How Fast is Too Fast? Breaking Down the NFL 40 Yard Dash

This week is the NFL Combine where players entering the 2020 draft will be testing their measurement skills to see how high they can jump or potentially drop on draft boards. It’s only Tuesday yet combine measurements for QB hand sizes came out the other day, which sparked some conversation. News broke that primed number one overall pick Joe Burrow out of LSU has a 9-inch hand measurement. For NFL standards these are smaller hands. I’m not going to go into why hand measurement doesn’t play a difference in football, but it made me start to think about another important stat that is seen as the “make it or break it” part of the combine. The 40-yard dash.

“The 40” as it’s usually referred to, is the time a certain player can run 40 yards. Simple enough, right? For certain positions, this is a very big deal, one of those positions is WR. If you watched any Eagles game this year, it wouldn’t be hard to understand why the Eagles would be in the market for one. There are a lot of great options in this year’s WR class, such as Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs, in particular, has been mentioned a lot with the Eagles for his elusive speed along with other great WR traits. It’s not just the media who thinks he’s fast he does too.

Ruggs recently stated in an interview that his goal is to be “the fastest ever”, he’s going to try and beat John Ross’s record of 4.22 back in 2017. Now, this gets into the meat of the question, does the 40 matter?

Yes, it does. Though to get more specific, does a 40 time under 4.3 matter?
With the 40 many times are considered “good”, a lot of it depends on the player’s position. For example, Lane Johnson isn’t expected to run the same time as Desean Jackson. So with that put into consideration a “good/great” time for a WR in the 40 is sub 4.4. If it’s over 4.4 that’s fine for players but they better have certain skills that can make up for it. Getting a sub 4.4 is an incredible feat, but to shave off another ten seconds from there is very hard to do. That’s why a lot of people are taken aback when a player can run a sub 4.3.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to other combines where a WR ran a sub 4.3. In 2017 as I mentioned, John Ross ran a 4.22 which skyrocketed himself to the 10th overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2013 Marquise Goodwin ran a 4.27, 2010 Jacoby Ford ran a 4.28, and 2015 J.J. Nelson ran a 4.28.

Only four players since 2006 have reached that sub 4.3 records. No wonder why people are making a big deal out of Ruggs potentially joining those ranks. Yet looking at the “ranks” of these players it’s clear to see that there is no Hall of Famers on that list. Julio Jones, Deandre Hopkins, and Micheal Thomas are absent from this list. I’m not going to trick you, they aren’t that far behind but not in the same range these players were held in. And if you’re wondering what Desean Jackson ran well that would be a 4.35.
Let’s look at the players that did make the list, starting with Jacoby Ford. You may have no idea who he is, but you may oddly remember his name recently… well that was in the XFL. Ford had a short-lived NFL career and the 40 was the highlight of it. Now looking at J.J. Nelson, who was with the Oakland Raiders the past season, only played 2 games for the silver and black. Down the list to the record setting John Ross, who has had a down NFL career riddled with injuries. The case is still out on Ross but it looks like he might be another player that will be an interesting trivia question one day. Lastly, Marquise Goodwin has a total of 13 touchdowns in his seven-year career. Goodwin was with the 49ers the past season but ended the season on IR.

That doesn’t look good. All four WRs who ran a sub 4.3 at the combine had unknown, mediocre to bad careers in the NFL. Yet the biggest difference is such, Henry Ruggs III is better than all of them. Other than Ross, all other players were taken in later rounds than the first. So all of this was for nothing?

No, because it’s important to understand what this information means before we talk about it as fans. This is to help you later this week when a player runs a very fast 40, maybe even sub 4.3 and everyone loses their minds. As a fan, I think back to all the players, all four of them, who did the same thing and how that ended.

If Henry Ruggs III runs a sub 4.3, I’m not saying he’s going to be a bust. But I am saying that if he or anyone else runs a sub 4.4 but not a 4.3, they might just be alright. Because a big part of the NFL is about patterns, and I think we are seeing one being discovered over time.

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