There are many drills held to assess prospects at the NFL Combine, but none of them have the mystique or cultural cache of the 40 yard dash. Strength, agility and intelligence are all crucial ingredients to NFL success, but speed is both quantifiable and easily visible in a way that separates it from other criteria. The top 40 yard times reveal a mix of Hall of Fame players or future Hall of Fame entrants and one-season wonders or prospects who fizzled out, so the 40 yard dash is clearly not a reliable indicator of future success. It will nevertheless remain a topic of discussion, a highlight for fans and a source of excitement.
In 2000, the NFL began officially timing the 40 yard dash with electronic equipment to ensure exact measurements, a welcome advancement for players, talent evaluators and fans alike. This list, however, will include hand-recorded times measuring back before the change to electronics, as well as times recorded at college pro days, rather than solely those from the NFL Combine. The times recorded in earlier eras include room for human error, which some may feel tarnish the purity of the list, but I feel that it is important to include them. Removing any times before the 2000 change ignores a rich collection of NFL history, and implies that sports history that cannot be scientifically verified is irrelevant. While unreliable legends of 3.9 second 40 yard dashes should be given little respect, the older times on this list were recorded by NFL officials or scouts and were the basis for teams' decisions on draft days. Questions should be asked about the exact veracity of the older numbers, and a measure of doubt when reviewing them is not only understandable, but helpful. The times nonetheless stand as testaments to the athletic ability of the players who ran to record those times, and deserve to be known and remembered by football fans.
19 T19. James Jett (1993), Stanford Routt (2005), Devin Hester (2006), Darren McFadden (2008), Trindon Holliday (2010), Jacoby Ford (2010), Marquise Goodwin (2013), 4.27 seconds
Former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis coveted the fastest players in every draft, and drafted four of the seven players mentioned above (Jett, Routt, McFadden and Ford). Jett, a wide receiver who played his entire nine year career with the Raiders, had even won an Olympic gold medal at Barcelona as a member of the US 4x100m relay team, one year before being drafted.
18 Dri Archer (2014), 4.26 seconds
17 T15. Jerome Mathis (2005), 4.25 seconds
16 T15. Michael Vick (2001), 4.25 seconds
15 T15. Randy Moss (1998), 4.25 seconds
14 T12. Taylor Mays (2010), 4.24 seconds
13 T12. Chris Johnson (2008), 4.24 seconds
12 T12. Rondel Melendez (1999), 4.24 seconds
Unfortunately for the Eastern Kentucky wide receiver, Melendez's 40 yard dash time remains the highlight of his career. He was drafted in the seventh round, 247th overall, by the Atlanta Falcons, but never played in the NFL.
11 Willie Parker (2004), 4.23 seconds
10 Donte Stallworth (2002), 4.22 seconds
9 T7. Don Beebe (1989), 4.21 seconds
8 T7. Kevin Curtis (2003), 4.21 seconds
7 T7. Deion Sanders, 4.21 seconds
6 Joey Galloway, 4.18 seconds
5 Ahman Green (1998), 4.17 seconds
4 Darrell Green (1983), 4.15 seconds
3 Alexander Wright (1990), 4.14 seconds
2 Michael Bennett (2001), 4.13 seconds
1 Bo Jackson (1986), 4.12 seconds
After winning the Heisman Trophy at Auburn and putting up the best 40 yard dash time ever, he was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Jackson refused to sign with them as they desired for him to sacrifice his baseball career. He was re-selected in the seventh round by the LA Raiders in 1987, and served as an electrifying running back for the team from 1987-1990. His 221 rushing yards on November 30, 1987 still stands as a Monday Night Football record. A serious hip injury in the 1990 NFL playoffs led him to decide to retire from football to focus on baseball, but he remains the only athlete to be named as an All-Star in multiple major American sports.
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