Every winter to early spring, potential draft prospects show off as much as they possibly can in order to wow NFL scouts. The largest example of this would be the fixation on how fast future players can run the forty-yard dash. Those who are able to show off blazing speeds have a great chance of improving their draft stock. We have seen over the years that performances at the NFL combine, or even a prospect's pro day, can have a significant impact on where a player is drafted.
We've seen it time after time, in that teams end up taking the bait when a player has a fantastic day at the combine and a team starts ignoring the potential red flags that popped up on game film. The Raiders were famous for looking at a player's speed and measurables while ignoring other key factors that determine a player's potential for success in the pros. We've also seen a trend in recent years where players have their own pro day, preferring to show their skillset on their terms, rather than making the trip to Indianapolis for the annual combine.
Even with the tool of the NFL Combine and the always anticipated 40-yard dash, the drafting process remains an inexact science.
Below are some of the players who have had some of the best forty-yard dash times in recorded history. Unofficial and official numbers were included in order to level the playing field for some of the fastest running backs and wide receivers of past generations.
20 WR: DeSean Jackson - 4.35
Jackson has been forever linked to his game-breaking speed and big-play ability. Some years it happens more often than others, but the threat he gives opposing secondaries is always present. it is no wonder he posted one of the fastest official times at the NFL combine in 2008. Among WRs, he finished with the second quickest time (4.35 seconds). He clocked in just .02 seconds slower than Dexter Jackson. That Jackson was never able to find a niche in the league.
After the 2008 combine, both Jacksons had their speed overshadowed by none other than Chris Johnson, who posted his all-time forty-yard dash record that year.
19 RB: Adrian Peterson - 4.40
In 2007, coming off one of the most storied college careers one could have as a running back, AD wowed the scouts at the combine with a 4.4 forty-yard dash time. During the 2018 offseason, Adrian Peterson took to Instagram live to show off that he still has the exact same speed. At 33 years old, Peterson ran a sub-4.5-yard time. Over the course of 11 seasons and multiple knee issues, including an ACL tear in 2011, Peterson hadn't lost a single step, literally. As a member of the Redskins, Peterson was able to show on the field he is still one of the fastest backs in the league with a 90-yard scamper on Monday Night Football in Week 13.
18 WR: Tyrone Calico - 4.32
Calico was the topic of conversation after the 2003 NFL combine. He had so much buzz, that the New York Times did an in-depth look on him as an "unknown" who was rising up draft boards. After having a time that was just barely over 4.3 seconds, scouts started to drool of his potential. Calico was getting compared to Terrell Owens due to the fact that he also went to a small school and used the combine to improve his stock.
NFL analyst, Gil Brandt, said this about Calico as a prospect, ''He does not have the best hands in the world, but you can teach a guy to catch the football. You cannot teach him to run fast.'' Yikes. Calico did not get the chance to see his full potential due to hurting his knee. The play he was hurt on, was an illegal horse collar tackle from none other than Roy Williams.
17 RB: Nyheim Hines - 4.38
I'll take any excuse to talk about a Colts player. Hines's time stands out due to the fact that it was the fastest recorded at the NFL combine this past winter. This rookie running back class had been filled with players who have instantly contributed to their teams. Saquon Barkley, Rishard Penny, Sony Michel and Phillip Lindsay (and technically Royce Freeman), all have found large roles with their respective squads.
Hines was the only running back out of this draft class to post a sub 4.4 time, clocking in at 4.38 seconds. Hines' most notable contributions for the Colts this season has been his excellent pass catching ability. This was on display during Week 4 against Houston, hauling in nine catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
16 WR: Darrius Heyward-Bey - 4.3
I've never understood exactly how Darrius Heyward-Bey has carved out a ten-year career in the NFL. The Raiders took him seventh overall in the 2009 draft due to his ability to get quickly behind opposing defenses while at Maryland. His combine performance certainly helped as well. Heyward-Bey shot up the pre-draft rankings once his 4.3 time was recorded, tricking the Raiders into spending such a high pick on a wide receiver. He was a bust for the team and has been for every other team he has played for as well.
As a member of the Colts in 2013, he dropped seemingly ever potential catch that occurred during big moments of games. He has spent the last five years as a member of the Steelers and has two touches this 2018 season; one catch for nine yards, and one rush for minus-seven yards.
15 RB: Mike Gillislee - 4.38
Gillislee makes this list to highlight some of the fastest players that are currently in the NFL. He was one of the elite prospects coming out of high school but didn't get the best chance to showcase his skills at Florida. At the 2013 NFL Combine, he reminded scouts why he was so highly touted. He posted one of the fastest times of any active running back in the league with his 4.38 performance. That is quicker than the likes of David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and nearly every other elite running back in the league.
Gillislee has not been able to showcase how fast he is in the NFL though. Throughout his six-year career, he only has 274 carries. A total of 101 of them coming as a member of the Buffalo Bills in 2016, where he scored ten touchdowns for the team.
14 WR: J.J. Nelson - 4.28
After being used often the last two seasons, Nelson has not been given many opportunities to show just how fast he is. Those targets and snaps had been given to rookie Christian Kirk before he went down with an injury. During Week 14 of the regular season, Josh Rosen almost connected with Nelson on what would have been a long touchdown. Instead, Rosen completely missed him. Imagine how far Rosen would have had to overthrow it to miss Nelson, who had an official forty-yard dash time of 4.28 seconds in 2015.
This is one of the fastest official times ever for a wideout, not to be confused with his placement on this list. In 2018, Nelson's role has been so insignificant to the Cardinals, he may be in jeopardy of not being on a roster in the next couple of seasons.
13 RB: Lamar Miller - 4.34
Miller is the fastest active running back in the league, according to official forty-yard dash times. Before his junior season at Miami, he actually ran anchor for the track team. Since he has joined the NFL he has shown flashes of this type of elite speed. He is the only running back in history to have two rushing touchdowns of 97 yards or greater. His first came back in 2014 as a member of the Dolphins. The second one came this season against the Tennessee Titans. Against the Titans, Miller had a man side by side with him at the twenty-yard line, but had no chance of keeping up with Miller once he hit top speed.
12 WR: Jacoby Ford - 4.28
Jacoby Ford was a receiver who steadily improved all four years while attending Clemson University. In 2010, the NFL combine gave him the opportunity to improve his draft stock as well. Pegged as a possible fifth to six round selection, Ford was able to make a name for himself by running a 4.28 forty yard dash time. During the NFL draft, the Oakland Raiders, who were prone to reach for speedster style wideouts (more on that later), selected Ford in middle of the fourth round.
Ford found himself in a starting role for nine games his rookie season. Two seasons later, he had surgery on his foot, and never got the same opportunities he did during his rookie season upon returning. He was out of the league by the 2014 season.
11 RB: LaMichael James - 4.35
Looking back at his career while attending the University of Oregon, it's not hard to tell why he was a second-round pick in the 2012 draft. The 49ers were looking at a variety of positive attributes that should have panned out to a successful NFL career. It wasn't just his 4.35 forty-yard dash time either. During his sophomore season, James put up 1,731 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns. His last year at Oregon, he ran for 1,805 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns, while averaging 7.3 rushing yards a carry. Once he got into the NFL, James couldn't find a role with the San Fransisco 49ers or the Miami Dolphins after five seasons.
10 WR: Marquise Goodwin - 4.27
Have you ever asked yourself what it would look like if an Olympic level track and field athlete played WR? That is Marquise Goodwin. He was a four-time NCAA All-American for track and field, also qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games. It is no wonder that he has one of the fastest forty yard dash times recorded, with a 4.27 time. Goodwin was on the cusp of a possible breakout season heading into 2018.
With a projected full season with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, Goodwin would have had many chances to show off his elite speed. 2018 didn't pan out the way any 49ers fan would have predicted. Both Garoppolo and Goodwin went out with season-ending injuries during the season.
9 RB: Jerick McKinnon - 4.35
McKinnon's speed was perfectly used during his time playing at Georgia Southern. IN order to capitalize on his legs, the team had him play quarterback in a triple-option attack through his junior season. The moment the team snapped the ball, they had it in the hands of someone who ran a 4.35 at the NFL combine. McKinnon showed his talents in the NFL while filling in for Adrian Peterson while both were still members of the Vikings.
Unfortunately for McKinnon, he sustained an ACL tear in the final play of a practice before the 2018 season started. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has hinted that McKinnon will hopefully see action on the field alongside Matt Brieda, who emerged in his absence. 2019 could feature McKinnon doing similar plays to the ones he was accustomed to at Georgia Southern.
8 WR: Devin Hester - 4.24
Hester was said to run a 4.24 at his Miami pro day in 2005. At the NFL combine, he was just a bit slower, at 4.41. Based on watching Devin Hester score against special teams unit more than anyone in NFL history, one should side with the pro-day time. Hester affected the gameplans of opposing coaches. The classic "will they dare kick it to Hester" type of commentary during punts and kickoffs became routine. During Super Bowl XLI, Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts made the critical mistake in letting Hester touch the ball. Moments later, the Chicago Bears were up 7-0 just like that. In 2017, the Seattle Seahawks signed a 34-year old Hester for the playoffs due to a sidelined Tyler Lockett. After the Seahawks lost to the Falcons, Hester announced his official retirement from the NFL.
7 RB: Darren McFadden - 4.33
The Raiders have been heavily influenced by this drill over the years. In 2003, Oakland drafted Justin Vargas after his unofficial 4.35 mark impressed the staff. They made the same mistake in 2011 by drafting Taiwan Jones, who finished just .02 seconds slower than Vargas. In between those picks, the Raiders thought they had their long-term answer at running back when they drafted Darren McFadden fourth overall in the 2008 draft. McFadden, at the time, posted the second fastest forty yard dash time in NFL history for running backs. The former Arkansas star and the other two running backs Oakland took, were all largely disappointments for the team.
6 WR: Randy Moss - 4.25
Of course Randy Moss is going to be on this list, Randy Moss is on every list that highlights positive play by wide receivers. Rightfully so. Moss has some of the most historic pro day measurables of all time, including a 47 inch vertical. He also ran a 4.25 forty yard dash time, something that was crazy to hear in 1998. There is a dispute on whether this time is legit, due to the insane speed and because it was hand-timed. Those who don't agree must have never seen him play. Moss was one of the most prolific wideouts the NFL has ever seen, constantly burning corners for big plays. In 2018, Moss was inducted to the NFL Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
5 RB: Dri Archer - 4.28
Truly a name that NFL fans will only know strictly for his forty-yard dash time in 2014. Archer was just .04 seconds off from tying Chris Johnson's record at the time. A 5'8" back made a name for himself at Kent State, after passing up offers at Clemson and Arkansas for track. In 2012 Archer rushed for 1,429 yards, hauling in 561 receiving yards, and scoring 23 total touchdowns. He went back for his final season at Kent State, getting hurt on the first offensive snap of the year and looked like a shell of himself when returning.
The Steelers took the gamble on the undersized back in the third round of the 2014 draft. His 4.28 forty-yard yard time made up for his disappointing senior season in terms of draft stock. He was projected as a third rounder after his junior season but was pegged as a late fourth or fifth-round prospect a year later. Archer fizzled out within a year an a half.
4 WR: Tyreek Hill - 4.24
If you've watched a Chiefs game this year, especially one that was nationally televised, you probably already know Tyreek Hill is very fast. Most broadcasts have probably already shared his 4.24 forty yard dash time. With a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes, who is much more prone to throw the deep ball than Alex Smith ever was, Hill has flourished even more. Since entering the NFL, Hill has 13 touchdowns of 50 yards or more. There isn't anyone close to that number, or Hill himself when he hits his stride.
There was a strange debate going around the internet on who was faster between Hill and Marquise Goodwin right before Chiefs played the 49ers earlier this season. Goodwin responded by simply saying "I don't compare myself with nobody," before showing his tattoo representing his inclusion in the 2012 London Olympics.
3 RB: Chris Johnson - 4.24
The former undisputed champ at the 40-yard dash was finally dethroned in 2017. His 4.24-second record was so stunning, it spawned articles asking how that would compare to a cheetah. Seriously. Spoiler alert, cheetahs are still faster than Chris Johnson. Throughout his career, Johnson's game revolved around how quickly he could get up the field. No year was this more apparent than in 2009 his second season. Johnson became just the sixth running back to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season. During that following offseason, CJ2k claimed he wanted to be the Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant of the sport. That didn't happen in the NFL but he currently is the Michael Jordan, or LeBron James, of forty-yard dash performances.
2 WR: John Ross - 4.22
The official all-time legend when it comes to this topic. The LeBron James (or Michael Jordan) of running 40 yards really really fast. In 2017, Ross broke Chris Johnson's record in Nike shoes, which is a significant detail. Adidas was doing a promotion promising anyone who broke the record in their shoes would receive an island. Hopefully not the North Sentinel Island. Ross signed a nine-year shoe deal with Nike following the combine. His rookie season with the Bengals was a huge disappointment. A shoulder ailment made him miss a large portion of the year, but he didn't contribute much when he was on the field. Ross had just 17 snaps and fumbled away his only touch of the season as a rusher.
1 RB: Bo Jackson - 4.18
The best pure athlete the league has seen happens to run very fast. During the earlier stages of the NFL combine's inception, Jackson apparently ran a 4.12 second forty yard dash time. The legend of his time at the NFL combine went on for years. In 2018, Jackson himself said it did not occur at the combine, as Bo did not attend the event. Back then, it wasn't a huge television production. Jackson's presence at the combine wasn't necessary at all, as he was assured he was going to be the number one pick in the 1986 draft. The Hall of Famer mentioned how he did run a 4.13 time with NFL scouts present before a practice while attending Auburn. He also ran a 4.18 second time within the same week in order to legitimatize the claim. Anyone who ever used Bo in Tecmo Bowl, knows not to question just how fast he was during his time in the NFL.