By Ben Sullivan
All NFL fans eyes are trained on Indy and this week’sNFL Combine, which is part Miss America Pageant and part Consumer Electronics Show.
The brains of the NFL — and I use the term ironically — put this year’s draft class through all sorts of tests, physical and mental, and the result is …
Remember 1995, when the Eagles went all weak in the knees for Boston College’s Mike Mamula?
He played at Boston College, and Mamula had an impressive senior year, accumulating 13 sacks and making the All Big East team as a defensive end. But BC was no power program, so Mamula’s draft stock heading into that year’s combine wasn’t all that impressive.
As secondlevelfootball.com recalls, “You can imagine a coach saying, ‘Well, if he’d played for a higher-profile school and had been in a defense that fit his skills, he’d be on everyone’s radar.’ In retrospect, it was also a weak class for defensive linemen, with only a few name players to come out that year.” Heading into the combine, Mamula and his coaches spent much of their preparation time focusing on the vertical jump, 40-yard dash, and bench press.
Mamula was considered to be about a third-round draft pick, but then he put on perhaps the best (and maybe the most surprising) combine performance in history (photo at left). Perhaps none of it should have been a surprise — at least thinking about how potential draftees think about the combine these days. Looking back on it, Mamula’s strategy seems rather simple — and effective. As Mamula told ESPN.com in 2008: “I went into the combine having done every test hundreds of times while some other guys had never done some of the specific drills.” It most certainly showed.
He benched 225 pounds 28 times, he had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches, and he exploded for a 4.58 time in the 40. The RCA Dome was filled with the dumbfounded NFL personnel people.
On that January day, life was most certainly good for Mamula.
Not only was Mamula taken seventh overall, but the Eagles traded their No. 12 overall pick and two second-round selections to the Buccaneers in order to move up and draft Mamula. And you know what other defensive ends were left on the board after Mamula was taken? Hugh Douglas and a Hall of Famer named Warren Sapp.
It wouldn’t be going too far to suggest that Mamula was a first-round bust, though he actually had a solid, relatively short, career. In five seasons in Philly, Mamula collected 31.5 sacks — including a career-high 8.5 in 1999.
But he played at about 250 pounds, going against offensive linemen who weighed north of 300, and the Eagles never moved him to linebacker, where his size and speed might have been more conducive to his effectiveness. Yet, if Mamula hadn’t had such a standout combine, we’d probably look at his career with an entirely different perspective.
“I mean, what was I supposed to do? Try not to do well at the combine?” Mamula told ESPN. “The Eagles drafted me when they did and you can’t change that.”