Predicting the Fastest Players at the NFL Scouting Combine

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2013

Predicting the Fastest Players at the NFL Scouting Combine

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    Speed kills, especially in the NFL. The game continues to get faster every year, and as a result, the emphasis scouts place on speed when evaluating prospects becomes greater over time.

    That is why NFL scouts will be paying attention to the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, when the athletes will showcase their straight-line speed.

    Times in the 40 are certainly overrated by many. A player rarely runs 40 yards in a straight line in a game; therefore, evaluations of actual game speed must come from game tape.

    That said, in a league where dual-threat quarterbacks and vertical passing attacks are becoming the norm, the measurable speed of draft prospects simply cannot be ignored.

    The scouts will especially take notice on Sunday, when the running backs and wide receivers hit the starting line, and Tuesday, when the defensive backs run. All of the fastest 40-yard dash times will most likely be run within those groups.

    In the following slides, we take a look at who could rank among the 10 fastest players in Indianapolis.

Honorable Mentions

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    Denard Robinson, RB/WR, Michigan

    For a quarterback who is not a particularly skilled pocket passer, it is unclear what position Robinson will play at the next level. One thing that is clear is that he has speed.

    Robinson is a legitimate threat to break 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which is why he will be looked at by many as a running back/receiver project.

    Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee;
    Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

    Both Tennessee standout wide receivers combine their great size with very good speed. It is unlikely that either player will break 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but for big, vertical threat receivers, expect Hunter and Patterson to be among the fastest in Indianapolis.

    Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina

    Giovani Bernard is a very athletic running back who showed his ability to get open with his speed as a runner, receiver and punt returner during his career at UNC. He will likely test among the fastest running backs at the combine.

    Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

    Andre Ellington is a true speed back who has a good burst out of the backfield and the potential to be a difference-maker in an NFL ground game. He could work his way up the running back board if he tests well at the combine.

10. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

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    Baylor’s Terrance Williams may be the best deep threat among wide receivers in the 2013 NFL draft class, and he and is certainly expected to put his speed on display on Sunday in Indianapolis.

    Williams is a long but quick strider who accelerates quickly, and that should all translate to running a fast time in the combine’s signature speed test.

    Williams led the nation with 1,832 receiving yards in his senior season, many of those yards coming on big plays where he burned opposing defenses with his speed.

    As a receiver who effectively uses his speed to track the ball downfield and make big plays deep, he is among the most gifted wideouts in the 2013 draft class.

    If he can put together a great combine highlighted by a fast-as-expected 40 time, he has a good shot to propel himself into the first round.

9. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon

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    No college football coach has used speed more to his advantage in recent years than Chip Kelly, who is now moving on from Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles. He has especially found speed from his running backs, and Kenjon Barner is no exception.

    While Barner wasn’t the fastest running back on the Ducks this year—De'Anthony Thomas gets that distinction—he was still one of the fastest players in college football.

    Barner projects as a situational third-down back in the NFL. He can break away from defenders in the open field with his speed both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.

    Barner, who ran track for Oregon in his freshman and sophomore years, has a personal-best time of 10.71 seconds in the 100-meter dash.

    Barner projects as a mid-round pick, but he can help himself by living up to expectations in Indianapolis.

8. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State

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    While Kenjon Barner probably wouldn’t beat De'Anthony Thomas in a test of straight-line speed, Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton has.

    In May 2012, Wheaton ran an impressive 10.58-second 100-meter dash (with a strong tailwind) to beat Thomas at the Oregon Twilight Meet.

    Wheaton’s track experience will certainly help him run a fast time at the combine, and his speed shows on the field too. He does a great job accelerating off of the line of scrimmage, and he can run away from defenders in the open field.

    Wheaton is skilled as both a downfield receiver and as a runner on end-arounds. If he runs as fast as he is capable of at the combine, he will put himself in good position to be a Day 2 draft pick and be viewed as a potential difference-maker at the next level.

7. Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

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    Over the past few seasons, Cobi Hamilton has been one of college football’s top vertical-threat wide receivers. With both great size and breakaway speed, he should continue that trend at the next level.

    Going up against great athletes consistently in the SEC, Hamilton has shown that he can beat cornerbacks deep with his speed and run away from defenders in the open field. At 6’3”, Hamilton will be a true deep weapon as an NFL wideout.

    Hamilton has experience as a track runner, including a fast 10.6-second 100-meter dash as a high school runner in Texas. That should translate to a fast time in Indianapolis.

6. Brandon McGee, CB, Miami (Fla.)

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    There are many more polished and talented cornerbacks in the 2013 draft class, but Miami’s Brandon McGee may be the fastest among them.

    McGee can fly in the open field. He ran a 4.29 40-yard dash last summer, according to the Miami Herald. While he may not run that fast in the combine, it’s believable to think that he could come close to that given the speed he shows on tape.

    Due to poor angles and a lack of physicality, McGee still gives up too many plays in coverage, but if he runs as fast as he supposedly can in Indianapolis on Tuesday, he will likely get a shot as a late-round draft pick.

5. Tavon Austin, WR/RB, West Virginia

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    Tavon Austin is the 2013 draft class’ most dynamic offensive playmaker, and a big reason for that is his outstanding speed.

    Whether he is lined up as a running back in the backfield, a receiver in the slot or wide to the outside or as a kickoff/punt returner, Austin can explode out of his start and accelerate to top speed quickly. He will rely on his quick start to put his speed on display for the 40-yard dash at the combine.

    Austin may not be a sub-4.4 40-yard dash runner—his lateral quickness, vision and instincts are more dangerous than his straight-line speed—but leaving him off this list would be foolish. Austin’s speed should be put on display in his workout Sunday.

4. Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina

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    Ace Sanders does not have the ability out of the backfield, open-field quickness or collegiate production that Tavon Austin has, but he could beat Austin in terms of straight-line speed at the combine.

    As both a wide receiver and punt returner, Sanders often makes defenders miss with his lateral moves, but his speed is consistently evident as well. Whether it be on the outside or over the middle, Sanders is a hard man to catch when he gets open.

    Sanders has a legitimate shot to break 4.4 seconds in the 40 at the combine. If he does that, scouts will certainly be buzzing about his potential as a slot receiver and punt returner.

3. Kerwynn Williams, RB, Utah State

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    Few players in the 2013 NFL draft class can run with the speed and burst that Utah State’s Kerwynn Williams can.

    At only 5’8” and 196 pounds, Williams is a situational back, but he could be a true quick-hitter in that role. Williams accelerates very quickly out of the backfield, hits holes with speed and runs by defenders often.

    Williams ran for 6.94 yards per carry as a senior—the most by any player with more than 200 rushing attempts not named Johnny Manziel—and a big reason for that was the outstanding speed that could make him one of the combine’s fastest players.

2. Onterio McCalebb, RB, Auburn

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    Onterio McCalebb isn’t even a sure bet to be drafted. If he is, it will be because of his speed.

    McCalebb told the Tucson Citizen that he has run the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds, and there’s little reason not to believe him. McCalebb is a dynamic player in the open field, and he consistently shows his speed on tape, whether it be as a runner, receiver out of the backfield or kickoff returner.

    McCalebb was a star high school sprinter in Florida, running a 100-meter dash time of 10.44 seconds.

    At only 164 pounds, McCalebb is not much of a north-south, between-the-tackles runner. He also has issues with ball security and never became a featured piece in the Auburn offense. But with a great acceleration out of the backfield and the speed to make defensive backs miss in the open field, McCalebb could end up as a late-round selection if he can prove his speed with a strong combine run.

1. Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas

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    If Marquise Goodwin isn’t the fastest man at this year’s combine, it will be a disappointment for him. Best known for his track and field accomplishments, including winning the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in the long jump, Goodwin is expected to run the 40-yard dash in the mid-4.2 second range on Sunday in Indianapolis.

    If being the nation’s best long jumper is not enough to convince you he’s fast, he also ran a best time of 10.24 seconds in the 100-meter dash at Texas in 2012—the 21st-fastest time among all NCAA sprinters last season. Goodwin has track experience and proven straight-line speed, which should make the 40-yard dash a breeze for him.

    As a receiver, Goodwin is still an unpolished product who never found consistent production at Texas. With outstanding speed, however, Goodwin has huge upside as a deep threat. If he lives up to expectations as the combine’s best, he could draw serious interest in the middle rounds of the draft.

    Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist at Bleacher Report.