It's late February, time for a young football fan's fancy to turn to ... the NFL Combine. And what better way for Jets fans to prepare than to ponder the efforts of players who had yet to become Jets when they participated in their combines?
We've prepared an informal, unscientific, highly subjective list of the measurable top-10 combine performances by players who would go on to play for the Jets, whether as rookie draft picks or end-of-career superstars. Further, we wanted to thin the herd just a little and limit our field to players who spent at least two seasons in green and white. As great as Chris Johnson's 4.24-second 40-yard dash at the 2008 Indianapolis shindig was and is, he played for the Jets only in 2014, so we'll save CJ2K for a different all-time list.
Also keep in mind that this is not a listing of the greatest Jets of all-time. Some players, like Sauce Gardner a year ago, may have only run the 40 at their combines. Others may skipped the week entirely. The top athletes in 2021 had no combine to go to due to COVID. And we're leaving out just a few Jets legends from prior to '87, when reliable combine data first became available.
So enjoy this list, and if you're so inclined, visit my Twitter page, @rlangejets, and let me know who would be included on your top-10 list, who would be excluded, who would be ranked higher or lower. And then we can all settle back in our pigskin beanbag chairs and enjoy this week's arrivals of this year's rookie-class candidates at Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
10. Tommy Bohanon, 2013
The Jets' second T-Bo, the only one we'll consider here since Tim Tebow spent only 2012 with the Green & White, had a good, not great 2013 combine workout after his Wake Forest career. Not great, that is, except for his benchpress. Bohanon did 36 reps on the 225-pound bar, which was the best among all backs and also third-best across all positions that year. The show of strength helped make him a seventh-round pick of the Jets, where he spent his first three pro seasons blocking for the likes of Chris Ivory, Bilal Powel and, in 2014, for the abovementioned Chris Johnson.
9. Darron Lee, 2016
The first-rounder from Ohio State didn't last long with the Jets, just three seasons. But he got there in the first place due to his athleticism for the Buckeyes and at the 2016 combine. His 4.47 seconds in the 40 was the fastest at any defensive position outside of CB that year. He also sailed 11-1 in the broad jump, best among the 'backers and No. 3 for the entire combine. He concluded his time in Indy with a 4.20 in the short shuttle, third among LBs.
8. Breece Hall, 2022
Some of what caught the Jets' eye to trade up and draft Hall earlier in Round 2 were his numbers and rankings at Lucas Oil a year ago. Because of injury, he didn't do all the events, but he turned in three gems. His 40.0" vertical leap was No. 1 among all RBs and tied for seventh among all combine participants. Also, his 10-6 broad jump was tied for third among the backs, and his 4.39 in the 40 was sixth-fastest at his position.
7. Brad Smith, 2006
Look, up in the sky. It's a wide receiver. It's a kickoff returner. It's a quarterback. No, it's Brad Smith, who came to the NFL with powers and abilities far beyond those of normal fourth-round picks. That's where the Jets selected the multipurpose Missourian, in part due to his combine numbers. As a WR, his metrics were middle-of-the-pack. But place him with that year's QBs, since that was his college position? His 4.51-second 40 would've been third-best, and his 39.5-inch vertical and 10-8 broad jump would've been the No. 1 leaps among that year's signal-callers, which included Vince Young and Marcus Vick, Mike's kid brother.
6. Carl Lawson, 2017
Lawson began his pro career with the Bengals in 2017, then made his way as a UFA to the Jets, where he finally got to display his pass-rush prowess last season. And before Cincinnati, there was Indianapolis, where Lawson enjoyed a versatile '17 combine. In the strength category, he benched 225 pounds 35 times, not only the top number among D-linemen that year but tied for the tops among all combine invitees. And he ran the change-of-direction 20 shuttle in 4.19 seconds, according to nfl,com, the best among the assembled DEs.
See photos of current Jets players working out in Indianapolis over the years.
5. Buster Skrine, 2011Skrine was a decent corner in the base defense and the nickel for four Jets seasons from 2015-18. But he began his 11-year career with Cleveland, and he caught the Browns' attention with his 2011 combine showing. His 4.37-second time in the 40 was third-best among CBs that year, but he really impressed in the agility drills. In the 3-cone, his 6.44 seconds were tops at cornerback and No. 2 for the combine. And his 3.90 in the 20 shuttle was first at his position and tied for 10th overall.
4. LaDainian Tomlinson, 2001
Tomlinson was a Jet for only his last two NFL seasons in 2010-11, with his Hall of Fame credentials firmly established as the Chargers' bolt of backfield lightning from 2001-09. For the purposes of this piece, let's fit LT in based on his '01 combine numbers. The TCU star's 4.43 time in the 40 was No. 3 among the RBs that year, his 40.5 vertical was No. 1 and his 10-4 broad jump was No. 2. And he turned in a zig-zagging 3-cone time of 6.84, also first among the backs and eighth-best overall. All signs of greatness to come.
3. Curtis Martin, 1995
Discussing LT leads us unerringly to CM. If you wanted a running back to win a footrace or a weightlifting competition, you probably wouldn't have chosen Martin. But if you wanted someone to go up and over the top, literally and figuratively, time after time and not just on the goal line, Curtis was your Jet. He did that enough from 1998-2005 to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he showed that trait at the 1995 combine, when he skyed to a 41.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-11 broad jump — both the No. 1 efforts among not only the RBs but among all invitees that year.
2. Santana Moss, 2001
Moss is arguably the best punt returner in Jets history, and that's because he was arguably one of the fastest players in the NFL for a quarter century. Moss, the 16th overall pick in the 2001 draft, participated in only the 40 and the vertical jump at the '01 combine, and his 4.31-second dash was the headliner. nflcombineresults.com has times and distances dating to 1987, and from 1989, the year Deion Sanders roared across the finish in either 4.27, 4.29 or 4.33 seconds (depending on the hand-held stopwatch), through 2003, before "everybody" began running sub-4.3s, Moss' time was the fourth-fastest combine 40. Oh, and his 42.0-inch vertical was tied for sixth-best among all athletes at that combine.
1. Dustin Keller, 2008
The Jets traded up into late in the first round in 2008 to grab Keller, and for good reason. While the Purdue product played only five NFL seasons, all in green and white, he established himself as one of the very best tight ends in franchise history. And he began to build that foundation before he became a Jet, at the '08 combine. Keller finished first among the 19 TEs at that year's event in the 40 (4.55, tied for 14th-best among all TEs from 2006-22), vertical jump (38.0, tied for 11th), broad jump (10-11, tied for 4th) and 20 shuttle (4.14, 10th), second with 26 reps on the bench (tied for 21st), and third in the 3-cone drill (6.88, tied for 18th)).
"My thinking going in was to perform my best at the combine and do really well in my individual workouts and pro day, then impress the coaches on my team visits, and then whatever happened happened," Keller said back after his first rookie minicamp practice with the Jets with advice that still resonates today. "I was happy with all the work that I put in. Wherever I went, that's who wants me the most."