Evaluating the 40 yard dash

Written by Shane Hallam on February 21, 2010

One of the most debated aspects of the predraft process is the 40 yard dash. At the NFL draft combine starting on February 27th, over 300 prospects will run on the track at Lucas Oil Stadium to show off their straight line speed. The result will be a sharp increase in numerous stocks and a decline in others. Why do two runs in February completely change the perception of three to four years of tape? The utilization of the 40 yard dash has come under much criticism in recent years of how scouts and General Managers utilize a number to choose one player over another who has been more productive throughout his college career. That being said, there are definite ways to analyze 40 times to learn more about prospects.

How does a 40 yard dash help scouts?

The most important aspect of the 40 is that it places all prospects on a level playing field to test straight line speed. No matter if a player went to Hillsdale, Rice, or Florida, this type of test gives scouts a quantifiable number to equal the playing field. Take for example Pro Bowl rookie Johnny Knox who came out of Abilene Christian. It was pretty obvious from watching the tape that Knox was playing at a higher level than his opponents. He was bigger, faster and stronger than the defenders at Tarleton State and Northwest Missouri State. But how did scouts know if that speed would translate at the NFL level? Was he a rare prospect in terms of speed or did he simply have middle of the road speed that looked better on film? When Johnny Knox ran a 4.34 at the combine last year, it validated the scouts that loved his film. It shows that he was faster than Penn State’s Derrick Williams or Florida’s Louis Murphy. It leveled the playing field, rose Knox’s stock, and allowed the Bears to make a more informed decision. An even bigger example is Tennessee Titan RB Chris Johnson. At the time of the pick, most criticized Titans General Manager Mike Reinfeldt for the pick since he made a major mistake on a similar runner the year before (more on that later). Chris Johnson came out of East Carolina University and put up over 1400 yards and 17 TDs his Senior year. Many didn’t think his body would hold up in the NFL or that his speed was no more than a Reggie Bush or Julius Jones type of runner. But when Johnson came out with a 4.24 and a faster 40 time than highly touted runner Darren McFadden, Johnson vaulted himself into the first round. All he has done is rushed for over 3,200 yards in only two seasons of work. The 40 time can be a useful tool in identifying these prospects who aren’t from major programs and compare them to those we see play against the “big boys.” Even with some bigger name prospects who look slower on film but run a fast 40 time, coaches know the ceiling of the players speed. If a Strength and Conditioning Coach can help these players hit their max speed in pads, then the sky is the limit. It is only one piece of the puzzle, but as speed becomes more of a factor in the NFL, the 40 yard dash will have a large impact on the draft process.

When can you use the 40 yard dash TOO much?

Many people criticize scouts and GMs for taking these 40 numbers and massively moving a players stock based solely on these two runs at the combine. If a scout has watched four years of tape, held interviews, and seen the player at All-Star games, should scouts use the 40 time to exponentially increase or decrease the stock of a player? Probably not. In 2007, the Tennessee Titans drafted an unknown player named Chris Henry out of Arizona in the 2nd round. Henry was a back-up running back for the Wildcats who didn’t even notch 1,000 yards total in his three years of play. Why was he drafted so high then? 40 time. Henry posted a 4.33 at the combine that year, which was faster than Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch. The Titan’s fell in love with the speed and drafted a player with no blocking skills or vision. Two years later, Chris Henry is out of the league and the Titans would make a wiser decision the next year. It would be remiss to not mention the wide receiver situation last year. Darius Heyward-Bey was a fringe first round pick based on high upside and athleticism. After posting a 4.30 at the combine, Heyward-Bey began to endear himself to the teams, specifically Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders. We all know the story by now, the Raiders at #7 passed on top WR prospect Michael Crabtree for Heyward-Bey and if his rookie year is any indication, the outlook is not bright. It seems that when teams drastically increase a player’s value while ignoring tape, the results could be dire.

How should the 40 time be used?

The 40 time needs to be used as a conservative measure to validate the tape scouts are seeing and answer questions about speed for prospects where questions still remain. It can be used to open eyes about new prospects, but should not be used to overvalue a prospect. Also, when comparing 40 times from the present to years past, remember that the site of the combine has changed. Last year was the first year at the new Lucas Oil Stadium and the track seemed to be a little bit slower than it was in the RCA Dome. Keep this in mind when looking at the 40 times below for my predictions of this year’s times. Hopefully General Managers and scouts will take in all the information and make the most informed decisions for their franchises.

2010 Combine 40 Yard Dash Predictions

*Note: predictions based on game tape, Lucas Oil track speed, and previous year’s results

Sam Bradford – 4.82
Jarrett Brown – 4.51
Daryll Clark – 4.57
Jimmy Clausen – *will not run the 40*
Armanti Edwards – 4.49
Mike Kafka – 4.61
Dan LeFevour – 4.66
Colt McCoy – 4.75
Tony Pike – 4.92
Jevan Snead – 4.95
Tim Tebow – 4.72

Running Back:
Jahvid Best – 4.40
LeGarrette Blount – 4.58
Anthony Dixon – 4.65
Jonathan Dwyer – 4.56
Toby Gerhart – 4.60
Montario Hardesty – 4.55
Trindon Holiday – 4.34
Stafon Johnson – 4.49
Ryan Matthews – 4.45
Dexter McCluster – 4.42
Joe McKnight – 4.41
C.J. Spiller – 4.37
Ben Tate – 4.51
Keith Toston – 4.53

Wide Receivers:
Danario Alexander – *will not run*
Arrelious Benn – 4.43
Dezmon Briscoe – 4.58
Dez Bryant – 4.39
Riley Cooper – 4.42
Eric Decker *Will not run*
Jacoby Ford – 4.36
Mardy Gilyard – 4.45
Brandon LaFell – 4.52
Taylor Price – 4.40
Andre Roberts – 4.55
Jordan Shipley – 4.47
Golden Tate – 4.53
Demaryius Thomas – *Will not run*
Blair White – 4.54
Damian Williams – 4.50
Jeremy Williams – 4.49
Mike Williams – 4.46

Tight Ends:
Nate Byham – 4.78
Dorin Dickerson – 4.66
Ed Dickson – 4.71
Garrett Graham – 4.68
Jimmy Graham – 4.63
Jermaine Gresham – 4.70
Ron Gronkowski – 4.75
Aaron Hernandez – 4.65
Michael Hoomanawanui – 4.80
Anthony McCoy – 4.73
Dennis Pitta – 4.72
Andrew Quarles – 4.76

Offensive Line:
Ciron Black – 5.51
Charles Brown – 5.12
Bryan Bulaga – 5.16
Bruce Campbell – 5.07
Selvish Capers – 5.25
Anthony Davis – 5.23
Vladimir Ducasse – 5.28
Mike Iupati – 5.31
Mike Johnson – 5.35
Russell Okung – 5.32
Maurkice Pouncey – 5.41
Rodger Saffold – 5.37
Jared Veldheer – 5.02
Ed Wang – 5.48
Trent Williams – 5.35

Defensive Line:
Tyson Alualu – 4.93
Alex Carrington – 4.87
Terrence Cody – 5.48
Jermaine Cunningham – 4.81
Carlos Dunlap – 4.75
Junior Galette – 4.73
Thaddeus Gibson – 4.72
Brandon Graham – 4.90
Everson Griffen – 4.81
Greg Hardy – 4.95
Jerry Hughes – 4.93
Arthur Jones – 4.97
Sergio Kindle – 4.81
Gerald McCoy – 4.94
Koa Misi – 4.78
Derrick Morgan – 4.75
Jared Odrick – 4.91
Jason Pierre-Paul – 4.69
Brian Price – 5.01
Ricky Sapp – 4.69
George Selvie – 4.89
Ndamukong Suh – 4.95
Dan Williams – 5.05
Linsey Witten – 4.90
Corey Wootton – 4.99
Jason Worilds – 4.84

Pat Angerer – 4.86
Navorro Bowman – 4.75
Donald Butler – 4.77
Rennie Curran – 4.80
Sean Lee – 4.83
Rolando McClain – 4.73
Roddrick Muckelroy – 4.79
Eric Norwood – 4.81
Brandon Spikes – 4.78
Daryl Washington – 4.75
Sean Weatherspoon – 4.78

Nate Allen – 4.54
Javier Arenas – 4.52
Larry Asante – 4.58
Eric Berry – 4.48
Morgan Burnett – 4.56
Chris Chancellor – 4.58
Kam Chancellor – 4.62
Perrish Cox – 4.54
Dominique Franks – 4.49
Brandon Ghee – 4.51
Joe Haden – 4.46
Kareem Jackson – 4.49
Chad Jones – 4.47
Reshad Jones – 4.58
Myron Lewis – 4.50
Trevard Lindley – 4.60
Taylor Mays – 4.45
Kyle McCarthy – 4.55
Devin McCourty – 4.47
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah – 4.50
Patrick Robinson – 4.48
Myron Rolle – 4.58
Amari Spievey – 4.52
Earl Thomas – 4.51
Syd’Quan Thompson – 4.55
Alterraun Verner – 4.57
Donovan Warren – 4.53
Kyle Wilson – 4.44
Major Wright – 4.52

Shane Hallam

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