Prospect workouts concluded on Monday with defensive backs and safeties working out at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. With the 2015 combine now in the books, let’s take a look back at who posted the most jaw-dropping 40-yard dash times overall.
Even though the 40 isn’t a perfect indicator of future success in the NFL, the drill gave fans a peek at which future rookies possess “NFL speed” and who needs to spend a little more time on “leg days” in the gym.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Marcus Mariota showcased his Oregon-style speed with an unofficial time of 4.52 seconds, the best among all QB prospects. In doing so, he easily outpaced fellow top prospect Jameis Winston, who clocked in at 4.97 seconds, the third-worst time of the 13 quarterbacks who ran at the combine.
Both are in the mix to be selected No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay. Mariota’s time stacks up favorably compared to other NFL QBs. Though it isn’t quite up to the standard set by Robert Griffin III (4.41) in 2012, he bested Russell Wilson (4.55), Cam Newton (4.56), and other traditional pocket passers such as Andrew Luck (4.67), Aaron Rodgers (4.71) and Tom Brady (5.28).
J.J. Nelson, WR, UAB
J.J. Nelson was part of the final UAB football team in school history this season, as the school that produced current Falcons receiver Roddy White decided to fold the squad recently due to financial issues. But Nelson seemingly is determined to give his school a lasting legacy in the NFL. He submitted the only sub-4.3 time at the combine, clocking in at 4.28 seconds. Nelson, undersized at 5’11” and 160 lbs., hasn’t received a lot of attention from draft pundits thus far. But that could very well change now. He didn’t often face strong competition since UAB competed in the lackluster Conference USA. However, his best game during his senior season came against SEC foe Mississippi State. The speedster netted 144 receiving yards and a touchdown in a 47-34 loss against the Bulldogs, who were College Football Playoff contenders for most of the season.
Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Spartan fans earned some bragging rights at the combine, as Trae Waynes posted the second-best time overall (4.31 seconds) in the 40 and the fastest among all defensive backs. That followed up former Michigan State tailback Jeremy Langford running the quickest time (4.42 seconds) of all 31 running backs to toe the line at the combine. Waynes was already considered by many to be the No. 1 cornerback in this draft, and his lightning-quick time could help him solidify his position as the first DB off the board.
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
Former West Virginia wideout Kevin White also improved his stock Saturday with a blazing time of 4.35 seconds, as well as a 36.5-inch vertical jump. White has risen from a virtual nobody during his junior year with the Mountaineers to a first-round lock after compiling 109 receptions, 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns during his senior year in Morgantown.
Ronald Darby, Florida State
Coming into Monday, Ronald Darby was seen as the strongest contender to leap Nelson on the 40-yard dash leaderboard. He had, after all, finished the drill in 4.37 seconds during high school. He couldn’t quite manage that feat in Indy, but the former Seminole did post the third-best time (4.38) among defensive backs behind Waynes and former Mississippi State safety Justin Cox (4.36).
During a national championship run two seasons ago, Darby was targeted just 27 times and allowed only nine completions and no touchdowns, per his Florida State player profile page. He definitely has the football skills to become an NFL starter, so it was good to see him nearly match his impressive 40 time from high school.
Phillip Dorsett, Miami
Phillip Dorsett ended up third on the leaderboard with a time of 4.33 seconds. He might not have delivered on his status as the odds-on favorite to post the fastest time at the combine, (or to break Chris Johnson's record, which some thought he could do), but his fluid running motion and sub-4.4 time surely impressed onlookers nonetheless. What Dorsett needs to work on are his football skills. He’s currently ranked outside the top-10 wide receivers on most draft boards since his speed failed to produce consistent success on the field while at Miami. He had seven games with fewer than 50 receiving yards last season, and his best performances came against FCS competition like Arkansas State and Florida A&M.
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Amari Cooper showed just one of the reasons why he’s the consensus top receiver in this year’s draft, running the 40 in 4.42 seconds. That, combined with his 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns during his final season at Alabama, have him positioned as a lock to go off the board early in the first round come April.
Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
It’s funny how a time of 4.42 seconds can provide validation for some players like Cooper while creating doubts about others. As a former track star at Ohio State, Devin Smith was expected to perform slightly better than he did on Saturday. By racking up 12 touchdowns with an astronomical 28.2 yards-per-reception average last season forpredic the Buckeyes, Smith established himself as one of college football’s most dangerous deep threats. But he probably won’t be the fastest man on the field once he moves on to the NFL.
Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
As we predicted earlier this week, Sammie Coates will likely be drafted on Day 1. But his 40-yard dash time (4.43) on Saturday was slightly disappointing, considering the former Auburn wideout was reportedly hand-timed at 4.25 seconds by Tigers assistant coaches in drills leading up to last season. The hype around Coates led FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman to name him the “top freak” in college football. Coates’ time serves as yet another warning to those who get overly excited about freakish times posted in the friendly environment of hand-timing and college coaches. Still, NFL scouts are still likely salivating over Coates’ stunning showing against Alabama’s vaunted defense in the Iron Bowl last November, when he compiled 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Although Coates’ 40 time was somewhat underwhelming, his top-prospect status is safe.
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