“Nobody Runs a 4.3″: On the Inflation of High School 40 Times

InTheBleachers.netSenior Analyst IFebruary 15, 2009

I’ve been talking a good deal about 40-yard dash times as of late. Heck, I’ve been talking a good deal about 40-yard dash times for my entire blogging existence. Call it a “pet-project,” but I tend to find the subject fascinating, and not from the usual perspective.

I differ from the casual fans and bloggers, who love to inflate, proliferate, and generally throw 40-yard dash times around as if they were fixed height and weight statistics.  I tend to take a more modest approach when it comes to the infamous measurement of football's most prized commodity: speed.

As many of you are no doubt aware by now, I’m typically very skeptical of 40-yard dash times that I hear. I referenced this on National Signing Day during Brian’s liveblog:

4:15 PM EST- The Austin American Statesman has a great article to keep the “numbers” of National Signing Day in perspective. Those who read the blog on a regular basis know I am highly skeptical of reported 40 yard dash times, often because they are self-reported and quite frankly, highly inflated. It’s good to see reporter Alan Trubow set the record straight when it comes to this issue.

Mansfield Timberview running back Eric Stephens — the No. 36-rated recruit on the Fabulous 55 — is 5-11, 200 pounds and has 4.38 speed on texasfootball.com. On Rivals.com, the Texas Tech-bound Stephens is 5-8 (three inches shorter), 177 pounds (nearly 25 pounds lighter) and, according to the site’s analysis, “doesn’t have home-run speed.”

Stephens, insists Timberview coach Terry Cron, is 5-8, 200 pounds and runs about a 4.56.

“I don’t know where some of these guys get their numbers from,” Cron said. “It seems like they heard it from a guy, who heard it from a guy, who heard it from a guy, and that’s good enough to report.”

I encourage you to read the rest of the article, which deals with the “magic” number of a sub 4.6—which many prospects know they must report to even be considered for a FBS offer. Frankly, this whole obsession over 40-times as THE basis for evaluating and offering players is getting out of hand (posted by Adam Nettina).

I referenced this post to remind everyone that when it comes to 40-yard dash times, you’re almost always hearing something that’s marginally, and often substantially, inflated.

This view is consistent in all levels of competition, but seems especially prevalent and most profound at the high school level, where there is often a lack of standardization of testing for the drill. In other words, even if you are getting the “true” 40-yard dash time from the player, there is often no way to verify it under controlled conditions.

We all know certain factors like weather, wind, surface, timing method, and even clothing can effect the speed of an individual over 40 yards .  Those variables do not even factor in the countless number of 40-yard dashes a prospect can run in trying to best his previous times.

In other words, there are seldom any 4.3 guys. Heck, I’m not even sure there are many 4.4 or 4.5 guys. But are there a very select handful who have run a 4.3? Sure, but more often than not it’s been on a “fast track” indoor surface, with the benefit of a generous, if not altogether “home team” timing methods.

This has been, I believe, why 40-yard dash times at the NFL combine have typically been slower than one would expect.

So often led to believe that NFL skill, position players must run below the magical line of 4.5 seconds, your average NFL fan would be shocked (yes, shocked) to learn that the average NFL combine times for running backs since 2005 is actually 4.56. The average time for receivers is 4.57.

This very relevant truth must be especially disconcerting with each passing year. Former high school stars of the Rivals.com and Scout.com generation are posting electronic times slower than the ones they claimed coming out of high school.

All of this comes to us not only on the eve of this year’s scouting combine, but also on the heals of the Kennedy/CES Combine held in Atlanta. The combine, held for many of the southeast’s top high school juniors, is thought by some to signal the unofficial start of the 2009/2010 recruiting process.

As expected, several prospects stood out. One of these young men, wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, ran a blistering 4.34 40-yard dash—at a mind boggling 6′2, 197-lbs. Another prospect, defensive back Ryan Ayers, ran an insane 4.31. And don’t forget about quarterback Qudral Forte, who posted an impressive 4.38.

The only problem is that he didn’t run that fast. In fact none of them did.

Rogers ran a 4.55, Ayers a 4.49, and Forte a 4.59. The discrepancy you ask? The former times were taken from a hand-timer, the latter from an electronic timer—just like to one that is used at the NFL combine.

All three of these young men are extremely fast, but suddenly they don’t look like the all-world sprinters that fans and recruiting junkies so often associate them with. Just looking at the numbers alone, it’s easy to see someone associating a 4.34 or 4.31 and saying that individual is a 4.3 player.

Heck, our tendency to associate 40-yard dash times with the standard tenth of a second could even lead many to cite Forte as a player who runs in the 4.3s. But he’s not. He more of a “4.6″ guy, just as much as Rogers is a mid-4.5 guy and Forte is a 4.5 guy.

So what’s my point? Am I just trying to rip on three random high school juniors who just so happened to test very well (but not that well) at a recent high school combine? Of course not. But I think it’s important to keep the numbers in perspective.

Knowingly or not, fans and media members have created a football culture that’s conducive to the obsession and inflation of individual and team speed. In doing so, we’ve in fact created our own monster when it comes to not only evaluating talent, but in effect determining the educational and financial situations of the thousands of young men who hope to earn college football scholarships.

In an effort to keep pace with numbers that are all to often misleading (like the hand-timed 40-yard dashes mentioned above) more and more high school football players inflate, mislead, or flat-out lie about their own 40-yard dash times.  This is happening with increasing regularity, proliferating a myth of what is truly fast and what is not.

Yet when we evaluate the numbers across the board (and not just in the 40-yard dash either) we find that the benchmarks such as size, speed, and strength are not what we thought they were.

Does that make the young men who play the game any less impressive from an athletic standpoint? Of course not. So why is it that some 42-year-old bum sitting in his cubicle has the audacity to categorically determine whether a player is “fast enough” or “strong enough” to play Division I football?

It boggles my mind, and hopefully, after reading and studying over the above facts, it will start to boggle yours as well.

For More on 40-Yard Dash Times and the NFL Draft, be sure to check out DraftDaddy.com’s excellent article on average testing times since 2005.