In the wise words of my college teammate Robert Isaac: speed kills! But does it really?
I have wavered on this fact throughout my years of watching, playing, and coaching football. So I shall put the theory to test for you, the reader, to ultimately decide.
The 2012 NFL Combine is over and all stats are final. It has been infinitely noted that all NFL scouts, coaches, and player personnel directors look first to the 40-yard dash time to measure the caliber of worthiness of their future draft picks. Now we are talking strictly skill positions here, and to furthermore narrow in, let's just stick to the wide receivers and defensive backs.
The 2011 NFL statistical leaders for wide receivers were (Receiving Yards): 1. Calvin Johnson, 2. Wes Welker, 3. Victor Cruz, 4. Larry Fitzgerald, 5. Steve Smith.
The 2011 NFL statistical leaders for defensive backs were (Interceptions): 1. Kyle Arrington, 2. Eric Weddle, 3. Charles Woodson, 4. Brandon Browner, 5. Dashon Goldson.
The average Combine 40-yard dash time for 2011's top 5 wide receivers is 4.47. The average combine time for 2011's top 5 defensive backs is 4.51.
Now don't get me wrong, these are both fast times. But, what quantifies the worth of speed? Is it how fast you can run in a straight line 40 yards from point A to point B? Is it how fast you are while changing direction within a given space? Or, is it how fast you are in the last milliseconds of a play while the ball is in the air? Some of you are picking your poison right now, while the rest are saying, "All of the above." Now you share my dilemma.
You see, I was lucky enough to play at that level briefly and let me tell you, everyone is fast! Well mostly everyone, but I can tell you this: no one gets caught from behind. The 40-yard dash is an art, but on the field of play it's a skill. Instinct, football IQ, and anticipation. These are the skills that I recognized as the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 players.
Should so much weight be put on a player's 40 time? Maybe, but I'm not quite sure. Speed certainly can rectify just about any bad circumstance, but is it enough of a difference maker when the margin between fast and not fast is .2 to .4 tenths of a second? Now you hear me knocking? Well let me in.
If you are looking at a player's full skill set and the 4.6 guy grades out better than the 4.4 guy, who are you going to draft? Share my dilemma, because I think I just added the 4.6 guy to my squad.