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The (Un)Need for Speed

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 16:  Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals runs for yards after the catch against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Louisana Superdome on January 16, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints won 45-14.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jack WilsonContributor IMarch 2, 2010

The 40-yard dash is the most overrated test in sports. There, I said it. I don’t care how fast a player can run, because in the end, all that speed means nothing if the player can’t digest an NFL playbook, won’t commit himself to getting better in the offseason, or can’t do a multitude of other things that being in the NFL requires a player to do.

 

Don’t get me wrong. All things equal, I’ll take a 4.4 40-yard dash guy over a 4.7 40-yard dash guy. But my point is the media hypes the Combine’s 40-yard dash likes it’s a be-all end-all. Countless players have overcome poor measurables and have had illustrious careers, and plenty of players have produced freak-like numbers at the Combine and had their careers fizzle into oblivion.

 

Perhaps the best example of how trivial a 40-yard dash is lies with the undisputed best wide receiver in NFL history, Jerry Rice, who reportedly ran a 4.71 40-yard dash. Had he ran that time in this day and age at the NFL Combine, he surely would have been downgraded from a first-round talent to a third-round pick despite his illustrious college career.

 

Emmitt Smith, the NFL all-time leader rusher, also ran his 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds. His career turned out pretty good, too. The list goes on with guys who ran slow 40s: Terrell Owens, Wes Welker, Larry Fitzgerald, Cris Carter, and Anquan Boldin. Obviously, I selected all wide receivers to showcase the (un)need for speed, but wide receivers usually receive the most scrutiny for their 40-yard dash times. Truly, what does the 40-yard dash show? How often do players run from start to finish untouched without ever changing direction in the NFL? Almost never.

 

So much about football is changing direction, breaking tackles, reading blockers, and understanding offensive and defensive schemes. The 40-yard dash doesn’t have any influence on these abilities. Here are the top ten 40-yard dashes since 1999 according to NFLdraftscout.com (excluding this year):

4.24 - Rondel Melendez, (WR), Eastern Kentucky—1999
4.28 - Jerome Mathis, (WR), Hampton—2005
4.28 - Champ Bailey, (CB), Georgia—1999
4.29 - Stanford Routt, (CB), Houston—2005
4.29 - Jay Hinton, (RB), Morgan State—1999
4.29 - Fabian Washington, (CB), Nebraska—2005
4.30 - Yamon Figurs (WR), Kansas State—2007
4.30 - Darrent Williams, (CB), Oklahoma State—2005
4.31 - Johnathan Joseph, (CB), South Carolina—2006
4.31 - Aaron Lockett, (WR), Kansas State—2002

 

Out of these ten, only Bailey and Joseph have had solid careers thus far, further confirming how meaningless the 40-yard dash is. Bailey is obviously a Hall of Fame-type talent, but even Joseph only really took off this year for Cincinnati. The 40-yard dash has been and will continue to be the most over-hyped event at the NFL Scouting Combine. I’ll take my list of slow 40-yard dash runners over the aforementioned top-ten list any day of the week.

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