Fast ticket to the NFL: A Fabulous 40 Time

Discussion in 'The Tiger's Den' started by Mr. Peabody, Apr 25, 2004.

  1. Mr. Peabody

    Mr. Peabody Founding Member

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    Here's an interesting article that was in our paper today. It's worth reading.

    By George Schroeder

    NORMAN -- The story is well-known in Oklahoma circles. Kid arrives at football camp with an unbelievable reputation as a speedster. Coach challenges kid to run the 40-yard dash.

    "How fast do you think you'll run?" the coach asks.

    "4.4 (seconds)," the kid replies.

    Then, as the story goes, he does it.

    The player -- former Oklahoma linebacker Teddy Lehman -- and the coach -- OU co- defensive coordinator Brent Venables -- swear the story isn't apocryphal. Lehman's speed helped convince Venables to offer the kid from tiny Fort Gibson a scholarship.

    Nearly five years later, after completing a career that ended with the Butkus Award for the nation's best linebacker, Lehman's 40-yard dash time remains a big key to his future.

    The NFL Draft begins at 11 a.m. today with the first three rounds, then concludes Sunday with four more. Several players from OU and Oklahoma State will watch and wait, hoping to move to the next level.

    Their fates will be decided, at least in part, by their performances in football's most hyped physical test.

    Lehman, who recently ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash for NFL scouts -- a time considered impressive for a 240-pound linebacker -- is considered by many to be a sure second-round selection. OSU receiver Rashaun Woods' stock rose recently when he ran something under 4.5 seconds. OSU tailback Tatum Bell, after a blazing-fast 4.37-second time at the NFL Scouting Combine (fastest by a running back this year), has moved up teams' draft boards, as well.

    Meanwhile, former OU All- American Derrick Strait's 4.52- second 40 was considered slow for a cornerback. Though Strait won the Thorpe and Nagurski awards last season (given to the nation's best defensive back and best defensive player, respectively), he ranks behind several faster cornerbacks in most draft projections.

    Though other factors are weighed, the 40 figures heavily into NFL teams' decisions today and Sunday.

    If a player pops a fast 40, his status nudges higher in scouts' eyes. And that can mean a big difference in draft-day dollars.

    If a player's 40 is more pedestrian -- or worse, if it's considered slow -- he faces an uphill battle to convince a team to draft him based on other skills.

    "Those NFL teams want to see it," OU coach Bob Stoops said of the 40. "If you're capable of it, you need to show it."

    How it began

    The late Paul Brown, who ran the Cleveland team that bears his last name, is credited with developing the 40-yard dash as a measure of football speed. The reason he chose that particular distance?

    "He thought that was as far as a player would run on any play," Brown's son, Mike Brown, told Sports Illustrated.

    And the Dallas Cowboys of the Tom Landry era might have been the first NFL team to extensively use the test in college scouting. Other teams were still using 50-yard dashes.

    No one's really sure how or why the 40 evolved into the standard. Mike Brown's explanation of his father's thought process is as good as any.

    And these days, scouts break 40s down into 10-yard increments. Offensive and defensive linemen, especially, are valued according to their times in the first 10 and 20 yards. But the 40 remains the gold standard of football speed, especially for the "skill" positions.

    The ideal times are broken down by position group. The 4.4-second range is considered good for defensive backs, receivers and running backs; 4.6 is good for linebackers; 4.8 is good for defensive ends.

    Though critics say football plays almost never involve a 40-yard run along a straight path, it nevertheless is the undisputed speed measurement.

    "We're like everybody else," said Larry Lacewell, the Dallas Cowboys' director of scouting. "It influences you. To say it doesn't is wrong."

    Why it matters

    Count Strait as one of the critics.

    "Ain't nobody gonna run no straight 40 yards with nothing else going on on the football field," Strait said. "But a lot of people judge stuff by that, so you've got to live with it."

    If the former All-America cornerback isn't selected until the latter part of the second round, as several recent mock drafts suggested, his 40 time will be perhaps the biggest reason. But football history is littered with evidence the 40-yard dash sometimes doesn't matter.

    A year ago, former Florida State receiver Anquan Boldin's draft stock dropped when he was clocked at 4.72 seconds.

    "A lot of people passed on him," Lacewell said.

    Arizona drafted him in the second round, behind five other receivers. Boldin finished 2003 with 101 catches, 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns -- good enough to be named the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.

    In 1990, Emmitt Smith ran a 4.7-second 40 and lasted until Dallas grabbed him with the 17th overall pick. Penn State running back Blair Thomas ran a 4.5 and was the second overall selection (by the New York Jets).

    Thomas was an average back in six seasons. Smith owns the NFL's all-time rushing record.

    "It's part of the equation," said John Murphy, director of scouting for the Scouting Bureau, Inc. "But it's not the be-all, end-all. When it is, you wind up drafting off of numbers and not remembering that none of these (tests) are ever run in (football) pads."

    Or, as Lacewell put it: "Some guys play faster than they run."

    Said former OU and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, "You can't measure how important it is to a kid to play. That's why you interview a kid. You get a feeling for the intangibles. Measurements are easy. Intangibles take some time."

    So just maybe, Strait is right, and the 40 is overrated. But NFL teams continue to value the dash.

    "It's a tried-and-true tenet of what it takes to play in the National Football League," former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf told the Washington Times. "The hype it gets is certainly deserved."

    Tall tales and exaggerations

    The emphasis on the 40 has resulted in countless reports of incredible times.

    Without doubt, the tallest tales come at the high school level. Just about every wide receiver, running back or defensive back who has ever made a recruiting list runs a 4.4- second 40, or so the stories go. The really good ones run 4.3s or better.

    It makes for great talk at the water cooler. But there's an annoying reality: Very few NFL players run 4.4s. How many high schoolers do?

    "Not many," OU receivers coach Darrell Wyatt said. "There's not many guys coming out of high school that are 4.4 40 guys."

    Wyatt said he believes high school coaches sometimes fudge 40 times because they're "trying to help the kid."

    "They're gonna click the watch a little faster sometimes," he said.

    There are other variables -- surfaces, shoes and sometimes improper measurement of the distance. And the human factor can't be underestimated. Manual timing is often wildly inaccurate.

    Which leads us to a recent report out of Stillwater. At OSU's recent pro-day testing, coaches and NFL scouts came up with a stunning time of 4.19 seconds in the 40 for reserve cornerback Daniel McLemore. The 5-foot-8, 160-pounder, who will be a junior next season, is an elite sprinter (he qualified for the NCAA's 60-meter sprint championships with a time of 6.99 seconds). And the time, or something similar, was clocked on a couple dozen stopwatches.

    And yet, such reports must often be taken with a grain of salt. A few years back, Florida State officials announced receiver Laveranues Coles (now with the Washington Redskins) had run a 4.16-second 40. Before the 2000 draft, he was clocked by NFL scouts at 4.37 -- still well above average.

    One unidentified NFL general manager told The Sporting News: "No player anywhere runs a 4.1- anything."

    None of that is to pick on McLemore, who is by all accounts a blur. But former NFL all-pro cornerback Deion Sanders, also a pretty fast guy, ran a 4.29-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine in 1989. That remains the fastest official (read: electronically timed) 40 time turned in at the Combine.

    The Combine, which is conducted on artificial turf inside the RCA Dome, is often derided as a "slow track." Some big-name prospects decline to run there, choosing instead to be timed on their home campuses, in what they hope are more favorable conditions.

    Regardless of where they run, scouts will follow, stopwatches in hand. And the 40 time will follow the player into draft day.
     
  2. Bengal B

    Bengal B Founding Member

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    A couple of weeks ago I saw either on tigerforums or somewhere else where when Ben Johnson on steroids ran the fastest 100 meters ever that he covered the first 40 yards in 4.29. That was on an Olympic track wearing track shoes. For anybody to run faster than that on grass or turf wearing football shoes is hard to believe.
     
  3. MikeD

    MikeD Sports Genius

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    It makes no sense to me that they time the 40 with players not wearing pads they wear during games. Why not get the player as close to game conditions when they time him? In the paper today, it said that Tampa wasn't concerned with Clayton's 4.52 at the combine because he ran around a 4.58 in pads.
     
  4. SabanFan

    SabanFan The voice of reason

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    The difference between a 4.4 and a 4.5 40 is one tenth of a second. That's faster than an eye blink. Is it really that significant?
     

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