While important, the 40-yard dash could be better

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Yes, the 40-yard dash is important to NFL teams.  It’s also important to the NFL; it’s the premiere event of the why-am-I-watching?-because-it’s-on-TV annual non-football football festival in Indianapolis.

But what does the 40-yard dash really prove?  It shows straight line speed without pads, while neither chasing nor being chased.

As someone mentioned long ago (so long ago that I can’t recall who it was), a football player runs 40 yards in a straight line only in two situations:  When something really good has happened, or when something really bad has happened.

Even then, the player always is wearing football gear, and the element of a chase is present.  Running 40 yards in underwear against a clock shows athletic ability, but not football ability.

So why not run the thing in full pads?  Last year’s Eddie Haskell routine from Johnny Manziel included showing up for his Pro Day workout in a helmet and shoulder pads.  Why doesn’t the NFL mandate that for the 40-yard dash?

The easy answer would be that such a radical change would eliminate the apples-to-apples ability to compare current prospects to past prospects.  To that we say, “So what?”  Football players play football in pads.  It makes sense for them to run in pads, too.

And they should be racing someone else.  Football has become the ultimate competitive crucible.  Pit one player against another to see how they perform when competing directly against someone else.

None of these changes will be made.  Unless, of course, enough people decide that they’re not interested in watching guys running in a straight line in the latest offerings from UnderArmour.  If/when the ratings for the Scouting Combine ever sharply declined, plenty of changes would be considered.  Quickly.

31 responses to “While important, the 40-yard dash could be better

  1. Name one guy that has been drafted because of his 40 time that has had success in the NFL? It’s a pointless drill that leads to draft picks like Troy Williamson and DHB. Good scouts and GMS know it’s a waste of time. Gives the media something to chatter about though.

  2. Here’s why it’s a bad idea to change any of the combine tests-

    It throws out decades of data relevant for historical comparisons.

    If someone runs a 4.7 at a certain height and weight we have reams of data on guys with similar athletic profiles that we can compare him to, and we can look at those players and see if their athletic traits either held them back or were a key part of their success.

    If we start doing the 40 yard dash in pads, and a guy runs a 4.8 at a certain height and weight, we don’t really have anything to compare it to. “Running 40 yards in a straight line as fast as you can without having to think about the sideline or defenders” is a pretty artificial situation whether you do it in pads or not.

    Sure, eventually we would build up enough data that we have a sense of what a 4.8 in pads means, but that would take a long time and in the meantime NFL teams would be at a disadvantage, which they never like.

    Long story short, the benefit of combine tests is not to find out how fast, or laterally athletic, or explosive guys are, it’s to find out how fast, explosive, etc. they are compared to other guys who have done the exact same tests in past years (whose football successes/failures are available to us.)

  3. The 40 is the 40…..

    I suppose they could add something else separately, but don’t expect them to change it. It would be interesting to see how much pads slow players down, but the players don’t want any more data points that could count against them.

    It would all be a set up for…..Is so and so going to do the pad run or not?

    They run these guys through all kinds of stuff. I really don’t care to see any more of it than there is….If the NFL organizations want more evaluation criteria, they will push it.


  4. Because players now work with Olympic sprint coaches, comparisons with players in the past are virtually meaningless. The same can’t be said for things like benchpress, three cone drill, broad and vertical jump. In any case, I don’t think any scouts, GMs or coaches about the 40 time, just the 10 and 20 split times – it’s all about initial explosion, strength and burst.

  5. Yea its forsure not the most important drill, though theres no doubt a good 40 time can raise your stock by a couple rounds if you got a solid enough showing on film too..

    Any skill position player that runs under a 4.5 is still in an elite category when it comes to athletes on the planet.

    Id rather have a shifty WR with solid hands that runs a 4.5 over a one trick pony deep threat that runs a 4.3..

  6. The 40 by itself is useless. It’s just good fortune that the guys quickest to 5, 10 and 15 yards are frequently among the quickest to 40.

  7. Really, all the drills on the field should be done in pads and a helmet. It better shows what they’ll be able to replicate on the field in a game. (Well, as much as you can replicate it without defenders chasing you down, or an offense making reads against you). You don’t play in an nfl game in your underwear.


    Run the 40 in their underwear. Then run a second 40 time in a helmet and pads. Possibly even 2 at a time to garner that competition aspect. Then you’re not messing with the ridiculous notion of historical comparisons. And you get a more realistic time of a guy’s speed in pads.

  8. Because if you make them run with pads on, they’ll get the thinnest, wimpiest pads possible, and the point of a “real measure” of ability will be pointless anyway. Let the teams put the prospects through such paces at their own facilities.

  9. ckent516 beat me to it: If there is to be any such change in the process, it would have to come in a transition from the Underwear Olympics to running in pads. That could be effected by running in pads after running in undies, and for a transitional period like three years, perhaps. Then the pads-on numbers would take on more meaning.

  10. The difference is not in running with and without pads…it’s that a lot of guys have speed, but a lot fewer guys have “functional speed”. Meaning: can the guy “play fast” or can he just run a race fast? And you’re never going to know that based on whether they run in pads or not.

  11. Yeah, never made any sense with them running without pads.

    Screw the stats of yesteryear!

    I can GUARANTEE you that running the 40 in pads gives a far more realistic evaluation of a player, which should be the goal.

  12. kissmysandwich says:
    Feb 17, 2015 5:08 PM
    Name one guy that has been drafted because of his 40 time that has had success in the NFL? It’s a pointless drill that leads to draft picks like Troy Williamson and DHB. Good scouts and GMS know it’s a waste of time. Gives the media something to chatter about though.

    Bob Hayes

  13. all it tells us is that the average, mostly bald desk jockey in a suit with the approximate build of Rich Eisen runs about a 5.98 40.. that info has to be useful for something

  14. Why not make it a reality television show with big cash prizes, like The Big Break on the Golf Channel?

    Or if that idea doesn’t thrill you, just offer a cool million to the fastest 40-times at the positions of:
    Athlete, WR, RB, QB, LB, CBs (including safeties), and D-line.

    I’m sure this $10 billion/year industry can afford dropping $10 million in prizes on the combine, especially if it quintuples the viewership and garners boatloads of advertising money.

  15. Has anyone actually compared a guys 40 time to his performance on the field? Take all the current and past players, find out what their 40 time was, and compare it to their stats….Even include those who washed out. That will settle the usefulness of the 40.

  16. Too many idiots leaving comments. If you’re not fast then you don’t run fast you idiots. Unless God himself is your sprint coach then any athlete can cancel dropping their 40 time by more than a .10..,it’s not possible.

  17. I also think other drills need to change. For example, when the WRs are running routes they should get chucked at the line and then blasted right after they catch it. That way we know if they can get of bump and run coverage and hold on to the damned ball.

    Centers need to be blasted right after snapping the ball, punters need to be rushed, and QBs should get smashed into the ground after every pass. Screw it, the combine should just be a lot of full speed scrimmages. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  18. The 40 was supposed to be a way to measure the explosive acceleration of a player. Problem is, every coach talks about “game speed”. The ability of a receiver to run accurate routes and get open is more important than his straight line speed. Patterson comes to mind as a guy with speed but doesn’t run routes well. Jeff Query was a guy who was always getting open, but ran lousy routes and the QB never knew where he was going to go.

    A better way to measure the explosive burst of a lineman (D or O) may be to measure it over 15 or 20 yards in pads and against a blocking sled of a predetermined weight.

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