How Much Does Speed Truly Matter?

Speed kills. Have you ever heard those two words together while watching a game? I’m sure you have. Of course, this catch-phrase was originally used to describe the devastating results of recklessly speeding on roadways. Conversely, when sports commentators use this phrase, they are specifically referring to the game-changing nature of speed at the skill positions, especially when combined with other genetic and acquired abilities, such as reliable hands, ball security, work ethic, and intelligence. To be sure, speed can never measure a player’s passion to be the best, and herein lies the true complexity of evaluating a prospect.

With that being said, I thought it would be appropriate to examine the most over-hyped exercise of the combine: the forty yard dash. Let’s start by taking a look at the four fastest forty times that have been recorded after the introduction of the more accurate electronic timing system in 1999, and the names behind them. Each player will be given a label of stud, dud, or to be determined, according to how good or bad they have played since joining the ranks of the elite in the NFL.

4.24 WR Rondell Melendez

Dud

RB Chris Johnson

Stud

4.28 CB Demarcus Van Dyke

TBD

CB Champ Bailey

Stud

WR Jerome Mathis

Dud

WR Jacoby Ford

Stud

4.29 RB Jay Hinton

Dud

WR Trindon Holiday

Dud

CB Stanford Routt

Stud

CB Fabian Washington

TBD- Mostly a dud.

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Stud

4.30 WR Yamon Figurs

Dud

WR Darius Heyward-Bay

TBD

CB Darent Williams

Stud- Shot to death after second season.

The breakdown goes something like this: 6 studs, 5 duds, and 3 tbd. Even though this small study lacks a complete answer to this riddle, it does tell us that speed alone can never be singularly trusted. However, I’ll be the first to tell you that witnessing the explosive speed of some of these prospects can be a thing of beauty to watch. In fact, when the total speed of one team is greater than that of another, the game can open up possibilities that the slower (least fast) team can only imagine. But this can only go so far. For example, the Oakland Raiders have been fixated on drafting the fastest players at their respective positions for many years now, and have little to show for this obsession.

Honestly, one of the many reasons why I love football so much is the fact that there’s a symmetry and sophistication about the game that can never be overrun(pun intended) by speed alone. While electrifying speed can change the dynamics of what a team can ultimately accomplish, it can also potentially kill the success of an organization if it becomes the primary focus when evaluating draft prospects. Moreover, if you were to ask any successful scout or general manager to name the number one conundrum when examining a draft prospect, I am certain that speed would be many spots below the most important consideration of all: what is inside the heart of a man. This is where the answers can truly be found.

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