Throw out your old “40″ times, it’s the Combine measurement that counts…

The Mendoza Line for skill positions in the NFL is 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash…(but don’t ever tell an offensive lineman that his is not a “skill position”, you may justifiably get a personal demonstration of a cut block).

Based on their high school and college times recorded in the “40″, most NFL-eligible athletes may think they’ve already got the 40-yard dash drill in the bag.

NFLN announcer Rich Eisen will attempt to better the 6.18 he recorded at last year’s Combine…

But word comes out of JB-Land near Austin, Texas… a lot of guys with 4.5 and better on their resumes really can’t run that fast…

There’s a timing controversy in the great state of Texas, where football is a religion and where getting a college football scholarship is equivalent to entering the priesthood. Going on to the pro’s is like being elevated to Monsignor.

A reporter named Adam Nettina examined this trend of “Phony 40″ times as early as 2009 in an article for “In The Bleachers“….
“Unlike casual fans and bloggers who love to inflate, proliferate, and generally just throw 40-yard dash times around as if they were fixed height and weight statistics, I tend to take a more modest approach when it comes to examining the sport’s most infamous measurement of its most prized commodity: speed. As many of you are no doubt aware by now, I’m typically very, very skeptical of 40-yard dash times that I hear. I referenced this on National Signing Day:”

The Austin American Statesman has a great article to keep the “numbers” of National Signing Day in perspective. Those who read the blog on a regular basis know I am highly skeptical of reported 40 yard dash times, often because they are self-reported and quite frankly, highly inflated. It’s good to see someone set the record straight when it comes to this issue.

Mansfield Timberview running back Eric Stephens — the No. 36-rated recruit on the Fabulous 55 — is 5-11, 200 pounds and has 4.38 speed on texasfootball.com. On Rivals.com, the Texas Tech-bound Stephens is 5-8 (three inches shorter), 177 pounds (nearly 25 pounds lighter) and, according to the site’s analysis, “doesn’t have home run speed.”

Stephens, insists Timberview coach Terry Cron, is 5-8, 200 pounds and runs about a 4.56.

“I don’t know where some of these guys get their numbers from,” Cron said. “It seems like they heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy, and that’s good enough to report.”

I encourage you to read the rest of the article, which deals with the “magic” number of a sub 4.6, which many prospects know they must report to even be considered for a FBS offer. Frankly, this whole obsession over 40-times as THE basis for evaluating and offering players is getting out of hand.

I reference this post just to remind everyone that when it comes to 40-yard dash times, you’re almost always hearing something that’s at the very least marginally – but more often than not substantially- inflated. This view is consistent in all levels of competition, but seems especially prevalent and most profound at the high school level, where there is often a lack of standardization of testing for the drill. In other words, even if you are getting the “true” 40-yard dash time from the player, there often is no way to verify it under controlled conditions. We all know certain factors like weather, wind, surface, timing method, and even clothing can effect the speed of an individual over 40 yards, and that’s not even factoring in the countless number of 40-yard dashes a prospect can run in trying to best his previous times. In other words, there are seldom any 4.3 guys. Heck, I’m not even sure there are many 4.4 or 4.5 guys. But are there a very select handful who have run a 4.3? Sure, but more often than not it’s been on a “fast track” indoor surface with the benefit of a generous, if not altogether “home team ” timing method.

Nettina’s main point leads us to a better understanding of why Combine times in the “40″ are often “disappointing”, and how in the world could Anquan Boldin have put up a 4.7 in his rookie year?

This has been, I believe, the key component in examining why 40-yard dash times at the NFL combine have typically been slower
than one would imagine. So often led to believe that NFL skill position players must run below the magical line of 4.5 seconds, your average NFL fan would be shocked (yes, shocked) to learn that the average NFL combine times for running backs since 2005 is actually 4.56, while the average time for receivers is 4.57. This very relevant truth must be especially disconcerting with each passing year, as former high school stars of the Rivals.com and Scout.com generation find themselves posting electronic times slower than the ones they claimed coming out of high school. All of this comes to us not only on the eve of this year’s scouting combine, but also on the heels of the Kennedy/CES Combine held in Atlanta.

The combine, held for many of the southeast’s top high school juniors, is thought by some to signal the unofficial start of the recruiting process. Back in 2009, as expected, several prospects stood out. One of these young men, wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, ran a blistering 4.34 40-yard dash at a mind boggling 6’2, 197-lbs. Another prospect, defensive back Ryan Ayers, ran an insane 4.31. And don’t forget about quarterback Qudral Forte, who posted an impressive 4.38. The only problem is that he didn’t. In fact none of them did. Rogers ran a 4.55, Ayers a 4.49, and Forte a 4.59. The discrepancy you ask? The former times were taken from a hand-timer, the latter from an electronic timer - just like to one that is used at the NFL combine. Not excusing the still relevant point that all three of these young men are extremely fast, but suddenly they don’t look like the all-world sprinters that fans and recruiting junkies like to so often associate them with. Just looking at the numbers alone, it’s easy to see someone associating a 4.34 or 4.31 and saying that individual is a 4.3 player.

Heck, our tendency to associate 40-yard dash times with the standard tenth of a second could even lead many to cite Forte as a player who runs in the 4.3s. But he’s not. He more of a “4.6″ guy, just as much as Rogers is a mid-4.5 guy and Forte is a 4.5 guy. So what’s my point? Am I just trying to rip on three random high school juniors who just so happened to test very well (but not that well) at a recent high school combine? Of course not. But I think it’s important to keep the numbers in perspective. Knowingly or not, fans and media members have created a culture in the sports that’s conducive to this obsession and inflation of individual and team speed. In doing so, we’ve in fact created our own monster when it comes to not only evaluating talent, but in effect determining the educational and financial situations of the thousands of young men who hope to earn college football scholarships.

In an effort to keep pace with numbers that are all to often misleading (like the hand-timed 40-yard dashes above) more and more high school football players inflate, mislead, or flat-out lie about their own 40-yard dash times with increasing regularity, proliferating a myth of what is truly fast and what is not. Yet when we evaluate the numbers across the board (and not just in the 40-yard dash either) we find that the benchmarks for measurables such as size, speed, and strength are not what we thought they were.

Does that make the young men who play the game any less impressive from an athletic standpoint? Of course not. So why is it then that some 42 year-old bum sitting in his cubicle has the audacity to categorically determine whether a player is “fast enough” or “strong enough” to play Division I football? It boggles my mind, and hopefully, after reading and studying over the above facts, it starts to boggle yours as well. For More on 40-Yard Dash Times and the NFL Draft, be sure to check out DraftDaddy.com’s excellent article on average testing times since 2005.

Thanks to Adam Nettina and “In The Bleachers” for the research in this blurb…

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.