Who Are NFL’s Fastest Players? Injured Packers Make Top-25 List

Christian Watson and Eric Stokes rank among the fastest players in the NFL. Now, can they stay healthy and turn that speed into production for the Packers?
Packers WR Christian Watson clutches his hamstring against the Chiefs.
Packers WR Christian Watson clutches his hamstring against the Chiefs. / Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin /
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Christian Watson and Eric Stokes rank among the fastest players in the NFL, but can they outrun their injury histories to help the Green Bay Packers?

The 33rd Team used 40-yard dash times and Next Gen Stats game data to assemble a list of the 25 fastest players in the NFL. Stokes was 23rd and Watson was 15th.

What do they have in common beyond having elite speed?

Injuries.

Because of recurring hamstring injuries, Watson missed the first three games and the final five games of the regular season in 2023. In between, he played 40.7 percent of the offensive snaps. He also dealt with hamstring issues in 2022.

Just as he was rounding into form last year with five catches for 94 yards and one touchdown at Detroit and seven catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City, Watson suffered a hamstring injury late in the win over the Chiefs. He returned for the playoffs but caught only two passes for 20 yards.

“It’s a shame that hamstring injuries have robbed Christian Watson of so much time during his first two years,” The 33rd Team’s Marcus Mosher wrote. “There aren’t many players with his size and long-speed.”

Watson was an All-Pro and ironman compared to Stokes, who served three stints on injury lists. After missing the first five games, Stokes played four snaps on special teams before suffering a hamstring injury. After missing seven games, Stokes was elevated directly into the starting lineup for two games before suffering another hamstring injury that ended his season.

In three games, he played 9.9 percent of the defensive snaps. Even in limited playing time, no Packers cornerback gave up more touchdown passes than Stokes (three, according to Pro Football Focus).

Presumably, both players will be on the field for OTAs this week.

“He’s been full go. He looks great,” coach Matt LaFleur said of Stokes after the draft.

Part of the Packers’ offseason to-do list was finding answers to allow two of their most talented players to get on the field and stay on the field.

After the early layoff last year, it took Watson time to find his stride. Similarly, it was almost too much to ask of Stokes to go from injured reserve to the starting lineup.

Both players met with specialists to find solutions to their issues. Plus, LaFleur no doubt is hoping the new training staff led by Aaron Hill will make a difference.

“He’s went down and saw all the specialists and did everything the training staff has done, and they’ve done a tremendous job. He’s in a great place right now,” passing-game coordinator Jason Vrable said of Watson recently. “I haven’t done anything different with my training with him. With him, I just say, ‘Hey, if there’s ever a day you maybe feel fatigued or run down from multiple days in a row, just give me a heads up and let me know.’ So, we’re more on the same page.

“Everybody thinks a young player should just be able to run for days. The difference in him is that when he’s running, he’s hitting 21 mph multiple days in a row. For whatever reason, we just had some unfortunate circumstances where he’s had the injuries. I said it last year, we’re a better team when he’s out on the field, and I think everybody knows that around this building. He’s had a great offseason, he’s in great spirits, and just keep growing with him.”

Stokes and Watson have been impact players when healthy. Even in a deep receiver room, Watson is the team’s field-tilting threat on offense. Stokes could provide a major lift at cornerback, a position group filled with as many questions as answers at the start of OTAs.

Watson, a second-round pick in 2022 who ran his 40 in 4.36 seconds, has scored 13 touchdowns in 23 career games. Stokes, a first-round pick in 2021 with 4.31 speed in the 40, has been unable to replicate a tremendous rookie season. During his debut season, he started 14 games and led the Packers with 14 passes defensed (according to the official league stats) and all rookie cornerbacks with 18 forced incompletions (according to PFF). However, he has zero passes defensed in 12 games the last two years.

“I’ve seen him play, I’ve seen the film, I’ve seen the speed,” defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley said of Stokes recently, “and he’s been impressive so far.”

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Bill Huber

BILL HUBER

Bill Huber, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2008, is the publisher of Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: packwriter2002@yahoo.com History: Huber took over Packer Central in August 2019. Twitter: https://twitter.com/BillHuberNFL Background: Huber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played on the football team, in 1995. He worked in newspapers in Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Shawano before working at The Green Bay News-Chronicle and Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1998 through 2008. With The News-Chronicle, he won several awards for his commentaries and page design. In 2008, he took over as editor of Packer Report Magazine, which was founded by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and PackerReport.com. In 2019, he took over the new Sports Illustrated site Packer Central, which he has grown into one of the largest sites in the Sports Illustrated Media Group.