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NFL Scouting Combine: Speed Thrills, But Does It Last?

The 2010 NFL Scouting Combine will open its doors at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on the 24th, and players continue to prepare for the biggest job interview of their lives.

For six days, from February 24 to March 2, over 300 invitation-only players will be put through series of drills, tests and interviews with more than 600 NFL personnel watching closely, including head coaches, general managers and scouts.

The performance during the combine can significantly affect perception, draft status, salary and ultimately the career of each player. The combine has popularized the term 'workout warrior', as more and more athlete's prepare specifically to increase their measurables in an effort to boost their 'draft stock'.

The 40-yard dash is unquestionably the highlight of the event. After the jump, we’ll look at the top performers of the last 10 years in the 40-yard dash and see what became of these speed freaks: Impact players in the NFL or forever workout warriors.

Bear in mind that there is no single ‘official’ 40-yard time. Up to six different times are measured for each player. Some sources list the best time (often a manually timed stopwatch), some use an average, others use an average that is corrected for outliers and so on.

Boom or bust over 10 years of the NFL Combine

Below you’ll find the the best 40 times as documented by in all combines since 2000. I looked at each of these speed freaks’ subsequent NFL career and slotted each player into one of three categories: BOOM (lived up to his speed in the NFL), BUST (no way) or BORDERLINE (jury still out).

The criteria I used to categorize these players is a rough estimation of whether a particular player has panned out, given both the speed displayed at the combine and the round the player was drafted in. Key thoughts:

Speed is a 50/50 proposition. Of the 34 fastest players, I classified 15 as booms, 12 as busts and 7 as borderline.

Unhealthy fixation on speed. Oakland has drafted 7 of the 34 fastest players of the last decade. In other words, the Raiders have grabbed 20% of the fastest players of the last 10 years. Only three of those seven have been impact players for them (so far).

Speed isn't everything. If you have speed but lack some other aspect deemed prototypical for your position (e.g. Mike Thomas, 4.30 dash but merely 5'8" tall), you may still get drafted, but most likely not in the early rounds.

Are players getting faster? If we take 4.33 seconds as the barrier for a truly fast player in the last decade, here is how the top 34 players of the decade stack up by year:

Players running 4.33 or lower in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine

'00 '01 '02 '03 '04 '05 '06 '07 '08 '09
No. of players
0 2 2 1 2 6 3 3 7 8

Clearly players have been posting better times recently, but this may very well be a result of the the conditions they are performing on. Before 2005, the RCA Dome had an AstroTurf surface. In 2005, FieldTurf was installed at the RCA Dome. Last year, the combine moved to the new Lucas Oil Stadium, which also has FieldTurf.

Combine, Combine on the wall, who's the fastest of them all, and did they later thrive or fall?

Fastest 40-yard dash times of the last decade

Rank 40-yard time Name Pos Year Drafted Team Comments Verdict
1 4.24 Chris Johnson RB 2008 1st CAR Pro Bowl, All Pro Boom
2 4.25 D. Heyward-Bey WR 2009 1st OAK 9 receptions in 2009 Bust
3 4.27 Stanford Routt CB 2005 2nd OAK 2nd string CB Borderline
4 4.28 Jerome Mathis WR 2005 4th HOU Pro Bowl, All pro in 1st season as KR. Career ended due to injury Boom
5 4.28 Mike Wallace WR 2009 3rd Pit 756 yards receiving in 2009 Boom
6 4.29 Fabian Washington CB 2005 1st OAK Solid Starting CB for OAK & BAL Boom
7 4.29 D. R.- Cromartie CB 2008 4th ARI Pro Bowl Boom
8 4.29 Johnny Knox WR 2009 5th CHI 527 yards in 2009 Boom
9 4.30 Darrent Williams CB 2005 2nd DEN Killed in shooting after 2nd season Boom
10 4.30 Yamon Figurs WR 2007 3rd BAL One good year as return specialist. Now on OAK PS. Borderline
11 4.30 Mike Thomas WR 2009 4th JAC 3rd WR, 453 yards Boom
12 4.31 Santana Moss WR 2001 1st NYJ Pro Bowl Boom
13 4.31 Aaron Lockett WR 2002 7th TB Did not make 53-man roster Bust
14 4.31 Michael Waddell CB 2004 4th TEN Briefly used as a return man Bust
15 4.31 Johnathan Joseph CB 2006 1st CIN One of the best NFL CBs Boom
16 4.31 Justin King CB 2008 4th STL Injured 1st season, 2nd string CB. Borderline
17 4.31 Tyvon Branch CB 2008 4th OAK Starter at SS in 2nd year Boom
18 4.31 Tiquan Underwood WR 2009 7th JAC Initially on PS, now 4th WR Borderline
19 4.31 Deon Butler WR 2009 3rd SEA 15 receptions, 175 yards Bust
20 4.32 Tim Carter WR 2002 2nd NYG 81 passes caught over 7 NFL seasons with 4 teams Bust
21 4.32 Kevin Garrett CB 2003 5th STL Limited role as ST player Bust
22 4.32 Chris McKenzie CB 2005 UFA HOU Saw limited action in 3 NFL games Bust
23 4.32 Troy Williamson WR 2005 1st MIN Better known for dropped passes than receiving yards Bust
24 4.32 Chad Jackson WR 2006 2nd NE Career cut short by injuries Bust
25 4.32 Tim Jennings CB 2006 2nd IND So-So CB, much ridiculed by Colts fans Borderline
26 4.32 Jason Hill WR 2007 3rd SF 3rd string WR Borderline
27 4.32 Chris Houston CB 2007 2nd ATL Starting CB Boom
28 4.32 Orlando Scandrick CB 2008 5th DAL 3rd corner Boom
29 4.32 Louis Murphy WR 2009 4th OAK 521 yards receiving in 1st year Boom
30 4.33 Chris Chambers WR 2001 2nd MIA Pro Bowl Boom
31 4.33 Carlos Francis WR 2004 4th OAK Limited action in one season as KR Bust
32 4.33 Darren McFadden RB 2008 1st OAK $60.1 million contract produced 856 rushing yards in 2 seasons Bust
33 4.33 Dexter Jackson WR 2008 2nd TB Limited action as KR and waived after first year Bust
34 4.33 Chris Clemons FS 2009 5th MIA 2nd string SS Borderline

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