The annual National Football League Scouting Combine has become a yearly television event that fans look forward to, in some cases as much as they await the NFL Draft, and the combine is but one reason why the modern-day NFL has no real offseason. That will become even more true in the not-too-distant future if the rumored plan of moving Super Bowl Sunday back a few weekends on a calendar to President’s Day Sunday is to take place, perhaps before the end of the decade, which would eliminate the multi-week gap that currently separates the final football game of every season from the combine.
One part of the NFL Combine, perhaps the most anticipated drill that occurs during the four-day event, is the 40-yard dash, a sprint that players on both sides of the football are asked to complete. History has shown that, while some quarterbacks and linebackers are capable of posting impressive 40-yard dash times, it is wide receivers, cornerbacks and running backs that routinely post the best times every February. That was again the case in 2015, when one to-be NFL rookie came less than half of a second of posting the best overall 40-yard dash time in the history of the NFL Combine.
As you will see in this list, a player putting up an eye-popping NFL Combine time does not always translate to that individual having any amount of success in pro football. Speed only means so much, even when speaking about a football player who is an elite athlete, and thus some of the best NFL Combine 40-yard dash times have become more forgettable marks who belong to names many of us never knew in the first place. Take, for example, the man recognized by the NFL for posting a time that has only been equaled by one other player. His pro career ended before it ever had a real chance to begin.
15. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: 4.30 seconds in 2009
Heyward-Bey has bounced around the NFL over the years. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, and the speedster who doesn’t have the best hands that pro football has ever seen moved on to the Indianapolis Colts in the spring of 2013. Heyward-Bey then linked up with the Pittsburgh Steelers a year after he had signed for the Colts. Now set to be a free agent, the Steelers have not, as of the posting of this piece, re-signed Heyward-Bey for the 2015 campaign. While he does have elite speed, Heyward-Bey has never shown any signs of becoming a superstar NFL player.
14. CB Darrent Williams/CB Tye Hill/WR Yamon Figurs: All 4.30 seconds
Figurs failed to make a name for himself in the NFL or in the Canadian Football League after he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Hill, a track and field star, was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and he was last a member of a NFL franchise in 2012. The Williams story ended in tragedy on January 1, 2007 when he was the victim of a drive-by shooting only hours after he had taken the field as a member of the Denver Broncos.
13. CB Josh Robinson: 4.29 seconds in 2012
The product of the University of Central Florida was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and he had his best pro season to date in 2014. Robinson picked off a career-best three passes for Minnesota last season, and he appeared in all of Minnesota’s regular season contests for the second time in his career. Robinson was given a chance to return kicks and punts during his rookie campaign, but he has not since done so for the Vikings in regular season play. It is expected that Robinson will once again feature for the Vikings in 2015.
12. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: 4.29 seconds in 2008
Rodgers-Cromartie is responsible for one of the more successful NFL careers among the players featured in this piece. He was selected by the Arizona Cardinals back in the 2008 NFL Draft, where he and the Cardinals won the NFC Championship during his rookie season. Rodgers-Cromartie went on to be named to the Pro Bowl squad for 2009, and he then won his second conference championship, this time while with the Denver Broncos, for the 2013 season. Both of his trips to the Super Bowl saw him on the wrong side of the scoreline, and he will now be hoping to win a title while with the New York Giants.
11. CB Fabian Washington: 4.29 seconds in 2005
Washington was picked by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, where he stayed for only three years until he allegedly requested a trade. Oakland moved the cornerback to the Baltimore Ravens, where he failed to appear in all 16 games of any regular season over three years. His last regular season action came during the 2010 campaign with the Ravens, and a short stint with the New Orleans Saints ended with Washington being placed on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury. He is now seen as a former NFL player.
10. CB DeMarcus Van Dyke: 4.28 seconds in 2011
Van Dyke was acquired by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, where he made 14 appearances before he and the club parted ways the following year. He has since spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Van Dyke is now set to enter training camp with the Minnesota Vikings. Van Dyke was a star of the NFL Combine only a few years ago, but he will have to impress the Vikes if he is to know that he will have a job in the league past the summer months.
9. WR J.J. Nelson: 4.28 seconds in 2015
The 2014 NFL Draft will be remembered for the many standout wide receivers who were in that class, and Nelson and also several others will be hoping to replicate that in 2015. Nelson put on a show at this past edition of the NFL Combine, posting what was officially the fastest 40-yard dash time of the four-day event. Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin were just three rookie wide receivers who had noteworthy years in 2014, and all three displayed superstar capabilities. Could Nelson be the next big play-maker at the position? We shall see.
8. WR Jacoby Ford: 4.28 seconds in 2010
Ford is yet another example of a young speedster failing to be a hit for the Oakland Raiders. He spent four NFL campaigns with the club that drafted him out of Clemson, and Ford then failed to land a gig for the 2014 season. The Tennessee Titans decided to take a flier on Ford in January 2015, where he may get an opportunity to return kicks/punts with his new club. Ford is unquestionably going to have an uphill road to climb, as the memory of him putting on a show at the NFL Combine faded away some time ago.
7. CB Champ Bailey: 4.28 seconds in 1999
Bailey is, to date, the ultimate success story among the players showcased in this list, one of the top cornerbacks of his generation who officially retired as a member of the Denver Broncos, the team where he spent the majority of his career, in the fall of 2014. Bailey was a hit right from the start of his NFL days, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. In all, Bailey was named to twelve total Pro Bowl squads, and he was a nine-time All-Pro. Bailey is seen as one of the best defensive players in the history of the Broncos franchise, and he will one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
6. WR Marquise Goodwin: 4.27 seconds in 2013
What Goodwin will or will not be as an NFL player has yet to be determined. He was picked up by the Buffalo Bills in the 2013 NFL Draft, where Goodwin has spent his two years in the league. Goodwin has, in total, appeared in 22 regular season games for the Bills, and he has been used as a wide receiver, as a returner for kickoffs and for punts, and even as a weapon in the team’s rushing attack. The speedster who is also an accomplished track and field athlete has been labeled as being injury prone, and there are whispers that the Bills may cut ties on Goodwin this offseason.
5. CB Stanford Routt: 4.27 seconds in 2005
The Oakland Raiders spent a second-round pick to grab Routt in the 2005 NFL Draft, and Routt played for that franchise up through the conclusion of the 2011 season. Routt had ten total interceptions throughout his Oakland career, one of which was taken to the house for a touchdown. The Raiders and Routt parted ways in early 2012, however, and the cornerback has not played in a regular season game since he appeared for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012. There were rumors years ago that the Dallas Cowboys were looking at acquiring the quick cornerback, but such a deal never happened.
4. RB Dri Archer: 4.26 seconds in 2014
Archer wowed at the 2014 NFL Combine, clocking in the second-fastest 40-yard dash time ever among running backs. The Pittsburgh Steelers used a third-round pick to grab Archer last spring, but he was largely a non-factor in his first season in the NFL. Those within the Steelers reportedly have hope that Archer will be able to evolve into at least a usable offensive weapon, although there are concerns that he is merely a top-tier athlete who will not be able to “get it” in the NFL. What Pittsburgh must first do is learn just what role Archer can play in the team’s offense.
3. WR Jerome Mathis: 4.26 seconds in 2005
The Houston Texans were hoping to get good value for a fourth-round pick when the club grabbed Mathis in the 2005 NFL Draft. Things started out well enough for player and for club, as Mathis was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie campaign. He would never again reach such heights in the NFL, however, as injuries and also an ugly incident involving his common-law wife who was pregnant at the time resulted in the Texans cutting the wide receiver following the 2007 season. Mathis would go on to have stints in the Canadian Football League and also in Arena League Football.
2. RB Chris Johnson: 4.24 seconds in 2008
One of only two players to officially clock in at under 4.25 seconds at a NFL Combine, CJ2K has had an up-and-down career since being drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2008. Johnson has been named to Pro Bowl squads on three occasions, and he was the 2009 NFL Offensive Player of the Year after he rushed for over 2,000 yards. Johnson has never again even flirted with the 2,000-yard mark, however, and he signed with the New York Jets before the 2014 season. That experiment lasted only one season, but it is expected that Johnson will get nibbles from other NFL teams in free agency.
1. WR Rondel Menendez: 4.24 seconds in 1999
Menendez is now the answer to a NFL trivia question and not much more 16 years after he made history by being the first player to go under 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash at an NFL Combine. By his own accounts that were posted in this Deadspin article from February 2015, Menendez suffered a torn meniscus in the final pre-season game of 1999, and that was the start of the end of a career that is barely remembered even by die-hard football fans. Menendez attempted to make a comeback through NFL Europe, but his physical shape along with the health of his mother put an end to that.
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