40 Speed is an over hyped factor.
By Bill Smith
Speed kills, at least that is what we heard in drivers education. Speed can also kill the chances of some players to improve their draft position. While it can be important in some positions, the 40 speed is totally useless in the analysis of most NFL prospects for the draft.
The 40 time is important for WR and most CB but not as important as many think. For the WR, speed is a weapon to get open. But it is only one weapon, not the entire arsenal. Most of the very best WRs were not burners. They got open by use of great route running, knowledge of the opponent, great use of guile—fakes, and misdirection and could really catch the ball. A well known joke around the league is there is a good reason some players are DBs and not WR—THEY CAN’T CATCH.
Several track stars have tried their luck at the NFL with very little impact. Even if the track guys could get out into the pattern and away from press coverage, they usually couldn’t catch the ball. The outlawing of “stick-em” further reduced the chances of several track stars becoming WRs.
The importance of speed to a CB is inversely proportional to the CB’s experience and instincts. A green CB with average instincts needs what is known as catch up speed to make up for mistakes in coverage. The less distance between a man to man cover corner and the WR the less catch up speed is required. If you never get very far from the WR you’re covering, you don’t need catch up speed as badly.
The growth of “Tampa 2 zone” (2 deep) defenses around the league reduces the need for 4.4 second 40 times for the corner. In the 2 deep zone, the CB turns deep routes over to a safety behind him. He needs only to cover a certain area and anyone that ventures into his area. Zone CBs are usually selected more for their tackling ability and defense against the run than 40 speed.
The 40 time of running backs is somewhat significant. If a back is particularly fast like Chris Johnson from East Carolina was last year, it can push a player up a round or two. Likewise, if a small back is very slow, it will push him down a round or 2. But on the whole, the jump step, vision, lower leg power, and heart are much more important than a couple of tenths of a second in the 40.
The Combine has changed a lot over the last 20 years. One of the most significant changes has been in the way that the speed of players is measured. For almost every other position on the field, it is the 10 yard speed that is critical and not the 40. If you have a 300+ pound offensive lineman having to run 40 yards regularly, you either have a great ground game breaking long runs or your QB is throwing a lot of interceptions.
The key to a pass rush for both D linemen and linebackers is the 10 yard time. It is the best measure of the first step speed. The quicker a player can get out of a 3 point stance and get 10 yards, the better they will be at getting around the corner to pressure a QB.
The 10 yard time will also indicate who comes out low (faster) and who stands up (slower) before taking or as he takes the first step. This is critical to both O and D lineman because the fast man-low man gets leverage on the opponent. That is critical in blocking and rushing the passer.
So as you watch the 10 or so replays of the Combine coverage on the NFL Network or review the results of the combine in the Sporting News, remember, speed kills only if applied incorrectly.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .
My email is [email protected]