Each time the NFL Combine rolls around, there’s one constant video reel various national sports networks continue to show. The video is that of New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady during the 2000 Combine.
The video shows Brady, the former Michigan quarterback, standing with his shirt off appearing as if he never stepped foot into a weight room while with the Wolverines. And, of him running what appears to be one of the slowest 40-yard dashes ever.
Brady’s performance in the Combine was ranked as a disaster, his NFL future bleak at best. We all know the story now, however. Brady is a five-time Super Bowl champion. He’s one of many to prove the NFL Combine isn’t a perfect system for evaluating prospective NFL talent.
Brady is probably one of the most famous NFL Combine busts who turned into a professional football superstar. But he isn’t alone.
Another future Hall of Fame quarterback also had a bad Combine. His problem? He was too small, apparently. That would be New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has over 66,000 yards and 465 touchdown passes in his prolific career. One which also includes a Super Bowl championship. Brees, the former Purdue quarterback, was said to be too short—he’s 6-feet tall—to play in the NFL. He was said to have accuracy and touch problems on his football when passing downfield. He ran a 4.85 40-yard dash and didn’t score well on the Wonderlic exam.
Brees would get the last laugh, though, as the San Diego Chargers used the first overall pick of the second round to draft him. Ultimately, Brees signed as a free agent with the Saints in 2006. Then, guided them to the NFL title—while being named Super Bowl MVP—in 2010.
Unlike Brady and Brees, whose Combine busts were due to on-field performance and body size, others become so-called busts for various other reasons. You see, at the Combine, players are evaluated in nearly every way possible. They are undressed down to underwear, measured and weighed in front of hundreds of people. They then meet with teams, take written exams and undergo psychological evaluations. Finally, they perform scheduled drug tests and workout in the weight room for teams all before hitting the field.
And each season, a former college player who is expected to perform at a high level attends the Combine and something goes awry. Thus, his NFL future starts to decline in the eyes of executives. However, some have managed to turn it around and become NFL superstars.
Take former Georgia Bulldog Justin Houston as an example. Houston, a dominant outside linebacker during his time in Athens, failed a scheduled drug test at the 2011 Combine and fell from a prospective first-round pick to 70th overall. Houston overcame his bad week in Indianapolis and has been a force to be reckoned with ever since.
In 2014, he compiled 22.5 sacks, leading to signing the largest free agent contract in NFL history prior to the 2015 season—reaching an agreement with the Kansas City Chiefs on a six-year, $101 million deal.
This year, there are over 300 prospective players attending the Combine. That means there are a bevy of prospective players who were not invited, but are still hoping to accomplish the task of making a team’s final 53-man roster this fall. Yet despite not attending the Combine, it happens more than people may realize.
Some of those who didn’t receive Combine invites are some potential players who may be enshrined in Canton one day. Among them are Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who played at Kent State. There’s Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, a Kent State basketball player. Don’t forget about former Patriots/Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, not to mention, outside linebacker Osi Umenyiora.
Others include Julian Edelman—a former Kent State quarterback turned NFL wideout—who had one of the biggest catches in Super Bowl history last month. And, Atlanta Falcons starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who went undrafted and signed with the Falcons for just $2,000 before signing a $33 million extension this past season.
In the end, players are evaluated on size, speed, and mental smarts during the Combine. And all of that is just fine. However, it doesn’t account for the ability to make plays on the field. Many have overcome bad Combines, or even not attending at all, while going on to have successful NFL careers.
And as players take the field in Indianapolis this weekend, there will almost certainly be a handful who turn heads down the road despite having an off weekend in March.