Power Ranking the 25 Fastest Players in the NFL
The NFL is obsessed with the potentially game-changing effect speed can have on the game. This is why we see events like the 40-yard dash garner so much attention. However, truth is that a good 40 time doesn’t always translate to a solid NFL career.
This article takes the top 25 40 times since 2006 and ranks the value of those players. You’ll immediately notice that several players on this list have never developed into difference-makers.
Please keep in mind that I used data that could actually be sourced. This list doesn't include my opinion on who is the fastest players; it's based on the combine results.
All information for the 40-times came from NFL.com
No. 25 Da’Rel Scott, Running Back, New York Giants
40 Time: 4.34 seconds in 2011
Da’Rel Scott has only seen 11 carries in two seasons with the New York Giants. He has been buried on the depth chart behind players like Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Andre Brown and David Wilson. It doesn’t appear that anything will change this season.
Wilson is slated to open the year as the lead back with Brown in line for the secondary carries. Scott will need someone to suffer an injury in order to see action.
Despite his excellent speed, Scott hasn’t been able to make much of his limited action. His 2.3 yards-per carry-average isn’t a number that will force the coaches to give him more carries.
No. 24 Justin King, Cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers
40 Time: 4.31 seconds in 2008
Justin King turned some heads with his impressive 40 time at the 2008 combine. However, he never developed the cover skills needed to earn significant playing time. King was used mostly in a reserve role with the St. Louis Rams until he caught on with the Indianapolis Colts last season.
He’s currently on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, but buried deep on the depth chart. King will have a hard time making out of training camp on the active roster.
The Rams and Colts gave King an opportunity to show he belongs in the league. However, he was unable to show enough to stick with either team.
No. 23 Travis Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns
40 Time: 4.36 seconds in 2012
Because of a lack of depth, the Cleveland Browns gave Travis Benjamin significant playing time as a rookie. Benjamin made the most of this opportunity by showing the Browns that he has the speed to stretch the field.
He finished the season with 18 receptions, 298 yards, two touchdowns and a long reception of 69 yards. His speed is something that teams love because it puts pressure on the back end of the defense.
The issue for Benjamin is that Cleveland added some pieces to the receiving corps during the offseason. He will have to beat out the likes of Davone Bess, David Nelson and Greg Little for playing time.
No. 22 DeMarcus Van Dyke, Cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers
40 Time: 4.28 seconds in 2011
Under Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders were notorious for targeting the fastest players in the draft. This strategy had a tendency to result in players coming off the board earlier than expected. DeMarcus Van Dyke is a prime example of this situation.
Van Dyke ran the fastest 40 time at the 2011 combine. Oakland decided to focus on this fact and overlook Van Dyke’s raw coverage skills.
Because of a lack of depth, Van Dyke saw early playing time in Oakland. His tendency to allow big plays and lose focus ultimately led to his release.
RT @d_vandyke8: Just want to thank AL Davis and the Raiders organization for giving me a opportunity to play in the NFL!— Eye on Football (@EyeOnNFL) September 3, 2012
He is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he is trying to salvage his career.
No. 21 Deon Butler, Wide Receiver, San Diego Chargers
40 Time: 4.38 seconds in 2009
Deon Butler showed flashes during his time with the Seattle Seahawks but was never able to earn consistent playing time. Now with the San Diego Chargers, he faces another uphill battle to work his way into the rotation.
Butler doesn’t have excellent size, but does have the speed needed to stretch the field. He also features solid hands and a knack for finding open holes in the zone.
This is one of those players who could develop into a solid contributor if given a good opportunity. However, it appears unlikely that this opportunity will come this year with the Chargers.
Wide receiver Deon Butler has joined the San Diego Chargers: bit.ly/10KG1Un Will have tough time making 53-man roster, though.— PSU in the NFL (@PSUintheNFL) April 10, 2013
Butler might have to look to catch on elsewhere at some point.
No. 20 Josh Robinson, Cornerback, Minnesota Vikings
40 Time: 4.33 seconds in 2012
Josh Robinson was one of those draft prospects who saw his stock rise after posting an impressive 40 time. The Minnesota Vikings were so intrigued by his potential that they selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft.
While still developing as a player, Robinson was able to come in and make an immediate impact. His improvement throughout his rookie season made it obvious that he worked at his craft.
Minnesota has a nice young corps of cornerbacks on their roster. The trio of Robinson, Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes has a chance to be a special group.
No. 19 Orlando Scandrick, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys
40 Time: 4.32 seconds in 2008
Orlando Scandrick has shown glimpses of his talent throughout his career with the Dallas Cowboys. However, he has yet to perform with any type of consistency and could see a drop in playing time. Dallas has Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne set as its starters—and also drafted BW Webb in the fourth round of this April’s draft.
Scandrick can expect to face heavy competition from Webb for the nickelback spot.
Dallas must take into account the financial situation. Scandrick is on the books for sizable increase in his base salary over the next few years. The Cowboys could save a lot of future money if they decide to part ways with him at some point during the offseason.
No. 18 Jacoby Ford, Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders
40 Time: 4.28 seconds in 2010
Jacoby Ford was one of the Oakland Raiders’ speed picks that actually looked like it might pan out. During his rookie season, Ford contributed explosive plays both on special teams and on offense. His sophomore season was less productive because of an injury.
The Raiders are hoping that Ford can remain health this year and provide a spark. He’s the type of versatile player who can make plays as a return man, pass-catcher and running back.
Oakland doesn’t have many great offensive weapons. So having Ford in the lineup could make a real difference.
No. 17 Trindon Holliday, Returner, Denver Broncos
40 Time: 4.34 seconds in 2010
Trindon Holliday’s contributions solely come on the special teams. However, he’s proven to be a real difference-maker as a return man. His punt and kickoff return in last year’s playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens is one of the more memorable performances by a kick returner.
If Baltimore didn’t orchestrate a dramatic comeback, Holliday’s heroics would’ve been the thing most people remembered.
The Broncos are counting on Holliday to again provide them with an advantage on special teams. His contribution helps make Denver a well-balanced and dangerous team.
No. 16 Darrius Heyward-Bey, Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts
40 Time: 4.30 seconds in 2009
Nobody will argue that Darrius Heyward-Bey lived up to expectations. However, his lack of development doesn’t solely fall on his shoulders. The Oakland Raiders knew that Heyward-Bey was a raw player, but never provided him with the support he needed.
This is best explained by the cast of quarterbacks working with Heyward-Bey throughout his career. He has had to deal with the likes of JaMarcus Russell, Kyle Boller and Jason Campbell. It’s hard for any wide receiver to develop a relationship when the quarterback situation is in constant flux.
#Colts coach Chuck Pagano of WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, “We are very fortunate to get him on board. Big, fast, long athletic guy— Sportsfeedia.com (@sportsfeedia) May 17, 2013
Look for Heyward-Bey to have a career year with the Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck is the type of leader and talent capable of making the most of Heyward-Bey’s skill set.
No. 15 Chris Houston, Cornerback, Detroit Lions
40 Time: 4.32 seconds in 2007
Chris Houston has been able to take full advantage of the opportunity offered by the Detroit Lions. He hooked up with the Lions for the 2010 season after three below-average years with the Atlanta Falcons. In Detroit, Houston used his solid instincts and speed to help improve a poor Lions secondary.
While Houston has played better in Detroit, he still has lapses in judgment from time to time. It’s important to note that his play benefited from the Lions’ top-notch defensive line.
Players like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avirl and Ndamukong Suh generated pressure on the quarterback that helped the entire secondary. Houston and Co. were able to benefit from hurried throws, off-balanced throws and limited time for the quarterback to locate open targets.
No. 14 Tyvon Branch, Safety, Oakland Raiders
40 Time: 4.31 seconds in 2008
Tyvon Branch is one of the few bright spots on the Oakland Raiders’ roster. In fact, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked him as the 16th best safety in his B/R NFL 1000 series. Miller had the following to say about Branch’s coverage ability:
When thrown at, Tyvon Branch is likely to give up a completion, but he does a good job limiting that completion and not allowing big yards after the catch. Some safeties give up big-yardage plays, but Branch doesn’t. Teams may pick him apart underneath in coverage, but he’s good when asked to turn and run downfield.
Oakland is counting on Branch to continue to develop as a player and leader. He’s an important piece to the team’s rebuilding efforts.
No. 13 Michael Huff, Safety, Baltimore Ravens
40 Time: 4.34 seconds in 2006
Because he was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Michael Huff gets the bust label thrown his way a lot. Truth is that he never lived up to that billing, but has rounded in to a solid player. His speed and athleticism helped Huff develop into a versatile player.
His primary position is safety, but he has shown the ability to also play some cornerback. This versatility absolutely played a role in the Baltimore Ravens’ decision to bring him in on a solid free-agent contract.
Huff will provide the Ravens with a more athletic and faster safety than they have had in recent years. Baltimore needed to target someone like Huff because both Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard were allowed to sign elsewhere.
No. 12 LaRon Landry, Safety, Indianapolis Colts
40 Time: 4.35 seconds in 2007
LaRon Landry is known mostly for his ability to play the run and deliver punishing hits. His short-area quickness allows Landry to attack and make plays near the line of scrimmage. It also helps him click and close in coverage.
It’s important to note that Landry’s 40-time measures his straight-line speed. He sometimes struggles in coverage because his hips are a little stiff. In coverage, a defensive back needs to be able to turn and stick with his man. Straight-line speed only helps when closing on the ball or keeping pace down field.
Landry signed a big-money deal with the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason. He’ll pair with Antoine Bethea in what will be an improved secondary.
No. 11 Darren McFadden, Running Back, Oakland Raiders
40 Time: 4.33 seconds in 2008
When healthy, Darren McFadden possesses the explosiveness to pile up game-changing plays. His quick-twitch ability allows him to quickly press the hole and break off long runs. McFadden’s best season came in 2010 when he ran for 1,157 yards in only 13 games.
This issue is that he has never remained healthy for an entire season. Those 13 games in 2010 tied as the most games McFadden played in one season.
The injury problem is frustrating for McFadden, the Oakland Raiders’ organization and the fanbase. It’s even a little upsetting for NFL fans because we don’t get to see such an explosive player out on the field.
No. 10 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cornerback, Denver Broncos
40 Time: 4.33 seconds in 2008
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie used his excellent 40 time to boost his draft stock. Prospects coming from small schools like Tennessee State need to show good speed in order to even be considered as a first-round prospect.
While Rodgers-Cromartie has shown a lot of promise, he has also failed to live up to expectations. His time with the Philadelphia Eagles wasn’t pretty. He is hoping that a change of scenery with the Denver Broncos will help him get his career back on track.
Working with a coach like John Fox and veteran leader like Champ Bailey could be the type of help Rodgers-Cromartie needs.
No. 9 Tim Jennings, Cornerback, Chicago Bears
40 Time: 4.32 seconds in 2006
Tim Jennings had a breakout season last year with the Chicago Bears. He used his combination of speed and good instincts to lead the NFL with nine interceptions. Jennings turned that season into a Pro Bowl selection and second-team All-Pro nod.
LM: #Bears CB Tim Jennings voted by peers the 69th best player in NFL according to NFL Network poll.— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) May 17, 2013
His success has as much to do with his skills as it does with the defensive system. Chicago’s Cover 2 attack helps Jennings hide his size issues. It also allows him to play to his strengths by sitting back and reading the quarterback.
Even though the Bears replaced Lovie Smith, the defense is expected to keep the same approach under Mel Tucker.
No. 8 DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
40 Time: 4.35 seconds in 2008
Inconsistent quarterback play has limited DeSean Jackson’s production over the past few years. However, he’s still one of the more dangerous playmakers in the league. His quickness and ability to make defenders miss makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
Jackson has a chance to put up some big numbers with Chip Kelly in town. Kelly loves to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Look for Jackson to lineup all over the field and attack all levels of the defense.
Kelly is the type of offensive mind who can make the most of Jackson’s speed.
No. 7 Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins
40 Time: 4.33 seconds in 2009
The Miami Dolphins are hoping that Mike Wallace’s speed can help open things up for their offense. This is why they signed him to a big-money contract in the offseason. Wallace uses his speed to stretch the defense and produce big plays.
Because of the presence of a strong-armed quarterback like Ryan Tannehill, Wallace’s speed won’t be wasted with the Dolphins.
He’ll be a major part of the offensive game plan, as Miami didn’t shell out all that money not to feed Wallace the football. It’s important to note that his ability to vertically attack the defense also opens things up for the running game and underneath passing attack.
Brian Hartline can expect to have a lot of room to work this season.
No. 6 C.J. Spiller, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
40 Time: 4.37 seconds in 2010
C.J. Spiller is finally starting to live up to his enormous potential. Last season, he tied Adrian Peterson for the best yard-per-carry average for a running back. The Buffalo Bills utilized his explosiveness both in the running and passing game.
CJ Spiller's last 396 touches went for 2,533 yards and 14 TDs compared to Peterson’s last 388 that went for 2,314 yards and 13 TDs.— Chet(@Chet_G) March 1, 2013
One thing that continues to hold Spiller back is the presence of Fred Jackson. Chan Gailey liked to use Jackson because he provided a lot of versatility. Jackson is the type of running back who’ll pick up the tough yards, help protect the quarterback and make plays in the passing game.
However, Doug Marrone and Co. must find a way to make sure Spiller gets the bulk of the carries this season. Spiller ability to produce big plays is just too important to the offense.
No. 5 Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers
40 Time: 4.38 seconds in 2006
Vernon Davis’ combination of speed, size and leaping ability makes him a major mismatch. Opposing defenses just don’t have the players needed to take Davis out of the game. Even if he isn’t making plays in the passing game, Davis works to open running lanes for Frank Gore and Co.
With the development of Colin Kaepernick, it’s likely we’ll see better numbers for Davis this season. We saw a glimpse of this during the last two games of the playoffs. During those games, Davis combined to haul in 11 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown.
Kaepernick’s presence also increases the possibility that the 49ers will open up the passing game a little more. Davis is arguably the team’s most dangerous pass-catcher, so he’d see an increase in targets if the 49ers went in that direction.
No. 4 Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
40 Time: 4.24 seconds in 2008
Despite a dip in production over the past two seasons, Chris Johnson remains one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL. His ability to break off long runs makes him a threat to score a touchdown from anywhere on the field.
This season could be a major bounce-back year for Johnson, as the Tennessee Titans made major improvements to their offensive line. The addition of Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke promises to create a lot more running room for Johnson.
With the struggles of Jake Locker, the Titans will need Johnson to provide some consistency for the offense.
No. 3 Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
40 Time: 4.34 seconds in 2011
Patrick Peterson is an electrifying athlete who can change the game on multiple levels. He sees most of his action at cornerback, but also contributes as a return man and in some offensive sets. Peterson can thank his speed for his ability as a return man.
He’s a legitimate threat to put points on the board every time he touches the football. This is one of the more entertaining players in the entire league.
Peterson sits so high on this list because of his versatility. He has yet to reach his full potential as a cornerback, but has shown a lot of progress each year. This upcoming season could be the year he cements himself as one of the league’s top defensive backs.
No. 2 Johnathan Joseph, Cornerback, Houston Texans
40 Time: 4.31 seconds in 2006
One eye-opening testament to Johnathan Joseph’s ability is the way the Houston Texans secondary improved after they added him to the mix. Joseph is the type of cornerback who can lock on to a team’s top target and take him out of the game.
While his top-end speed is an asset, it’s his feel for the game and tenacity that makes him such a successful player. Joseph is always looking for a challenge and works to get better each and every year.
Last year was a bit of a down season for Joseph, but this had a lot to do with nagging injuries. Look for Joseph to regain his form after an offseason to heal.
No. 1 Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
40 Time: 4.35 seconds in 2007
Calvin Johnson is arguably the most dominate wide receiver in the entire NFL. He uses his rare combination of size, speed and leaping ability to make plays all over the field. Johnson’s production is one of the main reasons the Detroit Lions have become relevant.
It was recently disclosed that he played most of last year with broken fingers. This shows the type of competitiveness and talent Johnson possesses.
Still in the prime of his career, we can expect to see Johnson dominate the league for several more seasons. He could possible put up even better numbers if the Lions found a way to add another playmaker. Johnson is always forced to deal with double-teams and extra coverage rolled to his side of the field.