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Faith In The 40

Posted Mar 7, 2013

The speed indicator for the draft means a lot -- or not, depending on who you talk to

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o runs the 40-yard dash at this year's Scouting combine.

The last time Leslie Frazier ran a 40-yard dash that mattered was in 1981, before all but three of his current players were born.

Frazier, the Minnesota Vikings head coach, was trying to break into the NFL as an undrafted free agent after a career at Alcorn State. Before 40s were timed electronically, before the combine had been started by Tex Schramm, Frazier impressed one team enough by running his fastest 40 in 4.5 seconds. Frazier was asked about his time at last month’s NFL Scouting combine in Indianapolis and was reminded that, despite winning a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears, he wasn’t a speed demon in the secondary at Soldier Field.

“No, I was not a burner coming out. Thank you for reminding me of that,” Frazier said. “It’s not relevant for what I do today. Who cares about my 40 time?”

Exactly. Who cares?

Depending on who you asked at the combine, a prospect’s 40 time was either completely irrelevant or the most telling factor in projecting a rookie’s success. And how much weight the 40 carries also depended on who was talking about it. Coaches and general managers didn’t put as much stock in the 40 as the players. Maybe that’s because of experience. Maybe that’s because of naiveté. But the race against the clock was yet again the star of the combine.

The 40 is like hang time in basketball. Everybody wants to have a good time but it doesn’t always translate into stardom – or even a starting job.

“The 40 doesn’t make you a football player, it’s not track,” Denver Broncos head coach John Fox said.

For one man, however, track actually helped his 40 time. Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin competed in the long jump at last year’s London Olympics, finishing 10th after a decorated collegiate career that included being among the Big 12’s best sprinters. Heading into the combine, Goodwin’s speed headlined his profile. He said his fastest 100 meters was 10.09 seconds and his personal record in the 60 meters was 6.69 seconds.

If there was one person whose 40 time everyone was paying attention to, it was Goodwin’s.

“I’m looking to run at least one of the fastest times, if not the fastest,” he said a day before running. “I’m really looking to prove I’m more than just a speed guy, that I can run routes.”

He ran a 4.27, second fastest at the combine.

Being fast at the combine, however, is great for a prospect’s portfolio but the examples of players who don’t pan out despite a jaw-dropping 40 keeps growing. Guys like Charles Rogers, Troy Williamson, Matt Jones, Vernon Gholston and Courtney Brown come to mind.

Then there’s the other list, the players who don’t turn heads with their 40 times and end up winning a Super Bowl. That was the case with former Cardinal receiver Anquan Boldin. He ran the 40 in 4.72 seconds coming out of Florida State in 2003 and immediately starting falling down draft boards.

Indianapolis Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson uses Boldin as the poster boy of scouts relying too heavily on a player’s combine results. A few months before he set the NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie in their first game, Boldin was projected to be a first-round pick. Then came the 4.7. Then came the second round.

In February, Boldin won his first Super Bowl ring with Baltimore after a stellar career with the Cards and Ravens.

“At the beginning of the process he was way up there,” Grigson said. “You’ve got to take note of that. You also have to temper that with you don’t want to take a guy too early because you love him when the market is bearing he should be taken later.”

All week, college juniors and seniors proclaimed their proclivity for speed, their desire to be the next fourth-round pick to sprint into the second. They worked for months on their 40 times in warm climates like Arizona, California and Florida, with speed gurus and weighted ankles.

University of Florida defensive lineman Shariff Floyd was most looking forward to running the 40, despite speed not being a high priority for a defensive lineman. He ran it in a few clicks shy of 5 seconds.

While guys were throwing around predictions like they were clichés (“I’m just going to show people I can run.”), a couple prospects were realistic. Texas defensive end Alex Okafor hasn’t run a 40 since his sophomore year of high school.

“It’s not needed,” he said. “A 40-yard dash is not needed in football at my position.”

But it was Zach Boren, Ohio State’s fullback last season, who said what a lot of people were thinking.

“What it really all comes down to is game speed,” he said. “It’s not straight line, 40 yards. There can be a guy who runs 4.1 and when he’s (wearing) pads, he’s 4.5. I definitely think I’m fast enough.”

So does Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker had the most attention of any of the 331 other NFL hopefuls at the combine, and it wasn’t just because of the circumstances surrounding the girlfriend hoax. Te’o didn’t live up to his billing in the BCS National Championship Game in January, raising questions about his overall football ability, including his speed. Down 14 pounds from the season, Te’o ran a 4.82 in the 40, the fifth-slowest time by a linebacker.

But, as Fox said, the 40 doesn’t make Te’o, or anyone else, a football player.

Just as Te’o’s time was a story, so was Lane Johnson’s. Johnson’s was overshadowed by one-tenth of a second.

The Oklahoma offensive tackle knew coming into the combine he was faster than his fellow linemen from around the country, and he wanted to leave his mark. Sounding like your average college guy, Johnson boasted about breaking the “combine record” in the 40. The offensive lineman’s record, of course. But then, as soon as the words came out, he seemed to have an epiphany of sorts.

“I don’t know how big a 40-yard dash comes into the draft status for a lineman but I think what they want to see is a good 10-yard split, a good 20-yard split, showing that you have good explosion out of your stance,” he said.

He sure showed the scouts. Johnson ran the second-fastest 40 for an offensive lineman in 4.72 seconds – a tenth off the fastest 40 by an offensive lineman this year – but it included the fastest 10-yard split, 1.61 seconds.

Just in case someone listening to Johnson wasn’t sure which record he was predicting would fall, the 6-foot-6, 303-pounder was asked to clarify.

“Yeah, for offensive linemen,” he said. “If y’all thought I was going to run 4.24, that’s crazy, no – just to clear that up.”

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