During the NFL Combine, after almost every NFL season, there are many prospects who record eye-popping times while running the forty-yard dash. The ones that do have elite times have not always panned out, however. Many prospects have used their forty-yard dash numbers to skyrocket into early round selections that would have been unthinkable just months before the draft. While some speedsters do pan out, such as Chris Johnson, Bo Jackson, and Deion Sanders, many do not.
It's a trap that many teams fall into, as they are all looking for speed in today's NFL. While a greater emphasis used to be placed on football smarts, and perhaps strength, the focus has shifted to speed, especially at the skill positions. Even when it comes to defense, more and more teams are looking for speed on the perimeter, and even at linebacker, where they want their LBs to be able to cover the whole field and match up with various positions on the opposing offense.
There's one simple reason why NFL teams overreact to speed; you can't teach speed, but that doesn't mean you can football to those who happen to be fast. These are some of the fastest forty-yard dash performers that couldn't get up to speed with the game once they entered the NFL. Speed got them their ticket to the NFL, but many of them soon proved teams wrong, as they simply couldn't pick up the other facets needed to become a star in the NFL.
20 Matt Jones - 4.37
As a star quarterback in Arkansas, Matt Jones showed off a wide range of athleticism. When he was transitioning into a wideout in order to increase his chances of contributing to a team, he showed the same thing. Matt Jones put together one of the most impressive combines in NFL history. His 4.37 forty yard dash time showed many scouts he could easily make the transition to wide receiver. He also had a 39.5 inch vertical and a 10.75-foot long jump recorded during the combine as well.
The Jaguars took Jones with the twenty-first overall pick in 2005. He wasn't able to make the change from QB to WR, and also couldn't stay out of trouble. In 2009, he was released from the team for multiple drug arrest charges.
19 Tavon Austin - 4.34
Austin is still in the league despite only having 1,829 receiving yards across six seasons. The Rams made a huge mistake in taking the wideout eighth overall. He showed the ability to be a huge factor in the college ranks. His quick feet lead him to excel as a member of the West Virginia Mountaineers. During his senior season, he had 1,289 yards with 12 touchdowns. He also rushed for 643 yards and getting three touchdowns on the ground.
His unofficial time at the combine was 4.25, putting his name in light with other elite speedsters. Later, it was adjusted to 4.34 officially. Still, Austin was one of the faster players to ever enter the league although he has never turned that into meaningful production.
18 DeMarcus Van Dyke - 4.28
Here is one player who can be definitely be labeled a wasted pick. In the 2011 draft, the Raiders selected DeMarcus Van Dyke to fill in holes in the secondary. Van Dyke was coming off of a combine performance that was spectacular. He ran the fourth fastest forty-yard dash ever at the time, 4.28 seconds.
He was rarely used during his rookie season with the Raiders. At the start of next season, the new regime in Oakland waived Van Dyke in order to rebuild and move on from previous general manager failed picks. He bounced around for a couple seasons afterward for four other teams and was out of the league in 2016.
17 Phillip Dorsett - 4.33
Phillip Dorsett playing for the Colts should have never happened in the first place. During the 2015 draft, fans of the team were all clamoring for Alabama safety Landon Collins. The defense was a mess at the time, and the team had a decent wide receiving corps. Ryan Grigson instead drafted the speedster out of Miami because of him being one of the fastest players at the combine.
Dorsett ran a 4.33 second time that impressed Grigson so much that he was number one on the team's draft board. Dorsett was off the team in 2017, while Landon Collins, who went four picks later, has become one of the better safeties in the NFL.
16 Keith Marshall - 4.31
Marshall and his high school friend Todd Gurley paired up at Georgia to become one of the most fearsome running back tandems in the nation. The Washington Redskins selected Marshall in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Marshall was a borderline undrafted free agent but shot up many draft boards as a sleeper selection due to his 4.31 second forty-yard dash time.
He has yet to take a snap in the NFL however, as he has been placed on injury reserve each of the last two seasons. This lead to him getting cut before the start of the 2018 training camps. It is unknown whether Marshall is eyeing a comeback after the last two years of dealing with tough injuries.
15 Justin King - 4.31
After declaring for the draft a year earlier than many expected, Justin King was able to get drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the 2008 Draft. King was just .01 seconds shy of joining an elite class of NFL players. His 4.31 second time during the combine was almost good enough to join the 18 players who have registered a 4.3 or lower time.
His career got off to a bad start that it never recovered from. During his very first preseason game, he tore a ligament in his big toe. This injury erased his entire rookie season. He did have the opportunity to start 12 games for the team in 2011 but was given the chance to return to the team in 2012 following his performance. He attempted to continue his career with the Colts, but just played three games.
14 J.J. Nelson - 4.28
It seems like Nelson was going to be a breakout receiver in Arizona, but that was before Carson Palmer retired and the team started to rebuild. With Josh Rosen at quarterback and rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk in the mix, Nelson's value to the squad has evaporated. He had just seven catches for Arizona while playing 14 games this year.
Nelson had a chance during Week 4 to haul in a huge 52-yard catch against the Seahawks but unfortunately dropped the wide open ball after burning the defense with his speed. In college, and in a competent offense, he has been able to show some of his 4.28 forty-yard dash speed. He hopes to maintain a role with the team next season.
13 Josh Robinson - 4.29
Robinson is a former cornerback for the back to back regular season national champions, the University of Central Florida Knights. After his time in college was done, the Vikings selected him in the third round (66th overall) in 2012. Robinson impressed the team after threes year with the Knights, and his combine numbers supported that he would transition well into the NFL. He ran 4.29 forty-yard dash time which ranks 14th all-time in official times.
When he was in Minnesota he wasn't able to make a huge impact, but did serve a role as the team's backup cornerback for four seasons. In 2013, he started 10 games for the Vikings and had 48 solo tackles on the season. Two years later, he was sixth on the team's depth chart at cornerback.
12 Darrius Heyward-Bey - 4.3
The Raiders fell in love with speedsters during the first few rounds of NFL drafts throughout the 2000s. No one is a greater example then Darrius Heyward-Bey. When he came out of Maryland, he was supposed to be a big-time stud wide receiver who also possessed otherworldly speed. His 4.3 forty-yard dash time put his NFL potential over the top. Scouts were all over Heyward-Bey as being a number one primary wide receiver. The Raiders drafted Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 pick in 2009 over future Pro Bowlers Maclin, Percy Harvin, and Mike Wallace.
11 Taylor Mays - 4.43
When Taylor Mays was a participant in the NFL combine, there was a cloud of controversy. After his forty-yard dash time clocked in at 4.24 seconds, tying Chris Johnson's record at the time, it was adjusted like most times are. When his official time was announced, it was nearly two tenths slower, clocking in at 4.43 seconds. This was peculiar. There was a side by side video made showing Mays and Jacoby Ford running at virtually identical speeds while being timed, but Ford's official time was 4.28 seconds. Once he was in the NFL, Mays was mostly used as the Bengals back up safety from 2011 to 2014.
10 LaMichael James - 4.45
When the 49ers drafted the Oregon prospect in 2012, they were expecting him to mimic the type of numbers he produced in college. At Oregon, he totaled over 1,800 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns his final season. Once in the league, his ability to show off his game-breaking speed decreased drastically. His five-year career only brought him 44 carries in the NFL. James was touted as a high prospect mainly due to his performance at Oregon, but his combine numbers certainly helped his cause. There he ran a 4.45 forty yard dash time. That was one of the fastest for his position at the 2011 Combine, but James didn't translate that into NFL success, unfortunately.
9 Kevin White - 4.35
Who knows if Kevin White is good or bad, we haven't seen him on the field enough to give a correct assessment. He has played 14 games in three full seasons with the Chicago Bears. White being a factor for the Bears is so rare that when he registered a catch against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17, social media blew up talking about it. His one catch that Sunday is just one of the 25 catches he has had in his short career.
White was drafted seventh overall in 2015 and has been a bust. If he was able to sustain a healthy season, he could show off some of the speed that he displayed before the draft. White ran a 4.35-second forty-yard dash, skyrocketing him up draft boards before entering the league.
8 Jalen Myrick - 4.28
Myrick is one of the players who were borderline undrafted free agents before getting selected in the later rounds of the draft. After a four-year career at Minnesota, he had 93 tackles, five picks, with two of them being returned touchdowns. In 2017 his 4.28 second forty-yard dash time was the fastest of any defensive back in his class. This was enough for the Jaguars to take a seventh-round flyer on Myrick.
Last season, he was able to register a block on an extra point attempt that was returned for a score. After the season, he was cut by the team. He is currently back in Minnesota, now as a member of the Vikings practice squad.
7 Mike Thomas - 4.4
After catching more passes at Arizona than anyone previously, Mike Thomas was hoping to make larger contributions to the NFL. Maybe the type of contributions a player with a similar name is currently doing in New Orleans. The Jaguars selected him in the fourth round of the NFL draft, hoping he would show some of his 4.4 speed as a crucial member of the team's wide receiver corps. After four seasons with the team, he tallied up 171 catches, 1,772 yards, and seven touchdowns. He was then traded to the Detroit Lions for a fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft.
In 2017, he ran into some off-field troubles and hasn't seen an NFL field since.
6 Dri Archer - 4.26
Going into the 2014 NFL Combine, Archer was making claims that he would be the one to unseat Chris Johnson as the forty-yard dash king. It wasn't all talk either. During an unofficial timing, he apparently ran a 4.18 second time. That would put him ahead of the fabled numbers that Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders have previously claimed. Instead, Archer came just .02 seconds behind CJ2K's legendary time at 4.26 seconds.
Scouts already knew he was lightning fast, so his impressive performance didn't help his draft stock. Archer had a variety of issues that kept him from being good in the NFL. He was a 5'7" running back who weighed in at about 173 pounds. He never made the transition effectively, even trying to garner a role as the Steelers kick returner at times.
5 Tye Hill - 4.3
The St. Louis Rams took Hill 15th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft after four seasons of top-tier play at Clemson. He looked to be a shutdown corner who could keep up with anyone. During the 2006 combine Hill beat out every participant with a 4.3 seconds time.
His first game as a pro he picked off Jake Plummer of the Denver Broncos. After a promising rookie year, Hill caught the injury bug. In 2007 and 2008, he found himself finishing both seasons on injury reserve. He tried to establish roles with the Falcons, Titans, and Lions before ending his career. That was a bad situation for Hill, who looked to be a promising prospect for the Rams, he was voted the teams rookie of the year during his first season.
4 John Ross - 4.22
It's too early to say whether John Ross will be a successful NFL player or not, but it's definitely looking like the Bengals overreacted to his forty-yard dash time when they selected him 9th overall in 2017. Ross broke Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash record, clocking in at an official time of 4.22. His first season in Cincinnati resulted in zero catches. His 2018 season showed some improvement, as he caught 21 passes, with a surprising seven of them being touchdown receptions. Ross may prove to be a role player, but he's clearly not a player that should've been drafted high.
3 Tyrone Calico - 4.32
The New York Times ran an article about how Tyrone Calico was impressing a large number of scouts at the 2000 NFL Combine. In the article, it mentions how Calico is comparable to Terrell Owens, due to them both attending small schools and using the combine to vault up draft boards. Calico wasn't Terrell Owens. Calico ran a 4.32 forty-yard dash time and that was a huge factor in the Tennessee Titans selecting him in the second round. During his rookie season, he was able to catch four touchdowns.
Two things ended Calico's career prematurely. The first being a horse-collar tackle by Roy Williams in 2005. That following offseason he ran into off-field issues and was later cut by the team.
2 Yamon Figurs - 4.3
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Figurs ran a 4.3 second dash time in 2007, first at his position. The Baltimore Ravens spent a third-round pick on the Kansas State star. Figurs had an opportunity to carve out a role his rookie season when B.J. Sams suffered a season-ending injury. He served as one of the teams kick returners and as the team's punt returner for the rest of the year. The following season he did not get the chance to get regular opportunities on special teams and only caught one pass, a 43-yard touchdown catch.
After unsuccessful comebacks at making a roster, Figurs went on to start a fitness training business that seems to be going well.
1 Trindon Holliday - 4.34
Is Trindon Holliday only on this list because it allows us to bring up Pat McAfee being able to lay this forceful hit? Yes. Holiday ran an unofficial forty-yard dash time of 4.21 seconds (4.34 officially) at the NFL Combine, but that isn't stopping him from getting past the former Colts punter on this play.
Holilday never contributed to a team's wide receiver unit but did find a niche as a return specialist. During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, he was a crucial part of the team's playoff runs. In the 2013 AFC Championship game, he recorded the longest punt return in postseason history with his 90-yard return against the Baltimore Ravens.