Do Fast 40-Yard Dash Times Lead Wide Receivers to NFL Success?

Sammy Watkins ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. (Photo: Brian Spurlock — USA Today Sports)

BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino

Nothing that happens during the NFL Scouting Combine receives more attention than 40-yard dash times. That is especially true at the wide receiver position, where even a difference of less than .2 seconds could mean a difference of multiple rounds.

Should 40 times make such a big difference? How much stock should teams looking for receivers put into those times when they are stacking their boards for the 2014 NFL draft?

As Scott Hanson of NFL.com said Monday, fast 40-yard dash times do not necessarily lead to NFL success.

The speed demons at the combine haven’t necessarily become great NFL receivers, but that tweet could also be misleading.

Wide receivers who ran sub-4.4 40-yard dashes at the NFL Scouting Combine from 2009-2013:

Player 40 Time Round Selected College
Darrius Heyward-Bey 4.3 1 Maryland
Mike Wallace 4.33 3 Mississippi
Johnny Knox 4.34 5 Abilene Christian
Deon Butler 4.38 3 Penn State
Jacoby Ford 4.28 4 Clemson
Edmond Gates 4.37 4 Abilene Christian
Ricardo Lockette 4.37 UDFA Fort Valley State
Julio Jones 4.39 1 Alabama
Travis Benjamin 4.36 4 Miami
Stephen Hill 4.36 2 Georgia Tech
Chris Owusu 4.36 UDFA Stanford
AJ Jenkins 4.39 1 Illinois
Devon Wylie 4.39 4 Fresno State
Marquise Goodwin 4.27 3 Texas
Tavon Austin 4.34 1 West Virginia
Ryan Swope 4.34 6 Texas A&M
Josh Boyce 4.38 4 TCU
Kenny Stills 4.38 5 Oklahoma

All times found at NFL.com.

Though Hanson tweeted that NFL Network researchers only found 15 receivers who ran sub-4.4 40s in the past five years, and that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones ran a 4.42 not a 4.39, NFL.com lists 18 players who ran sub-4.4 times at the Scouting Combine in the past five years. Only two of those, Mike Wallace and Jones, have had 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

Simply running a great 40-yard dash time does not ensure NFL success. Only five of those 18 sub-4.4 wide receivers were first- or second- round picks, indicating that many of those players’ overall skill sets were incomplete and might have flaws that are precluding them from significant NFL success.

The statistic is misleading, however, because most of those players are still in the league and could still have their best success and with that, 1,000-yard receiving seasons, to come.

On the other hand, a look at all the 1,000-yard receivers from the past five years shows that receivers who run faster 40 times — specifically, those who run sub-4.55 40s — are more likely to achieve high-level production in the NFL.

If we take a look at the top receivers of the past five years and compare them with their 40 times, we can get a better idea of how much straight-line speed actually matters as it translates to catching passes at the next level.

Player 40 Time Round Drafted College
A.J. Green (3) 4.50 1 Georgia
Alshon Jeffrey Did Not Participate 2 South Carolina
Andre Johnson (4) Did Not Participate 1 Miami
Anquan Boldin (2) 4.72* 2 Florida State
Antonio Brown (2) 4.56* 6 Central Michigan
Brandon Lloyd 4.62* 4 Illinois
Brandon Marshall (5) 4.52* 4 Central Florida
Brian Hartline (2) 4.58 4 Ohio State
Calvin Johnson (4) 4.35* 1 Georgia Tech
Chad Johnson 4.57* 2 Oregon State
Demaryius Thomas (2) Did Not Participate 1 Georgia Tech
Derrick Mason 4.51** 4 Michigan State
DeSean Jackson (3) 4.35 2 California
Dez Bryant (2) Did Not Participate 1 Oklahoma State
Donald Driver Non Invite 7 Alcorn State
Dwayne Bowe (2) 4.51* 1 LSU
Eric Decker (2) Did Not Participate 3 Minnesota
Greg Jennings (2) 4.42* 2 Western Michigan
Hakeem Nicks (2) 4.63 1 North Carolina
Harry Douglas 4.51* 3 Louisville
Hines Ward Did Not Participate 3 Georgia
Jordy Nelson (2) 4.51* 3 Kansas State
Josh Gordon Non Invite Supplemental Baylor
Julian Edelman Did Not Participate 7 Kent State
Julio Jones 4.39 1 Alabama
Keenan Allen Did Not Participate 3 California
Kendall Wright 4.61 1 Baylor
Lance Moore Did Not Participate UDFA Toledo
Larry Fitzgerald (3) Did Not Participate 1 Pittsburgh
Marques Colston (4) 4.50* 7 Hofstra
Michael Crabtree Did Not Participate 1 Texas Tech
Michael Floyd 4.47 1 Notre Dame
Mike Wallace (2) 4.33 3 Mississippi
Miles Austin (2) 4.47* UDFA Monmouth
Nate Washington Non Invite UDFA Tiffin
Pierre Garcon 4.48 6 Mount Union
Randy Moss Did Not Participate 1 Marshall
Reggie Wayne (3) 4.45** 1 Miami
Roddy White (4) Did Not Participate 1 UAB
Santana Moss (2) 4.31* 1 Miami
Sidney Rice 4.51* 2 South Carolina
Steve Smith 4.44* 2 Southern Cal
Steve Smith (2) 4.41* 3 Utah
Stevie Johnson (3) 4.58* 7 Kentucky
Torrey Smith 4.43 1 Maryland
TY Hilton Did Not Participate 3 Florida Int’l
Victor Cruz (2) Non Invite UDFA Massachusetts
Vincent Jackson (4) 4.46 2 Northern Colorado
Wes Welker Did Not Participate UDFA Texas Tech

All official 40-yard dash times were from NFL.com when possible. Times not found at NFL.com are marked with an asterisk (*) and were found at NFLCombineResults.com.

**Not recorded as official times

General Information

49 different receivers have had 1,000 yard receiving seasons over the past five seasons. 26 of those 49 receivers have had multiple 1,000-yard seasons over the past five seasons.

Brandon Marshall is the only NFL receiver who has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of the past five seasons. Five receivers (Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Roddy White, Marques Colston) have had four 1,000-yard seasons; six (A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, Stevie Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald) have had three 1,000-yard seasons. 14 receivers have had two.

1,000-yard receivers by year over the last five seasons:

2013: 23
2012: 19
2011: 17
2010: 16
2009: 20

What rounds were 1,000-yard receivers drafted in?

Round 1: 17 (34.69%)
Round 2: 8 (16.32%)
Round 3: 8 (16.32%)
Round 4: 4 (8.1%)
Round 5: 0 (0.00%)
Round 6: 2 (4.08&)
Round 7: 4 (8.1%)
Undrafted Free Agents: 5 (10.2%)
Supplemental Draft: 1 (2.04%)

How Fast Did They Run at the NFL Combine?

4.30-4.39: 5
4.40-4.49: 9
4.50-4.59: 12
4.60-4.69: 3
4.70-4.79: 1

Average 40-yard dash time for a 1,000-yard receiver over the past five seasons: 4.49 seconds.

15 players who have had a 1,000-yard receiving season in the past five years did not participate in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Josh Gordon (supplemental draft), Victor Cruz, Nate Washington and Donald Driver did not receive combine invitations.

Other Notes

16 (30.06%) of the 49 1,000-yard receivers from the past five seasons were from schools outside those that were in automatically-qualifying BCS conferences at the time.

1,000 yard receivers over the past five seasons by major college conference:

1. ACC: 9
2. SEC: 8
3. Big 12: 5
4. Big Ten: 4
5. Pac-10/12: 3

Fastest 1,000-yard receivers over the past five seasons:

1. Santana Moss: 4.31*
2. Mike Wallace: 4.33
3. Calvin Johnson: 4.35*
4. Desean Jackson: 4.35
5. Julio Jones: 4.39

Slowest 1,000-yard receivers over the past five seasons:

1. Anquan Boldin: 4.72*
2. Hakeem Nicks: 4.63
3. Brandon Lloyd: 4.62*
4. Kendall Wright: 4.61
5 (tie). Steve Johnson: 4.58*
5 (tie). Brian Hartline: 4.58

What does all this mean?

While 40-yard dash times are only an indication of a player’s straight-line speed, and disregards other important variables that ultimately determine a player’s success, the data indicates that receivers who had top-end NFL production ran good 40-yard dash times. Only eight of the 30 1,000-yard receivers who participated in combine drills failed to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.55 seconds, while 14 ran sub-4.5 second times.

Truth be told, productive NFL receivers typically run good 40-yard dashes, and players who do not must overcome the odds. This does not bode well for the 13 wide receiver prospects who ran their 40-yard dash in more than 4.55 seconds at this year’s Scouting Combine, which includes a number of highly-regarded prospects including Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Penn State’s Allen Robinson, Fresno State’s Davante Adams, LSU’s Jarvis Landry, Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman and BYU’s Cody Hoffman.

Tags: 40-Yard Dash, Combine, NFL Scouting Combine, Scouting Combine, Wide Receivers

One Response to “Do Fast 40-Yard Dash Times Lead Wide Receivers to NFL Success?”

  1. scott says:

    This is a good analysis. I’d be curious to extend your results to include height, weight or BMI (Body Mass Index ). A number of the slower WR are also taller & heavier. Those guys are likely successful getting separation not with speed but with their size. So I think you could find out the optimal speed / size ratio for top WR. That would probably predict better than either speed or size alone.




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