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  1. #1
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    Dash of doubt ..

    The San Diego Union-Tribune
    By Mark Zeigler
    STAFF WRITER


    The NFL treats 40-yard dash times as sacred. But if those numbers are true, many players are faster than Olympic gold medalists and their clockings should be eyed with a dash of doubt

    The shortest distance that the IAAF, track and field's international governing body, recognizes for world-record purposes is an indoor 50 meters, or about 54 yards. It is 5.56 seconds and it was set by Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey in 1996. There is also a world record for 60 meters – 6.39 seconds by American Maurice Greene in 1998.

    But it is another Canadian, Ben Johnson, who is believed to have run 40 yards faster than any human in history. Johnson is best known for injecting copious amounts of steroids and winning the 100 meters at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul in 9.79 seconds, only to have his gold medal and world record stripped after failing a post-race drug test.

    Timing officials have since broken down that famed race into 10-meter increments, and Johnson was so preposterously fast that he went through 50 meters in 5.52 seconds and 60 meters in 6.37 – both under the current world records at those distances. He went through 40 yards that day in 4.38 seconds.

    He was running in spikes . . . on a warm afternoon perfectly suited for sprinting . . . with a slight tailwind . . . with years of training from arguably track's top coach, Charlie Francis . . . with Carl Lewis and six others of the fastest men on the planet chasing him . . . with 69,000 people roaring at Seoul's Olympic Stadium . . . with hundreds of millions of people watching on TV . . . with the ultimate prize in sports, an Olympic gold medal, at stake.

    And, as we learned later, with muscles built with the assistance of the anabolic steroid stanazolol.

    Four-point-three-eight seconds.

    Then again, maybe Ben Johnson isn't the fastest 40-yard man in the world.

    Maybe half the NFL is faster.



    It can be the most important few hours of a football player's career. It is the day NFL scouts come to campus to determine whether prospects have what it takes to play at the next level.

    Players are measured to the quarter-inch. They're weighed to the half-pound. They do a vertical jump and a standing broad jump. They see how many times they can bench-press 225 pounds. They do a 20-yard shuttle drill and something called a three-cone drill. They are put through a short workout specific to their position.

    But it is something else that commands everyone's attention, something else that interrupts the businesslike atmosphere of players shuffling from one station to the next. Something else that causes scouts and spectators to snap to attention.

    The 40-yard dash.

    It is the day's shortest event, and the most critical. No other statistic carries more influence for an NFL prospect, no single number has more impact on his draft fortunes. It's not called Pro Scouting Day or Pro Prospect Day or Pro Workout Day. The sign taped to the weight-room door at San Diego State on March 19 says: "Pro Timing Day."

    Or as local football agent David Caravantes puts it: "There's football speed and there's 40 speed, and the scouts will all tell you they understand that and game film is the most important thing. But how many defensive backs who ran a 4.6 are left on the draft board ahead of guys who ran 4.3?

    "I'll give you another example. There's this DB who was originally projected as a first-rounder. But he didn't run the 40 that fast – something like 4.6 instead of in the 4.4s – and now they're talking about him slipping to the second round. Well, he's looking at a minimum $4 million signing bonus if he goes in the first round and only about $1.6 million if he goes in the middle of the second round.

    "You do the math."

    The players are inside the SDSU weight room being measured and weighed. In the hallway outside are their agents, pacing. Nervously. Occasionally they'll walk outside, look up at the sky and stick out an upturned hand to feel the raindrops.

    This is not good. The plan, according to the schedule on the weight-room door, has the players lifting and jumping inside and running the 40 outside on SDSU's synthetic-turf practice field. The course marked with cones has them running on a spongy, soggy, uneven turf into a chilly wind with a dark sky spitting rain.

    That's not good for 40 times, and that's not good for business.

    The players leave the weight room and begin to warm up in the wind and rain. The agents squirm even more. They huddle with players, and soon the players are marching back into the weight room, demanding that they run inside on a strip of rubberized track laid between the various lifting machines.

    The fastest of the players at SDSU's Pro Timing Day, which also includes a half-dozen prospects from small West Coast schools, is Aztecs safety Marviel Underwood. Players each run the 40 twice, and Underwood is clocked in a hand-timed 4.38 both times.

    Other prospects run their 40s at the annual NFL Scouting Combine in February inside Indianapolis' RCA Dome, where this year Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones went 4.37. Jones is 6 feet 6, 242 pounds.

    It's also where Jerome Mathis, a wide receiver from tiny Hampton College in Virginia, sent his stock soaring with a reported 4.32. Some scouts apparently caught him sub-4.30. Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcels told people his stopwatch showed 4.25.

    Never mind that Mathis was running on the RCA Dome's notoriously slow artificial turf, or that he was running alone without the aid of fellow competitors pushing him. Or that his left hamstring was wrapped because of a slight muscle strain.

    Ben who?



    There are the legends about the 4.17 Deion Sanders ran in high tops when he was at Florida State, or the 4.15 by a cornerback from West Virginia, or the 4.0-something a high school kid ran down in Texas.

    Hogwash, all of it.

    Track coaches go to Pro Timing Days, and they see scouts starting their stopwatches with their thumb, which has a slower reaction time than the index finger. They see them crowding the finish line and anticipating – guessing, basically – when someone will cross it. They see running surfaces that weren't professionally measured or leveled. They see no starter's gun, no automatic timing device, no wind gauge.

    Grizzled track coaches love to say that the "clock doesn't lie." Well, it does in football.

    Say someone clocks a hand-timed 4.35 in an NFL workout.

    The accepted standard to convert a hand-timed event to its automatically timed equivalent is to round up to the nearest tenth of a second – in this case 4.4 – and add .24 seconds. Now you're at 4.64.

    Most football 40s don't go on a starter's pistol but on an athlete's motion. The average reaction time among elite sprinters (from the gun to the moment they exert pressure on the starting block's electronic pads) is about .15 seconds; for a football player with little track experience it probably would be closer to .2. Add that in, and you have 4.84.

    Now say it's a breezy day and you're running with a tailwind. Say it's 10 mph. Accepted track tables say that would provide a .07-second advantage over 40 yards. Add it in, and your 4.35 is suddenly a 4.91.

    There's no shame in running a 4.9-second 40, of course. World-class sprinters get a bad start or get a cold day, and they go through 40 yards in the high 4s, too.

    But NFL scouts aren't comparing their times to Ben Johnson in Seoul in 1988. They're comparing them to other players at a particular position, and that might be an even more dubious endeavor.

    The hope was that the top 300 or so prospects invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis would all run indoors under the same conditions with an automatic timing device. A great idea, in theory. But players are controlled by their agents, and why run on a slow surface with automatic timing in Indy six weeks after the college bowl season when you can run at your home campus on a lightning-fast track with the leniency of the stopwatch while having another month to train under an expert sprint coach?

    Two years ago, 32 running backs were invited to Indianapolis. Thirteen ran the 40 there.

    Enter the Pro Timing Day. There were more than 150 this year, most jammed into a three-week period in March, most held in a dizzying blend of conditions and surfaces.

    Take March 23, when there were pro days at 11 campuses. North Carolina State ran its 40s indoors in the weight room on a rubber floor. USC ran outdoors on a state-of-the-art track with a crosswind. Southern Illinois ran outdoors on FieldTurf in breezy, 42-degree weather. Southern Mississippi ran outdoors on FieldTurf but in still, 65-degree conditions.

    Virginia ran outdoors on a Tartan track, Northern Colorado outdoors on artificial turf, Northern Iowa in a dome, Georgia Southern and Bowling Green outdoors on grass, Boston College indoors on rubber. Lambuth, an NAIA school in Jackson, Miss., had its offensive line prospect run on a cracked tennis court.

    A couple weeks earlier, Louisiana-Monroe held pro day in a basketball gym.

    NFL teams have their own formulas for adjusting times based on the conditions, subtracting a tenth here, adding .12 there. But really, how exact a science can it be?

    "Nowadays, perception is reality," says Paul Turner, a University City High alum who played a season at receiver for the Buffalo Bills and trains college players for their pro days. "If they say it's a 4.29 and they have it written down, well, it must be a 4.29."



    Pro Football Weekly's 2005 Draft Preview is a 200-page analysis of the top prospects in painstaking detail. Below each player's name and position are three numbers: his height, weight and 40-yard dash time.

    Why 40 yards? Why not 20? Why not 60?

    The short answer is, no one knows. Draft historians will tell you the NFL stole the idea from colleges and that it came from an era when races were run in yards and not meters. The reasons the NFL went from 50 yards, its former measuring stick of speed, to 40 yards are more ambiguous.

    Some say 40 yards represents the distance between where players are aligned – from the running back to the free safety. Some say it is the longest distance a receiver can realistically cover before the quarterback is sacked. Some say it's the point when most people begin losing their form and slowing down, making it a better judge of a person's raw speed.

    The counter argument, of course, is that players rarely run 40 yards in an unimpeded straight line during a game. That there is a difference between pure speed and playing speed. That about three inches separate a player who runs 4.49 and a 4.50.

    That Blair Thomas ran a 4.4 and the New York Jets took him with the second pick in 1990, and Emmitt Smith ran a 4.7 and slipped to 17th.

    All of which is true.

    Veteran La Jolla-based agent Jack Bechta says Ron Wolf, the former general manager for the Green Bay Packers, explained it best to him once.

    "He told me that there are guys who are fast but play slow, and that there are guys who are slow but play fast," Bechta says. "He told me that, sure, there are exceptions, but you can't have a team full of exceptions. Their thinking is, you can't take a good football player and make him fast, but you can take a great athlete and make him a good football player.

    "You need a baseline, a common denominator, and that's what 40 times are. They are like minimum qualifying standards."

    So college players finish their senior seasons and have their agent hire a speed coach like Turner, or enroll them in one of several speed schools (at upward of $10,000) for the sole purpose of lowering their 40 time by two-tenths of a second. They learn how to start. They learn how to run with their feet higher off the ground, which goes against accepted football practice of low, quick feet necessary for rapid changes of direction.

    Some, no doubt, succumb to the temptation of anabolic steroids considering they are no longer under the auspices of the NCAA's testing program and don't yet quality for the NFL's.

    Even then, experts say, there is little you can do to make you appreciably faster. The major component in speed is the ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscles a person is born with. Rahn Sheffield, SDSU's longtime track coach, acknowledges that "only 17 to 19 percent" of speed can be developed.

    "Every coach and athlete is fascinated with one thing, and that's raw speed," says Sheffield, who trains about a dozen pro prospects for their 40s each year. "That's the one thing that every athlete doesn't have, the one thing that's unattainable for some people. Speed is the one thing they can't coach.

    "They talk about genetics and genetic codes. Well, this is their way of gauging that."

    Makes me wonder if Stevan Ridley might not be underrated .. The guy is a hard nosed runner who was very productive in college. He ran only 4.66 at his pro day, but he bench pressed 225 lbs 21 times and is 5'-11" and 230 -235 lbs. He will likely be still available as late as round 5 or maybe even 6 ..


  2. #2
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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    If the player plays hard, likes to work to improve, and has pro abilities, I'll take him every day over a player who produced little but was a combine star.
    I believe!

  3. #3
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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    This is a nice article, but how does it account for the electronically timed 40s they now run at the combine?

  4. #4
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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    Quote Originally Posted by tomahawk247 View Post
    This is a nice article, but how does it account for the electronically timed 40s they now run at the combine?
    The NFL Scouting Combine

    The beginnings of the combine took place in 1977, when the workouts were conducted by three separate scouting services National, Blesto and Quadra. The system was streamlined even further in 1984, when the workouts were moved to one site. The combine is an invite-only event, closed to all but invited players and NFL team officials. The 2008 NFL Combine will be held February 20th-26th 2008

    There are several reasons why the combine has become such an important part of the draft process. Among them:

    1. All 32 teams get to watch the prospects in an equal setting, under the same conditions.
    2. Owners, general managers and coaches have the opportunity to see most everyone who will be drafted -- all in one place, within a four-day period. There will be plenty of flying around the country for individual workouts in the weeks to come, but the combine is "one-stop shopping."
    3. The combine is another means of helping teams make good decisions, and the escalating cost of signing first-round draft picks makes the decision-making process all the more crucial. Teams spent a total of $160 million on signing bonuses for last year's first-round picks. They want to make sure they know what they're doing.

    Players stay at a hotel within walking distance of the RCA Dome. After dinner on Thursday, they will get a brief orientation on how to conduct themselves in the coming weeks (after the draft, rookies will have a three-day seminar that expands on life in the NFL).

    Here is a breakdown of the certain physical and mental tests the players will go through:

    40 Yard Dash

    Each and every prospect can be tested in the 40 yard dash, although each and every prospect can deny to be tested. The 40 yard dash is a test of speed, power, explosion, and a little bit of conditioning. Each prospect will be measured by the second and how long it takes you to complete a 40 yard sprint. The 40 yard dash will also be timed for 10 yard and 20 yard splits to test explosion.

    The Drill: From a three-point stance, a player runs 40 yards as fast as he can. He is timed at three increments: 10, 20 and 40 yards. The 10-yard time is especially important for offensive and defensive linemen because they usually don't run farther than that during a play. Players get hand-held times (by scouts using stopwatches) and electronic times (recorded by a machine using a beam).

    The fact that guys are still timed by hand is likely what leads to claims of outrageously fast 40 times. However this appears to be on the wane - particularly with the infusion of the latest technology which Julio Jones employed when he ran his forty yard dash ..See below:


    Under Armour, Julio Jones Introduce E39 Technology at NFL Scouting Combine
    By David G. Kindervate (Correspondent) on March 3, 2011

    If you watched any of the coverage from the National Football League Scouting Combine last weekend, you undoubtedly noticed some of the athletes wearing an unusual looking shirt with a round, glowing neon yellow sensor in the middle.

    One of those NFL hopefuls was Alabama receiver Julio Jones, who was arguably the most impressive all-around performer at the Combine. When Jones ran a blazing 4.3 40-yard dash, his acceleration, heart rate and power were being measured by this new device. And when he broad jumped a next-level 11.3 feet, more of his G Force and horsepower were recorded for evaluation.

    The Under Armour E39 is being touted as the most innovative athletic evaluation and improvement tool ever made. It’s a compression shirt fitted with electronic sensors that track an athlete’s biometric signals. That data, stored in the heart of the shirt, is transmitted to a computer or handheld device for the athlete/coach/trainer to review.

    The UA E39 measures an athlete’s heart rate, breathing rate and core acceleration/body positioning through what is known as “triaxial accelerometry,” the super-sensitive motion tracking technology that gives the ability to see and improve the way an athlete moves. There’s never been a device that includes all of this functionality.

    As far as the athlete is concerned, he now has the opportunity to perform in his pure environment while obtaining these valuable readings. No doctor’s office. No science lab. No sticky sensors. No wires. No treadmills. No limitations. Just the athlete performing in his natural state on his chosen stage—the way it should be.

    NFL coaches, scouts and trainers used to have to rely on their eyes and what they measured using traditional tools like a stopwatch at the NFL Scouting Combine and select Pro Days. Now, they have data that tells them everything about an athlete’s speed, power and acceleration to assist them in understanding what makes a player tick.

    The Under Armour E39 provides a level of precise detail never available before. And in the ever rigorous world of evaluating talent for purchase in the National Football League, Under Armour's E39 technology makes the whole process more thorough than ever before.

  5. #5
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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    The trouble here is that the guy seems to want to adjust everything to the track standard. If you're trying to determine a guy's exact speed, there's nothing logically wrong with starting from the moment he goes in motion as long as you're giving everybody else the same benefit. It's not wrong to say he ran a 4.37 (or whatever) just because the track world defines the start time as before the person starts moving.

    And not to put too fine a point on it, but trying to argue that the difference between two players 1/10th of a second apart is only 3 inches isn't insubstantial. If the same rate could be applied consistently, the difference between a 4.35 runner and a 4.45 runner could be 30 inches.

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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    Quote Originally Posted by Goldenfleece View Post
    And not to put too fine a point on it, but trying to argue that the difference between two players 1/10th of a second apart is only 3 inches isn't insubstantial. If the same rate could be applied consistently, the difference between a 4.35 runner and a 4.45 runner could be 30 inches.
    ...on the track, but in football the play doesn't happen where the wideout and CB both lineup without pads, wait for the snap, then take off full sprint and first to 40 wins. Truth be told, there aren't that many times the players can get to and maintain full sprints down the field. There is always a cut or a need to look back for the ball. There is a lot more to getting downfield than running 1/10 of a second faster over the course of 40 yards in a straight line with no impediments. I agree with the article, 40 times are hogwash. Watch film, see their football speed, not their track speed.

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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    I agree with Goldenfleece in that the article seems to derise 40 times of NFL players because to compare them to track runners you have to make all these different adjustments, such as the fact track runners have to react to a starters pistol rather than the clock starting when they run

    But you know what? NFL scouts aren't taking these 40 times to see which NFL player can run as fast as Usain Bolt. They are taking them to compare the speed of players against other players. While comparing a 40 time at the combine to a track runners 100m sprint is pointless, comparing the 40 time of two different wide receivers running on the same track, electronically timed, DOES give you an indication of a players speed.
    And like berg says, it's not really that important because game speed is different to straight line speed, but it can be fairly apparent that a player running a 4.4 40 is faster than a player running a 4.8

    The article is almost completely pointless. It's like me writing an article saying that comparing the conversion rates of field goal kickers in the NFL and penalty kick takers in soccer is wrong. Of course it's wrong, nobody is doing that in the first place!!

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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    Quote Originally Posted by berg8309 View Post
    ...on the track, but in football the play doesn't happen where the wideout and CB both lineup without pads, wait for the snap, then take off full sprint and first to 40 wins. Truth be told, there aren't that many times the players can get to and maintain full sprints down the field. There is always a cut or a need to look back for the ball. There is a lot more to getting downfield than running 1/10 of a second faster over the course of 40 yards in a straight line with no impediments. I agree with the article, 40 times are hogwash. Watch film, see their football speed, not their track speed.
    Game film only really gives you an idea of how fast they were compared to the guys they were playing against, and especially for guys who don't regularly play against top level competition, it can be hard to tell how well that speed translates into the NFL. Imagine trying to rank a draft board if you're only using game tape without measurables.
    Scout 1: "This guy looked really fast."
    Scout 2: "But my notes say this other guy looked super-fast."

    I think everybody basically understands that 40 times are not everything. That's why teams also ask for other timed exercises, run players through position drills, send scouts to games, review tape, etc.

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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    Quote Originally Posted by berg8309 View Post
    ...on the track, but in football the play doesn't happen where the wideout and CB both lineup without pads, wait for the snap, then take off full sprint and first to 40 wins. Truth be told, there aren't that many times the players can get to and maintain full sprints down the field. There is always a cut or a need to look back for the ball. There is a lot more to getting downfield than running 1/10 of a second faster over the course of 40 yards in a straight line with no impediments. I agree with the article, 40 times are hogwash. Watch film, see their football speed, not their track speed.
    Game film only really gives you an idea of how fast they were compared to the guys they were playing against, and especially for guys who don't regularly play against top level competition, it can be hard to tell how well that speed translates into the NFL. Imagine trying to rank a draft board if you're only using game tape without measurables.
    Scout 1: "This guy looked really fast."
    Scout 2: "But my notes say this other guy looked super-fast."

    I think everybody basically understands that 40 times are not everything. That's why teams also ask for other timed exercises, run players through position drills, send scouts to games, review tape, etc.

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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    I read few years ago that 40 yard dash was created by a coach who wanted to have his fastest players on punt unit. 40 yards was the average distance covered by punt, that is why we still use this distance. Don't know the veracity of the fact though.
    One of the thing that could be interesting could be to make players run ten 40 yard dash with about 40 seconds rest to have an average time. I'm sure some players are not super fast but could maintain their speed along the game better than really fast players.
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    Re: Dash of doubt ..

    Quote Originally Posted by tomahawk247 View Post
    I agree with Goldenfleece in that the article seems to derise 40 times of NFL players because to compare them to track runners you have to make all these different adjustments, such as the fact track runners have to react to a starters pistol rather than the clock starting when they run

    But you know what? NFL scouts aren't taking these 40 times to see which NFL player can run as fast as Usain Bolt. They are taking them to compare the speed of players against other players. While comparing a 40 time at the combine to a track runners 100m sprint is pointless, comparing the 40 time of two different wide receivers running on the same track, electronically timed, DOES give you an indication of a players speed.
    And like berg says, it's not really that important because game speed is different to straight line speed, but it can be fairly apparent that a player running a 4.4 40 is faster than a player running a 4.8

    The article is almost completely pointless. It's like me writing an article saying that comparing the conversion rates of field goal kickers in the NFL and penalty kick takers in soccer is wrong. Of course it's wrong, nobody is doing that in the first place!!
    I can agree with the apparent difference between 4.4 and 4.8, but too much is made over a guy getting a 4.45 and another gets a 4.39. I'm willing to bet Heyward-Bey would be a bit faster than say, Vincent Jackson right now in the 40, but Jackson still gets downfield much better, and has better game speed.

    At the end of the day, you can take down measurables all you want, but just because a guy runs faster, lifts more and jumps higher does not mean he plays football better.

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