A look at five players who excelled at the NFL combine, but were ultimately busts in the pros.
The NFL season may have officially come to an end on Feb. 7, but for scouts, coaches and player personnel, preparations for the 2016 season are already beginning to intensify with the NFL draft looming. This week, eyes will be focused on Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the 332 collegiate players invited to take part in the NFL Scouting Combine will attempt to solidify their draft statuses or find their way onto crowded draft boards.
A player’s showing at the NFL combine can make all the difference in determining their fate come draft day. A previously unheralded player can rise up draft boards after putting down an impressive time in the 40-yard dash, while a seemingly cant-miss prospect can see their draft status plummet after a poor outing.
Yet despite the weight placed on combine performance, a number of standout players over the years have proven that a phenomenal performance in shorts and a t-shirt does not always translate to success on Sundays.
Here’s a look at a few players whose success at the NFL combine didn't quite translate to exceptional performances on Sundays.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Combine Stats: 40-yard dash: 4.30 | Vertical Jump: 38.5 inches | Broad Jump: 126 inches | Shuttle: 4.18 | 3 cone: 6.80
Heyward-Bey was a three-year starter at Maryland, earning second-team All-ACC honors in 2006 and finishing second in school history with 2,089 career receiving yards. However, when Heyward-Bey declared for the NFL draft after his junior season, many thought that he would have to wait until players like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin had been picked to hear his name called. That all changed when Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the combine and the Oakland Raiders fell in love, making him the first receiver drafted with the No. 7 pick. He had his best season as a professional in 2011, catching 64 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns. However, in five of his seven seasons as a pro, Heyward-Bey has posted 366 receiving yards or less.
QB Robert Griffin III
Combine Stats: 40-yard dash: 4.41 | Vertical Jump: 39 inches | Broad Jump: 120 inches
Griffin was at one time a world–class hurdler, so it’s no surprise that he put in one of the best showings for a quarterback in combine history. Griffin would end up being taken with the No. 2 pick of the 2012 draft by the Washington Redskins, winning Rookie of the Year and being named to the Pro Bowl that season. Since then, Griffin’s career has been in a steady decline. He lost his starting job to Kirk Cousins before the start of the 2015 season, and Washington is expected to cut him this offseason.
WR Matt Jones
Combine Stats: 40-yard dash: 4.37 | Vertical Jump: 39.5 inches | Broad Jump: 129 inches
Projected to be a tight end or wide receiver in the pros, the former Arkansas quarterback had an incredible showing at the combine. Measuring in at 6'6", 242 pounds at the time of the 2005 combine, Jones’s 40-yard dash time of 4.37 was the third–fastest among receivers and easily the quickest among tight ends. Jones was taken with the 21st pick in the draft that year by the Jaguars and played in all 16 games his rookie season. However, he would only play four NFL seasons while dealing with substance abuse.
QB Akili Smith
Combine Stats: 40-yard dash: 4.66 | Vertical Jump: 34 inches | Broad Jump: 114 inches | Shuttle: 4.29 | 3 cone: 6.99
One of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL draft, the No. 3 pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999 posted great measurables at the combine. At 6'3", 227 pounds, Smith possessed the size and strength that NFL scouts envy in a starting quarterback. His 4.66 40-yard dash is the 11th fastest among the 47 quarterbacks taken in the first round since 1999. Smith’s size and speed did not translate to NFL success, as he only made 17 starts over four seasons before his career came to an end. Smith finished his career with 2,212 yards passing, five touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
DE Vernon Gholston
Combine Stats: 40-yard dash: 4.67 | Bench: 37 reps | Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches | Broad Jump: 125 inches | Shuttle: 4.40 | 3 cone: 7.12
Vernon Gholston’s numbers from the 2008 combine are among the best ever for a defensive end and solidified him as a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft. Since the year he went through the combine, only SMU’s Margus Hunt has put up more reps in the bench press (38) as a defensive end. Gholston was taken sixth by the New York Jets in the 2008 draft, but only managed 13 combined tackles his rookie season. He would play in 45 games for the Jets over three seasons, but was cut without ever recording a sack. Gholston would later sign with the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, but never played another snap on the field.