It is the marquee event of NFL Draft process: the NFL Scouting Combine, or the “Underwear Olympics,” to which it has been casually referred, of which four years of college production can become virtually ignored in favor of a limited sample of data collected in the form of physical measurements from arbitrary tasks.
So why would college football fans care about this NFL event? Because it gives them a chance to see how players from their school stack up against players from other schools. In particular, Oregon fans can take delight in players who were less regarded by recruiting rankings demonstrating the full maturation of their talent, making it an opportunity to finally see that finished product realized.
So which Ducks have shined the brightest at the NFL Combine in recent years? While verifying the accuracy of these historical results can be difficult; the Combine itself only began officially tracking results in 2006, and the information prior to that is loaded with apocryphal tales and rumors floated by teams and agents who are trying to best leverage their positions. Factoring in that uncertain information, here are the five best performances by an Oregon Duck at the NFL Combine:
5. Jonathan Stewart (2008)
A gifted athlete destined for stardom from the day he set foot on campus at Oregon, Stewart demonstrated a unique athleticism that helped him dominate at Oregon with an impressive performance at the 2008 NFL Combine. With marks of 4.48 40-yard dash, a 10’8″ broad jump, a 36.5″ vertical jump and 28 reps of 225 pounds, the last three categories being top-four at his position, paired with his 235-pound frame, Stewart was able to use that performance to become the 13th overall pick in 2008 NFL Draft.
4. Jason Maas scores a 43 on his Wonderlic (1999)
The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test is a popular intelligence test used by the NFL and many other businesses worldwide to assess competency in prospective employees. Though measured on a 50-point scale, scoring close to 50 isn’t expected: 20 is an average score, 30 is considered good.
The Wonderlic is not an easy test in which to excel. It’s a timed test, but not in the way that other standardized tests have time limits; most test recipients won’t even finish the test. They only get twelve minutes to answer fifty questions, and the time quickly becomes one of the biggest challenges once the taker realizes they likely won’t get through all the questions. That’s why only one player ever, Harvard’s Pat McInally in 1975, has ever scored a perfect 50.
Succeeding in the Wonderlic may not be the best predictor of success; the only two quarterbacks in the last 15 years to beat Maas were Ryan Fitzpatrick (48, 2005) and Greg McElroy (43, 2011). But it’s a feat that is every bit as difficult and impressive as running a 4.3 40. If you don’t think so, try to see if you can do better.
3. LaMichael James (2012)
Another strong performance by another star Oregon running back, this time the most statistically-prolific back ever to play the position at Oregon, showed off his skills at the 2012 NFL Combine. James’ marks in the 40 (4.45), broad jump (10′ 3″), three-cone drill (6.88) and 20-yard shuttle (4.12) were all top-three or better amongst that year’s running backs. His performance, matched with an outstanding college career, led to James being selected in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers in that year’s draft.
2. Igor Olshansky does 41 reps of 225 (2004)
In the last15 years, only 13 players have managed to exceed 40 bench press reps of 225 pounds at the combine. One of those players was Oregon defensive end Igor Olshansky, who managed to lift that weight 41 times at the 2004 NFL Combine. While impressive, it was hardly surprising: Olshansky had set the team bench press record by lifting 505 pounds while at Oregon.
He didn’t just impress in the weight room at the Combine, he showed off other aspects of his athletic ability with a sub-5 second 40 (4.96) and 33 ½ inch vertical jump. That performance was good enough to merit an early second-round pick from the San Diego Chargers in that spring’s draft.
1. Jeff Maehl Sets Three-Cone Drill Record (2011)
Most casual fans probably couldn’t tell you what the three-cone drill is, or what a good time is in the event, but it is the only one of the seven official on-field combine tests whose record is currently held by a Duck. Maehl completed the drill in a record 6.42 seconds in 2011, a record that still stands.
He didn’t just impress everyone in the three-cone drill, he also set a then-record for wide receivers in the 60-yard shuttle, and his 20-yard and 60-yard shuttle times are top ten for all players of all-time. Despite that display, Maehl wasn’t able to parlay those marks into a draft selection, but demonstrated enough talent to stick in the NFL, where his college coach Chip Kelly managed to pick him up prior to the 2013 season.
Can any Duck in this year’s combine turn in a similarly remarkable performance? This weekend saw a number of strong performances from talented offensive stars in Colt Lyerla, Josh Huff, and De’Anthony Thomas. With defensive players from the Ducks scheduled over the next few days, we will watch and see if any of them can deliver a performance that puts them amongst this list of impressive performances.
Top photo from video.