The 40 yard dash was a factor NFL teams such as the Dallas Cowboys started using in the early 60's to evaluate football players. The 40 yard dash was one of the many innovations Paul Brown is credited for.
Legend has it that when Brown was coaching the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 1940's, he figured that a punt traveled 40 yards, so the 40 yard dash was created to see which player could get to the punt returner the fastest.
The Raiders actually have three of the all time top ten 40 yard dash players on their team.
Here is the the NFL Combine 40 Yard Dash top ten record holders
4.24 Rondel Melendez WR 1999 Atlanta Falcons
4.24 Chris Johnson RB 2008 Tennessee Titans
4.25 Fabian Washington CB 2005 Baltimore Ravens (Drafted by Raiders)
4.25 Darrius Heyward-Bey Oakland Raiders
4.28 Champ Bailey CB 1999 Denver Broncos
4.28 Jerome Mathis WR 2005 Houston Texans
4.28 Jacoby Ford WR 2010 Oakland Raiders
4.29 Stanford Routt CB 2005 Oakland Raiders
4.29 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie CB 2008 Arizona Cardinals
Thing we have learned 60 years later, is just how overhyped the 40 yard dash can be when it comes to evaluating players. Defenders whose experience and technique often give's them an edge on the field that can often time not be translated or computed on a track.
5'7" Maurice Jones Drew is among many many players who have undermined conventional scouting methods used to determine success at this level. How tall or short you are, how you throw the football, and even how fast you are, should never undermine the intangible that the player brings to the field of play in the form of results.
A players heart is an intangible that can virtually be impossible to compute.
"Our biggest thing was we had to get accurate information into the computer, so the more information you got the better results you got," former Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt said.
"So we had a chart made up that if a player was X height and ran a 4.45 he'd get 40-plus points. If a player was X height and ran a 4.6, he might get 10-plus points. To me, what the  does is it becomes something of a tiebreaker or it's something that alerts you to a player that can be pretty good."
"I'm glad the Saints didn't put too much emphasis on my 40 when I came out," said Jack Del Rio "It's a tool. It's another thing for us to measure, grade, evaluate. I think at the end of the day you're looking for football players that produce for you on the field."
"It's been like that for years," Syracuse cornerback Tanard Jackson said. "Nothing's going to change it. But I'd still like to think the decision-makers want a football player. They want a guy with speed, especially at the position I play, but the film is the film. They want a football player."
"You can get too carried away with straight line speed because change of direction is so important in this game," said Wade Phillips. "Guys that run with their feet a little further apart, even running backs sometimes, aren't as fast but their change of direction is quicker."
Former Ohio State Buckeye linebacker Chris Spielman ran 4.85 40 coming out of college, he still managed to make it to four Pro Bowls in 10 seasons.
To put some perspective on just how slow 4.85 40 is, OT Bruce Cambell, the fourth round selection of the Oakland Raiders in the 2010 NFL draft ran a 4.85 40; this is a guy who is 6'6" and weighs 314 pounds.
"He (Spielman) was so instinctive and anticipated things," Phillips said. "A lot of times, it's the shortest distance between two points. You figure out where that point's going to be and you get there."
Speed is a premium in this league, but like anything else, you can find the "it" factor in players who lack the premium of speed.
There are players that don't have speed, but yet have allowed their heart and mind to take them to a level where a fast player may not have felt compelled to go because their talent's can often time keep them from having to strive as hard.
In the art of war adopting the strategies of sophisticated techniques to the point where they are an instinctual facet of your game, will indeed allow you to overcome stronger and faster opponent's lacking the same.
Dre' Bly was drafted in 1999, and he just signed a two year contract with the Detroit Lions. Bly has been to two Super Bowl's, he won one with the St. Louis Rams, he has also made two Pro Bowl appearances. In 2007 Denver Broncos gave Bly a $33 million contract with an $18 million in bonus money and $16 million guaranteed.
Dre' Bly runs a 4.51 40
Too often the premium of speed in this league, is substituted for phenomenal ability. That appears to be exactly the case with Syd’Quan Thompson who ran a 4.75 40 while recovering from a hamstring injury.
He is not fast as track times go, but when it comes to being up to par to game time speed and knowing where to be, he has all the makings of a Pro Bowler at the very least as a safety in this league. Syd has that all to coveted "IT" factor that coaches look for in a player.
"If you were to ask me the most important players on our team, I'd say Kevin Riley, Jahvid Best, Alex Mack, and Syd'Quan Thompson," said middle LB Worrell Williams. "Syd is the only guy I listed on defense, so what's that tell you?"
"He's going to shut down one side of the field when he's out there."
Having 4.5 40 Mardy Gilyard blow by you in the Senior Bowl will make your stock drop like a rock. Syd injured his hamstring in January, the week of the Senior Bowl.
Syd was not able to run at all during the combine. Many of the scouts came to see Cal’s Pro Day 40 time, 19 teams attended, only to see Syd re-aggravate his hamstring in his 4.7 40 attempt.
"It's frustrating that I'm not 100 percent and able to run full speed," said Thompson.
"There are some guys who can cover well, execute assignments and grade out well when you watch the video, and you're happy when you find those guys," defensive backs coach Al Simmons said. "What Syd can do is a step above; he can make a play for you."
"When you've got a guy who can do all those things and make a play, it's something special."
"...there's not a receiver out there who can embarrass Syd. He's a shutdown corner with 1,000 pounds of heart."
Scouts had considered Syd, a potential first-round draft pick heading into the 2009 season.
Scout.com rated him the number-five player in its West Hot 100. Rivals.com rated him the 13th-ranked athlete in the nation and the 21st-ranked player in California.
ESPN assessed him as the 11th-ranked cornerback in the nation.
The hamstring injury plagued Syd’s stock, not to mention Cal being blown out in its last two games.
Syd’s lack of elite speed along with his 5'9" 193 pound size has a lot of folks thinking Syd may be forced to make a position change at the pro level. A switch to safety, where his ball hawk skills along with his sure handed tackling abilities could pay off with huge dividends.
Syd is a physical player who is known for being a good hitter. His coverage instincts, return and open-field tackling ability ought to give him in advantage in making it on the team for the depth he adds both to the secondary as well as Special Teams.
Syd’s intelligence and instincts have been proven to more than make up for his lack of elite speed.
“Returning punts is a way to get my hands on the ball as a defender, I like to be on the field no matter what. I’ve always returned punts since I was a kid.”
“I’m always real critical about everything, even when someone says I do it well. I can always improve. I want to be the complete package,”
“I’m the most complete player. I’m tougher, I’m smarter. I’ll do anything to make the team successful.”
So Broncos fans when you are projecting your 53 man roster, be careful not to write off Syd’Quan Thompson.