Who among this year's crop of 300-plus participants will post the fastest time in the 40-yard dash?
Me, you and scouts alike are itching for the answer to that very question. Even the players themselves are surely jostling to be titled "The Fastest Man at the NFL Combine."
Scouts claim game tape outweighs the 40-yard dash, but draft history says otherwise. It shows an annual need for speed. A fetish for fast. Some squeals for wheels. A yearn for the burn.
Okay, that last one can be taken out of context, but you get the picture. If not, I'll illustrate it with a couple specific examples.
In 2005, Matt Jones earned the nickname "The Freak" with a stunning combine performance. Jones, who played quarterback at Arkansas, ran a 4.37 forty-yard dash and jumped 40 inches on his vertical. The freakish measurements vaulted him to a first round spot as a receiver, a position he had yet played, for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jones is no longer in the NFL.
A year later, Vernon Davis solidified himself as the top-rated tight end with an unforgettable combine showing. Davis clocked a 4.38 forty-yard dash and lifted 33 repetitions at 225 pounds, showing an extraordinary blend of speed and strength. He was drafted 6th overall by the San Francisco 49ers and is now considered a top tight end in the league.
See, teams are easily enamored with speed.
This year should prove no different as we closely examine each prospect, keeping a keen eye on the forty-yard dash.
Here are five players intent on running the fastest overall time.
RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech
Teams looking for a dynamic running back need not look further than Wilson, who reportedly posted a 4.29 during winter conditioning. Considered to be the second-best at the position (behind Trent Richardson), Wilson could sneak into the first round should he break the 4.3 mark or come close.
He's also productive on the field, amassing 1,753 total yards and 10 touchdowns his junior season.
Predicted time: 4.42
CB Asa Jackson, Cal Poly
The best way for an unknown prospect, like Jackson, to get on a team's radar is by sprinting onto it with an unparalleled forty time. With little tape on Jackson and a brief appearance in the Senior Bowl, a lot is riding on his combine performance. Scouts will be inspecting his every move as he goes through the series of drills. Above all, they want to see the speed to cover NFL receivers.
A standout time ought to get his name called on draft day.
Predicted time: 4.41
WR Kendall Wright, Baylor
In his final season at Baylor, Wright accounted for 1,663 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns. His recipe for the jaw-dropping numbers is simple: he's fast, real fast. Wright displayed the ability to blow by defenders and will continue to do so as a pro.
Already a late first-round lock, the speedy receiver could climb even higher with a sub 4.4 time.
Predicted time: 4.39
WR Joe Adams, Arkansas
Adams is destined to make a living with his speed. Literally. The versatile receiver has the wheels and elusiveness to make scouts drool like Labrador Retrievers. He made plays catching the ball, in the return game and as a runner for an 11-2 Arkansas squad.
His forty time will captivate the hearts of many, but fall short of being the fastest of 2012.
Predicted time: 4.36
RB/WR Chris Rainey, Florida
Rainey is rumored to have once beaten teammate Jeff Demps, who is skipping out on combine due to Olympic training, in a backyard foot-race. Or maybe he won a la Jerry Seinfeld.
Either way, this guy is my prediction to post the fastest forty time in this year's combine. He may not have a natural position (too thin for a running back and too short as a receiver), but his speed will force a team to put him on the field. Once there, he's a threat to take it to the house each time he touches the ball.
Predicted time: 4.30