After the combine, there are many names floating around as potential risers in the draft process. Nobody will be discussed more than the Georgia DE Travon Walker. Walker is one of a handful of Combine players who has a chance to significantly rise after measuring in at:
- 272 pounds
- 35.5” arm
- 84.25” wing
- 4.51 40-yard dash
- 35.5” Vert
- 123” Broad
- 6.89s 3-Cone
- 4.32s Short Shuttle
Now that the combine is over, the public perception of Walker has completely changed from a back-end/mid-first round draft pick to a potential top-5 pick. To me, the tape will always be the most important aspect of any evaluation, followed by the interview and medicals. The combine should be used in a way that can solidify your opinions on a prospect or force you to watch more tape, but it should never be the deciding factor.
When I watched Walker, I saw a big, strong player who didn’t show the quick-twitch ability typically found among elite defensive ends. The tape portrayed him as a good pass rusher but not a great one. He does have positional versatility; he’s an effective interior pass rusher as a 3 Technique. He’s also an effective rusher as a traditional Defensive End and there are plenty of snaps of him dropping (he created an interception against Florida by tipping a pass).
My concern is that his production doesn’t match the transcendent workout we just witnessed in Indy. As we assess all that comes with Travon Walker, let’s look at some past “combine darlings” that have not worked out in the NFL for a multitude of reasons, and those who struggled at the combine but have gone on to have great careers.
Combine Greats Who Struggled at the Next Level:
Aaron Curry was the 4th overall pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2009 Draft coming out of Wake Forest. At his combine, he weighed in at 6016 and 254 pounds while running a 4.52s 40, a 37” vert, and 124” broad jump. In college, Curry was the Butkus Award Winner for the best LB in college football and a 3X All-ACC player.
In his last two seasons with the Deacons, he registered 29.5 tackles for loss. Curry attributes his lack of success in the NFL to having a different motivation than to be an elite player. He said, “One of my motivations was being able to change the financial dynamic of my family. But if you have a motivation that can be gained, what do you do now? My goal was to get paid, and I got paid. And me looking back on it now, I got what I wanted. Now what? I look back on it and I realize I was a victim of having a motivation that wasn’t everlasting, that wasn’t going to keep me going when things got hard. I had a goal that wasn’t fulfilling.”
In his first two years in the NFL, he only totaled 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss while playing in 28 games. After those two seasons, he was traded midway through the 2011 season to the Raiders in exchange for a 7th round pick in 2012 and a 5th round pick in 2013. He played in just 11 more games before his NFL career ended, never registering another sack.
Vernon Gholston was drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft by the New York Jets after immense production at Ohio State and the Combine. At the Combine, Gholston weighed in at 6030 and 266 pounds, 34” arm, 4.68s 40, 37 bench reps, 35.5” vertical jump, and 125” broad jump. At OSU, Gholston had 30.5 TFL and 22.5 sacks in 2 seasons. He broke the record of 13 sacks in a single season set by Mike Vrabel and was named to the First-team All-Big Ten. After transitioning from a 4-3 Defensive End to an OLB in a 3-4, his workout numbers didn’t translate and he never had the career that was expected of a top 10 pick.
Good Players With Poor Workouts:
In 2003, the Arizona Cardinals drafted Anquan Boldin, the Florida State WR 54th overall, in the second round. At FSU, Boldin was highly productive in his last season, totaling 65/1011/13 while averaging 15.6 yards per completion. He was used in the return game and as a rusher during his career in CFB. When Boldin went to the 2003 Combine, he weighed in at 6005, 216 pounds, 30” arms, 4.73s 40, 33.5” vert, and 7.35s 3-cone drill. His arm length was in the 9.9th percentile of WRs, his 40-yard dash was in the 8th percentile, and his 3-cone drill was in the 9.8th percentile. In his first season, Boldin appeared in 16 games his first season totalling 101 receptions, 1377 yards, and 8 TDs. The 1,377 yards was the rookie record, and Boldin went on to complete 13 more seasons, finishing with 1076/13779/82.
In the 2014 Draft, the Miami Dolphins drafted LSU WR Jarvis Landry with a 2nd round pick. In his final season at LSU, he had 77 receptions for 1193 yards and 10 TDs. At the Combine, Landry struggled particularly in speed/explosive drills. He ran a 4.65s 40-yard dash with a 28.5” vert, and 110” on the broad jump. The broad jump and the vertical were in the 6.5 and 2.9th percentile respectively for the position group. Most shockingly, Landry had a 20-yard split in the 1.1th percentile and a 10-yard split in the 0.6th percentile. After entering the NFL, he set the record for the most receptions in the first 6 seasons of an NFL career with 529 passing to DeAndre Hopkins. To this day, he remains one of the most competitive and productive players in the NFL.
In 2008, the Arizona Cardinals selected the future HOF defensive lineman Calais Campbell. In college, Campbell collected 39.0 TFL and 19.5 sacks in 3 years at the University of Miami. At the Combine, Campbell weighed in at 6-foot-8 and 290 pounds with 35 ¾” arms. He struggled in the agility and speed drills, including a 5.11s 40-yard dash (2.93s 20-yard split & 1.74s 10-yard split), 29.5” vert, 111” broad, and a 7.45s 3-Cone drill.
Despite being in the top 93rd percentile in height and weight for DE, he was 10th percentile in 40, 16.9 in 20-yard and 19.9 in the vertical. Campbell has been a top tier run stopper since his start in the league, he was a member of the All-2010 HOF Team and 6X Pro Bowl. He has collected 93.5 sacks, 161 TFL, and 223 QB hits.