You hear about the draft busts who teams selected partly or even primarily because of strong combines and workouts, but you may not know their names. I figured this list would be useful, in light of the combine drills yet to come for 2015.
These three men stand as the best examples of players whose top ten draft selections were driven by eye-popping workouts and drills at the combine, and whose subsequent failures have been making teams wary ever since, even if plenty of teams line up to make the same mistakes.
1) Tony Mandarich
Consider, if you will, what makes a great offensive lineman. Nimble feet and technique, sure, but great strength and prodigious size also go a very long way. Mandarich parlayed his size and eye-popping athleticism into the #2 overall selection in the 1989 draft, and he's the ultimate warning for those scouts, evaluators and front office personnel who fall in love with a prospect's physical tools.
Mandarich managed 39 reps on the bench press (at 225 pounds each), ran a sub-4.7 40 yard dash, which was more than enough to turn him from a quality offensive line prospect into one of the best ever, and the Packers took him second overall. Attitude issues, lackluster play and a lengthy holdout in his rookie season conspired to mar his time in Green Bay, and the team ultimately cut their #2 overall pick in 1992. After a two-year stint with substance abuse and rehab, he came back to cap off a decently successful three year stint in Indianapolis, but given what happened to the Packers, it's fair to say Mandarich is the combine's ultimately draft bust.
2) Jamarcus Russell
It was the workouts that drove Russell to the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the showcasing of his size, strength and cannon arm. Considering he was 265 pounds, his 4.72 40 yard dash was quite solid, but it was really his ability to drive the ball downfield that made him appealing. You can't teach that, as NFL pundits like to remind us, and in this case the raw ability was simply too much for teams to pass up.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, Russell was undone by poor play. His arm strength never waned, but his accuracy and decision-making did, and Russell gained weight and was reportedly disinterested in putting in the extra work teams demand from their franchise quarterbacks. After three lousy seasons in Oakland, the Raiders cut Russell.
Not everything was Russell's fault here—the Raiders didn't do a lot to put him in a position to succeed, as the Raiders are wont to do—but Russell's weight gains, work ethic concerns and poor play ensured he never got a real shot again in the NFL. Think of him as the antithesis of Teddy Bridgewater, whose poor pro day workout made many teams question his ability, but appears to be on track to be a successful NFL quarterback after his rookie season.
3) Vernon Gholston
Gholston wasn't made by the combine, but it certainly put the wind at his back. The Ohio State product was insanely productive during his 2007 season, setting a school record with 14.5 sacks and looking like a high-motor, athletic pass rusher. Then he hit the combine.
The 6'3", 266 pound Gholston clocked a 4.58 40 yard dash, 37 bench press reps and a strong broad jump, displaying impressive athleticism in every facet except for his mediocre three-cone drill time. That college production and his combine showing convinced the Jets to make him the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, and he wound up being one of the least productive top ten draft picks in recent memory, accumulating 42 tackles and zero sacks in three seasons. He hasn't been able to snag a playing time since the Jets cut him, and goes down as yet another cautionary tale for talent evaluators.
We'll break down three players who parlayed successful combines into successful careers tomorrow, so stay tuned for that.