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Best of the NFL Scouting Combine from past decade

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  • By NFL.com
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The NFL Scouting Combine (March 3-6 on NFL Network) is a vital part of the evaluation process for draft prospects. What transpires in the on-field workouts can oftentimes provide a cautionary tale. Prospects can profoundly impact their draft status with strong combine performances. While some players that stand out at the event pan out in the pros, others aren't as fortunate.

Here is a look at the best combine performances of the past decade that helped boost a prospect's draft stock:

1. Byron Jones


College: Connecticut
Combine: 2015
Draft: First round (No. 27 overall), Dallas Cowboys

Jones (unofficially) set a new world record at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, jumping an astonishing 12 feet, 3 inches in the broad jump (the best in the combine in the past decade by eight inches!).

That distance is also believed to be a world record. Granted, the standing long jump hasn't been an Olympic event since 1912, so records aren't complete. Norwegian Arne Tvervaag is believed to have held the world record of 12-2 set on Nov. 11, 1968. 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, set in 1904) before Tvervaag established a new mark in 1968.

Coupled with an impressive vertical jump (third-best at the combine in the past decade), Jones' draft stock jumped and he became a first-round selection.

2. Chris Johnson


College: East Carolina
Combine: 2008
Draft: First round (No. 24 overall), Tennessee Titans

Johnson's "modern" combine record of 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash has stood for nine years now. In 2015, J.J. Nelson came within four hundredths of a second of matching Johnson's time. Three years ago, Dri Archer came the closest, clocking a 4.26-second 40.

3. Stephen Paea


College: Oregon State
Combine: 2011
Draft: Second round (No. 53 overall), Chicago Bears

While Johnson stakes claim to the "modern" 40 record, Paea owns the combine's bench-press record. Paea did a stunning 49 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the 2011 combine. That is four more reps than the 45 posted by UTEP's Leif Larson at the 2000 combine, a mark that was tied in 2006 by Ohio State's Mike Kudla and again in 2010 by Arkansas' Mitch Petrus.

4. Dontari Poe


College: Memphis
Combine: 2012
Draft: First round (No. 11 overall), Kansas City Chiefs

At the 2012 combine, Poe showed the sort of athleticism that would be put to good use during the 2015 season when he became the heaviest player to ever score a touchdown in the NFL, and in 2016, when he became the heaviest player to pass for a TD. Poe had the standout performance of that year's combine, posting a 40 time of less than five seconds at nearly 350 pounds. In addition to that speed, Poe showed his strength on the bench, doing 44 reps of 225 pounds to post the best number at that year's combine.

5. Darrius Heyward-Bey


College: Maryland
Combine: 2009
Draft: First round (No. 7 overall), Oakland Raiders

Coming off of an honorable mention All-ACC season for the Terrapins, Heyward-Bey opted to enter the NFL draft early. His combine 40 time -- 4.3 seconds -- was best among the wide receivers. As they were wont to do, the Raiders were romanced by a prospect with speed. Heyward-Bey went No. 7 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, and was the first receiver selected. However, in four seasons in Oakland, Heyward-Bey failed to record a 1,000-yard season.

A year after Heyward-Bey's stellar combine, Maryland offensive lineman Bruce Campbell put forth an eye-popping performance, running a 4.85-second 40 at 6-foot-6, 314 pounds (the best among offensive linemen). Campbell parlayed that combine effort into a fourth-round selection by -- you guessed it -- the Raiders.

6. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie


College: Tennessee State
Combine: 2008
Draft: First round (No. 16 overall), Arizona Cardinals

How do you rise from small-school prospect to first-round draft choice? Dominate at the combine. That's exactly what Rodgers-Cromartie did in 2008. He tied for the best broad-jump distance among defensive backs (with Aqib Talib), and posted the fourth-best 40 time (4.33). After a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, Rodgers-Cromartie built more draft momentum at the combine, and earned a first-round draft slot as a result.

With Rodgers-Cromartie, the breakout combine performance was actually a harbinger of things to come. He's been a two-time Pro Bowl selection and has played in two Super Bowls (one with the Cardinals and another with the Denver Broncos).

7. J.J. Watt


College: Wisconsin
Combine: 2011
Draft: First round (No. 11 overall), Houston Texans

Watt solidified his status as a first-round draft prospect with an extraordinary combine showcase. Watt was a top performer among his position group peers in every drill but the 40-yard dash.

Since his selection by the Texans in the draft, he's been running three-cone drills around NFL offensive linemen. Although last season was largely lost to injury, Watt has 76 sacks over six seasons and has established himself as one of the dominant defenders of his era.

8. Tavon Austin


College: West Virginia
Combine: 2013
Draft: First round (No. 8 overall), St. Louis Rams

Austin backed up a magnificent senior season with the Mountaineers by blazing a 4.34 40 time and boosting his draft stock at the 2013 combine. So smitten with Austin were the Rams that they traded up from the No. 16 overall spot to No. 8 to get the dynamic wide receiver. Unfortunately for the Rams, Austin hasn't exactly lived up to that lofty draft slot. His career-high for receiving yards and touchdowns is 473 and five, which were posted this season. His career-high for receiving yards is just 509, posted last season, although he has been productive as an occasional rusher (125 carries, 968 yards, 7.7 avg. over four years).

9. Aaron Donald


College: Pittsburgh
Combine: 2014
Draft: First round (No. 13 overall), St. Louis Rams

Donald left no doubt about his status as a draft riser at the 2014 combine, where he ran a 4.68 40-yard dash at 285 pounds and pumped out 35 bench press reps at 225 pounds. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock had this to say at the time: "I would put this day up, that Aaron Donald had, as well as any defensive tackle in the last 10 years from a measurables aspect." The performance helped scouts match those measurables with a dominant senior season at Pitt, which culminated with an Outland Trophy-winning season in 2013. Donald was selected at No. 13 overall and the Rams, and he's made the club look smart ever since.

10. Tim Tebow


College: Florida
Combine: 2010
Draft: First round (No. 25 overall), Denver Broncos

With an impressive on-field performance and improved mechanics on his throwing delivery, Tebow was able to sway one team to make him a first-round selection, despite lingering concerns over his ability to perform as a pro-style quarterback. The Broncos traded up in the 2010 draft to get Tebow, who delivered a playoff win but was then traded once the team signed some quarterback named Peyton Manning.

Honorable mention: Pat O'Donnell


College: Miami (Fla.)
Combine: 2014
Draft: Sixth round (No. 191 overall), Chicago Bears

With all the pre-combine hoopla in 2014 surrounding Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, it was a punter who stole the show (well, kinda). Specialists often opt out of the drills, but O'Donnell decided to put his athleticism on display for all to see. O'Donnell dropped a 4.64-second 40 (faster than Manziel's 4.68 40), but that wasn't the most impressive number he posted in Indianapolis. The punter did 23 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. That was two more reps than Clowney could do.

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