It’s that time of the year when prospects suit up in matching spandex and fly around the NFL meat market, where coaches and talent evaluators size up the fresh crop of talent. Speed, strength and agility tell only a small part of the story when predicting future NFL success. Frequently players who turn heads at the Combine don’t play on Sundays. But for at least seven future pros, the numbers weren’t lying. These individuals tested very well in February and became high-impact players once drafted. Take a look.
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RB Chris Johnson (2008): 40-yard Dash King
The former Titans and now Cardinals running back set the modern NFL Combine 40-yard dash record with a blazing fast 4.24. Drafted 24th overall by Tennessee, Johnson went on to become CJ2K after rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009, just the sixth ever player to reach the milestone. (Adrian Peterson became the seventh in 2012.)
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OT Lane Johnson (2013): All-Around Beast
The Philadelphia Eagles’ 6-foot-6, 318-pound right tackle and former high school track & field athlete tore up the Combine before becoming the fourth overall selection in 2013. Among all offensive linemen appearing at the Combine since 2006, Johnson has posted the second-best 40-yard dash time (4.72), the best broad jump (9 feet, 10 inches) and the seventh-best vertical jump (34 inches).
DT Dontari Poe (2012): Bench Press Hero
The disruptive, run-stuffing defensive tackle can lock out offensive linemen so easily because he has a ridiculously strong upper body. The two-time Pro Bowler announced his strength at the Combine with the third-best (tied) bench press performance overall since 2006, when he pumped out 44 reps of 225 pounds.
DE J.J. Watt (2011): All-Around Beast
As anyone who follows his social media channels knows, the Wisconsin product likes to work out. Before becoming a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner and a nightmare for offensive coordinators, Watt finished at or near the top of the pack among the 2011 defensive line prospects. He recorded the second-best 3-cone drill time (6.88 seconds), the third-best broad jump (10 inches), second-best vertical (37 inches), and fourth-best bench press (34 reps).
Hailing from not-so-well-known Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference, the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback (2009, 2015) made his presence very well known at the Combine by turning in a top performance at every station. DRC posted the best CB mark of 2008 at the vertical jump (38.5 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches) and three-cone drill (6.74 seconds, tied) and finished fourth in the 40 at 4.33 seconds, two ticks behind leader Tyvon Branch.
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TE Vernon Davis (2006): Fast & High
In the first year of the NFL’s more complete Combine record-keeping, the former Maryland tight end posted a 40 time that forced scouts to check their stopwatches: 4.38 seconds. For a guy standing 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, that’s obscene. Only Dorin Dickerson (who went on to play sparingly for six teams until 2015) has come within a tenth of a second (4.40) of Davis among tight ends since.
Davis also recorded a 42-inch vertical, third-best ever behind Dickerson (43.5) and Virgil Green (42.5). Davis has seen some ups and downs in the league but mostly ups, with 505 receptions, 6,404 receiving yards, 57 receiving TDs and two Pro Bowl nods (2009, 2013).
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DT Aaron Donald (2014): All-Around Beast
Competing against much taller and larger prospects in the defensive line group, Donald reaffirmed that size and mass will only get you so far. The 6-foot, 285-pound defensive tackle didn’t dominate any one drill but placed high in many of them, including in the 3-cone drill (7.11 seconds, ranking fourth), the 40 (4.68, fifth) and bench press (35 reps, second). The Rams took Donald 13th overall, and he’s earned First-team All-Pro honors in 2015 and 2016.