While the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, was notorious for signing fast players, often prioritizing quickness over football fundamentals, speed is arguably the most lethal weapon in football.
A team’s fastest player will usually be their running back, wide receiver or cornerback, but with the up-tempo game the NFL has become, speed is important at nearly every position. Tight ends are expected to be faster. Linebackers are expected to be faster. Defensive ends have to be quicker to rush the passer and chase down ball-carriers. Speed will be a factor in nearly every player’s assessed value by teams.
The fastest players in college will get the most attention, and the grand audition for players entering the league takes place at the NFL Combine. The NFL Combine gives all players a chance to showcase their athletic abilities so teams may evaluate them on their draft board. The most popular portion of the Combine (and a fan favourite) is the 40-yard dash. Running times make teams think twice about who they want. If you’re a fast player, you’re likely to be productive and explosive. Teams will covet those players, and their wallets will benefit, although it will not always pan out as football is about a lot more than speed.
Here are the 10 fastest 40-yard dashes in NFL history and how those players have been compensated for something that can’t be taught: speed. These are players who have run the 40-yard dash since electronic timing was implemented in 2000.
10. Darrius Heyward-Bey – WR – 4.30 seconds
Darrius Heyward-Bey is by no means a star player in the NFL. He’s never been anywhere near the top of the league in receptions, receiving yards or touchdowns. Yet every football fan knows who he is. Why? Well, his 4.30 second 40-yard dash made quite a scene, and that propelled him to the top of Al Davis’s big board in 2009. He was taken seventh overall by the Raiders in that draft. He was the first wide receiver picked that year and his speed was the reason why.
That speed prompted the Raiders to sign him to a five-year $38 million deal, including $23.5 million guaranteed. Heyward-Bey was released earlier this year by the Raiders, as he never quite became the explosive difference maker Oakland had hoped for. In his four seasons in silver and black, Heyward-Bey accumulated 140 receptions for 2,380 yards and 11 touchdowns. In other words, for the $23.5 million guaranteed, that comes up to about $168,000 per catch!
The Colts signed Heyward-Bey to a one-year, $3 million deal this year. He has 29 catches for the Colts, with 309 yards and one score. Speed pays off!
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