scouts, execs pick most memorable pre-draft workouts

Decision makers on NFL teams are digging into preparations for the 2023 draft as combine practice kicks off Thursday in Indianapolis. Of course, everything will be back on the game tape, but get ready for some “wow” workouts to get people really talking this week, even if it’s just one part of the assessment.

Every scout, coach, and leader has moments of prospect coaching that they remember over the years. I’m talking about rare moments that never left them. This includes amazing feats in standardized combine exercises, private workouts, or even viral video clips. These moments may not even have affected prospects’ evaluations at the end of the day, but they still live on as legendary feats and yardsticks of elite physicality.

What training moments stand above the rest, from a brilliant 40-yard dash to an incredible show of strength? In recent weeks, we’ve polled over four dozen coaches, scouts and HR managers (some retired) to find their most memorable moments. Here are the ones that popped up the most.

Bo knows the speed

Almost no one interviewed saw it with their own eyes, but Bo Jackson’s otherworldly 40-yard run lives on in scouting lore. Running back Auburn said he was asked to run it on his way to practice in 1986 and had a time of just over 4.3 seconds for his first run, although he slowed down before the finish line to avoid crashing into the wall at the end. gym. He recalls that they opened the door on the school premises to give him enough space to run the finish line a second time. The electronic timer showed it at 4.13 seconds.

There is a lot of skepticism about how fast Jackson ran and what is even possible. There were extensive violations of the fastest 40-yard splits in Usain Bolt’s 100-meter snatch record (9.58), which many felt would debunk Jackson’s time. But some scouts still say it was done by hand in 4.17 or 4.18.

No matter, Jackson is often referred to as the fastest player scouts have ever seen. The Heisman Trophy winner had many options, including professional baseball. And when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him with the first overall pick in the 1986 draft, he instead signed with the Kansas City Royals in MLB, citing a conflict with then Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse. A year later, the Los Angeles Raiders selected Jackson in the seventh round of the 1987 draft and told him they would support his desire to play in both leagues. And the legendary 40x time was just one point in a long list of his incredible accomplishments.

Polamalu Disappearing Jump

In 2003, a knee injury prevented USC defenseman Troy Polamalu from training at the Combine or the Senior Bowl, so his pro day on campus was his only real non-playing practice pre-draft.

“He runs in 4.3s,” said Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout and current executive director of the Senior Bowl. “But what I remember most of all is that the old USC facilities were sort of in the basement. They had to knock out some panels in the ceiling because [jump] tune. He jumped about 43½ inches. I only remember that you lost half of his body – you couldn’t see him from the waist up because he disappeared into the ceiling.”

On that day, Polamalu confirmed his status in the first round with a full performance. The Pittsburgh Steelers moved up in the first round from 27th to 16th to choose a future Hall of Famer.

McNair marathon throws

Several scouts say the endurance award goes to Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair on his pro day in 1995. Unlike most draft prospects, McNair avoided putting the deck on a wide receiver for practice and instead threw a few former high school teammates. He threw for about an hour, and the late Floyd Reese once said he asked McNair how far he could throw the ball as the pair walked to the touchline after practice. McNair apparently just smiled, turned around and threw the ball almost 70 yards.

Reese then chose McNair, who later shared the league’s MVP with Peyton Manning in 2003.

The Ultimate Big Man Workout

On the 2012 combine, Dontari Po’s 346-pound guard clocked 4.98 seconds in the 40-yard snatch, did 44 reps of the 225-pound bench press, had a 29.5-inch vertical height, and reached 8’9″ in the run. long jump.

Poe’s performance also seems to have affected his draft weekend. The player who had 22 tackles in his final season in Memphis and tied for fourth on his team in tackles per loss (seven) was selected 11th overall in the 2012 draft. Poe eventually made two Pro Bowl selections for the Kansas City Chiefs and played 128 games in a nine-year career, including one passing and two offensive rushing touchdowns.

Here are some quick special mentions about big man training:

  • Several evaluators selected the Taylor Levan combine in 2014. The Michigan striker ran 40 seconds in 4.87 seconds at 309 pounds and reached 9 feet 9 inches in the long jump. He was also selected 11th overall (Tennessee Titans) two years behind Poe.

  • One long-retired scout still marvels at Cincinnati Bengals legend Anthony Munoz’s athletic accomplishments before he was selected third overall in 1980. “I mean this guy made a bet on [the USC] baseball team.”

Uplifting rise of the Griffin

On the 2018 combine, Shakem Griffin — a UCF linebacker who had an arm amputated as a child — ran 4.38 in the 40-yard snatch and then did 20 reps on the bench press. with a prosthesis on his left hand. Griffin, whose twin brother Shaquille had just completed his sixth season in the NFL, was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round of that year’s draft. He played 46 games, mostly on special teams, in three seasons before announcing his retirement last year.

A whole new level of Vik’s speed

Several raters cited Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick running 40 yards for 40 yards on a 2001 combine as a standout “wow” moment. In the past, there were mobile QBs and many signalers could throw on the run, but scouts saw Vic, who used to show arm strength at a high level in college, on a whole new level.

One former NFL grandmaster said: “Look, we knew he was fast, but the fact that the time appeared on the clock was different.”

Vic was selected 1st overall in that year’s draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He continued to hold the record for most rushing yards in a season for a quarterback (1,036 yards in 2006) until Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears broke the record last year.

Special mention deserves Julio Jones, who rode his 40s on a 2011 combine with a broken foot. The Alabama wide receiver still hit 4.42 and eventually became the Falcons’ sixth pick.

Jones’ amazing flight

Corner Byron Jones set a combine record by jumping 12ft 3in long on a 2015 combine. Some of those interviewed used the word “levitation” to describe what they saw in the UConn product.

“Sometimes I see this picture of Byron Jones jumping,” Nagi said. “Then I was at the Seahawks, and [scout] Josh Graff measured that day. And he was there at about 11 [feet], and I have a photo of Jones hovering over his head. You can’t help but walk away from things like this, wondering if you’ll ever see it again.”

That same year, Jones began the draft process, with some scouts wondering if he was out of the blue enough in the position, as some said that Jones was off balance and off his feet too often. However, the training showed elite traits. Jones added a staggering 44.5-inch vertical jump and raters were forced back to tape after the combine. The Dallas Cowboys ended up picking Jones 27th overall that same year.

Last Saturday, Jones reacted to a 2023 combine advert on Twitter and said he “can no longer run or jump” due to injuries he has sustained over the course of his career. (Jones, now with the Miami Dolphins, missed all of last season with Achilles tendon surgery.)

Workout props go viral

Several evaluators have identified here a special category for training with props. Two that came up a few times when we talked to scouts, coaches and leaders:

  • Wisconsin-Whitewater security guard Quinn Meinertz posted workout videos on YouTube of him lifting logs during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was eventually selected in the third round by the Denver Broncos in 2021.

  • Tristan Virfs from Iowa flooded social networks with a video in which he jumps out of the pool. In 2020, he was selected as the 13th pick by the Pirates.

How do scouts balance these moments on the tape?

The evolution of the profession means that there is certainly some bias towards novelty in all of this. Before the world was digitally connected and when the scouting staff was much smaller, moments of remembrance were usually more about the quiet journey to work out the player in solitude – those solo victories to see what no one else has seen. Things like Bill Nunn’s decision to stay and coach wide receiver John Stallworth the day after a slow 40 in bad weather, or longtime scout commander Brocato coaching a player outside the construction company owned by the player’s girlfriend’s father.

But over the years, balancing between an extraordinary workout moment and a game tape has always been a huge challenge. The temptation is to have one good day at Indy to tip the scales against a lot more work over several seasons. Scouts need to evaluate what is an indication of what could be and what is an amazing shot. But this is all the information that needs to be collected and digested.

Linebacker Mike Mamula did a 1996 confetti workout on a combine. The Boston College product scored 4.58 in the 40-yard snatch, jumped 38.5 inches vertically, did 26 reps with a 225-pound bench press, and scored 49 out of 50 on the Vanderlik test. Mamula is often referred to as the prospect who cracked the code for combines and professional training. Unlike most avenues of that era,…


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