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Importance of the 40-yard dash

Players, coaches and evaluators often dismiss the 40 -- but don't dismiss the outliers

Originally Published: March 1, 2011
By Chris Sprow | ESPN Insider

INDIANAPOLIS -- Nobody ever runs his best 40-yard dash here. Nobody. And they are all happy to tell you why.

"It's the setup," one player grumbled. He will be among the top 10 picks in April's NFL draft but was in no mood to consider it as he walked alone through the halls of the convention center, away from Lucas Oil Stadium, his NFL: Men in Tights outfit bound for a hotel floor. "They keep you up all night, ask a ton of questions, wake you up early -- then expect you to work out great."

Earlier that morning, he'd propelled his massive frame to a 40 time of about five seconds, which is more impressive than the number implies. Weighing in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, within 25 yards, he'd accelerated to 20 miles an hour.

If you consider well-researched but unofficial lists such as this, which seemingly dot the Web, you'd conclude that 40 times are actually very indicative of future NFL greatness.

But even restricting that list to players timed after the advent of electronic timing 12 years ago points to a trend. Nine players have run sub-4.3 40s in that time: Five went in the first round, four (Champ Bailey, Chris Johnson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jerome Mathis) are Pro Bowlers and two (Bailey and Johnson) are stars and potential Hall of Fame talents. Others, such as Jacoby Ford and even Darrius Heyward-Bey, have shown flashes. In a league where the average career is just more than three years, eight of the nine are still playing -- even in a small sample, it's eye-opening.

The bottom line is that, as one GM said, "Maybe it gets overhyped a little in terms of value, but nobody ignores the long end of the tail, guys that are just way out there. That just says 'athlete.'" Adds a scout, "Every year the consensus is the forty gets too much hype. Then every year, two months later at the draft a kid goes high and we all say, 'Hard to ignore that forty number.'" Paul Brown created a monster, one perhaps too easy to dismiss.

Since team personnel are watching through that prism, and admittedly affected by it, here are guys in each position group who could be considered this year's outliers, or the closest thing to it, having beaten their direct peers. (And remember, outliers here need to be put in context. It can take a decade to shave a few hundredths off a record 100-meter time. So a half-tenth in the 40 -- less than half that distance -- is more significant than you'd think.) So with the help of some evaluators, let's put this weeks' into context.

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