This week, hundreds of prospects will compete in the most public of auditions for an NFL career at the league's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. Live workouts begin Friday and continue through Monday, and no drill will receive more attention from football fans than the 40-yard dash.
The 40-yard dash appeals to both casual fans and professional scouts who salivate over athletic potential. There’s also a major incentive for the players this year, as the top three finishers wearing adidas cleats will each win a Porsche 911 Carrera.
So, who will run the fastest time this weekend?
Last year, Kent State tailback Dri Archer claimed the title by running a 4.26, the second-fastest time ever recorded at the combine. Archer was drafted late in the third round and played sparingly in his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Will anyone top the modern record of 4.24 seconds, set by Chris Johnson back in 2008? Probably not. But there are several speedsters who could crack the famed 4.3-second mark and rocket themselves up draft boards across the league.
Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett owns the fastest recorded 40 time heading into the combine at 4.32 seconds, according to the prospect leaderboard at CBSSports.com. He has also reportedly been clocked at 4.29 seconds and is thus the odds-on favorite to post the weekend's top time.
Dorsett's production didn’t always match his skill set at Miami, and he sits outside the top 10 wide receivers on most draft boards as a result. Dorsett had seven games with less than 50 receiving yards last season, and his best performances came against inferior competition like Arkansas State and Florida A&M.
Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
Ronald Darby arrived in Tallahassee as the nation’s top prep cornerback, thanks in part to a blazing 4.37-second 40-yard dash in high school.
He quickly lived up to that billing, earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman. During the Seminoles' national championship run, opponents simply decided to avoid targeting Darby; he was targeted just 27 times as a sophomore, allowing only nine completions and no touchdowns, according to his Florida State player page.
For that reason, Darby’s counting stats as a junior in 2014 (43 tackles, four pass breakups, zero interceptions) weren’t very impressive. But his wheels are, and he could see his stock rise in the coming months with a few impressive workouts.
Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
Perhaps the most dangerous deep threat in college football last season, Devin Smith emerged as a breakout star during Ohio State’s championship run. He teamed up with Cardale Jones to lay waste to Wisconsin’s defense in the Big Ten championship game, hauling in three long touchdown receptions in the Buckeyes' 59-0 win.
That performance was no anomaly—in racking up 33 receptions for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns, Smith averaged a ridiculous 28.2 yards per reception as a senior.
Smith also competed on Ohio State’s track and field team for three years, tying for second in the high jump in last year’s Big Ten outdoor championships. It’s clear he has the athleticism to cut it in the NFL, and he should be a joy to watch at the combine.
Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
Coates will probably be the highest-drafted player on this list. The Auburn wideout was named the "top freak" in college football last summer by FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman, and that was before he tore up Alabama’s defense for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last November's Iron Bowl.
As Feldman noted, Auburn’s assistant coaches consistently hand-clocked Coates at 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash. It’d be a bit optimistic to expect Coates to match that at the combine, which uses an electronic timing system, but it also seems foolish to put anything past a player with his remarkable blend of size and speed.
Michael Dyer, RB, Louisville
Remember Michael Dyer, the MVP of the 2010 BCS title game? He rushed for 2,335 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two years at Auburn, breaking Bo Jackson’s freshman school record for rushing yards in the process, but his circuitous journey to the NFL since then dropped his draft stock considerably.
During Dyer’s sophomore year at Auburn, he was suspended indefinitely by then-coach Gene Chizik for failing multiple drug tests. He transferred to Arkansas State to play for former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn but never played a down there after a controversial traffic stop further muddled his reputation.
Dyer was pulled over and lectured by a policeman for carrying a firearm, even though Dyer had a permit for the legally obtained, unloaded gun. He was never charged with a crime, and the officer who pulled over Dyer was fired as a result of the incident. But the embattled player was nevertheless ousted from Arkansas State.
After spending a year at Arkansas Baptist College, Dyer transferred to Louisville, where he rushed for 704 yards, seven touchdowns and 4.57 yards per carry across two seasons. It’s unclear if Dyer, now 24, still possesses the top-end speed that helped him run a 4.37 40-yard dash in high school. But if he does end up posting one of the quickest times this weekend, you can bet that general managers will be debating until April whether Dyer is worth risking a flier on.
PointAfter is part of the FindTheBest network, a research website that’s collected all the information about Sammie Coates and Devin Smith and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it.
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