Ranking the Fastest Players in College Football in 2018
Differentiating between speed and football speed is an inexact science. Perhaps that's why some of the nation's fastest athletes who also attempt to star on the gridiron don't always translate.
It's when the marriage of speed and talent occurs that you can wind up with a truly exceptional playmaker. But the first element in a speed-burning talent on the football field can't be taught, and that's the speed aspect.
Sure, players can work out to get faster, but you have to initially be blessed with being fast. All the players on this list have that God-given gift, and they're all trying to translate that onto the field. For some, they've already gone a long way toward doing that. For others, it's a work in progress.
Clemson's Tavien Feaster, Akron's Kwadarrius Smith, Ohio State's Kendall Sheffield and others already are well on their way to becoming playmakers. For others, like Texas' Devin Duvernay and USC's Dominic Davis, playing time has been an issue.
But everybody on this list has two things: a recorded speed time (whether a 60- or 100-meter dash or a 40-yard time) and an opportunity to shine on the gridiron. There aren't any players on this list without an opportunity to showcase their wheels.
Whether they're able to capitalize on that opportunity remain to be seen. But let's take a look at the fastest returning college football players for 2018.
10. Tavien Feaster, Clemson Running Back
Top time: 6.88 in the 60-meter dash in the Tiger Paw Invite, per NFL.com
On a roster full of players who can do ridiculous things with the ball in their hands, Clemson junior running back Tavien Feaster has the ability to stand out.
He just hasn't been able to yet. Last year, the once-prized recruit blossomed at times, finishing with 669 rushing yards on a 6.3 average and seven touchdowns. If he can ever do the other things it takes to be a primary back, the Tigers will benefit from his elite speed.
Feaster left his high school days as South Carolina's track and field record-holder in the 100 and 200-meter dashes. Many thought that would transfer into some huge numbers in coach Dabo Swinney's offense, especially considering the Tigers moved on from the pass-first scheme under Deshaun Watson in 2017.
But Travis Etienne came in as a true freshman and led the Tigers in rushing over Feaster. So, it's obvious the rising junior needs to polish some other aspects of his game to be a superstar. Etienne may have passed him on the depth chart, but there are plenty of carries to go around.
Fortunately for Feaster, speed isn't something he needs to work on. If everything ever clicks, watch out. Feaster will be a stud.
9. Dominic Davis, USC Cornerback
Top time: 6.78 in 60-meter dash
One of the most intriguing players on this list is USC redshirt junior Dominic Davis, who began his Trojans career in the offensive backfield and gaining 332 yards on 48 touches in 2015-16. With a logjam of playmakers back there, coach Clay Helton decided to move him to defense.
Davis didn't burn any eligibility a season ago, redshirting to learn defense. Now, he'll have the opportunity to work his way into the secondary with two seasons left in Los Angeles.
There hasn't been a lot of discussion about Davis since last season when Helton told Reign of Troy's Alicia de Artola: "He's a great athlete. He's played both positions in high school, has been a wide receiver, corner and kick returner, and it just felt like a natural move at this point in camp to see where he's at with it."
His greatest worth to the Trojans a season ago was mimicking Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate as the scout-team quarterback in the week leading up to USC's 49-35 win over the Wildcats.
With Iman Marshall and Jack Jones returning in USC's secondary, it's going to be difficult for Davis to break through as a starter, but his speed and versatility could lead to key reps if he has a big spring and continues to develop at the position.
His athleticism is something that could serve him well, but it's a big learning curve to change positions two years into your college career. It'll be interesting to see just how much he'll contribute.
8. Troy Pride, Notre Dame Cornerback
Top time: 6.73 in the 60-meter dash
In the recent ACC indoor track and field championships, Troy Pride Jr. recorded times of 6.73 and 6.78 in the 60-meter dash, which wasn't good enough to win but proved what kind of top-end speed he has. He lowered his personal record of 6.77 from a season ago.
Pride isn't just another speedy athlete, either. He's also an emerging defensive back for Notre Dame, one of the most storied programs in college football.
After racking up just 12 tackles as a freshman, Pride finished with 22 tackles, including one for a loss and one interception last season for the Fighting Irish. As a part-time starter for the past two seasons, Pride has appeared on the verge of breaking out. He'll have every chance in 2018.
He's already generating buzz in both places.
"The mission continues — Congrats to Troy for PR and moving on to ACC Championship," Irish coach Brian Kelly tweeted when Pride qualified for the ACC track championships. "Excellence!"
Standing 6'0" and being blessed with electric speed are fantastic traits for a defensive back. If he can continue to develop and learn in South Bend, he'll have the opportunity to be an NFL combine standout in a couple of years.
7. Kwadarrius Smith, Akron Wide Receiver
Top time: 6.72 in 60-meter dash
Kwadarrius Smith has one of the more memorable names in college football, and if he played for a marquee program, everybody would know the 5'9", 165-pound jitterbug's name. The Akron junior wide receiver emerged as a top deep threat for Terry Bowden's Zips a season ago.
After two seasons of middling around on the football field despite success in track, Smith showed out, catching 34 balls for 726 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017. He averaged 21.4 yards per catch a season ago, after averaging 24.5 on six catches as a sophomore.
A larger sample set last year showed Smith can be dynamic when somebody gets him the ball. He's the fastest player in the MAC and one of the speediest in the country.
Smith finished third in 60-meter dash finals at the MAC indoor track and field championships on two separate occasions. The wide receiver took first place at the 2016 Zips Invitational, 2017 Akron/Kent State Dual and 2017 Zips Invitational.
Now, he's beginning to show it on the field, too.
6. Devin Duvernay, Texas Wide Receiver
Top time: 10.27 in the 100 meters in high school, per 247Sports' Brad Crawford
Blazing fast receiver Devin Duvernay hopes to someday get an extended look on offense so he can showcase his speed. It just may not be at Texas.
According to Horns247's Jeff Howe, the speedy rising junior has been the subject of transfer rumors around Austin this offseason. The former Baylor commitment was the fastest player in the 2016 recruiting class, and many expected he'd be a breakout candidate under Tom Herman, including Howe.
As a true freshman under Charlie Strong, Duvernay burst onto the scene with 20 catches for 412 yards and three touchdowns, averaging more than 20 yards per catch.
With Herman's ability to design creative ways for playmakers to get the ball, Duvernay was an exciting option.
Instead, he got moved from the slot, where he was so effective, and wound up with just nine grabs for 124 yards and was shut out from scoring. It would behoove the Longhorns to get Duvernay the ball more due to his big-play ability. But it may be too late.
If he does decide to go elsewhere, the 6'0", 205-pound target will be a hotly coveted commodity. If he stays in Austin, Herman needs to work on getting him the ball, and perhaps Duvernay needs to work harder to get on the field. He's got untapped potential.
5. Bryce Love, Stanford Running Back
Top time: 4.35 40-yard dash, according to B/R's Michael Weinreb
Yes, speed can be measured a lot of different ways, as displayed on many of the slides. But anybody who has watched Bryce Love play football knows he possesses another gear that most players simply don't have.
Even though there are faster players who can be timed at better than a 4.35-second 40-yard dash (not that that's slow), the rising senior Stanford running back, who was last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up and may just be the favorite to win in 2018, is on another planet.
Why is he on this list? He's proved it at the highest level against the best competition. Last year, he finished with 2,118 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns on an 8.1-yard average. Once he got to the second level, it's rare that any defender would catch him.
The North Carolina product is returning to Palo Alto for his senior season, and the NFL is going to have to wait to utilize Love's next-level speed on the next level. Until then, we'll get to "ooh" and "ahh" at everything he does on the field.
You don't need a stopwatch to tell you he's one of the fastest in-game players in the nation.
4. Javaris Davis, Auburn Cornerback
Top time: 4.24 40-yard dash, according to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread
You didn't hear too much about Auburn's secondary in 2017 being as good as its front seven, but cornerback Javaris Davis quietly put together a nice sophomore season on the Plains. He finished with 29 tackles and two interceptions, and he has two picks in each of his first two years at AU.
Davis has a nose for the ball, and it doesn't hurt that he gets such a quick break on passes with his elite speed. Goodbread noted that he consistently runs sub-4.3 40-yard dashes and that Auburn uses the same timing system as the NFL Scouting Combine. Davis is also the cousin of NFL veterans Vontae and Vernon Davis.
So, it's a pretty good bet that he'll test well and wind up as a pro someday.
Fortunately for coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Davis has a couple of more seasons at Auburn. With Carlton Davis headed to the NFL, the Tigers have a big hole to fill in the secondary, but Davis and Jamel Dean have starting experience and should elevate their game.
if they do, the Tigers could be even better than they were a season ago when the defense carried them at times and they were an SEC Championship Game win away from the College Football Playoff. Instead, they lost to Georgia and followed that up with a setback in the Peach Bowl to Central Florida.
Davis and Co. need to finish stronger than they did last year.
3. Brandon Bryant, Mississippi State Safety
Top time: 4.24 40-yard dash, according to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread
There are few better NFL prospects on this list than Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant. The 6'0", 215-pound fifth-year senior isn't supposed to be as big and strong as he is and consistently posting sub-4.3 40-yard dashes. But there he is, anchoring the back end of the Bulldogs defense.
With closing speed like his, Bryant is a weapon anywhere on the field. A season ago, Goodbread ranked him among the most ridiculous athletes in college football.
Goodbread wrote: "He's also remarkably strong; he can deadlift 600 pounds and squats 450. He can also vertical-jump 35 inches, which would have given him a top-10 finish among safeties at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine."
Last year, Bryant's production tailed off, though, as he went from 60-plus tackles in each of his first two seasons to just 32. He also had an interception, but he wasn't the same type of playmaker that he was the first two years. The Bulldogs and new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop need production.
If Bryant can play loose and aggressive, he's got the natural ability to do big things because of his size-and-speed combination. It's the kind of mixture that will have NFL scouts drooling, but he's got one more year in Starkville to try to shine.
2. Tony Brooks-James, Oregon Running Back
Top time: 6.71 in the 60-meter dash
Thanks to the tenures of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, Oregon has become synonymous with fast offensive skill players. The Ducks have another one this year in rising senior Tony Brooks-James, who took a back seat a season ago when Royce Freeman was healthy.
This year, it's going to be Brooks-James' show with Freeman off to the NFL. Though Oregon has some talented backs to help carry the load, he'll get the opportunity to prove he's an every-down back. A year ago, he finished with 498 yards and a 5.4 average in a reserve role.
With Freeman battling injuries in '16, Brooks-James showed what he's capable of, rushing for 771 yards and nine touchdowns on a 7.6 average and catching 17 passes for 155 more yards. Helfrich and former coach Willie Taggart knew how to use him, and now the onus falls on Mario Cristobal.
Cristobal's offensive line background leads you to believe the Ducks again will have a run-oriented offense, even with rising junior quarterback Justin Herbert behind center. That leaves the 5'9", 175-pound Brooks-James to shoulder the load.
The Ducks should be aggressive with him and find ways to get him in space. Look for this to be a monster season for the senior as he proves what he can do when the speedster gets regular touches.
1. Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State Cornerback
Top time: 6.63 60-meter dash, according to MSN Sports' Scott Rogust
A year ago, Ohio State cornerback Kendall Sheffield made headlines as a 5-star JUCO recruit who went from committing to Alabama and redshirting as a freshman to transferring to Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer as part of a 2017 star-studded class.
He made headlines recently with a blazing fast 60-meter dash time that set an Ohio State school record.
"Sheffield has the speed to be a nightmare in the defensive backfield," Rogust wrote. "You have to imagine that he will be worked into the return game at some point in the 2018 season."
There is no better coach in the country at putting players in space than Meyer, so it isn't out of the question that Sheffield will get touches on special teams or maybe even offense. But his biggest impact will come on defense, where he has the potential to be an elite playmaker and NFL prospect.
Last year, he received immediate playing time, finishing with 40 tackles, including two for a loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He helped the Buckeyes win the Big Ten track and field indoor championship, and now he hopes to put OSU in the College Football Playoff championship hunt.
With the way Ohio State churns out first-round defensive backs, Sheffield looks like he's next in line. He could have gone in the 2018 NFL draft but elected to stay in school. Now, as a fourth-year junior, the Texas native could be an All-American candidate.
The game slowed down for him as last year progressed, and now the sky is the limit for the speedy Sheffield.