Football fans across America continue to obsess over the most simple drill in the game of football. Is there anything more discussed than the 40 yard dash? Every Spring, this drill takes center stage and undoubtedly the question is asked 1,o00′s of times. What’s the fastest 40 yard dash?
Just as sure as you get the question asked 1,000 times, you will get dozens of ridiculous answers. For starters, let’s find out why the 40 yard dash? When and why did 40 yards become so significant? It started in the 1960′s with the NFL team that had the most developed and comprehensive scouting department and that was the Dallas Cowboys. Prior to this time period, NFL coaches chose the 50 yard dash as the mark of measure to determine a player speed worthiness. In 1960, Gil Brandt, the director scouting for the Cowboys along with his department came up with the 40/20/10 measurement. The 40 was used for all players. The 20 yard split time of the 40 was of great significance for linemen since the thought was that they rarely run 40 yards in a game. The 10 yard split was important for wide receivers as a measure of their burst off of the line of scrimmage. With this, a drill was born and almost 50 years later, it has become the center piece of info on a prospective high school, college or professional football player.
So who had the fastest 40 yard dash ever? Research confirmed what I already knew and that there is no way to really tell. Here are some important things to know about the 40 yard dash:
- A hand time (use of a stop watch) will usually be faster than an electronic time
– There are two types of electronic times:
1. When a watch is started by a coach and an electronic beam records the time when it picks up the player crossing the end point
2. When an electronic beam picks up the movement of a player from the start and starts the clock. An electronic beam also detects the player at the end point and stops the clock. This time will be slower than version #1 and even slower than a hand time in which a coach starts his stop watch when he sees the player begin the run and then stops the watch when he sees the player cross the finish line.
- An accurtrack time will be the slowest of all. Accutrack is what is used at track meets. The clock in accu-track timing starts when the starter’s pistol is shot. The runner’s time for the event is recorded digitally when the technology detects the player crossing the finish line.
Studies have shown that that average reaction time by a human to a starter’s pistol is .25 seconds. For this reason, anyone who compares a 40 yard split time in a 100 meter event and compares it to reported hand timed 40 yard dash marks is making a big mistake. If you want compare the 40 yard split of a runner in a 100 meter event, subtract .25 seconds from the recorded time. So, Olympic runner Justin Gatlin’s 4.42 forty yard dash split recorded during his Gold Medal winning 9.85 100 meter run, would convert to a 4.17 forty yard dash by football standards.
After much research a few things have come up over and over and over. These things plus my own two eyes would lead me to believe that Darrell Green, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were the fastest football players to ever play the game.
It has been said consistently that Darrell Green recorded a time of 4.09 at the Washington Redskins’ training camp in 1986. That’s a hard time to swallow but Green’s obvious speed has been put on display many times while he was in the NFL. Green ran down from significant distances two of the fastest running backs to play in the NFL (Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson). Green has said in interviews that the fastest time he has ever been aware of running is 4.15. To his credit, Green does have a verifiable and official time of 10.08 in the 100 meters while he was a college student at Texas A&I University. If anyone could run a sub 4.1 forty, it was Darrell Green.
Many sources report a 4.12 forty yard dash time for Bo Jackson and if you watched him turn the corner and run down the sidelines in 1987 versus the Seattle Seahawks, you would not doubt any time reported by this freak of nature. Repetition does not make it a fact but if enough sources have reported this time to make me believe it. Jackson has an official 10.39 time in the 100 meter dash in college.
Deion Sanders has the closest thing of the three as a verifiable 40 yard dash time. Sanders ran a 4.21 forty yard dash at the 1989 NFL combine and kept right on going through the finish line into the first round of that year’s NFL draft. Like Green and Jackson, anyone who watched Sanders play would have little trouble believing that Sanders pulled off this feat. Sanders recorded a 10.21 100 meter mark while at Florida St.
Of course there are scores of reported 40 yard dash times that have made the rounds on the Internet. Some are ridiculous like the 3.9′s attached to a couple of players and some 4 flats that were attached to some others.
Here are some of the problems with reported 40 yard dash times from team workouts. Some times you can’t be sure that the distance run was indeed 40 yards. There’s always the chance that the distance was not properly marked. When teams do individual private workouts for teams, often times the scout has not brought the necessary tool to mark off the distance. There’s also the chance that player’s will cheat the distance. I have first hand knowledge of a player starting in front of the starting point to run a forty, fully taking advantage of the fact that there was only one scout on hand and that he could not tell if the player was indeed starting at the correct mark. Another problem is the angle of the surface. There are plenty of practice fields across the country that have a slope. Coaches see great value in having their players run on a slight decline to record eye popping times. Savvy scouts will insist that players run up one way and then down the other. An average of the two times is taken to get the most accurate time. One other problem is that some players run the 40 yard dash with cleats on grass while other places have their players run on a synthetic track with spikes on. Guess who would record the fastest time.
In my personal experiences, I have seen some sub 4.3 forty yard dashes in my time. Kevin Williams of the University of Miami (1989-92) ran a 4.28 forty yard dash before my own eyes. Former Hurricanes Tremain Mack (4.25) and Al Shipman (4.27) ran sub 4.3 forties before my own eyes. Track star Henry Neal recorded a 4.20 forty yard dash before my own eyes in a workout for the Miami Dolphins in 1996. The Dolphins did not sign Neal since his football background was quite limited. I never watched him run an actual 40 yard dash but after having to cover him in training camp, I am inclined to believe every second of Joey Galloway’s reported 4.18 forty yard dash.
One player that is not on the list is Bob Hayes of the Dallas Cowboys. No doubt, Hayes was one of the fastest men, if not
the fastest man to put on an NFL uniform. However, as it relates to the 40 yard dash, I could find no time recorded for this Olympic Gold medalist. Hayes has the fastest 100 meter time for an NFL player at 10.05. Should current Florida Gator Jeffery Demps make it to the NFL for any significant amount of time, he will own the fastest time at 10.01. Demps ran this as a high schooler and owns the national prep record for the event.
The fastest recorded 40 yard split on record belongs to Olympian Maurice Greene. During his World Record 60 meter run of 6.33, a mark that still exists, Green crossed the 40 yard mark at 4.18. Remembering that .25 seconds must be subtracted from that time due to Accu-track timing and you come up with a 40 yard dash time of 3.93 seconds. What’s the problem with that time? It was run on an indoor track with spikes on giving the runner an advantage over the football players who have run on grass with cleats.
In an effort to centralize all the reported 40 yard dash times. I will start what we call the SUB 4.3 Club. I will attempt to keep a running record of the sub 4.3 forty yard dashes and their owners in this list. I will refrain from adding times of the ridiculous and will do some research on all times that qualify. I will say one thing, can you web surfers stop reporting that Deion Sanders ran a 4.57 forty yard dash backwards. That’s just flat out ridiculous.
Enjoy the following list of reported (and somewhat believable) 40 yard dashes run under 4.3 seconds. We will continue to add on to this list over time. Did I miss someone? Comment on this article and make your case. Please do not quote high school forty yard dash times. Nothing against them, let’s just stick to college and pro football right now.
Listings in bold are new ones added since last update.
|The Official Unofficial Sub 4.3 Forty Yard Dash List at Gridironstuds.com|
|1||Bo Jackson||Auburn Tigers||4.12|
|2||Michael Bennett||Minnesota Vikings||4.13|
|3||Alexander Wright||Dallas Cowboys||4.14|
|4||Darrell Green||Washington Redskins||4.15|
|5||Ahman Green||Nebraska Cornhuskers||4.17|
|6||Joey Galloway||Ohio St. Buckeyes||4.18|
|7||Terrell Sinkfield||Northern Iowa||4.19|
|8||Henry Neal||Blinn JC||4.2|
|9||Onterio McCalebb||Auburn Tigers||4.21|
|10||Deion Sanders||Florida St. Seminoles||4.21|
|11||Kevin Curtis||Utah St. Aggies||4.21|
|12||Don Beebe||Buffalo Bills||4.21|
|13||Donte Stallworth||Tennessee Volunteers||4.22|
|14||Willie Parker||North Carolina Tar Heels||4.23|
|15||Clayton Holmes||Dallas Cowboys||4.23|
|16||Rondel Melendez||Eastern Kentucky (1999)||4.24|
|17||Chris Johnson||East Carolina Pirates||4.24|
|19||Marquis Goodwin||Texas Longhorns||4.25|
|20||Tavon Austin||West Virginia||4.25|
|22||Ike Taylor||Pittsburgh Steelers||4.25|
|23||Randy Moss||Marshall University||4.25|
|24||Michael Vick||Virginia Tech Hokies||4.25|
|26||Sam Shields||University of Miami (Packers)||4.25|
|27||Dri Archer||Kent St.||4.26||added 2/26/14|
|28||Devin Hester||University of Miami||4.27|
|29||Darren McFadden||Arkansas Razorbacks||4.27|
|30||James Jett||West Virginia||4.27|
|31||Jacoby Ford||Clemson Tigers||4.27|
|33||DeMarcus Van Dyke||University of Miami||4.28|
|34||Kevin Williams||University of Miami||4.28|
|35||Champ Bailey||Georgia Bulldogs||4.28|
|36||CJ Spiller||Clemson Tigers||4.28|
|37||Raghib Ismail||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||4.28|
|38||Walter Sutton||SW Minnesota St.||4.28|
|39||Rod Woodson||Purdue Boilermakers||4.28|
|40||Standord Routt||University of Houston (2005)||4.29|
|41||Fabian Washington||Nebraska Cornhuskers||4.29|
|42||Laveranues Coles||Florida St. Seminoles||4.29|
|43||James Williams||Fresno St.||4.29|
|45||Johnny Knox||Abiliene Christian (Chi. Bears)||4.29|
Note Updated 1/11/12: Three new additions to the list. Clayton Holmes as prompted by a visitor named Kane who reminded me about the speedster front the Cowboys. After some research I was satisfied that he did indeed run a 4.23 forty yard dash during him time with the Cowboys. The other two additions came from an interview I happened to view from Tom Shaw who has trained some of the fastest men that have ever played and continue to play in the NFL. Ike Taylor of the Steelers who Shaw says ran a 4.25 coming into the NFL. Shaw also said Taylor once ran a 4.18 but I will stick with the 4.25 run before pro scouts. Shaw also mentioned how Rod Woodson ran a 4.28 at the NFL combine. I don’t know how that fact escaped me but it has escaped me no longer. So three new additions.
Note Updated 2/26/14: While the 2013 combine added four new members to our list, 2014 was not as generous. Kent St.’s Dri Archer was the only member of this year’s combine to go sub 4.3 and thus get added to the list. Archer listed at 5’7 3/4″ completed his dash in 18 steps which equals 6’5″ Calvin Johnson’s mark for the fewest amount of steps for the 40 yard dash at the combine. That is truly amazing power in his strides. With Archer, the list now grows to 45 in total.
Note Updated 2/25/13: 2013 Combine has done well to add to our growing list. First Tavon Austin blazed up the Indy track with an effort-less 4.25. Then Texas WR Marquis Goodwin refused to be outdone and posted up his own 4.25. Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb made them both sit down with his hand timed 4.21. Only Goodwin remained under 4.3 when the official times released as he ended up with 4.27. McCalebb and Austin both ended up with 4.34 official 40 times. I do count hand times for this list so all three make it.
Note Updated 3/05/13: Added Steve Williams from California who ran an unofficial 4.25 at the combine. Also added former Northern Iowa WR Terrell Sinkfield who ran a 4.19 at Minnesota U’s Pro Day on 3/04/13. Here’s an article discussing Sinkfield’s run.
Notes Updated 3/05/11: Two new additions to the list. I added the 4.20 forty yard dash that I witnessed Henry Neal run at a Dolphin tryout in 1996. I remember it well because I had to run my 40 after his. My 4.44 clocking seemed pedestrian after Henry mowed the lawn for the scouts. Neal was not a football player but a track star that was well put together. He was 5’9″ 177 of all muscle. Perhaps some Dolphin scout saw him on his travels and flew him in for the workout.
The other addition is Walter Sutton. I was reminded of this by an ex-Miami teammate of mind named Kelvin Harris who resides from the Fort Myers area that Walter Sutton also came from. Sutton was drafted in the 4th round in 1991 by the Atlanta Falcons. Sutton unfortunately was not able to start his NFL career because he was prosecuted on a drug dealing charge. Sutton attended SW Minnesota St. and the best way to get drafted that high out of a school that size is to have speed and Walter did clocking a 4.28 forty for the Falcons in a pre draft workout.
Notes Updated 3/02/11: DeMarcus Van Dyke is the latest addition to the list after clocking a 4.28 at the NFL combine. That’s about as legit as it gets. Van Dyke is the 4th Miami Hurricane to make the list.
Notes Updated 1/24/11: Foolish me for not updating this sooner with Sam Shield’s 40 time since I witnessed it myself on his pro timing day last spring. While I still had my mouth open from his 11’3″ broad jump where he seemingly got stuck in the air, I watch Shields go out and chew up the first 40 yards like a 6 year old chews up a pack of bubbilicious. He then smoothly coasted through the 2nd twenty and had scouts huddling up like they were calling a play on 4th and 1. There were times all over the place ranging from 4.30 to 4.22 but the one most heard was 4.25 so that’s what I went with. Johnny Knox is also deserving to be on this list. Knox, from the Bears, ran a 4.34 at the combine when he was coming out but he also ran on his pro timing day and there are may reports that put his time in the 4.26-4.29 range. 4.29 is what I have heard the most, so that is what I went with.
Notes Updated: 3/04/10: USC’s Taylor Mays has been added to the list with his unofficial 4.24 at the NFL Combine. Eventhough his official time was a 4.43, I must include Mays’ time since several of the times on the list are hand times just like his. Pretty amazing given Mays size (6’3″, 230 lbs.). I may say that’s outside of Bo Jackson’s time, Mays’ may be the most impressive when you take in the size factor. Trindon Holliday has also been added for his unofficial 4.27 run at the combine on 3/01/10.
Notes Updated 3/01/10: Clemson’s Jacoby Ford and CJ Spiller were added to the list today. Ford’s time at the Indianapolis NFL combine was a 4.27 unofficially and 4.28 officially. CJ Spiller’s unofficial time was also a 4.28 but his official time ended up being a 4.37. I am taking the 4.28 because there are many times on this list that are unofficial hand times. Any way you look at it, CJ Spiller can fly.
Notes Updated 1/04/09: Who knew this article would become so popular. This has ended up being one of the most popular sports articles on the Internet since I wrote. Just goes to show how much of a hot topic 40 yard dash times are. I have received so many comments and emails about 40 yard dash times. Please understand this 40 yard dash list is an “official” list meaning the times on it can be verified. I am sure there have been some sub 4.3′s run out there but they have been done in a way that can not be verified. There are a 100 stories about some boy name “D-Rock” who ran a 4.17 with some high tops on at lunch time on the grass field. I can’t put those times on there. There are even times that may be closer to official that I won’t even include. For instance, anyone who has seen C.J. Spiller or Jacoby Ford from Clemson or Trindon Holliday from LSU run could guess that these guys probably run sub 4.3 forty’s. I am sure they have probably run them for some coach or strength and conditioning guy. In fact, Ford is said to have run a 4.26 at Clemson. Holliday’s high school coach claims he ran a 4.27 but I am suspicious of high school forty yard dash times. I need to tell you that up front. Spiller has an alleged low time of 4.28. However, he also has a high time of 4.47. On situations like that, I will just wait to see what they run at the combine or in their private NFL workouts. Sometimes, they don’t hit the times you expect them to hit.
NOTE: Some of the times listed above may have been run on a track with spikes on. In cases where I know that to be true, those players are excluded from this list. Football is not played on a synthetic rubber surface with track spikes on. DeAngelo Hall’s reported 4.15 on Virginia Tech’s indoor track when he was a junior in college would be an example of that.
Is there someone missing from the list? Comment on this article with name and the time. I will check it out and add it if research dictates that it should be there. Comment on this article.