NFL Combine 2012: Predicting the 16 Fastest Players There

Dan Van WieContributor IIIFebruary 22, 2012

NFL Combine 2012: Predicting the 16 Fastest Players There

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    We are fast approaching the start of the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The 2012 NFL draft hopefuls will be on the most important job interview of their lives, hoping that they do enough in the skill testing and the team interviews to secure a first-round selection.

    Speed is needed at the Indy 500, but the speed at Indy that we are looking for is of the 40-yard dash variety—straight-ahead-sprinters speed. What is great about the event is that it is the same conditions for every player in attendance—no wind conditions, track is the same for everybody—eliminating all of the reasons why a certain time is next to an asterisk.

    One of the ways for NFL hopefuls to distance themselves from their competitors is to be the fastest or among the fastest players for their position. If they're blessed with that much speed and can demonstrate enough skills in the other tested areas, they are well on their way to playing in the NFL.

    The combine lost one of the fastest players to the world of track and field, as Jeff Demps, running back from the Florida Gators, has decided to not attend the NFL Scouting Combine. He is giving up football for track and field and trying to make the upcoming 2012 Olympics team. He might have been the fastest player in Indianapolis, but now we will never know for sure.

    According to the description on the NFL Network Scouting Combine home page:

    The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the Combine. It's kind of like the 100-meters at the Olympics: It's all about speed, explosion and watching skilled athletes run great times. These athletes are timed at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals. What the scouts are looking for is an explosion from a static start.

    Now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s predict the top 16 fastest players at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. See inside for the rundown.

Here Are Recent NFL Combine Times to Beat

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    Over the last four years, the following players are among those who ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in less than 4.40 seconds. It's a benchmark number that gets players noticed for speed.

    Chris Johnson (4.24 seconds): Tennessee Titans running back

    DeMarcus Van Dyke (4.28): Oakland Raiders cornerback

    Jacoby Ford (4.28): Oakland Raiders wide receiver

    Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.30): Oakland Raiders wide receiver

    Mike Wallace (4.33): Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver

    Patrick Peterson (4.34): Arizona Cardinals cornerback

    Da'Rel Scott (4.34): New York Giants running back

    Trindon Holliday (4.34): Houston Texans kick returner

    Johnny Knox (4.34): Chicago Bears wide receiver

    Jahvid Best (4.35): Detroit Lions running back

    C.J. Spiller (4.37): Buffalo Bills running back

    Ricardo Lockette (4.37): Seattle Seahawks wide receiver

    Julio Jones (4.39): Atlanta Falcons wide receiver

Joe Adams

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    Joe Adams, wide receiver of the Arkansas Razorbacks, is one of five wide receivers coming to the combine that has the ability to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.40 seconds. Adams has that kind of blazing speed.

    If you happened to watch Adams play in the Senior Bowl, he was easily able to make tacklers miss him due to his solid moves and speed. The biggest challenge will be to catch the ball, because once he does, he can pick up yards in bunches.

    Adams has run the 40 in 4.38 seconds. I think he will match that score in Indianapolis.

    Prediction: Adams will run the 40-yard dash in the 4.38 seconds range. Adams official time was 4.55 seconds.

Justin Blackmon

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    NFL Network reporter Albert Breer reported that Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon predicted he will run the 40-yard dash between 4.4 and 4.5 seconds.

    Blackmon had a very solid year, as he caught 121 passes for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns this year.

    There will undoubtedly be wide receivers that are faster, but if Blackmon can come in at 4.4 seconds, that practically guarantees that he will be a first-round draft pick. 

    If he runs as fast as he predicted, it could cement his chances of being drafted in the first 10 picks. 

    Prediction: Blackmon will run the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds. Blackmon chose not to run at the combines, and will probably run at his pro day instead.

Zach Brown

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    How comforting it will be for the defensive coordinator of whichever team that drafts North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown to know that he is just as fast as—or faster than—the receivers or running backs that he is asked to cover downfield?

    Brown comes to the NFL Scouting Combine with the knowledge that he is the fastest linebacker in attendance, but what Brown really wants to know is how fast he is compared to everybody else.

    NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said on TV that Brown is one of the players he is most looking forward to at the combine, as he believes that Brown will run the 40 in 4.35 seconds. For somebody who weighs 237 pounds and can run the 40 in 4.35 seconds, that is very impressive.

    To give you an idea of Brown's speed, he ran track at North Carolina and set the school record in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.72 seconds.

    If Brown can run the 40 in the 4.35- to 4.36-second range, he stands a great chance to go in the first round.

    Prediction: Brown will run the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds. Brown ran the 40 in 4.50 seconds.

Morris Claiborne

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    Morris Claiborne is a talented corner and special teams return man from LSU (sounds like Patrick Peterson so far, doesn't it?) who is currently projected to be drafted in the top 10 picks of the 2012 NFL draft.

    Claiborne previously was a wide receiver, so he has very good ball skills and good anticipation skills as well.

    Claiborne can fly, and he is currently projected as the top corner to be drafted by NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. Claiborne has been known to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.40 range. I think he will wind up coming very close to that mark.

    If Claiborne can crack the 4.40 mark, that ensures that he is a top-10 draft pick. I think that he will be ready to do that.

    Prediction: Claiborne will run the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds. Claiborne's official time was 4.50 seconds.

T.J. Graham

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    T.J. Graham is a wide receiver from North Carolina State who is another "speed burner" type. Graham has also run some track in his career and possesses some strong times that make him a player to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    Graham can run in the 4.3 to 4.45 range. If he can approach that lower number, that will certainly improve his draft stock.

    Prediction: Graham will run the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. Graham's official time was 4.41 seconds.

Robert Griffin III

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    Out of all the quarterbacks who will be trying to make an impression on NFL teams, we think that Baylor University quarterback Robert Griffin III, the winner of the Heisman Trophy, will wind up being the fastest quarterback at the combine.

    Griffin is said to run the 40 in under 4.5 seconds. That speed will allow him to pull away from a high percentage of NFL front-seven defensive personnel over the length of his career.

    Griffin was a track star in high school. He ran the 110-meter hurdles in 13.55 seconds and ran the 300-meter hurdles in 35.33 seconds. He was tied for being the top 110-meter sprint hurdler in the nation. Obviously, Griffin has filled out more since then, so his time won't be as fast, but it should be faster than any quarterback in Indianapolis.

    As Griffin displayed during his acceptance of the Heisman Trophy, he is very personable, so he shouldn't really have any trouble acing the interviews in Indy. He does need to come up with a good 40 time and have a solid effort to ensure that he is drafted in the first five overall draft picks.

    Prediction: Griffin III will run the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. Griffin was clocked at 4.41 seconds.

Lamar Miller

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    Lamar Miller, running back from the University of Miami (Florida), is just one more Hurricane player who we can expect to see lay down a fast time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    Miller will probably run better than a 4.45. Miller is a top-five running back according to most experts, and he will need a good time to ensure his high ranking on draft boards.

    Prediction: Miller will run the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. Miller ran the 40 in 4.40 seconds.

Kashif Moore

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    Kashif Moore is a wide receiver at the University of Connecticut. Moore is projected to run the 40 from a range of 4.33 to 4.47 seconds.

    Moore has encountered trouble trying to break press coverages due to not being very big or strong. He is only 5'10" and weighs 179 pounds.

    He will need a good combine and then needs to hit the weight room if he expects to get drafted.

    Prediction: Moore will run the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds. Moore ran the 40 in 4.42 seconds.

Chris Polk

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    If there is anybody that needs to run a fast time at the Indianapolis NFL Scouting Combine, it is Washington running back Chris Polk. In fact, Polk needs a great combine workout across the board.

    Polk was viewed as a strong running back candidate to go in the first few rounds prior to the Senior Bowl. As the Senior Bowl week progressed, Polk's stock continued to drop every day due to poor practices.

    Polk will have the chance to restore some faith for NFL teams that he can rebound and still be an effective back in the NFL. One way is to run a fast 40. He has been timed at between 4.45 and 4.65 seconds. If he doesn't, he can forget about being drafted in either of the first two days of the draft.

    Prediction: Polk will run the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. Polk's official time was 4.57 seconds.

Chris Rainey

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    Since Jeffrey Demps is not planning to attend the Combine, the fastest player by default may very well be Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey.

    NFL analyst Mike Mayock stated on TV that he thinks Rainey will be the fastest player at the combine. As Mayock detailed, Rainey and Demps have beaten each other in unofficial races, so now we get to see exactly how fast Rainey is.

    If you watched the practices at the Senior Bowl, you realize that Rainey is very fast. NFL teams will still have to figure out where they want to play him and how many touches he can take at the NFL level, but you want to have his hands on the ball in the open field and then sit back and watch him run.

    Prediction: Rainey will run the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds. Rainey's official time was 4.45 seconds.

Rueben Randle

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    Rueben Randle, wide receiver from LSU, is projected to run the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds. He offers some good size at 6'4" and 208 pounds, as there are many NFL offenses that have a need for a tall receiver that can also stretch the field.

    While NFL teams will want to see how good Randle's hands are, they will also want to verify that he has speed to burn. He needs to run in the 4.39 to 4.40 range to continue being projected as a top-five wide receiver prospect.

    As it stands now, Mike Mayock of NFL Network has Randle graded out as his No. 4 wide receiver in the 2012 draft class. Randle averaged 17 yards per catch at LSU.

    Prediction: Randle will run the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds. Randle ran the 40 in 4.55 seconds.

Ryan Steed

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    Ryan Steed, corner from Furman University, is a speed burner who runs the 40 in roughly 4.42 seconds. He may not be ready to start in the NFL as a corner, but he definitely can come in and contribute to special teams and play in either the nickel or dime packages.

    He used his speed at Furman to specialize in blocking punts, which is becoming a lost part of the game. Steed will need to turn in a strong time if he is hoping to get drafted, which isn't the easiest thing to do when you attend a smaller school like Furman.

    Steed got some good exposure at the Senior Bowl. He is 5'11" and weighs 190 pounds. Right now he is projected to go in the third or fourth round, but that could easily improve if he can run a fast enough 40 time.

    Prediction: Steed will run the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. Steed had a disappointing time of 4.63 seconds.

Tommy Streeter

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    As a junior at the University of Miami (Florida), wide receiver Tommy Streeter caught 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns. Streeter is a tall receiver at 6'5" and weighs 217 pounds.

    His fastest 40 time was 4.38 seconds, while his slowest 40 time was 4.59 seconds. Based on the wide range of times, it is hard to know what he will do for sure. We don't know what the track conditions were when Streeter ran the 4.38, but if he can duplicate that at the combine, then he could zoom up draft boards.

    Streeter decided to give up his senior year at Miami for a chance to play in the NFL. If he fails to run faster than a 4.50, that could send him down to the fourth or fifth round of the draft. Obviously, there is quite a lot riding on what he does at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    Prediction: Streeter will run the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. Streeter ran a fine 40 in 4.40 seconds.

David Wilson

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    David Wilson, running back from Virginia Tech, is another player who scouts will be watching in the 40. He runs it in the 4.40-second range, so he is hopeful that he can improve on that time.

    Wilson has been timed at 4.29 seconds, and some sources claim they've seen Virginia Tech's numbers inflated in the past. 4.29 could easily translate to 4.40 at the combine.

    Wilson has participated in a number of track events at Virginia Tech, and he is a physically gifted athlete. He has the strength to front-squat 445 pounds. He is a workout warrior.

    Prediction: Wilson will run the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds. Wilson's official time was 4.49 seconds.

Kendall Wright

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    Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright is another fast wide receiver who could finish close to the 4.4-second mark. Better than that, Mike Mayock predicted on TV that Baylor WR Kendall Wright will run a 40 time in the mid-4.3s at the combine.

    Mayock has Wright ranked as his No. 2 wide receiver, behind only Justin Blackmon. If Wright is able to run in the 4.3s, then he would almost be assured to be a first-round draft choice.

    Other factors why Mayock thinks that Wright will do well at the combine are that he has done a 42" vertical jump at Baylor and was doing 40" vertical jumps in high school. He is a gifted athlete.

    Prediction: Wright will run the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds. Another disappointing official time of 4.61 seconds.

Devon Wylie

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    Devon Wylie is a wide receiver from Fresno State who has run the 40-yard dash in times ranging from 4.25 to 4.38 seconds. Basically, this kid can fly. He is not very big, as he is just 5'9" and weighs 186 pounds.

    He ran a 4.25-second 40 in the summer of 2009.

    Wylie will get a chance to see how his speed and receiving skills stack up with the rest of the wide receiver class at the combine.

    He could go anywhere from the fourth to the seventh round depending on what he does at the combine.

    Prediction: Wylie will run the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. Wylie was clocked at 4.39 seconds.

Bonus Slide: Big Men

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    While the focus of this presentation is on the fastest overall players that will be competing at the NFL Scouting Combine, we thought it might be an interesting touch to give our readers a bonus slide and include some of the better times we came across from players that will be playing on the defensive line.

    Melvin Ingram, South Carolina (pictured), defensive lineman: Runs the 40 in 4.65.

    Bruce Irvin, West Virginia, defensive lineman: Runs the 40 in 4.50.

    Jacquies Smith, Missouri, defensive lineman: Runs the 40 in 4.59.

    Orson Charles, Georgia, tight end: Runs the 40 in 4.4 to 4.5.

     

    Editor's note: One of the most intriguing times for a big man was turned in by defensive tackle Dontari Poe from Memphis. Poe is 6'3 and 1/2" and weighs 346 pounds, yet he ran the 40 in a sub-5 seconds time of 4.98 seconds. That was amazing to watch.

Positional Breakdown of Indy Combine

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    For a complete list of players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, here is a link to the list, thanks to NFL.com.

    Here’s the positional breakdown of the 326 invites handed out by the NFL to pro prospects for the NFL Scouting Combine.

    Defensive linemen and defensive backs had the most invites of all the position groups with 59 each. Here’s the full breakdown by position, keeping in mind that defensive ends and defensive tackles are lumped together, as are offensive tackles, guards and centers, as well as punters and kickers.

    Defensive back: 59

    Defensive lineman: 59

    Offensive lineman: 55

    Wide receiver: 47

    Linebacker: 32

    Running back: 30

    Quarterback: 19

    Tight end: 14

    Kicker: 11

    Thanks for checking out our preview of the fastest players attending the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.