6/16 Roundtable - Do 40 Times Really Matter?
Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins
Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins
Posted Jun 16, 2009

Do 40 times really matter when evaluating players and NFL prospects? It's the Tuesday topic in the CFN Daily Roundtable Discussion.

CFN Daily Roundtables

June 16

Is Too Much Emphasis Being Placed On 40 Times?

Over the next several weeks, as part of the CFN 2009 Preview, we'll examine some of the key questions going into the year with a daily discussion of the big topics.

Past Roundtables
June 15 Does college football need a Rooney Rule?
June 12 Should Alabama vacate wins?
June 11 Should college football players be paid?
June 10 Is the recruiting hype too much?
June 9 If you were starting an NFL team ...
June 8 Where would you take over as head coach?
June 5 Who does the least with the most?
June 4 Who does the most with the least?
June 3 The star players of September
June 2 The star teams of September
June 1 The coach you'd want for one game
May 28 Should the Big Ten expand, and if so, then what team should be added?
May 27 Should the Pac 10 expand? If so, then what two teams should be added?
May 26 Chizik, Kiffin or Mullen?
May 25 Heisman race sleepers 
May 22 2009's most interesting teams

May 21 Is Tebow the best QB ever?
May 20 When should preseason polls come out?
May 19 Does 2008 Utah have a beef?
May 18 No BCS, No Weis?

Pete Fiutak, CFN

Yes, I'm part of the problem. You can check me out at twitter.com/CFN_Fiu and find out future roundtable topics and other random musings.

Q: Is too much emphasis put on 40 times when evaluating players for college and the NFL?

No. It's almost fashionable to poo-poo the concept of 40 times, bench presses, and other Combine-like raw skills when it comes to analyzing players, and it's turning into a problem because the shift has gone so far the other way that scouts and NFL types sometimes ignore the obvious.

The case in point is Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State. Everyone liked him because he was such a good college player, and liked him even more considering he was supposed to be a 4.3 runner. As it turned out, he was closer to 4.6 which means he now has to either be a safety or a second corner who gets help. That didn't seem to matter to New Orleans, who'll spend a fortune on a player taken at a spot in the draft that should produce a sure-thing superstar. I'm not saying Jenkins won't be a Pro Bowl performer, but the chances become greatly diminished when a slower player is taken at a speed position in a premium draft slot.

Of course there are too many examples to count of great players who didn't necessarily look the part and didn't work out all that well. However, considering the tens of millions of dollars invested in players taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, and when it comes to analyzing the top teams in college football, it's insane to not take raw workout numbers into account.

Now, if you go just on workout warriors and speed types you become the Oakland Raiders. But when if you don't take 40 times into account, you end up drafting Dwayne Jarrett.

Again, there are exceptions, but in today's day and age in the NFL you can't be a No. 1 cover-corner if you can't run a 4.4 or better. Unless you do something else special, you can't be a No. 1 wide receiver if you're not a sub-4.4 guy. It's that simple. Does that mean Darrius Heyward-Bey will be better than Michael Crabtree because he can run faster? No, but by taking speed into account and factoring in the ability as a football player, the margin for error is lessened by drafting speed.

According to the Pro Football Weekly preview magazine, out of their top 12 ranked running backs, eight were 4.4 runners or better coming out of college, while DeAngelo Williams and Steven Jackson were around 4.5. Frank Gore was coming off of knee injuries and ran around a 4.8, and Brian Westbrook was around a 4.6. Go on down the list and there are players like Reggie Bush, Thomas Jones, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, and Marshawn Lynch in the top 20, and they can all fly.

Of the top receivers, the top six are all sub-4.4 runners (with Larry Fitzgerald having clocked a 4.4 time in private workouts) while Brandon Marshall and Anquan Bolden are physical receivers who make up for a lack of blazing speed with other attributes. The same goes for the corners on the list. Simply put, again, if you don't run a 4.4 at a speed position, you had better do everything else right.

As far as the other positions, does running fast really matter for the defensive tackles or quarterbacks? No, but it does show off athleticism and versatility. You can do more with a quarterback who can run and is more mobile, and faster defensive tackles might be able to move to end in a 3-4.

No, 40 times and shuttle drills aren't everything, but if you want superstars, you have a better chance of finding them if they can move. Otherwise, you had better be dead on when it comes to analyzing everything else.

Richard Cirminiello, CFN

Q: Is too much emphasis put on 40 times when evaluating players for college and the NFL?

The scouts generally don’t, but fans always do.

Those who are paid to evaluate talent look well beyond the 40 time, making it a highly scientific, if inexact, process. There’s so much more to success than just straight line speed, such as vision for a back, get-off for a receiver, or hips for a cornerback. Now, everyone wants speed, but without the total package, it can get wasted on every position, save for maybe a kick returner. Pro scouts know this, which is why a player like Florida State’s Michael Ray Garvin, a legitimate world-class track star, went undrafted in April. Or why Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, hardly Olympic caliber, had hall of fame careers. Speed is wonderful, but by itself, it can be vastly overrated.

Fans are guilty of getting way too wrapped up in 40 time. Yeah, it provides some tangible barometer of a player’s ability, but the number is rarely even accurate, let alone a sure-fire indicator of future success. You get the feeling that every kid coming out of high school is a “4.6 guy” or that every NFL prospect runs a 4.5? Obviously, like height and weight, that 40 time is almost always exaggerated.

A player’s 40 time is only one component of his overall ability as a football player. It happens to be the most glorified, but it’s still just one small part of the equation. Unfortunately, the best way to get beyond this fixation is to set aside a few hours to watch a player’s game film. And aside from scouts, coaches, and the media, no one is about to get that granular.

Matthew Zemek, CFN

Q: Is too much emphasis put on 40 times when evaluating players for college and the NFL?

Yes, without question or hesitation.
Football IQ, mental toughness, upstanding character, and other intangibles aren't easily measured or captured, but it's those qualities that separate winners from losers. Obviously, you have to have an NFL-ready physique in order to play professionally (punters and kickers excepted), but the mind is the biggest weapon and the most important organ in any elite athlete's arsenal.
Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady--these iconic athletes are blessed with appreciable physical gifts, but their most important asset emerges between the ears. They beat you with the brain, by owning extra confidence in their ability, their stamina, and their crunch-time nerves. The more they dominate in the latter stages of a huge event, the more emotional capital they accrue, and that's when solid careers turn into legendary ones.
The 40 has its place; it's significant, but hardly the be-all and end-all. Ryan Leaf wasn't inferior to Peyton Manning on a physical level. It was only in the cranial region that he came up short. But my, what a large and telling deficit that was.

Jon Miller, Publisher, HawkeyeNation.com

Is too much emphasis put on 40 times when evaluating players for college and the NFL?

: Yes and no. It’s a good way to separate some players from the masses, but a stopwatch can’t measure heart. It can’t tell you if a player comes from a small school and has a chip on his shoulder to prove to some schools they were foolish to pass on him.

Look at a school like Iowa; they have a laundry list of stories like this, kids that few, if any BCS conference schools wanted. How about former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders? Iowa had to beat out a MAC school for his services. Or Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark? He won the Mackey Award back in 2002 that goes to the nation’s top tight end and he walked on at Iowa. He was also moved from the defensive side of the ball to tight end after two years on campus. Or former Outland Trophy Award winner Robert Gallery? I think Iowa and Iowa State were the only two schools beating down his door.

Now, there are certain positions in the NFL that require speed and everything else, so a stopwatch is going to separate the really good from the elite. But there are so many examples where 40-time or a lack of ideal height explode in the face of conventional wisdom that I think there is far too much emphasis placed on measurables at some colleges and the NFL.

Hunter Ansley, Publisher, DraftZoo.com

Q: Is too much emphasis put on 40 times when evaluating players for college and the NFL?

A: Absolutely.  It might be the most overrated stat in the sport.  But the problem is that 40 times are the easiest stat for the casual fan to digest when it comes to checking out NFL prospects.

Of course, it doesn’t help that teams like the Raiders are constantly ignoring every other piece of evidence when they make a selection.  Al Davis is head over heels in love with players that run like Usain Bolt.  And the fact that his draft strategy has the Raiders near the cellar of the weakest division in the league ought to tell you something.

Knowshon Moreno and Chris Wells, generally the consensus top two running backs in the 2009 draft, both failed to run sub 4.5s at the NFL combine this year.  Does that mean they won’t be successful backs?  Of course not.  It means that if your average Joe GM were in charge of a franchise he would have skipped over two players who have the chance to break the 1000-yard barrier as rookies.

The NFL is full of players who didn’t shatter the stopwatches.  Larry Fitzgerald comes to mind immediately.  He didn’t run a great 40 time coming out of Pitt, but he was easily the most impressive wide receiver in the world last season.  There are so many attributes that carry more weight with actual decision-makers than timed speed.  In fact, there are too many to list here.  But separation, hands, route running, body control, and experience are just a few.  And that’s just talking about receivers.  Can a guy who runs a 4.9 line up in the slot in the NFL?  No.  But can a guy who ran a 4.57 lead the league in TD receptions?  Absolutely.  The fact is that NFL receivers rarely run 40 yards straight down the field.  And no one else does either.