The title "Fastest Player in the NFL" is not a term thrown around loosely. Deion Sanders built a legacy off the crown. Before him it was Darrell Green. Since then, superstars like Chris Johnson have held the throne.
How exactly does one determine speed in the NFL? Forty times are a start, but they are not the whole story. Players like Steve Smith seem to get faster with pads on, while others 40 times go to waste come game day.
On this list, a player's 40 time is balanced with on-field production both past and present to create the ultimate ranking of the faster players in the NFL.
Calvin Johnson runs six inches and 40 lbs heavier than your average NFL cornerback. And the Detroit Lions’ superstar is at least as fast as any given corner? Not fair.
Calvin Johnson’s freakishly athletic frame has led him to 800 yards and 11 touchdowns through eight games this season. Playing with a quarterback able to execute the most simple of game plans (throw it high enough that only Johnson can catch it), Johnson is finally having his true breakout year.
Johnson is on pace to obliterate all of his previous career highs, set in 2008.
Michael Vick is officially the fastest quarterback in NFL history. While there was little doubt about that among fans, Vick put his name in the record books October 9th with a 90-yard performance against the Buffalo Bills, passing Randall Cunningham.
Vick may have lost half a step from his 2006 season, when he rushed for over 1,000 yards and literally made defenders look stupid. But he has since progressed inside the pocket and is still the league’s most dangerous quarterback outside of it.
Any time Vick turns the corner, he is a threat to take it the rest of the way.
DeSean Jackson is not the type of player you want to go to war with. He admitted he will not go across the middle until the Philadelphia Eagles pay him.
Even before the contract dispute, catches between the hashmarks have not been his strong point. On the outside is where Jackson is a true game breaker. He and Michael Vick set the league on fire last season, as the third-year wide out led the NFL with 22.5 yards per catch and added six touchdowns.
Could Darrius Heyward-Bey’s production finally be catching up with his 40 time? DHB’s stats may still be a tad underwhelming, but at least he is finally showing progress.
The fastest player in the 2009 NFL Draft, Heyward-Bey has 27 catches on the year, just eight short of his two-year total previously. DHB had a four-game stretch averaging 96.3 yards per before his strange goose egg Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
He still has a long way to go before living up to his potential, but DHB is finally displaying some ability in a crossroads season for his career.
With a 4.29 in the 40, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was the fastest cornerback in the 2008 NFL Draft. His speed quickly turned to production, as he immediately became the Arizona Cardinals’ best cornerback.
Rodgers-Cromartie had an interception returned for a touchdown in every season but this one. The fourth-year man has had trouble adapting to part of a “Dream Team” as opposed to being “The Guy.”
After 13 interceptions through his first three years, Rodgers-Cromartie has zero through eight games in 2011.
Chris Johnson is in the midst of his worst NFL season, but it is not because he has suddenly become slow. No, that has something to do with a term my high school football coach calls "p&%#y-footing" around the line.
Johnson’s pure speed is still the stuff of legend. Scouts ignored his 4.24 40 time because they did not think a 190-lb. back could take the grind necessary of an NFL running back. In the long term, maybe they were right.
In his first three seasons, though, Johnson was the most exciting back in the NFL. Every touch felt like he could take it the distance, and he often did. Johnson had 38 touchdowns through his first three seasons and averaged over five yards per carry.
He has work to do to stay on this list, but I weigh three years of work a lot more heavily than half a season.
Since Darren McFadden’s breakout 2010 season, Run-DMC has kept both critics and defenders in his rearview mirror.
At 6’2,” 210 lbs and with a 4.33 40, it seems ludicrous to think Darren McFadden only managed 856 rushing yards in his first two NFL seasons. Since then, McFadden is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has eleven touchdowns through 20 games.
McFadden’s speed has also been a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, with another 66 catches and four touchdowns in the same timeframe.
Year after year, Devin Hester is the most feared kick returner in the game. Most of the game’s great kick returners have a huge season or two (Jermaine Lewis, Dante Hall), then lose a step and disappear—not Hester.
Hester has two more touchdowns on special teams this season to add to his NFL record 16. The league has mostly ignored special teams performances when anointing the elite to the Hall of Fame.
In Hester’s case, this would be a travesty.
He affects the game on every possession change to the Chicago Bears. Even when he does not get the opportunity to return, the result is almost always a short kick and an advantage to the Bears.
Patrick Peterson is the NFL’s most dangerous new kick returner. Peterson’s 4.3-speed will take time to transition as a premier cornerback, but his impact on special teams cannot be discounted.
Peterson is leading the NFL in punt return average at 21.8 and has three touchdowns. Oh, and he just ended Sunday’s game in overtime with this electrifying return.
Look out for Peterson as the game's next premier cornerback and game-breaking defensive player.
Mike Wallace made an immediate impact as a rookie deep threat for the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers. He led the league with an average of 19.4 yards per catch and has not looked back from there.
Since then, Wallace has become a well-rounded receiver, not just a deep threat. The blazing speed is still there, but Wallace has improved as a route runner and is now Ben Roethlisberger’s top target.
Wallace is still in the top five in yards per catch, but is now going across the middle and making the clutch catches to win games for Pittsburgh.
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