NFL

NFL: 5 Combine Standouts Who Struggled on the Field

Matt Jones is one of the combine stars who struggled in the NFL.

The NFL Draft is an inexact science, and nowhere is that clearer than at the NFL combine. During the combine, scouts put prospects through drill after drill meant to test their athleticism, durability, and physical prowess. A poor showing at the combine can cost a good prospect million of dollars if their stock drops. The opposite is also true. Players who would go on to have lackluster careers can sometimes raise their profile simply by performing well at the NFL Combine. Here are five combine standouts who struggled on the field.


The NFL draft is an inexact science, and nowhere is that clearer than at the NFL combine. During the combine, scouts put prospects through drill after drill meant to test their athleticism, durability, and physical prowess. A poor showing at the combine can cost a good prospect million of dollars if their stock drops. The opposite is also true. Players who would go on to have lackluster careers can sometimes raise their profile simply by performing well at the NFL combine. Here are five combine standouts who struggled on the field.

Matt Jones — Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars selected Jones with the 21st overall pick in 2005. Jones was a QB at Arkansas who wowed everyone at the combine, running a 4.38 40-yard dash. The Jags took advantage of his athleticism and declared they were going to turn Jones into a receiver despite him never playing the position in college. They were banking on him being enough of an athlete to overcome the learning curve. After losing perennial stars Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith, the team was desperate for a new threat at wideout.

Unfortunately for Jacksonville, Jones was not that replacement. After four seasons and a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, the team released Jones. He finished his career with only 166 catches and never recorded more than 800 receiving yards in a season. We’d say that qualifies as being one of the combine standouts who struggled in the NFL.

Darrius Heyward-Bey — Oakland Raiders

Former Raiders owner Al Davis loved pursuing players with speed. It wasn’t any different in 2009, and that’s why Davis made Heyward-Bey the seventh overall pick after he showed off his jets at the combine with a 4.30 40-yard dash. Davis took a chance on a player most scouts were grading as an end of the first round pick at best. Unfortunately for Davis and the Raiders, Heyward-Bey never quite panned out in Oakland as a star.

Mike Mamula — Philadelphia Eagles

If there were a Hall of Fame for NFL combine standouts, Mike Mamula would be a first-ballot inductee. Mamula’s 1995 combine performance is the thing of legend. Prior to the event he specifically practiced every drill he would be asked to perform hundreds of times in preparation.

He ran an impressive 4.58 40-yard dash, benched 225 pounds 28 times, and recorded a vertical jump of 38.5 inches. He also scored well on the Wonderlic test.

Mamula ended up being more famous for that performance than his NFL career, however. After the Eagles made him the seventh overall pick, he played just five years in the league, finishing with 31.5 sacks and 209 tackles.

Tavon Austin — St. Louis Rams

Tavon Austin is one of the combine stars who struggled in the NFL.
Tavon Austin is one of the combine stars who struggled in the NFL. | Harry How/Getty Images

Coming into the 2013 NFL draft, experts weren’t sure what to make of West Virginia star Tavon Austin. He had put up decent numbers in college and clearly possessed high levels of athleticism, but scouts weren’t sure if that would translate to the next level. He made himself a surefire first round pick, however, as one of the greatest combine standouts of all time. Austin’s numbers — a 4.34 40-yard dash and an astounding 4.01 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle drill — were some of the best ever.

Austin hasn’t lived up to the promise of his performance at the combine, however. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance as a kick returner, he’s largely struggled as a receiver at the pro level.

Tony Mandarich — Green Bay Packers

Tony Mandarich was one of the greatest combine standouts and one of the biggest NFL draft busts of all time. The 300-pound freak of nature ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and had a 30-inch vertical leap, wowing scouts before he was taken number two overall by the Green Bay Packers at the 1989 NFL Draft.

Mandarich now has the dubious distinction of being the only member of that draft class’s top five – which included Derrick Thomas, Deion Sanders, and Barry Sanders – not to make the NFL Hall of Fame. After four years of lackluster play, the Packers released him.