The top combine performances at each position since 2006
Every year in late February the entire NFL descends up Indianapolis to conduct the sport’s most important job interview. And every year the results get blown well out of proportion with nothing else to talk about in the football world. As you’ll see below, winning the combine isn’t always an indicator of NFL success. Since PFF started collecting data with the 2006 season, here is the All-Combine team based on the performance numbers in Indianapolis.
Quarterback: Robert Griffin III
Running a 4.41 40-yard dash at 223 pounds would be freakish for a wide receiver, let alone a quarterback. Multiple injuries have robbed RG3 of some of that raw athleticism in the NFL, but we’ll always have the magic that was his rookie season in 2012. That season he was PFF’s eighth-highest-graded quarterback and averaged a ridiculous 11.8 yards per attempt off play action.
Honorable mention: Brad Smith
Running back: Chris Johnson
Johnson’s 4.24 40-yard dash is still the fastest ever run at the combine. That number translated swimmingly to the football field, where he was the biggest home-run threat we’ve ever seen at the position. In 2009 he gained an unbelievable 1,026 yards on carries that were 15 yards or longer — by far the highest figure we’ve ever seen.
Honorable mention: Dri Archer
Wide receivers: Chris Conley and Julio Jones
Conley is arguably the most explosive athlete to pass through Indy in the last 11 years. His 45-inch vertical is the best over that span, while his 11-foot-7 broad is second best. And it’s not like his 4.35 40 time is too shabby either. So far though, it hasn’t translated to on-field production, as his 1.03 yards per route last year was 85th among starting wide receivers.
Jones’ athleticism on the other hand has translated to unstoppable production. His 3.12 yards per route was tops in the league last year and he’s finished with a top-10 grade each of the past three seasons.
Tight end: Vernon Davis
Pound for pound, Davis’ performance at the 2006 combine might be the most impressive ever. At 254 pounds, he ran a sub 4.4 40 and had a 42-inch vertical. Inconsistent hands and inconsistent quarterback play cost Davis a good deal of production, but in his prime he was one of the most dangerous deep threats the position has ever seen. He finished top-three in deep receiving yards among tight ends every year from 2009 to 2013.
Honorable mention: Dorin Dickerson
Tackles: Terron Armstead and Lane Johnson
The two fastest offensive linemen over the past 11 seasons, Armstead and Johnson were among the few that didn’t move like offensive linemen. While offensive line isn’t usually a premium position for athleticism, these two have translated it to the playing field. Armstead was a top-three left tackle in the league in 2015 before battling injuries last year while Johnson was far and away the best right tackle in the league this past season before he got suspended.
Guards: Joel Bitonio and J.R. Sweezy
Sweezy is cheating to some degree as he actually worked out with the defensive linemen coming out of N.C. State in 2012. His 36-inch vertical is the best of any offensive lineman in the PFF era. After making the switch to guard he turned into an inconsistent yet crushing run-blocker at times who has struggled in pass protection. Bitonio on the other hand came into the league as polished as can be, finishing his rookie season as PFF’s fifth-highest-graded guard. Since then though he’s struggled to stay healthy with only 971 snaps the past two seasons.
Center: Jason Kelce
Kelce’s 4.14 shuttle is far and away the best number of any offensive lineman at the combine. It helps that he was only 280 pounds at the combine, but he’s been able to play effectively in the NFL at that weight. Kelce was absolutely ideal for Chip Kelly’s scheme in Philly and was a top-five-graded center in 2013. Since then though his play has slipped considerably and was nothing short of a liability last season in pass protection.
Honorable mention: Will Montgomery
Interior defenders: J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald
It’s almost as if we should have seen this coming. Watt didn’t turn any heads with his 4.84 40-yard dash, but every single other number he posted in Indianapolis was nothing short of freakish considering he weighed 290 pounds. Donald on the other hand ran a 40 time that was utterly ridiculous. There were starting cornerbacks in the NFL last year that ran slower than Donald’s 4.68.
Nose tackle: Dontari Poe
One of the most important things to remember when analyzing the numbers of a player is that size (and density) matters. A 4.98-second 40 isn’t that impressive for a high-level athlete. A 4.98-second 40 is impressive though if that athlete weighs 346 pounds. That’s literally twice the size of Dri Archer. In the league Poe has flashed the capability of being one of the league’s best nose tackles, but struggles with consistency. He’s played an incredible 4,529 snaps over his first five seasons.
Honorable mention: Stephen Paea
Edge defenders: Bud Dupree and Von Miller
Dupree only did three drills at the combine, but all three were unbelievable for his size. At 269 pounds he ran a 4.56, with a 42-inch vertical and an 11-6 broad jump. On the field though he’s shown that he doesn’t have the flexibility or change of direction to consistently beat offensive linemen. He’s graded below average in both run defense and as a pass rusher his first two seasons. That’s the complete opposite of Miller, who has been the total package his entire career and is on a Hall of Fame track.
Linebackers: A.J. Hawk and Ryan Shazier
It’s almost difficult to believe Hawk put up the numbers that he did back in 2006. His 3.96 short shuttle is still the best of any linebacker ever while his 11-1 broad jump is third-best. In his 10 seasons in the NFL, Hawk finished with above-average grades only twice with his highest grade ever coming as a rookie.
The other Ohio State athlete has flashed more potential in the league his first few seasons. Shazier’s Wild Card performance against the Bengals in 2015 is the highest-graded game we’ve ever seen from a linebacker and his grades have improved every year.
Cornerbacks: Josh Robinson and Patrick Peterson
Robinson had easily one of the cleanest performances at the combine of all time. He may not have put up a single eye-popping number, but all of his drills were elite. With the Vikings he was never more than a below-average nickel corner and has only managed 14 snaps over the last two seasons.
Peterson’s numbers are in the same boat as Robinson except the fact that at 219 pounds, Peterson could almost pass as a linebacker. The Cardinals cornerback has been elite throughout his career outside of a down year in 2014 after he was diagnosed with diabetes.
Safeties: Byron Jones and Taylor Mays
We finish with what was, in my opinion, the greatest combine performance of all time. It’s the only one I know of that legitimately broke a world record, as well. Jones’ 12-3 broad jump is eight (!) inches farther than anyone else has ever jumped at the combine. He didn’t run the 40, but every drill he did do he put up a superb number. He’s quickly becoming one of the best safeties in the league after back-to-back great seasons to start his career.
Mays never quite lived up to the hype that his athleticism commanded. His 41-inch vertical and 4.43 40 at 230 pounds were out of this world. He was traded after his rookie year in San Francisco and has only managed 902 snaps since.