As a football fan, the NFL draft is a really exciting time for me. One of the most important parts of the draft is the NFL Combine, essentially a workout for all invited potential draft picks. It is a chance for athletes to show how fast, strong, agile, and intelligent they are to NFL teams who may be interested in drafting them. There are always a few draftees who perform very well at the Combine and improve their draft stock.
The event that is given the most attention at the Combine is the 40 yard dash. People point out that the 40 doesn’t really tell us much about how good a player actually is at football, because after all, how often in an NFL game does a player run 40 yards straight? It is also run without pads, which doesn’t simulate an NFL game. An example of a player whose 40 time did not match his football ability is Jerry Rice. He ran a 4.71 at his combine (a poor number for an NFL wide receiver), but he is considered the best wide receiver in NFL history. They used to say that he ran a 4.71 without pads, but he also ran a 4.71 with pads. This probably gave him an advantage in speed over all the players who ran 4.5 or 4.6 in the Combine, because they were probably slowed down by their pads, unlike Jerry.
There are also athletes who perform well in the 40 yard dash and have good careers. Two players who have been drafted within the past five years who ran blazing 40 times are Chris Johnson (4.24, fastest time ever at the Combine since the use of laser timing) and CJ Spiller (4.27). These two runningbacks are among the elite in the NFL. They are capable of simply outrunning the entire defense.
A topic that comes up from time to time is who would run the fastest 40 yard dash time among non-football players. Would it be Usain Bolt? The 40 yard dash is very different from the 100m dash. The 100m is about being able to maintain your top speed for a long time, and you don’t necessarily want to get to top speed as quickly as you can, because you will slow down near the end. The 40 however, is all about exploding out of the blocks and getting to top speed as quickly as possible. This makes me think that there are other elite sprinters who would run a better 40 than Bolt. Bolt is not necessarily great out of the blocks, so I think a sprinter such as Yohan Blake might be better suited for a 40 than Bolt. And what about other pro athletes in different sports? Rajon Rondo said he wanted to race Chris Johnson in the 40 yard dash, claiming that he could run a 3.9. This is unlikely, but it does bring up an interesting debate. A quick internet search has given the names Michael Bourn (MLB), Derrick Rose (NBA), and Marvell Wynne (MLS) as the fastest players in the world in their respective sports. Marvell Wynne ran a 10.39 100m in high school.
I will end by throwing out one more name who has to be in the debate. Bo Jackson ran a 4.12 40 yard dash at his NFL combine, although it was hand timed, which tends to produce faster times because the timer has to react to the runner. Despite this, many people claim that he is the fastest player in NFL history and that no one could beat him in a 40 yard dash.