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Mike Mamula wasn’t the Combine stud-turned-bust you’ve heard

mikemamula Getty Images

Workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine begin today, which means you’re going to hear about Mike Mamula. And a lot of what you’re going to hear will be wrong.

Some of the wrong information about Mamula was reported on NFL Network this morning, where Mamula was labeled the way he’s always labeled, as a lousy football player who became a Top 10 pick only because he was a Combine “workout warrior” and then busted in the NFL. Here’s what people usually say about Mamula:

1. The tape on Mamula wasn’t very good, but his Combine performance was great, so the Eagles reached for him with the seventh overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

2. In the NFL, he was a major bust.

There’s just one problem: Both of those statements are wrong.

In reality, Mamula was a very good player at Boston College, and NFL scouts were high on him before the Combine. And he wasn’t as bad a player in the NFL as people like to say.

First of all, Mamula’s record at Boston College speaks for itself: In his junior year, Mamula was a starter at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and he finished the season with 12 sacks. In his senior year, Mamula was a starter at defensive end after Boston College switched to a 4-3 defense, and he finished the season with 17 sacks. A player who shows that kind of versatility and ability to get to the quarterback is going to be on the radar of NFL scouts no matter how he runs at the Combine. Just look at this 1994 New York Times article, written three months before the Combine, which details a great game Mamula had against Syracuse and adds, “There were several National Football League scouts watching the game, and they could not help but give good grades to Mike Mamula, the Boston College defensive end who spent most of the day in the Syracuse backfield.”

In 1993, when Boston College upset No. 1 Notre Dame in one of the great college football games of the decade, Mamula was hailed as one of the best players on the field, finishing the game with 14 tackles and two sacks. His great Combine performance only solidified what people who watched him play thought, which is that he was really, really good.

But after the Eagles drafted him seventh overall, he proved to be a bust, right?

Not really. He was a Week One starter as a rookie and started all season except for three games when he was injured, and he had 5.5 sacks in the regular season and added a sack in helping the Eagles win a playoff game that year. In his second season he was even better, starting all 16 games, recording 8.0 sacks and again helping the Eagles reach the playoffs.

He again started all 16 games in 1997, but when he blew out his knee in the preseason of 1998, that’s when his career really turned south. He missed all of that season and wasn’t the same player at the start of the 1999 season. Down the stretch in 1999 he got back into form, recording seven sacks in the Eagles’ last seven games. At the end of that season, his teammates voted him the team’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient.

In 2000 Mamula had more injuries, and at the end of the year he called it a career. It hadn’t been a great career, but it had been a lot better than it’s now remembered for being.

Mamula’s biggest problem may be the trade the Eagles made to acquire him: Philadelphia traded up from No. 12 to No. 7 to draft Mamula, and the 12th overall pick ended up being Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Obviously, in hindsight, it would have been a lot better to stay put and draft Sapp.

But even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s time to stop using Mamula as shorthand for Combine workout warrior-turned-draft bust. That’s just not who he was.

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66 Responses to “Mike Mamula wasn’t the Combine stud-turned-bust you’ve heard”
  1. contract says: Feb 26, 2016 9:20 AM

    Thank you! Someone finally gets it right!

  2. fvfcbs says: Feb 26, 2016 9:20 AM

    Refuting NFL Network hyperbole with facts. Another example of ‘it gets said enough it must be true.” The NFL Network is awful. Never anything of insight.

  3. deprado1 says: Feb 26, 2016 9:23 AM

    Good article. While Mamula was not a top notch pro, he had some moments and was not a classic bust.

  4. tarrilasgiant1090 says: Feb 26, 2016 9:23 AM

    Not an Eagles fan, but very good article.

  5. dwinsgames says: Feb 26, 2016 9:24 AM

    Yeah, but if you remember that draft you know that most teams were passing on Sapp due to weed allegations, so no reason to think Eagles wouldn’t have too…

  6. kneedragr says: Feb 26, 2016 9:25 AM

    To be fair, most people thought it was a reach at the time too, as he was expected to go late first early second.

  7. greatest dynasty ever says: Feb 26, 2016 9:29 AM

    One thing I learned this past year is that the media won’t allow anything to get in the way of a good story, truth be damned. I wonder how many of the people who repeat the Mamula narrative also “knew” Tom Brady would be a star in the league.

  8. skinsdiehard says: Feb 26, 2016 9:31 AM

    Bravo. One of the best articles I’ve read on PFT. No sarcasm or hidden agenda. Just the facts about production on the field. Bravo.

  9. shackdelrio says: Feb 26, 2016 9:32 AM

    “Obviously, in hindsight, it would have been a lot better to stay put and draft Sapp.”

    Not even about hindsight. Sapp was the number one prospect for most people going into the draft.

  10. lgw91s says: Feb 26, 2016 9:32 AM

    Very informative. Quite surprising, actually. There are bigger busts every year. I’m guessing most of the analysts that use his name as a workout warrior bust would be equally surprised.

  11. grndizzle says: Feb 26, 2016 9:35 AM

    I always think of Vernon Gholston when I think about combine freak turned wasted top 10 pick.

  12. lgbarn says: Feb 26, 2016 9:35 AM

    Sapp is a turd of a person but we Buc’s fans thank you for the trade. That was probably our best draft ever.

  13. angrydave38 says: Feb 26, 2016 9:37 AM

    Vernon Gholston was a far bigger bust than Mike Mamula. MM managed to get 31 sacks in his career. Gholston got 0 and was drafted 6th overall. Not to mention history gives no credence to the blown out knee at a position that requires a hell of a lot of leg power.

    Gholston:
    6 ft 3 in 266 lb — 4.58 40yd dash — 41″ vertical — 37 reps on the bench

    Its the media who creates these guys and then they are the first to pile on when they don’t work out.

  14. joeknowsnada says: Feb 26, 2016 9:38 AM

    Mamula gets “blamed” for being the first player to “game” the Combine and improve his draft stock by working out in a specific manner that allowed him to be better at performing in shorts and tee- shirts. It was a smart move, and it worked. As for his playing career, the local Media and his own coach, Ray Rhodes, probably did him no favors by “inventing” the term “Mamula,” as in, “Hey, Mike did not sack the QB, but he got close a lot.” (Fast forward to today, where we count as an effective pass rush the ever-popular QB Hurry). His off-field behavior (exposure in a bar, etc.) also hurt him, as he was portrayed as kind of a poor man’s Gronk, and labeled as having lower-order intelligence and neanderthal tendencies. He was never a great player, but he flashed, at times.

  15. draftrobot says: Feb 26, 2016 9:38 AM

    Great article. If you look back at the 1st round pass rushers from the 1995 draft, you would see:

    6. Kevin Carter
    7. Mamula
    11. Derrick Alexander
    16. Hugh Douglas

    Carter was an excellent player for a long time. So was Douglas. But Derrick Alexander played the exact same position as Mamula, was only drafted four picks later, and inarguably sucked, yet no one ever talks about him being a bust like they do Mamula.

  16. TylerHills says: Feb 26, 2016 9:39 AM

    If people must use this narrative they should use it with Vernon Ghostlon. I he believe never had a sack in his career despite (or because of him depending on your opinion) Rex Ryan being his coach.

  17. greenbleeder says: Feb 26, 2016 9:41 AM

    Yeah! Just let Mamula Rock out with his Block out.

  18. rjmarrella says: Feb 26, 2016 9:48 AM

    Mamula introduced a lot of us to a quasi-important stat. The qb-hurry. The running joke in philly was that he was the franchise leader in Qb-hurries.

  19. lgw91s says: Feb 26, 2016 9:48 AM

    shackdelrio says:
    Feb 26, 2016 9:32 AM
    “Obviously, in hindsight, it would have been a lot better to stay put and draft Sapp.”

    Not even about hindsight. Sapp was the number one prospect for most people going into the draft.
    ———–

    Well, perhaps most people that were not employed as NFL GM’s.

  20. dubzito says: Feb 26, 2016 9:49 AM

    further proof that the talking heads very rarely do their homework.

    There are plenty of busts just in the last 5 years that would kill to have mamula’s career.

  21. scmems07 says: Feb 26, 2016 9:54 AM

    I did not know that, I was always under the impression that he was just a combine freak and sucked in the league because that’s what I always heard, Never bothered to look further into it. This is the exact reason why I haven’t watched or visited NFL network or NFL.com in over a year, to many bias reporters with agendas.

  22. jonwill57 says: Feb 26, 2016 10:03 AM

    draftrobot says:
    Feb 26, 2016 9:38 AM

    Great article. If you look back at the 1st round pass rushers from the 1995 draft, you would see:

    6. Kevin Carter
    7. Mamula
    11. Derrick Alexander
    16. Hugh Douglas

    Carter was an excellent player for a long time. So was Douglas. But Derrick Alexander played the exact same position as Mamula, was only drafted four picks later, and inarguably sucked, yet no one ever talks about him being a bust like they do Mamula.
    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
    Stay on topic…no one mentioned the DE combine results. Alexander was taken 11th. Mamula was considered a 3rd round pick until the combine. That’s why he’s considered a bust.

  23. burgboy82 says: Feb 26, 2016 10:06 AM

    As a Bucs fan, the 1995 NFL Draft was amazing! Warren Sapp @ #12 and Derrick Brooks @ #28. Two first ballot HOFs in the same draft, in the same round! Once in a damn lifetime is what that is.

  24. charliecharger says: Feb 26, 2016 10:06 AM

    Nice article! I remember some really good scouts loved Mamula based on his game tape. Most of the grades on players are in way before the combine. Philly was probably going to draft him at #12, but because of his great combine showing, decided they better move up to #7 or he’d be taken by someone else.

  25. leroyquimby says: Feb 26, 2016 10:10 AM

    Also to be fair, the day he was drafted Eagles fans were sold that he would be a “pass rush” DE when he was a LB in college. So when Eagles fans balked and said he was undersized to be a DE we ended up being right. We were fans who had just seen Reggie White go the Packers and win a SB and this was to be his “replacement”. That is where a lot of the myth also comes.

  26. philly462 says: Feb 26, 2016 10:15 AM

    Traded away two 2nd rounders too and Bill Romanowski was on his way out the door in ’95. What could have been if the Eagles stayed put, drafted Sapp, traded back into the first round and grabbed Derrick Brooks to replace Romanowski and then just stuck with the plan and still gotten Bobby Taylor.

    Wow … that would have been a ridiculous draft. Imagine what would have been if they still signed Hugh Douglas years later on top of it.

  27. bigredgoog says: Feb 26, 2016 10:18 AM

    Good article. Thanks.

  28. xmatt0926x says: Feb 26, 2016 10:20 AM

    As an Eagles fan I find this article very enlightening because it s true that Mamula gets brought up every season. Every time it would happen I would think that I didn’t remember him being a total failure.

    Yes, he was a bust (or whatever word you want to use) in the sense that he never became a monster player as expected, but he wasn’t useless. He was a classic case of a guy that was “labled” right away and he couldn’t shake it.

    They even had a term for any defensive lineman who just came short of sacking the QB. It was called “the Mamula”. He did seem to have a lot of those close misses but as the article states, he was somewhat productive with actual sacks as well.

    Nice trip down memory lane.

  29. ( . Y . ) says: Feb 26, 2016 10:21 AM

    Its the same thing with Bosworth. People remember him as being a bust, but he wasn’t. When I think bust I think Trev Alberts who was a first round pick (Colts) who retired before ever playing a game… But hey, someone said it on the internet, so it must be true. And no matter how many times these “stories” are proven false, the mischaracterization, and incorrect “facts” will never go away

  30. ( . Y . ) says: Feb 26, 2016 10:25 AM

    ( . Y . ) says:
    Feb 26, 2016 10:21 AM

    Its the same thing with Bosworth. People remember him as being a bust, but he wasn’t. When I think bust I think Trev Alberts who was a first round pick (Colts) who retired before ever playing a game… But hey, someone said it on the internet, so it must be true. And no matter how many times these “stories” are proven false, the mischaracterization, and incorrect “facts” will never go away
    ———————-

    I need to correct myself, I looked it up. Alberts actually played portions of 3 seasons. All shortened due to injury

  31. Mr. Wright 212 says: Feb 26, 2016 10:32 AM

    no one talks about Alexander because everyone had a stereotype about FSU tweeners even by then. Most didn’t have him going that early. He was a reach, and honestly was a product of playjng next to Derrick Brooks.

  32. Mr. Wright 212 says: Feb 26, 2016 10:35 AM

    That said, never was one to down Mamula. Giants couldn’t block him when he was healthy and we had those scabs like Brown and Graham at QB. Anyone who watched Mamula play knows he was decent when healthy. That was just rare. But not a bust.

  33. billmiller1991 says: Feb 26, 2016 10:35 AM

    Basically the Eagles paid (in draft cost) for a brand new Mercedes and got a used Chevy Cavalier. The good news is that a Chevy Cavalier gets you around town just as well as a Mercedes… sometimes even better.

  34. myopinionisrighterthanyours says: Feb 26, 2016 10:37 AM

    Trev started the epic Mel Kiper blast about the Colts being perennial losers, and the awesome response by the Colts GM. I couldn’t remember exactly what Trev did in the NFL. Based on your post, I’d say that Trent Dilfer, while mediocre, had a far better career.

  35. imamarinebiologist says: Feb 26, 2016 10:38 AM

    Mamula was a good player. Fought the injury bug and think he would’ve been better. There was a lot of buzz about him that draft. He would’ve been taken in the next few picks anyway. But, he was kinda known for always almost getting the QB.

  36. milkmandanimal says: Feb 26, 2016 10:43 AM

    The Eagles traded #12 and a pair of second-rounders to Tampa in order to move up to #7 and take Mamula. The Bucs packaged those second-round picks to jump back into the first round so they could take Derrick Brooks.

    In short, Mike Mamula was the reason Tampa drafted Warren Sapp AND Derrick Brooks. Completely turned around the history of the Buccaneer franchise with that one move.

  37. connfyoozed says: Feb 26, 2016 10:44 AM

    Outstanding article, thank you. It’s amazing how our memories get clouded and changed by media images over the years. Not being an Eagles fan, I didn’t see all that much of Mamula during his career, so of course my impression of him has been reshaped by that “legend” that just wasn’t true.

    I think I speak for many when I say that I would love to see more of this type of article from PFT, factual investigation of players past and present. Nice work.

  38. greatest dynasty ever says: Feb 26, 2016 10:45 AM

    Alberts wasn’t even the biggest bust in Colts history, ever heard of Steve Emtman?

  39. rajbais says: Feb 26, 2016 10:47 AM

    Yeah, it’s Vernon Gholston that was.

  40. obsession55 says: Feb 26, 2016 10:54 AM

    Mamula is on record saying Indianapolis is his favorite city in the world, because of how well he did at the Combine. So there’s some truth to the narrative that he was a “workout warrior”. But he was also a stud at BC, as you mentioned, and had a somewhat productive NFL career.

    He’s not nearly the bust people make him out to be

  41. disulfide says: Feb 26, 2016 11:00 AM

    It’s common knowledge that Mike Mamula threw snowballs at Santa and threw up during the Super Bowl.

  42. tnt2003 says: Feb 26, 2016 11:01 AM

    Good article and awareness on your part. Football analysts usually back pedal in hindsight.

    This time they just spoke out of their rear ends.

  43. torethatbridgeout says: Feb 26, 2016 11:01 AM

    Mike “Mad Dog in a Meat Market” Junkin on the other hand…

  44. maestro1899 says: Feb 26, 2016 11:04 AM

    lgw91s says:
    Feb 26, 2016 9:48 AM
    shackdelrio says:
    Feb 26, 2016 9:32 AM
    “Obviously, in hindsight, it would have been a lot better to stay put and draft Sapp.”

    Not even about hindsight. Sapp was the number one prospect for most people going into the draft.
    ———–

    Well, perhaps most people that were not employed as NFL GM’s.

    —————————————————————————-

    Shackdelrio is absolutely correct.

    Most GMs did (or at the least, have said in public interviews since) have him at 1 or close to it, but he failed a drug test at the combine and that caused him to drop to 12.

    But he was considered the best prospect of that draft by a lot of NFL teams.

  45. nenlain says: Feb 26, 2016 11:07 AM

    MDS,

    Thanks for educating me with that thoughtful article. Very nice.

  46. granadafan says: Feb 26, 2016 11:15 AM

    None of those scouting reports translate to top 10 pick. He was all Big East, but didn’t make any of the All American teams one would expect from a Top 10 pick. Face it. He was mid draft, perhaps a 3rd rounder, but certainly not a first rounder, let alone top 10 without destroying the Combine.

  47. mikeytrapp says: Feb 26, 2016 11:27 AM

    Eagle fans called him highway 59 because he was continually run over.

  48. thegregwitul says: Feb 26, 2016 11:35 AM

    Great article, but there is a reason why Mamula always pops up around combine time.

    He was one of the first players to really train for the combine drills and he crushed them. Mamula was a productive college player that boosted his stock during the combine, perhaps more than any player up to that point. So, you can’t really knock the Eagles for trading up for Mamula.

    Where this comes back to bite the Eagles is who Tampa Bay selected with the picks acquired from Philly; Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Two first ballot hall of fame players in exchange for Mike Mamula. That is why this is still a story that is brought up every offseason.

  49. bobleblah says: Feb 26, 2016 11:44 AM

    The only thing that matters is Mamula’s comparison to Warren Sapp, the player that Tampa Bay got in return for trading out of the pick.

  50. bullseye717 says: Feb 26, 2016 11:57 AM

    Why does everyone focus on Mike Mamula from the 1995 draft when 7 running backs with zero all-pros or pro bowls were drafted before Curtis Martin?

  51. mp4philly says: Feb 26, 2016 12:03 PM

    Well written article. Great points.

  52. romeisfallingagain says: Feb 26, 2016 12:03 PM

    Ryan Sims is another guy you could mention instead of Mamula. Talk about a bust who benefited from the combine, also played next to Julius Peppers his entire college career. That guy was as useless as a d-lineman has ever been.

  53. puckskin says: Feb 26, 2016 12:38 PM

    Growing up a BC fan, Mamula was the best defensive player to come through there until Kuechly. For whatever reason it didn’t translate to the NFL. He wasn’t some workout warrior, he was a great player in college. Stephen Boyd was also on that team, and had a stellar career in the NFL, all-pro, pro bowl LB. So that may have had a little something to do with his big production in college.

  54. docsweeney says: Feb 26, 2016 12:47 PM

    This article is a great example of how the media and fans blow everything out of proportion. “This guy is a bust”, “Wasted draft pick”, etc.

    Facts. He was a good player who probably should have been drafted a few picks lower and then got hit by a ton of injuries. Expectations effect perception. Fans and writers get all wound up over nothing.

    There are true busts and wasted picks every year and every team makes there share. The team who makes the fewest for a sustained period of four to five years are generally your top teams.

  55. joe6606 says: Feb 26, 2016 1:02 PM

    A top 10 pick out of the league in 5 years is a bust, regardless of the reasons why. He had a 3rd round pick career

  56. usitait says: Feb 26, 2016 1:07 PM

    jonwill57

    Stay on topic…no one mentioned the DE combine results. Alexander was taken 11th. Mamula was considered a 3rd round pick until the combine. That’s why he’s considered a bust.

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    That’s not right…he wouldn’t have made it past Jacksonville who hired his old BC coach Tom Coughlin in round one

  57. packerpauly says: Feb 26, 2016 1:14 PM

    I never considered Mamula a bust – Just a victim of injuries that shortened his career. As a Packers fan, if you want to talk bust then repeat after me: Tony Mandarich.

  58. trollaikman8 says: Feb 26, 2016 2:47 PM

    Dislike the Eagles but these facts have been vastly overlooked.

    Good article.

  59. nflrule says: Feb 26, 2016 4:37 PM

    Mayock and those who hang on his every word are morons…

  60. hexy27 says: Feb 27, 2016 1:24 AM

    Mamula was not even the worst pass rusher drafted in round 1 by Ray Rhodes.

    John Harris was a 4th round talent on most boards, but Ray-Bob knew better.

    25th overall pick – 2 career sacks
    He was out of the league after 2 years.

  61. hexy27 says: Feb 27, 2016 1:31 AM

    It is possible that both Miami DEs went off the board at 17 and 18 and Rhodes just picked the next guy he could find in an orange jersey.

  62. thetwilightsown says: Feb 29, 2016 12:11 PM

    Mamula “happened” at just the wrong time – it was the beginning of what the draft is now, which is: a hugely popular event the NFL didn’t realize it had in it’s back pocket.
    The draft was growing from something you had to try and source out in prehistoric texts, once known as “newspapers,” then do research on your research to get any details on what your team got for Nerd Christmas. Unless your team drafted a Heisman finalist or one of the few peripheral stars of that era of college football, there was simply nothing else you could do. Then suddenly, it’s Mel Kiper and his weird accent saying “Muh-Mooo-Luh” and this guy is seared into the brain of every draftnik in the country.
    That’s a lot of hype and still in a time when the internet wasn’t synonymous with daily life and you had to “go over to so & so’s house to print out something on The Computer”
    He’s probably sitting on a stack of money somewhere laughing every March/April, so… he’s fine.

  63. baldeaglejohnie says: Feb 29, 2016 9:03 PM

    Plus with Sapp teams were worried if I remember correctly about reports of Warren smoking the dope at the U.

  64. psousa1 says: Mar 1, 2016 9:24 AM

    Exactly. I just shake my head when so called experts try to paint Mamula as a combine wonder. The guy was an outstanding college player and was productive in the NFL.

    They do the same with Bosworth. They called him a bust and show the Bo Jackson clip.

    As an onetime seahawk fan he and Kenny Easley were usually the best two players on the field for the Seattle defense. Tore up his shoulder and it just ended. That’s all. Nothing more too it.

    The other guy talked about like that was Ohio State’s Andy Katzenmoyer. Bust with New England. The only bust was he broke his neck and walked away.

  65. gp1390r says: Mar 2, 2016 10:28 PM

    Thanks for the write up on Mamula. While he never lived up to the hype created by the media, he did have an ok career. Tony Mandarich was a bigger bust IMO, but even he had several good seasons towards the end of his career with the Jim Harbaugh era Colts. His problems were addiction related, he was hooked on painkillers and alcohol while in Green Bay. When he got clean and went to Indy he played well. But he, like Mamula, will always be thought of as “busts” bc of the hype that preceded them playing a down in the NFL, despite what their careers were truly like….

  66. bcgreg says: Mar 14, 2016 9:03 PM

    greatest dynasty ever says:
    Feb 26, 2016 10:45 AM

    Alberts wasn’t even the biggest bust in Colts history, ever heard of Steve Emtman?

    ————

    I don’t label guys who get injured early in their careers as busts (Ie Emtman or Andre Wadsworth). The bigger bust than Emtman for the Colts was Quentin Coryatt. Same draft even.

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