SEC Football: Ranking Fastest Players Heading into 2014 Season
"SEC speed" is a much-talked-about topic in every pocket of the country, and even though it's superiority is probably blown out of proportion, it is not altogether wrong to call the conference the fastest in America from top to bottom.
Unfortunately, the argument over which players best contribute to that speed is always an infuriating one to have.
How do we measure who is fastest? With quantifiable scores such as the 40-yard dash and track times or with what we see on game tape? And if it's the former, what times can and can't we trust? How do we know which hand-timed 40 is legit and which one isn't?
This list attempted to use a combination of those factors. We found all the official 40 times and track results we could, and we did our research to consider the unofficial scores as well. Then we watched some tape and saw which players looked the fastest on the field.
Alas, this list is still sure to end in disagreement, which is fine. It is not intended as a definitive ranking of the fastest players in the league, because putting together one of those would literally be impossible. Short of getting all these players together in a controlled environment on multiple occasions to take multiple samples running some sort of ringer of sprints, there is no way to know for sure who is fastest.
All we can realistically do is process the available data and make our most educated guess. That is what this list represents.
Sound off below to let me know why I'm an idiot!
RB Kenyan Drake/CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
Good luck picking between the five fastest Alabama players.
AL.com crowdsourced a poll on the issue, and even after that, the results were inconclusive, with conflicting information coming in from all directions in the comments section that made it seem like every candidate might realistically be the fastest.
Freshman cornerback Marlon Humphrey is a track star who could easily prove his (close) omission wrong, but the three Tide players we've included have shown more speed in pads than Humphrey has. Part of that is semi-arbitrary, but until Humphrey takes the field in Tuscaloosa, there is not a better way to handle it.
Running back Kenyan Drake was close but just shy as well.
WR Justin Scott-Wesley, Georgia
Justin Scott-Wesley won a Georgia State Championship in the 100- and 200-meter dash during high school, per Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and he has flashed that speed when healthy these past few seasons with the Bulldogs.
Unfortunately, he is recovering from a torn ACL, and much like the following player on this honorable mention slide, we cannot fully trust him enough to place him in the top eight until he validates his rehab.
WR Andre Debose, Florida
Andre Debose has flashed his speed more than once during his Florida career—see: this 99-yard kickoff return against Ohio State a couple of years ago—but is returning from a torn ACL last August.
Let's see him hit top speed during the regular season before we list him ahead of eight players who appear to be in peak form.
8. CB Bradley Sylve, Alabama
Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Bradley Sylve has been blocked by one of the best kick and punt returners in the country (Christion Jones) and hasn't yet intercepted a pass, which means we haven't gotten a good chance to see what he can do with the ball in open space.
For that, the SEC is fortunate.
According to Tommy Deas of TideSports.com, Sylve ran a 10.18 in the 100-meter dash and a 21.25 in the 200-meter dash when he did track in high school, which helps explain why he's projected so much public confidence about being the fastest Crimson Tide player.
We couldn't rank him higher because of the aforementioned lack of speedy plays during college, but if Sylve can still match those numbers that he posted in high school, he could definitely hang with (or beat) any player in the conference in a foot race.
7. WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
Speedy Noil won the 2013 SPARQ National Championship, qualifying with a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and a 3.94 in the 20-yard shuttle.
He plays even faster than those times appear too. Aesthetically, he is one of those rare long-striding athletes who leaves defensive backs in the dust despite giving off the appearance of jogging.
Speedy should fit right in under Kevin Sumlin.
6. WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
According to a slightly biased source, Amari Cooper ran a 4.31, 4.35 and 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at Alabama's pro day in March.
That source, of course, was Cooper himself, and although those times (if true) would be among the best in college football, the junior wide receiver thinks they'll get even better as he learns proper form.
"It’s all about technique in the 40," Cooper said, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "I’m trying to get faster and I guess you guys will see (what time I run) whenever I decide to come out."
Cooper's reported pro day story brings up a couple of important points for the rest of this list. First, unofficial 40-yard dash times cannot be treat as factual, and second, the 40-yard dash is not a perfect barometer of speed. There's a trick to it that occasionally gets lost on players who are otherwise among the fastest in America.
Cooper could have run a 4.5 and still ended up on this list. We've seen him make defenders look slow on the field for two full seasons.
In the end, that's what really matters.
5. WR Sammie Coates, Auburn
Sammie Coates was the No. 1 player on Bruce Feldman's annual "Freaks List" at FoxSports.com, and while part of that had to do with his power (go ask Texas A&M cornerback De'Vante Harris how strong Coates is), much of it also had to do with his speed.
The reported 4.16 in the 40-yard dash that Feldman alludes to is almost definitely a fictitious number, but Coates might not be more than a couple of tenths of a second away from that mark. He sure looked the part with his five catches of 50-plus yards in 2013.
Coates is an NFL combine "workout warrior" waiting to happen
4. CB Kailo Moore, Ole Miss
Kailo Moore might not make much of a difference as he transitions from offense to defense for Ole Miss this season, but if he ever finds the proper position, his speed could be a deadly weapon.
According to Chris Huston of Heisman Pundit, who ranked Moore the 10th-fastest player in the country for this upcoming season, Moore ran a 6.79 in the 60-meter dash, a 10.43 in the 100-meter dash and a 21.14 in the 200-meter dash for Ole Miss' track team this year.
Those are remarkable numbers that speak well to the caliber of athlete Ole Miss is dealing with. Now it just needs to harness him.
3. CB Tony Brown, Alabama
As I explained on the honorable mentions slide, part of ranking Tony Brown faster than Marlon Humphrey is arbitrary. Especially before either has played a college game, it is actually close to impossible.
They're both really freakin' fast.
But Brown gets the nod because he has registered more fast times and fast tape in a football setting. Both players have put up Olympic-level track results in the past, but Brown is the one who ran a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash at The Opening in 2013, and Brown is the one who enrolled early and looked like the fastest guy at Alabama this spring.
Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue ranked Brown the fastest player in the 2014 recruiting class this January, placing him three spots ahead of Speedy Noil and eight spots ahead of Humphrey.
I will happily defer to Donohue on his order.
2. WR Damiere Byrd, South Carolina
In his last track season, Damiere Byrd put up times that were a little bit better across the board than those of Kailo Moore. Per Chris Huston of Heisman Pundit, he posted a 6.66 in the 60-meter dash, a 10.41 in the 100-meter dash and a 21.21 in the 200-meter dash.
Unlike Moore, though, Byrd has validated that speed with some supremely fast game tape the past couple of seasons. He averaged 26.1 yards per reception as a sophomore in 2012 and caught 33 passes for 575 yards as a junior just last year.
Those are pretty good numbers for a player who still doesn't feel like he's even scratched the surface of his potential. With Bruce Ellington gone but Shaq Roland and Pharoh Cooper back around to draw attention, this could be the year that Byrd finally does.
Keep an eye on him in 2014.
1. RB Corey Grant, Auburn
Alabama fans would have a much easier time deciding on their fastest player had Corey Grant never transferred:
Grant. The answer would be Grant.
The former Tide running back has made that excessively clear this spring. Yes, it was technically an unofficial 40, and sure, he got started with a full head of steam, but Grant still had a touchdown run in the A-Day game where he covered 40 yards of field in 4.02 seconds.
A touchdown run where was wearing FULL PADS!
Call me a skeptic on the 4.11 40-yard dash Grant reportedly ran this offseason, but after seeing what he is capable of, I don't want to put anything past him.
Is it likely he clocked that time? No. Hell no!