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Fastest 40 Yard Dash

The NFL is home to some of the most explosive athletes on the planet, by any measurement. It’s also a league that leaves no stone unturned in quantifying the physical skills of its players. If you’re a dedicated football fan, you probably already know about the scouting combine. Each year, about six weeks prior to the NFL draft, eligible prospects are invited to the combine, where they go through a battery of physical and vaguely football-related tests. It’s a big draw for the fans, and the 40-yard dash is the undisputed marquee event on the schedule.

The debate doesn’t end at the combine, though. “Fastest Man in the NFL” is a title that’s always up for discussion, especially among the players. Whether it’s a long-time vet like Chris Johnson challenging Michael Vick to a (sadly, never run) race in training camp, or some good-natured banter between any of the hundreds of players on Twitter, someone is always staking a claim to the title of fastest 40 yard dash.

The best part? It’s an open debate, with the hard data from the combine and other electronically timed events butting up against legends of outrageously fast, 4.10 40 times recorded manually at obscure college pro-days or after-practice races.

So, who’s the fastest player in the NFL, and who’s the fastest at each position? It depends who you ask, and which numbers you trust. For this exercise, we’ll stick to verified 40 times from electronically timed events, courtesy of NFL Combine Results. Players are listed with their draft year and college team, as many have played for multiple NFL teams since entering the league.

Starting Slow… but Not Too Slow

Running backs, wide receivers, and defensive backs tend to steal the show when it comes to fastest 40 yard dash times. They’re not the only ones who get timed, though. Offensive lineman, defensive ends, and defensive tackles all run 40s, too. While their times may look slow compared to speedy skill-position players, many of these men are still quite fast relative to the average athlete.

Fastest Offense Lineman:

Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2013) – 4.71

Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (2013) – 4.72

Bruce Campbell, Maryland (2010) – 4.75

Fastest Defensive Tackles:

Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (2014) – 4.68

Tank Johnson, Washington (2004) – 4.69

Geno Atkins, Georgia (2010) – 4.75

Fastest Defensive Ends:

Bryan Thomas, Alabama-Birmingham (2002) – 4.47

Dwight Freeney, Syracuse (2002) – 4.48

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (2014) – 4.53

Speed Is a Luxury

Quarterback, tight end, safety, and linebacker are all positions at which speed is very useful, but not necessarily required. Some quarterbacks stay in the pocket, and some tight ends stay close to the line to block. A slower linebacker might focus on containing the running came, while a faster one works to sack the quarterback. Safeties need to be fast enough to cover, but strong enough to hit hard. Technique can make up for a relative lack of speed at any of these positions, but the best players tend to have a combination of both.

Fastest Quarterbacks:

Michael Vick, Virginia Tech (2001) – 4.33

Robert Griffin III, Baylor (2012) – 4.33

Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M (2006) – 4.40

Fastest Tight Ends:

Vernon Davis, Maryland (2006) – 4.38

Doring Dickerson, Pittsburgh (2010) – 4.40

James Hanna, Oklahoma (2012) – 4.43

Fastest Linebackers:

Bruce Irvin, West Virginia (2012) – 4.41

Von Miller, Texas A&M (2011) – 4.42

Mychal Kendricks, California (2012) – 4.44

Fastest Safeties:

Taylor Mays, Southern California (2010) – 4.33

Michael Huff, Texas (2006) – 4.34

Laron Landry, Louisiana State (2007) – 4.35

Speed Is Mandatory

Okay, maybe not mandatory, but it’s tough to play running back, wide receiver, or cornerback without some serious speed. With enough speed and agility, a tiny guy like Darren Sproles or Desean Jackson can make any defense look silly, and a thin defensive back like Deion Sanders can blanket any receiver in the league. From Gale Sayers to Barry Sanders to Chris Johnson, super-fast skill players have been lighting up the NFL for generations.

Fastest Cornerbacks:

Demarcus Van Dyke, Miami (2011) – 4.25

Stanford Routt, Houston (2005) – 4.27

Champ Bailey, Georgia (1999) – 4.28

Fastest Wide Receivers:

Trindon Holiday, Lousiana State (2010) – 4.21

Jacoby Ford, Clemson (2010) – 4.22

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (2009) – 4.25

Fastest Running Backs:

Chris Johnson, East Carolina (2008) – 4.24

C.J. Spiller, Clemson (2010) – 4.27

Darren McFadden, Arkansas (2008) – 4.33

The Fastest Players, Regardless of Position

As you can see from the positional lists, some of the greatest players of this generation also happen to be some of the fastest. That’s no coincidence. Trindon Holiday, the current fastest man in the league by electronic timing, is best known for his electrifying kickoff return touchdowns in the playoffs. RGIII and Michael Vick bend entire defenses when they flee the pocket.

Running backs like Chris Johnson and C.J. Spiller find seams in the defense in a flash, and sprint into open space before defenders even realize what happened. Even among the “slower” positions, the fastest players tend to have a better shot at success. Here are the overall top five fastest NFL 40 yard dash times, regardless of position.

Fastest NFL Players Overall:

Trindon Holiday, Louisiana State (2010) – 4.21

Jacoby Ford, Clemson (2010) – 4.22

Chris Johnson, East Carolina (2008) – 4.24

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (2009) – 4.25

Demarcus Van Dyke, Miami (2011) – 4.25

Speed Will Stay King in the NFL

Every edge matters in a sport as demanding as football, and speed is a major edge. Speed will remain a hot commodity as long as professional football is being played, as talent evaluators will always seek out the fastest players. And each year the debate will be renewed, at NFL draft parties and on training camp practice fields all over the country.

The men on these lists may be the fastest in the league now, but the next big thing is always lurking, reading to bust down some doors and claim the title of fastest 40 yard dash. Blink and you might miss the next speedy NFL star, dashing down the sideline with nothing but befuddled, frustrated defenders tackling air in his wake.


11 Fastest 40 Yard Dashes in NFL History – Sports Cheat Sheet

Fastest 40 Yard Dash Times in NFL History- Statistic Brain

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