NFL Combine 2014: Breaking Down Candidates for Fastest 40 Times

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NFL Combine 2014: Breaking Down Candidates for Fastest 40 Times
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

40 yards.

40 yards to your dream.

40 yards to your doom.

NFL scouts may not place total emphasis on the 40-yard dash, but the reality is that a great 40 time could send a player soaring up draft boards.

On the other hand, an abysmal 40 time could send a player free-falling. A great 40 time shows natural talent and a work ethic to reach that talent. A poor 40 time reveals that a player may not be taking the preparation for the draft too seriously. 

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And while it's true that players almost never have to run in a straight line for 40 yards in an actual game, it's also true there is no other situation in which a person has so much at stake in four seconds.

That's why the 40 is so important. It's not make-or-break, but it's pretty close.

Which players are going to complement their natural talent with the hard work necessary to make that talent flourish? 

Below are three players who are candidates for the fastest 40 times at the NFL Combine 2014.

 

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

One of the fastest players in college football, "DAT" is expected to blow up the combine.

The running back struggled with injury last year, with just 96 carries for 594 yards.

However, what Thomas did in his sophomore year shows his true potential. Thomas had 1,757 all-purpose yards, with 18 total touchdowns. He was simply unstoppable.

"(You) got to have a plan in place for how you use him," NFL.com draft expert Mike Mayock told Tyson Alger of The Oregonian. "He's a kickoff guy, plus we got to get him 10 touches a game. How do we manufacture those eight to 10 touches a game so he can make those plays for us that he did at Oregon?" 

Thomas is more of an "offensive weapon" than a pure running back. And his skill set is certainly enticing, especially in up-tempo offenses. But B/R's Matt Miller throws a bit of a wrench into the DAT hype.

I dove in head first on the De'Anthony Thomas love this summer, but with the cold of winter, the reality has set in that he's more of a situational threat and less a game-changing offensive weapon. I still drool at the thought of Thomas as a returner/runner/receiver in a creative offense, but he's the type of player for whom you have to scheme touches—and those guys don't always succeed in the NFL.

In all likelihood, Thomas ends up more like Dexter McCluster than Percy Harvin. McCluster is a useful player but not a true game-breaker like Harvin. His speed, however, could skyrocket him up draft boards, and it would not be surprising to see him run a sub-4.3 time.

 

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

The Baylor Bears had a breakthrough season last year, and the play of Lache Seastrunk was a big reason why.

The 5'10", 210-pound running back rushed for 1,177 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He averaged a gaudy 7.7 yards per carry.

Despite the fact that he can bang in the middle, Seastrunk has speed to burn.

"My focal concern is the 40," Seastrunk said on Fox Sports 1 via NFL.com. "I set a goal in my head to run below a 4.3, and that's my goal to keep striving for. I know I can do it. It's within reach. There's not a lot of running backs that's my size that's running below a 4.3. That's outstanding. That's unreal."

With his combination of size and speed, it's not a surprise that B/R's Matt Miller thinks he could be the best running back in this year's class:

If Seastrunk can run a sub-4.3, then he could easily skyrocket into the first round. Even if he runs a low-4.4, his combination of size and speed will make him an intriguing prospect when the draft rolls around. 

 

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

After the Seattle Seahawks used a big secondary on their way to a dominating Super Bowl win, you can bet that every team is looking for a big, physical corner.

That's what Justin Gilbert is. The Oklahoma State star stands at 6'0" and 200 pounds, the type of length that can be used to jam receivers at the line.

Oh yeah, he's fast too. Really fast.

NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah predicts that Gilbert will blow up the combine:

I asked several area scouts and personnel executives to give me the names of a few players that they thought would run blazing times, and Gilbert's name was easily the most mentioned during those discussions. He's a very big cornerback, checking in at 6-foot, 200 pounds -- and still, it's easy to notice his breakaway speed in the return game and his make-up speed in coverage. To use a scouting term, Gilbert has "easy speed." He doesn't labor when he runs and he picks up ground in a hurry. He's expected to run in the mid-to-low 4.3s.

In addition to his blistering speed, Gilbert is a really effective corner. He is B/R's Matt Miller's top-rated cornerback and will most likely be selected in the top-15. Gilbert has the potential to be one of the very best corners in the league.

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