The 40-yard dash is the marquee event of the NFL Scouting Combine, but it’s also often disparaged by those who say that a player’s speed in running 40 yards in a straight line while wearing shorts and a T-shirt does not say much about what kind of football player he is.
Count longtime NFL executive Bill Polian among those who say the 40 does, in fact, matter.
Polian, who ran the draft room for the Bills for eight years, the Panthers for three years and the Colts for 15 years, said on NFL Live that when he looks at the ways a player can show his stuff at the Combine, it begins with showing off his pure speed.
“No. 1, the 40 times. If you are a believer in speed — and I am, and was — the 40 times are very important,” Polian said.
Polian said that while he wouldn’t get too obsessed with separating players by the hundredths of a second, there are certain 40 times that a player simply has to meet if he wants to be considered a high-level draft prospect at his position.
“There are benchmarks,” Polian said. “A guy doesn’t need to run a 4.42 as opposed to someone who runs a 4.43, but they have to get under the barrier that a club sets for each position. So a receiver who’s more than 4.5? His stock’s going to fall, and there’s no two ways about it.”
Polian had some big first-round hits by drafting for speed early in his tenure with the Colts, including Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney. Unfortunately for Polian, he missed with speedy first-round picks like Donald Brown, Anthony Gonzalez and Jerry Hughes later in his tenure.
Those misses do not, however, shake Polian’s belief in the 40.