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Once upon a time, Chad Johnson (or was he Ochocinco) challenged a race horse. While giving himself a head start, the Bengals star wide receiver won the race, proving that man can be faster than beast with a predetermined advantage. 

Johnson wouldn’t have held up in a fair race against many of the players in the modern NFL, though. Guys like Tyreek Hill, Raheem Mostert and even Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray display more apparent on-field speed than maybe anyone in NFL history. If not for high definition, they’d be blurs on our television screens. But who’s really the fastest player in the NFL?

It’s too bad the Pro Bowl doesn’t have it’s fastest man competition anymore. The fastest players in the NFL literally lined up and raced each other like they were track athletes. That’d be an easier way of solving this problem than anything else.

Who is the fastest player in the NFL?

There isn’t one perfect way to answer this question. The most easy thing to do is cite 40-yard dash times, but that’s also not simulating a football game played in pads with defenders attempting to tackle the ball carrier. 

Thankfully, the NFL’s Next Gen Stats have begun to help with this dilemma, providing sprint speeds for players on individual plays. That’s helpful – it can show us who has the most top-end speed in the league. In 2020, it looks like Raheem Mostert is the early favorite for fastest player in the NFL when you look at the table of Next Gen Stats data below.

The answer probably falls somewhere in the middle of these two data possibilities. A player’s straight line speed in workout clothes will generally translate to how fast he can be on the football field. The biggest problem for some of the fastest players who boost (think Darius Heyward-Bey of the Raiders) is that they don’t frequently enough free themselves up with the football in space to show off that blazing speed. It’s sort of irrelevant who the fastest player in the NFL is in a vacuum – teams are ideally looking for the players who have the most effective speed, mixing raw running velocity with the talent to let that speed play.

Top 10 fastest NFL players in 2020 (mph)

Here are the 10 fastest runs from the 2020 NFL season (via NFL’s Next Gen Stats):

Player Team Top speed (mph) Play event
Raheem Mostert 49ers 23.09 80-yard rushing TD
Raheem Mostert 49ers 22.73 76-yard receiving TD
Leonard Fournette Buccaneers 21.44 46-yard rushing TD
L’Jarius Sneed Chiefs 21.38 39-yard interception
Devin McCourty Patriots 21.33 43-yard interception TD
Tyreek Hill Chiefs 21.29 9-yard rush
Raheem Mostert 49ers 21.27 4-yard rush
Michael Gallup Cowboys 21.19 52-yard reception
Marquez Valdes-Scantling Packers 21.11 45-yard receiving TD
Ashton Dulin Colts 21.07 6-yard reception

Mostert has managed the two fastest runs of the season by more than a full mile per hour than the next closest name on the list, which is somehow 228-pound bruiser Leonard Fournette. It might be more remarkable that Hill, Mostert and Ashton Dulin got up to such high speeds on such short gains.

Top 10 fastest 40 times (active NFL players)

And here are the 10 fastest 40 times by active NFL players, recorded during either the NFL Combine or at a Pro Day:

Player Team 40-yard dash time Year Position
John Ross Bengals 4.22 2017 WR
Marquise Goodwin Eagles 4.27 2019 WR
Henry Ruggs III Raiders 4.27 2020 WR
Tyreek Hill Chiefs 4.29 2016 WR
Javelin Guidry Jets 4.29 2020 CB
Curtis Samuel Panthers 4.31 2017 WR
Andy Isabella Cardinals 4.31 2019 WR
Parris Campbell Colts 4.31 2019 WR
Will Fuller V Texans 4.32 2018 WR
Raheem Mostert 49ers 4.32 2015 RB

When Ross ran his 4.22-second 40-yard dash in 2017, he broke past the recent high-water mark of Chris Johnson’s 4.24-second 40. That hasn’t been touched in the three years since, with rookie Henry Rugs III coming the closest in 2020 at 4.27 seconds. 

It makes sense that Goodwin is fast – he’s one of the best athletes in the NFL and competed in the 2012 Olympics for the United States as a long jumper.

It’s also worth noting in regards to this list that Marquise “Hollywood” Brown of the Ravens has never run a reported 40-yard dash. He’s regarded as one of the fastest players in the NFL.

What is Tyreek Hill’s 40 time?

Tyreek Hill didn’t participate in the 2016 NFL combine because of a domestic abuse arrest. At West Alabama’s Pro Day, Hill was clocked at 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

What is Mecole Hardman’s 40 time?

Hill’s teammate and potential heir apparent in Kansas City is nearly as fast as “the Cheetah.” At the 2019 NFL Combine, Hardman ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, coming it 0.04 seconds behind Hill’s reported pro day time.

What is Raheem Mostert’s 40 time?

Despite being the class of speed in the 2020 NFL, Mostert didn’t come in with the fastest 40-yard dash time. He ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at Purdue’s Pro Day in 2015.

What is Nick Chubb’s 40 time?

Chubb has yet to break into the charts above, but he had a few of the fastest runs of the 2019 season. At the 2018 NFL Combine, though, Chubb ran just a 4.52-second 40-yard dash. 

What is Leonard Fournette’s 40 time?

Fournette’s presence on this list begs the question of how fast his 40-yard dash was. Like Chubb, he’s put together speedy long runs despite a relatively pedestrian 40 time of 4.51 seconds at the NFL Combine in 2017.

What is Odell Beckham Jr.’s 40 time?

Beckham remains one of the best receivers in the open field thanks in part to the 4.43 40-yard dash speed he showed off at the 2014 NFL Combine. 

What is Saquon Barkley’s 40 time?

Barkley made the top-10 run speeds list multiple times in 2019, but he won’t get to claim his place in the 2020 list due to a season-ending knee injury. In the 2018 NFL Combine, Barkley ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash.

What is Christian McCaffrey’s 40 time?

One of the best all-around running backs in the NFL, McCaffrey ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine.

What is Lamar Jackson’s 40 time?

Jackson didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but at a “speed day” put on by Louisville in 2017, he reportedly ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash. 

What is Patrick Mahomes’ 40 time?

Mahomes has incorporated running as a part of his game, but usually as more of a passer who scrambles while still looking to throw. His NFL Combine 40-yard dash time was 4.80 seconds.

What is Kyler Murray’s 40 time?

Murray also didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. When asked about it in 2019, he said that a few years earlier he’d run a 4.30 and was faster now. There’s a reason Murray was a first-round baseball pick as a potential major league centerfielder.

What is Josh Allen’s 40 time?

Allen has turned into one of the NFL’s best rushing quarterbacks, but he wasn’t superbly fast at the 2018 NFL Combine, running a 4.76-second 40-yard dash. 

Who is the fastest NFL player ever?

Without a time machine, there’ll never be a rock-solid answer to this. That’s because before 1999, the NFL used manual timing at the NFL Combine, leaving room for human error. The fastest player with electronic timing is the Bengals’ John Ross, who ran the 40 in 4.22 seconds in 2017.

Besides Ross, we’ve got to start with Bo Jackson, though. Jackson famously said in the 30-for-30 about him that he never lifted weights a day in his life, despite has chiseled physique. All that muscle didn’t stop Jackson from running a reported 4.13-second 40-yard dash at the 1986 Combine, which would just about break the Internet if it happened with electronic timing today.

Bob Hayes played for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s and 1970s after tying the world record in the 100-meter dash (10.06 seconds) at the 1964 Olympics. His nickname was Bullet for a reason. According to MileSplit’s convertor, that translates into a 4.19-second 40-yard dash, although we can’t say whether Hayes would’ve accelerated and maintained speed in the same proportion as to how he did in the 100-meter dash if he ran a 40-yard dash.

For what it’s worth, if Usain Bolt had ever run the 40-yard dash, he might’ve broken what seems like the impossible 4.0-second barrier. Bolt’s 9.58-second 100-meter dash time converts to a 3.99-second 40-yard dash. Bolt’s only problem would’ve been his long strides – he doesn’t pick up full speed until the second half of his 100-meter races, by which point his 40-yard dash would’ve already been over. 

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September 29, 2020
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