- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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NFL hopefuls routinely bolster their draft status through feats of speed, strength and agility.
Since 2000, Terence Newman, Vernon Davis, LaRon Landry,
Troy Williamson, Haloti Ngata, Brodrick Bunkley and Tye Hill were also among those who tested well enough in specific areas to help secure spots early in their draft classes.
Yet, while NFL teams contend players weaken their draft stock when they refuse to work out at the combine, a memorable performance there can fail to produce desired results.
Seventeen of the 128 very best combine performers since 2000 went undrafted. Twelve of them never played in an NFL game. Forty-three weren't in the NFL last season. Ninety-five have started fewer than half of their potential regular-season games since they shined at the combine.
Forty-yard dash times and bench-press results are sure to command attention as the 2008 combine workouts start Friday. But the fates of the leading workout warriors show why the NFL also invests so much in background checks, medical exams, intelligence tests, interviews and old-fashioned scouting.
ESPN.com, using records available at nfldraftscout.com, analyzed the 25 best combine performers in six key categories since 2000: 40-yard dash, 10-yard split, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle, three-cone drill and bench press. The performances show how important -- and unimportant -- raw ability can be:
The best of the best
Nine players rank first or tied for first since 2000 among all combine participants in the six categories.
Former Fresno State cornerback Marcus McCauley, another 2007 combine participant, is the only player since 2000 to match Weddle's time over 10 yards. Minnesota drafted him 72nd overall. McCauley started nine games as a rookie.
Hampton receiver Jerome Mathis, whose 4.28-second showing in the 40 stands as the best at any combine since 2000, went 114th overall to Houston in 2005. Thanks largely to injuries, he has more known arrests (one, this week, for allegedly choking his pregnant common-law wife) than NFL starts (zero).
The other top performances belong to players who have combined to start 25 of a possible 464 regular-season games in the NFL.
Defensive backs lead the way
San Diego Chargers
Of the 128 players who provided the 25 best performances since 2000, 53 were defensive backs. Thirty-one were receivers. Twelve were defensive linemen.
Running backs and offensive linemen accounted for 10 apiece. Nine were linebackers. Two were quarterbacks (Randy Fasani and Josh McCown account for two of the top 25 performances in the 20-yard shuttle).
Davis, whose 42-inch vertical jump helped him get drafted sixth overall by San Francisco in 2006, is the only tight end.
Two players since 2000 rank among the top 25 in three categories. The Denver Broncos drafted both of them.
Former Maryland cornerback Domonique Foxworth, chosen 97th overall in 2005, ranks 18th in the 20-yard shuttle (3.89), 20th in the 40-yard dash (4.34) and 21st in the 10-yard split (1.48). He has started 18 games in three seasons, picking off three passes.
Former Iowa receiver Kevin Kasper, chosen 190th overall in 2001, ranks first in the 20-yard shuttle (3.73), fifth in vertical jump (43 ½ inches) and seventh in the three-cone agility drill (6.56). He has started nine NFL games but has struggled to hold down a roster spot.
The 65 percent club
Twenty-two of the top 128 combine performers since 2000 have started more than 65 percent of their possible regular-season games since their performances in Indianapolis.
New England Patriots
Twelve of the 22 were defensive backs, including Houston's Robinson, who ranks among the top 25 in the 40-yard dash (4.34) and 20-yard shuttle (3.78). Six of the remaining 11 defensive backs also excelled in those categories. Three others ranked among the best in 10-yard splits. Two ranked high in the vertical jump.
Bench press appeared to be a strong indicator for defensive tackles who rank among the top 25. Ngata, Igor Olshansky, Vince Wilfork and Gabe Watson managed at least 36 repetitions of 225 pounds. All four have started at least 65 percent of their regular-season NFL games.
Chambers, drafted 52nd overall by Miami in 2001, holds the third-best vertical jump (45 inches) and 18th-best time in the 40 (4.33). Moss, chosen 16th overall by the Jets, also in 2001, ranks sixth in the 40 (4.31) and 12th in the vertical jump (42 inches).
The Pro Bowlers
Six of the combine's 128 highest achievers since 2000 have appeared in Pro Bowls.
Chambers, Moss and return specialist Dante' Hall rank among the top 25 in two categories apiece. Hall holds the fourth-best mark in the 20-yard shuttle (3.82) and the 14th best time in the three-cone drill (6.62).
Newman, drafted fifth overall by Dallas in 2003, holds the fifth-best 20-yard shuttle time (3.83).
Former Iowa safety Bob Sanders, chosen 44th overall by Indianapolis in 2004, ranks tied for 22nd with a 41½-inch vertical jump.
Wilfork, chosen 24th overall by New England in 2004, made his Pro Bowl debut this month.
We leave you with the 17 players who went undrafted despite posting combine marks that still rank among the 25 best since 2000:
Mike Kudla, DE, Ohio State (2006)
Skinny: He cranked out 45 reps in the bench press at the 2006 combine, more than anyone since 2000, but he has never played in a regular-season NFL game.
Sedrick Curry, CB, Texas A&M (2000)
Skinny: He finished the three-cone drill in 6.45 seconds, a mark no one has topped in seven subsequent combines, but Curry never played in a regular-season NFL game.
Derek Wake, OLB, Penn State (2005)
Skinny: His 45 ½-inch vertical leap ranks second, but he never played in a regular-season NFL game.
Chris McKenzie, CB, Arizona State (2005)
Skinny: His 45-inch vertical is tied for third-best. McKenzie also owns the ninth-best 40 time (4.32), but he never started a game and was out of the NFL in 2007.
Anthony Arline, CB, Baylor (2007)
Skinny: His 10-yard time (1.46) ranks tied for fifth-best, but he has not appeared in a regular-season game.
Kenny Scott, CB, Georgia Tech (2007)
Skinny: He also needed only 1.46 seconds to cover 10 yards, but his next NFL game will be his first.
Trent Gamble, FS, Wyoming (2000)
Skinny: His 6.6-second time in the three-cone drill stands tied for ninth. He also needed only 3.9 seconds to finish the 20-yard shuttle, tied for 21st. Gamble started one NFL game in four seasons with the Dolphins.
Jason Hebert, FS, Rice (2002)
Skinny: His 20-yard shuttle time (3.86) is tied for 12th-best since 2000. Hebert never played in a regular-season game.
Kendrick Starling, WR, San Jose State (2004)
Skinny: He owns the 15th-best time in the 20-yard shuttle (3.88), but no NFL starts. Starling was out of the league in 2007.
Ryan Tolhurst, WR, Richmond (2002)
Skinny: He holds the 15th-best time in the 20-yard shuttle (3.88) and the 24th-best time in the three-cone drill (6.65), but Tolhurst never played in a regular-season game.
Ketric Sanford, RB, Houston (2000)
Skinny: His three-cone time (6.63) is tied for 17th-best since 2000, but Sanford never played in an NFL game.
Liam Ezekiel, LB, Northeastern (2005)
Skinny: He impressed with 36 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press, but Ezekiel played in only two NFL games.
Matt Farmer, WR, Air Force (2000)
Skinny: His three-cone time (6.63) is tied for the 17th-best at combine since 2000, but Farmer never played in the NFL.
Keith Brown, RB, UCLA (2000)
Skinny: His three-cone time (6.64) is tied for 20th, but he never played in the NFL.
Tony Fisher, RB, Notre Dame (2002)
Skinny: His 41 ½-inch vertical leap tied for 22nd-best. Fisher started five games, but he is out of the league.
Tim Bulman, DT, Boston College (2005)
Skinny: His 35 reps in the bench press are tied for 23rd-best. Bulman has started one game and remains on Houston's roster.
Will Bartholomew, FB, Tennessee (2002)
Skinny: His 35 bench-press reps are tied for 23rd, but Bartholomew never played in the NFL.
Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
ESPN.com analyzed the 25 best combine performers in six key categories since 2000. The performances show how important -- and unimportant -- raw ability can be.