NFL Combine: 40-yard Dash

The NFL Scouting Combine is just a little over a week away. Hundreds of hope filled college football players will flock to Indianapolis, Indiana to be physically and mentally tested in order to prove themselves in front of scouts, coaches, and general managers alike.  Beginning February 22 inside Lucas-Oil Stadium, some of the most talented players in the NCAA will present their talents, which can potentially either make or break their draft stock.  At the combine, athletes will have their abilities put to the test through the following categories: 40-yard dash, 3 cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle, Bench press (225 lb repetitions), Vertical jump, Broad jump, and other position-specific drills and tests.

This article will focus on the 40-yard dash of the combine.  The 40-yard dash is the main drill used in football to gauge the speed of a prospect and probably the most important drill in the combine.  Differences of tenths of a second can be all that separates a first rounder and a second day choice.  A miniscule amount of time can literally cost a prospect millions of dollars, making this drill the most exciting at the combine.

The 40-yard dash actually has a strange history. Famous coach and the “father of the modern offense” Paul Brown wanted to have his fastest players on punt coverage and decided to test the players in a 40-yard increment (the average punt then).  He wanted his players on punt coverage to be faster than 4.50 (the average hang time of a punt) so that they would be able to cover the punt effectively.  Little did he know how influential this special-teams drill would become. The 40-yard dash is now broken up into 3 segments.  Prospects are timed at 10, 20, and 40 yards to see a players burst and to see how long it takes to reach full-speed.

Below I focus on the five fastest individual 40-yard dashes within the past 5 drafts.

5. Darrius Heyward-Bey

 Position: Wide Receiver

College: Maryland

Draft: 2009

Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30 at his NFL Combine.  The speedster was then surprisingly chosen 7th overall in the 1st round of the 2009 NFL draft.  In his 3 years in the NFL, Heyward-Bay has caught 99 passes for 1,465 yards, while averaging close to 15 yards a reception.  Of those 99 catches, 6 of them have gone for touchdowns. Heyward-Bey had his best season by far last year and should be carefully watched next year, especially since he finally has a decent quarterback in Carson Palmer.

4. Yamon Figurs

Position: Wide Receiver

College: Kansas State

Draft: 2007

Figurs was drafted 74th overall in the 3rd round by the Baltimore Ravens after posting a 4.30 in the dash.  Since then he bounced around the league and has been on the roster for the Lions, Buccaneers, Raiders, Browns, and most recently the Tennessee Titans.  In 5 seasons the WR has only caught 5 passes, one of which went for a touchdown.

3. DeMarcus Van Dyke

Position: Cornerback

College: University of Miami

Draft: 2011

DeMarcus Van Dyke, Cornerback, sprinted a 4.28 at his combine and was selected in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft by the Oakland Raiders with the 74th overall pick.  Last year in his rookie season Van Dyke had 13 tackles and 1 interception, certainly not earth shattering numbers but it’s still early and we’ll see how he develops as an NFL corner.

2. Jacoby Ford

Position: Wide Receiver

College: Clemson

Draft: 2010

Jacoby Ford, Wide Receiver, also ran a 4.28 in his combine and was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 4th round of the 2010 draft with the 104th overall pick.  In the 2010 season Ford was selected as the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week for Week 9 and was also chosen as the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month.  While not a break out player, Ford has been fairly solid for the Raiders and can create a big play with his unbelievable speed. In his 2 seasons Ford has caught 44 passes for 749 yards averaging out to 17 yards per reception. He also has 3 TD receptions.

1. Chris Johnson

Position: Running Back

College: East Carolina University

Draft: 2008

Chris Johnson has the best time of anyone at the combine in the last 5 years.  The superstar running back posted a 4.24 and blazed his way into the first round.  He was selected 24th overall in the 2008 draft by the Tennessee Titans and hasn’t looked back since.  He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and is a 3-time Pro Bowler. In 2009 he was selected as the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and posted one of the best seasons for an NFL running back ever.  That season, Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards and had a total of 2,509 yards from scrimmage (an NFL record). In his 4 years Johnson has amassed 5,645 yards in 1,187 attempts, averaging 4.8 yards per carried and 38 touchdowns.  He has also caught 194 passes for 1,426 yards, averaging 7.4 yards per reception and 4 touchdowns.  Unfortunately Chris Johnson had his worst season ever last year, in part due to his hold out for more money, so it’ll be interesting to see how he performs next year.

Speed is a tricky thing to appraise; you could end up with a superstar like Chris Johnson or a complete bust like Yamon Figurs.  Speed is extremely important; it can create big plays and is usually a hallmark of big playmakers.  However, if not coupled with the right tool set, blazing speed can turn out to be fairly useless.  One of the only things fairly certain about speed is that if you possess it you’ll probably end up a Raider.