The NFL Combine, America’s most-watched indoor exercise convention, annually produces tales of workout legends. It’s also the closest thing to football we get for months.
So let’s squad up.
These picks are based entirely on what happened at the combine, not on college careers, pro careers, NFL draft results, or anything else. Workout warriors only, with special consideration given throughout for those who moved fast while also being big.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor, 2012: The No. 2 40-yard dash since 2006 among QBs (4.41, behind Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal at 4.35), plus a vertical one inch shy of the QB record (Division II Joshua Portis in 2011). He aced his interview sessions, and not a word was ever said about his personality after that! Let’s move along.
Note: Arkansas’ Matt Jones would be the pick, based on his 4.4-second 40 and other impressive numbers at 6’6 in 2005, but he was projected as an H-back and ended up at WR.
Chris Johnson, East Carolina, 2008: Held the official 40-yard dash record until 2017, at 4.24 seconds.
Bo Jackson, Auburn, 1986: Bo’s hand-timed 4.12 in the 40 has been debated for decades. One detail in his favor: modern combine dashes aren’t entirely electronic, either.
The 40-yard sprints at the combine have had semi-electronic timing since 1999. It's not true electronic timing because while the clock is stopped electronically at the finish line, it's started by hand on the first movement by the runner. That's because the combine participants aren't reacting to a starter's gun. Instead, they begin running when they are ready.
The assumption has been that Jackson's 4.12 was a hand-timed 40. The International Association of Athletics Federations says to add 0.24 seconds to hand-timed races to convert to the probable electronic timing. So do we assign Jackson a 4.36-second time and declare Johnson the combine 40 champ? It's not that simple, because Johnson's 4.24 isn't a true electronic time either - the clock was started by hand.
Also! Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern, 2014: Plenty of RBs have had amazing all-arounds, but McKinnon’s hilarious bench number sets him apart. Among RBs since 2006, the 5’9, 209-pound former QB ranks No. 2 in 225-pound bench reps with 32 (ahead of plenty of linemen), No. 5 in the broad jump, and No. 11 in the vert, plus top-20ish (NFL.com’s results tracker is iffy) in the 40, three-cone, and 20-yard shuttle.
John Ross, Washington, 2017: Ross is the fastest 40-yard dash runner since laser timing got involved, with a 4.22. He somehow did it while hurting himself.
Chris Conley, Georgia, 2015: A bigger WR at 6’2, 213, Conley dropped a 4.35-second 40 and then tied the all-positions vert record (1.5 inches ahead of the next WR) and would’ve done the same in the broad, if not for UConn DB Byron Jones entering orbit. He’d been considered a late-rounder until this, then went to the Chiefs in the third.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland, 2009: At 6’2, 210 pounds, he’s the biggest player to ever officially crack 4.3.
Also: Julio Jones (with a broken foot!), Stephen Hill, Tavon Austin, Eastern Kentucky’s Rondel Menendez (the other guy who ran a semi-electronically timed 4.24, with an unofficial time of 4.19 in unapproved shoes), and tons of other WRs.
Vernon Davis, Maryland, 2006: The easiest pick at any position, other than the 40 and bench record-holders. He ran a 4.38 at 254 pounds. Inhuman. That’s No. 1 among TEs and ranks No. 6 since 2006 in a group including all QBs, LBs, and safeties. He also remains top-four all-time among tight ends in the bench and both jump drills.
Mitch Petrus, Arkansas, 2010: Holds the combine bench record among offensive linemen since at least 2000: 45 reps. Not common behavior for former walk-on fullbacks.
Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 2013: Add all of 2013’s tight ends and linebackers to that year’s offensive line class. In a group of athletes weighing between 223 and 339 pounds, Armstead ranked No. 9 in the bench, No. 10 in the vert, and No. 15 in the 40. He holds the fastest OL 40 time ever: 4.71.
Lane Johnson, Oklahoma, 2013: Among OL since 2006, he’s No. 2 in the 40 (4.72 at 303 pounds), No. 1 in the broad jump, and top-10 in the three-cone and vert.
Bruce Campbell, Maryland, 2010: Ran a 4.85 at 6’6, 314 and benched 34 reps.
Lydon Murtha, Nebraska, 2009: No. 1 among all OL since 2006 in the three-cone by 0.15 seconds, or more than the distance between No. 2 and No. 15. Also ran in the 4.8s at 306 pounds and has a top-five ranking in both the vert and shuttle, with a respectable 25 bench reps.
Note: Tony Mandarich had a monstrous 1989 workout that included a 4.65-second 40, but that was at Michigan State’s pro day.
Justin Ernest, Eastern Kentucky, 1999: The combine’s all-time bench record: 51 reps.
Dontari Poe, Memphis, 2012: Known by most college fans as a space-clogger who didn’t make first-team All-Conference USA, Poe ran an official 4.98 at 346 pounds, with 44 bench reps, and went on to become a Pro Bowler.
The physics catastrophe Poe’s unofficial time loosed on the universe:
Fun with Numbers: RGIII's 4.41 40 is proportionate to a 346-lb man running it in 6.84 secs. And Poe (at 346 lbs) just did it in 4.87 secs.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) February 27, 2012
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, 2017: At 274 pounds, he was only beat in the 40 (4.64) by three true linebackers in his class, let alone linemen. His size-speed combo compare well to the impressive 2016 workout by Oklahoma 271-pounder Charles Tapper, but Garrett landed 10 more bench reps, seven more vert inches (No. 3 since 2006 among DL), and nine more broad inches (No. 4).
Margus Hunt, SMU, 2013: Tied for No. 12 among all players since 2006 on the bench with 38 reps, despite having to push iron higher than almost anybody else (he’s 6’8). Even sillier: he’s No. 13 among linemen with a 4.6-second 40, behind players who weighed as many as 37 pounds less.
Also! Mike Mamula, Boston College, 1995: Mamula’s numbers remain impressive on their own, but you can’t have an All-Combine Team without the guy who helped establish the combine as an event prospects should specifically train for:
"At the time, nobody knew what the hell Jerry was doing because everybody else was more focused on football drills," Mamula said. "But I went into the combine having done every test hundreds of times while some other guys had never done some of the specific drills."
That worked out well as Mamula, who was viewed as undersized and about a third-round pick before the combine, vaulted himself into a top-10 overall pick. His 40-yard time [4.58] was faster than some linebackers and he benched 225 pounds as many times  as some offensive linemen.
And he scored a 49 of 50 on the Wonderlic.
Jamie Collins, Southern Miss, 2013: As the second-biggest linebacker that year (250 pounds), he dropped a 4.64-second 40, set the LB broad jump record, and came within an inch of the LB vert record.
Vic Beasley, Clemson, 2015: Pulled off an absurd sweep, ranking top-five among his year’s position group in the six most popular drills (Watt’s workout is considered epic for nearly doing this), with his bench total ranking No. 3 among all LBs ever.
Von Miller, Texas A&M, 2011: Similar numbers to Beasley across the board, plus top-10 numbers among all LBs since 2006 in all three agility drills, including No. 2 in the 60-yard shuttle.
Byron Jones, UConn, 2015: He didn’t just set a football record. As far as anyone knows, he pulled off the best standing broad jump in human history: 12’2.75. NFL.com at the time:
Norwegian Arne Tvervaag is believed to have held the world record of 12-2 set on Nov. 11, 1968. The standing long jump hasn't been an Olympic event since 1912, so records are spotty. American Ray Ewry, who won gold medals in the event in the 1900, 1904, and 1908 Olympic Games, had held the world record (11-4 1/2, 1904) before Tvervaag established a new mark in '68.
Gerald Sensabaugh, North Carolina, 2005: His combine-record 46-inch vertical was so high, it can only be topped by Harlem Globetrotters and international myths.
Taylor Mays, USC, 2010: At 6’3, 230 pounds, he ran the 11th-best 40 since 2006 among all linebackers and safeties (since he’s always played a little of both), beat only by guys who weighed 10 to 30 pounds less. He’s also No. 4 among those safeties in the vert and No. 11 in the bench.
Deion Sanders, Florida State, 1989: Sports Illustrated:
There was talk pre-combine that Sanders wouldn’t run the 40 at all; he later said he would take his medicals, run his 40, and go home.
‘Deion gets up to the line and runs his first 40 and everyone has him at 4.3. We figured he was done. He gets up and runs another one, and he runs even faster,’ said [Panthers GM Dave] Gettleman, then a scout for the Bills. ‘Some people had him at 4.25 [officially a 4.27]. And the funniest damn thing about it was he finishes the 40, continues to run, waves to everybody, goes right through the tunnel and we don’t see him again. We all got up and gave him a standing ovation because so many of those guys wouldn’t run.’
Pat O’Donnell, Miami, 2014: Oh, just a punter running a 4.64, faster than Johnny Manziel’s 4.68 that year, and benching 23 reps, two more than Clowney did.