Oh Mike Mamula, where have you gone?
The more appropriate question should rightly be…what have you done?
For those who do not remember, Mamula was a defensive end entering the 1995 NFL draft who tore up the Indianapolis Astroturf during the annual Combine with blistering workout numbers. Thus, this prospect vaulted from a potential third-round selection to the seventh overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Four factors are rarely discussed when the conversation turns to Mamula.
First, he produced at a high level in college. As a junior, the early entrant racked up 17 quarterback sacks. So a major misconception today is this prospect was drafted based solely on his measureables. What actually kept the defender's stock down previous to his Combine performance was the fact he was undersized as a defensive lineman.
Secondly, his NFL career was not a complete waste. This former Eagle tallied 209 tackles and 31.5 sacks in his six injury-plagued professional seasons.
Third, Philadelphia paid dearly to acquire said seventh overall pick, which laid much heavier expectations on their selection and became part of the reason he is generally considered such a huge bust.
Lastly and most importantly, Mamula was revolutionary in his approach to the Combine. He set the bar for what all NFL prospects try to accomplish in their training today – preparing specifically for the drills set up in Indianapolis. He was merely the first of the "new breed".
Correctly or incorrectly, Mamula will forever bear the stigma of being the ultimate "workout warrior".
Now, each and every year as the annual NFL Combine approaches – especially with improved coverage – question numero uno on the lips of football fans becomes, "Which prospect(s) will be this year's Mike Mamula?" The conversation of forty yard dash times, bench presses, three –cone drills, etc. become regular water cooler conversation during this one week period in the offseason calendar.
In a humble attempt at prognostication, here's a look at players who are the most likely to be overdrafted or even devalued based on what will be seen during this year's NFL meat market...
Most Likely to Benefit
1. Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver, Maryland
A fantastic athlete plagued by inconsistency, in both quarterback play and with his own contributions. A quick look at Heyward-Bey's high school track career is impressive unto itself: first team All-American in the indoor 60 meters, MIAA champ in the 100 and 200 meters, and ran a 6.35 in the 55-meter dash. Also, this prospect boasted a 40" vertical jump, and a 4.38 forty-yard dash prior to college as well [numbers provided by Maryland's official site]. When combined with good size numbers at 6'3" and 206 pounds, Heyward-Bey has off-the-charts physical tools. Even with said talent, he was never able to eclipse 51 catches or 786 yards in a single season. With the type of showing expected, Heyward-Bey could easily find himself back in first-round contention. It would not be surprise if this early entrant legitimately broke into the 4.2 forty-yard dash range and became the buzz of the Combine.
2. Michael Johnson, defensive end, Georgia Tech
There are few players in all of college football as physically talented as this incarnation of "MJ". Johnson looks more the part of a basketball player on the field than that of a gridiron star. He is very tall, fast, and fluid. Physically, this defensive end is just stunning at 6'7" and weighing a sculpted 260 pounds. Even still, Johnson was only able to amass 19 total sacks in his four-year collegiate career with the Yellowjackets. When watching the defender on film, he will disappear for long stretches and even looks lackadaisical in his effort. If there is going to be one clear-cut case of an athlete being selected higher based on his potential rather than on-field production, Michael Johnson could easily be said athlete.
3. Jarron Gilbert, defensive tackle, San Jose State
Anytime a prospect is brought up and the first thing anyone wants to discuss is his YouTube video, then red flags should be automatically raised. But such is modern society, and such is the case of Gilbert, whose biggest claim to fame currently is jumping out of a swimming pool filled with three feet of water onto a deck flatfooted. Gilbert stands 6'6", weighs 280 pounds, has an unbelievable wingspan and is freakishly strong. What is often overlooked was this defensive lineman's dominance at a lower-tier school this past year as he registered 22 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Not just very impressive physically, the former Spartan is also versatile as he started at both tackle and end during his career. Additionally, he had a great practice week during the Shrine Game, and has never missed a game in his collegiate career. For some, Gilbert is a relative unknown; as such, it will appear he will be skyrocketing up draft boards because of his physical prowess at the Combine. In reality he will likely continue to increase his consistently-improving stock as seen throughout the season and cement himself as a solid second-round option at worst.
4. Chris Wells, running back, Ohio State
"Beanie's" impressive skill set has never been a mystery. This early entrant to the draft has a combination of size, speed, and strength rarely seen in running backs. Unfortunately, his play throughout this past season never truly reflected those gifts. His inability to consistently be a physical presence on the field at 237 pounds is a bit disconcerting. Those aforementioned tools do not reflect his inability to be any type of factor in the passing game. But when scouts and decisions makers get a whiff of his raw ability, they will certainly start to salivate. Furthermore, the medical examinations will greatly affect Wells' overall status. Being dinged and nicked for most of his career in Columbus, a completely healthy prognosis will ease some concerns about this potential bell cow. Chris "Beanie" Wells' stock could see a very favorable jump because of this upcoming combine process.
5. Brian Orakpo, defensive end, Texas
Do not let Orakpo's freakish athletic abilities overlook how good a football player he is. Too many will see an athlete who entered the collegiate ranks at 210 pounds, is now 260 pounds, has a bench press max of 525 pounds, a power clean of 400 pounds, and automatically think the worst. Rarely is it mentioned Orakpo was a legit top ten to fifteen overall prospect even before any of these workouts were to occur. Most conversation should center on his explosive first step, amazing closing speed, and ability to be a complete pass rusher. What will be every bit as important with this defensive end's combine performance is the medical exams as he's coming off a sprained MCL. The real benefit Orakpo should see as a result of these workouts will be to simply solidify the fact he is a top-ten overall prospect.
Just missed the cut: Jeremy Maclin, Aaron Maybin. Rashad Jennings, Shawn Nelson, and Josh Freeman.
Most Likely to Hinder
1. Rey Maualuga, linebacker, Southern California
So much emphasis is placed on the workouts themselves, how could a prospect likely not to participate be ranked number one in this category? What is often overlooked in this process are the medical examinations and personal interviews. Even without doing a full workout in Indianapolis, Maualuga could easily see his stock take another hit this offseason. Questions can be raised about his maturity and how he will handle himself behind closed doors with professionals. Some flags were raised recently as he already decided to switch agents at what looked to be the commandeering behest of the Trojan coaching staff. If the linebacker did choose to participate, his overall numbers would likely not be very impressive either. All in all, Maualuga should just be looking forward to actual draft day and getting this entire process finished.
2. BJ Raji, defensive tackle, Boston College
This is another case where questions behind closed doors must be answered. Raji is coming off on amazing Senior Bowl performance which saw his stock rise dramatically. His play on the field has never been questioned; his attitude has. This is a player who missed all of 2007 due to off-the-field issues. He came back for his senior year and dominated, but those questions from the year before have never been fully answered. Also, this interior defender's build and weight could become an issue as well. He is not exactly the most sculpted athlete by any means. Some have slotted BJ Raji as a legit top-ten or even top-five prospect. Until these perceived problems are hashed out, the former Golden Eagle will not sniff said range.
3. Herman Johnson, guard, Louisiana State
After a very good collegiate career, Johnson is now under the microscope. Standing 6'8" and tipping the scales at 381 pounds, something a little heftier than a microscope may be needed. Many had Johnson as one of the top three rated guards in all of the country; then, he showed up at the Senior Bowl woefully out of shape and played horrendously throughout that week. If Johnson cannot come to Indianapolis in much better shape and display improved movement skills and flexibility, his overall stock will continue to freefall.
Just Missed the Cut: Mark Sanchez, William Moore, Graham Harrell, Gartrell Johnson, and Chase Coffman.
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