The 40 Yard Dash Is Overrated


It is. I’m sorry to all you speed freaks out there (Al Davis, I’m looking at you), but the 40 does not translate well at all to NFL success. It’s unfortunate that still today, a tenth of a second can be the difference between millions of dollars. Yet, every year the 40 yard dash is always the glamour baby, the event that everyone out there wants to see. It’s like a driver’s test. You have to do it, have to pass it, but once it’s over, you’ll never use it again.

With the NFL Combine coming to an end, today is the day for NFL teams, scouts, and the experts to start reviewing times. Whose draft stock is rising? Whose draft stock is falling? Who just catapulted into the first round by running a faster than expected 40?

Let’s be honest here. How often in the NFL does a player run straight 40 yards, without having to stop, pivot, or in some way make a defender miss? Rarely, at best. The better (and for some reason, completely forgotton) measure of a player’s speed, is their 10 yard split. A 10-yard split measures the short-area burst of an NFL prospect and allows scouts to determine if the prospect is a two-stepper (a player who can get up to full speed in two steps) or a strider (a player who needs to hit full stride to reach his top speed). Basically, for a running back, it’s how fast they can reach the first-down marker.

Every year though, the 10 yard split goes completely unnoticed by the general public, being overshadowed by its evil, ugly stepsister, the 40 yard dash. Lynn Swann, Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice are just three of best NFL players of all-time. What else do they have in common? They all sank to the bottom of the 1st round because of sub-par 40’s.

Jabari Greer was a standouu track athlete and football player at the University of Tennessee. Leading up the draft, at his pro day he ran a 4.37 40. However, he struggled at the combine, running a 4.5. Greer waited on draft day to hear his name called, but never did. He went undrafted, and signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2004. After spending four years playing mostly nickel and dime back and on special teams, Greer signed a four year contract worth 23 millions dollars with the New Orleans Saints  and won the Super Bowl.

The truth of it is, you can’t see true football skill by running drills. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin both ran over 4.5 at their combine. Running fast may be nice, but you need to be able to read defenses, catch the ball, and have good release as well. Just ask Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oh wait, he’s probably too busy bathing in the pile of money he recieved from Al Davis for running a 4.25 in 2009.)

What’s Rondel Melendez up to these days? (Who?) He’s the WR from Eastern Kentucky who is tied for the fastest 40 in combine history (since the use of electronic timing was introduced in 1999) at 4.24. He never caught a pass in the NFL. How about Jerome Mathis, who ran a 4.28 in 2005. In his three year career, he caught all of six passes.

Now, I am aware that for every Rondel Melendez, for every Darrius Heyward-Bey, there is a speedster like Chris Johnson, who used to speed to jump from a mid-third rounder, to a late first rounder. But you really believe that the Titans drafted Johnson, solely based on his speed? You think they didn’t look at his field awareness, his vision, and his burst? His speed was just an added bonus.

Teams that draft blindly based on 40 times are teams that end up with constant losing seasons. Teams that take the time and have the intelligence to look at other intangibles are the teams that we see in the Super Bowl year in and year out. The 40 yard dash is not completely useless, but I leave you with this advice:

Take your 40 yard dash with a grain of salt.