With the NFL Scouting Combine winding down, SEC Country offers a capsule look at the SEC’s most legendary performers in combine history — an eight-man countdown which includes two Heisman Trophy winners, two No. 1 overall selections and seven first-round picks.
(Note: The players are featured in chronological order.)
RB Bo Jackson, Auburn (1986)
THE SKINNY: There isn’t a lot of public (or confirmed) information on Jackson’s combine experience.
Around this time in 1986, Bo (1985 Heisman Trophy winner) was playing baseball for Auburn — at least until the Buccaneers put the kibosh on that, mistakenly seating Jackson on owner Hugh Culverhouse Sr.’s plane when visiting Tampa Bay’s team headquarters (NCAA rules violation). A few months later, Jackson would get his so-called revenge on the Buccaneers … by passing on NFL money (No. 1 overall pick in 1986) and subsequently signing a baseball contract with the Kansas City Royals.
Back to the combine. The legend of Jackson’s hand-held time in the 40-yard dash — at 4.12 seconds — remains larger than life. And even if the human-error reading was inaccurate, Jackson still would have been a viable candidate to break — or in this case, supersede — Chris Johnson’s official combine record (4.24 in 2008).
For those who never saw Jackson run on “live” TV … here’s a perfect example (below) of potential 4.12 speed.
WR Matt Jones, Arkansas (2005)
THE SKINNY: The college quarterback/pro receiver was the surprise gem of the 2005 combine, posting 40 times in the range of 4.37 (hand-held) and 4.40 (machine) and then backing it up with absurd tallies in the vertical jump (39 1/2 inches) and broad jump (129 inches).
Come draft day, the Jacksonville Jaguars couldn’t pass on Jones’ sky-high potential at receiver, believing he would dominate the red zone early on and then grow into a dynamic route-runner as he gained experience. But it proved to be a short-sighted experiment, as Jones (166 catches, 2,153 yards, 15 total TDs in the regular season from 2005-08) had some off-field problems in 2008 … and was never heard from, NFL-wise, shortly after that.
(Let the record also show: The Jaguars selected Jones three picks before future MVP Aaron Rodgers went to the Packers … and six slots before the Falcons landed Pro Bowl wideout Roddy White.)
QB Tim Tebow, Florida (2010)
THE SKINNY: Josh McDaniels — the Denver Broncos’ precocious head coach in 2010 — fell in love with Tebow as a quarterback prospect around combine time; or factoring in Tebow’s off-field charisma and on-field je ne sais quoi, maybe this man-crush developed from afar, during Tebow’s college days.
Whatever the case, citing three athletically taxing combine events, Tebow (2007 Heisman winner) ran a 4.72 40, posted a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump and needed only 6.66 seconds for the “three-cone drill.” As a reference point, Tebow and Julio Jones had the same time in that drill.
For the 2010 draft, the Broncos traded up to land Tebow at No. 25 in Round 1. It would end up as pseudo-bust pick for the franchise, even though Tebow led Denver to one playoff victory in the 2011 season.
In hindsight, the better long-term strategy would have been to ignore Tebow’s intangible traits (and average passing arm) … and snag all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski (5,555 receiving yards, 65 TDs in only six NFL seasons) in in Round 1.
WR Julio Jones, Alabama (2011)
THE SKINNY: The first six picks of the 1989 draft — Troy Aikman, Tony Mandarich, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Deion Sanders, Broderick Thomas — entered the NFL with a lot of hype; and doing the post-career math, that’s four Pro Football Hall of Famers among the six.
Well, it sounds like a long shot right now, but the first six picks of the 2011 draft — Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones — might yield five or six Hall of Fame busts for Canton someday.
The All-Pro Jones (136 catches, 1,871 yards, 8 TDs in 2015) likely clinched his draft slot at the NFL combine: Among receivers, Julio was one of the top performers in the 40-yard dash (4.39 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.07). He also posted prodigious numbers in the vertical jump (38 1/2 inches), broad jump (135 inches), three-cone drill (6.66 seconds — just like Tebow) and 20-yard shuttle (4.25 seconds).
CB Darius Slay, Mississippi State (2013)
THE SKINNY: Three years ago, there were whispers of Slay incurring a slight knee tear while preparing for the combine.
But who could tell … after watching the Mississippi State standout notch elite-level tallies with the 40-yard dash (4.36 seconds — top performer among cornerbacks), vertical jump (35 1/2 inches), broad jump (124 inches), 20-yard shuttle (4.21 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.90).
As a byproduct of the impressive combine showing, Slay zoomed up the draft charts that spring, before fortuitously landing with the Lions early in Round 2. In the present, Slay (four interceptions, 37 career pass deflections) is on the verge of signing a big-money extension with Detroit.
DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU (2013)
THE SKINNY: Mingo (seven career sacks) hasn’t yet developed into a Pro Bowl-worthy talent, but who can really blame the Cleveland Browns for taking the Barkevious plunge at No. 6 overall three years ago — seven slots ahead of Jets standout Sheldon Richardson?
Among the defensive linemen at the 2013 combine, Mingo earned top-performer honors with the 40-yard dash (4.58 seconds), vertical jump (37 inches), broad jump (128 inches) and three-cone drill (6.84 seconds).
It was almost a clean sweep for the LSU star.
Mingo’s only event “failing” occurred in the 20-yard shuttle — at a super-quick 4.39 seconds.
WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (2014)
THE SKINNY: NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has made numerous references to Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive tackle Aaron Donald over the last few days, applauding their legacies as combine superstars.
Which brings us to this: Can you believe the Detroit Lions had their choice of both prospects at the No. 10 slot in 2014? (The same held true for Tennessee with the 11th pick.)
At the time, it should have been a gut-wrenching, but win-win decision for the Lions:
If Detroit opts for Donald … the club gets an all-world talent and an heir apparent to Ndamukong Suh — in case Suh left via free agency before the 2015 season (spoiler alert: The Nebraska legend bolted for Miami).
If the Lions go for Beckham (above) … the franchise gets an all-world talent and an heir apparent to Calvin Johnson (who was entering his eighth pro season at the time.)
So what did Detroit do in the end? It went for the out-of-box selection of tight end Eric Ebron … who has 72 catches, 785 yards and six touchdowns in his first two regular seasons.
The above factoid/thinly veiled mini-rant is even more galling, when considering Beckham’s absurd production at the combine (below):
40 time: 4.43
Vertical jump: 38 1/2 inches
Broad jump: 122 inches
20-yard shuttle: 3.94 seconds (top performer among receivers)
60-yard shuttle: 10.93 seconds (top performer among receivers)
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (2014)
THE SKINNY: Check out this awesome YouTube video. Through the magic of modern technology, it has Clowney crushing J.J. Watt and 2016 blue-chip prospect Joey Bosa in the 40-yard dash.
In 2014, Clowney’s blistering 40 time (4.53) was only part of the extravaganza. He was also the top performer, among defensive linemen, with the vertical jump (37 1/2 inches) and broad jump (124 inches).
For good measure, Clowney also went crazy in the 20-yard shuttle — at 4.43 seconds.
The only black mark? Clowney tallied just 21 reps in the bench press … which might partially explain his early troubles in the NFL (4.5 sacks, 32 tackles through 17 games).
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.