40 yard dash - How fast is FAST?

January 19, 2016


With the season nearing an end, many sports fans have ALREADY started to look toward the upcoming NFL draft. If you follow the NFL, one constant is the pursuit of speed. Though there are many factors that play into making the active roster, a bad 40-yard dash time may influence whether an athlete even gets an opportunity. As little as one-tenth of a second can be the difference between a roster spot with a minimum salary of $435,000 and missing the opportunity to play all together.   


History of the 40-yard Dash


The original basis for the distance (approximately 36.5 Meters) dates back to an old measurement used by special team coaches. The theory was, the average punt is 40 yards and has a hang time of about 4.5 seconds. Therefore, in order to properly cover the punt, a runner should be able to run the 40-yard dash in around 4.5 seconds. Over time, as NFL contracts have become more lucrative, the test has become a universal standard of performance for coaches testing speed.


How fast is fast?


The qualification of fast is somewhat dependent on the sport that you are playing, but most top athletes fall somewhere under 5.0 seconds. As technology has become more advanced so has the way the 40-yard dash is conducted. Because the first movement of an athlete can be very subtle and due to human error, the NFL has moved away for its original testing protocol of hand timing athletes with a stopwatch officially switching to photo cells or “laser timing” in 2000. Notably, an athlete has not produced a time below 4.24 seconds since the change, despite the introduction of thousands of specialized athletes and advances in training techniques and preparation. To many this has validated the importance of precision timing instruments. Laser timing now is universally recognized as the gold standard of testing in all sports, and is used by facilities like The Nike Sports Research Lab and Northwest Fitness to get official times that are accurate to the thousandth of a second.


Fastest Official NFL Times Pre-2000


Bo Jackson - 4.12 

Michael Bennett - 4.13 

Alexander Wright - 4.14 

Darrell Green - 4.15 

Ahman Green - 4.17


Fastest NFL Combine Times Post-2000


Chris Johnson - 4.24

Dri Archer - 4.26

Marquise Goodwin - 4.27

Marcus Van Dyke & Jacoby Ford - 4.28


The Future of the 40-yard dash


With the increase in concussion awareness and subsequent rule changes to limit the amount of contact allowed in the game of football, speed has become a much larger factor. In addition to rule changes, the introduction of performance analytics has created a dynamic value to the uses of speed in situational play and specialized positions. As such, collegiate and professional coaches are putting a much greater emphasis on not just the 40-yard dash and other speed and agility tests (Pro Agility Shuttle, 3 cone drill, etc.) but also the validity of those recorded times. The future is clear; Nothing changes the game like speed.


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