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.