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.