Fastest Players at NFL Combine (Fantasy Football)

by Ethan Sauers | @ethansauers | Featured Writer
Mar 6, 2018

Out of the events that take place at the NFL Combine, none seem to hold as much spectacle and excitement as the 40-Yard Dash. Maybe it goes back to the school-yard races, this idea of the freedom that was found in out-running everyone else. Or maybe it’s more than that — perhaps something divine? The late Raiders owner, Al Davis, believed that was the case. “You can’t teach speed,” Davis said. “Everything else in the game can be taught, but speed is a gift from God.” Regardless of differing draft-day philosophies, there’s something to that idea. GMs still salivate over the guys who are the prospects of clay, those raw bodies of pure athleticism, that they can mold into the player that they desire. That’s why we care about 40-times: potential. The prospects below have all demonstrated that they have that potential and have raised eyebrows as the fastest, at their position, in this draft.

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Lamar Jackson | Louisville | N/A
The Louisville QB surprised quite a few, this week, by opting out of the 40-yard dash. Jackson, who is undoubtedly the fastest QB in this draft, decided the focus at his workout should be strictly on his ability to play QB. “At first I was going to run, as a quarterback, but then they said wide receiver and I had to let them know I was just going to throw today,” Jackson said, calling it “absolutely” disrespectful that teams insinuate he should be a receiver. We’ll have to wait until March 29th, Louisville’s Pro Day, to find out his official time.

Quinton Flowers | South Florida | 4.63
Another QB who seems to be drawing some attention at a different position is USF QB, Quinton Flowers. Flowers, who ran the fastest QB 40-time in Indy this week (and tied for the 8th fastest by a QB since 2014), is being touted by some as a potential RB in the NFL. Flowers, on the potential transition, says he “came to do quarterback… but at the end of the day, [he’ll] do whatever it takes for the team to win.” After setting USF’s career and single-season rushing records, it’s clear Flowers has the rushing ability to make a difference.

J.T. Barrett | Ohio State | 4.70
J.T. Barrett’s QB play has had some ups and downs since coming on the scene in 2014 (his freshman year, in which he had the highest QB rating of his college career at 169.8). However, his speed and athleticism are undeniable assets that should help him excel at the next level.

Josh Allen | Wyoming | 4.75
Josh Allen was able to capitalize off of Jackson’s absence in the 40-yard dash by putting up the fastest time of the consensus top-five QBs of the draft (Allen, Darnold, Jackson, Mayfield, and Rosen). Allen’s intangibles and athleticism have not been in question but his performance in Indy this weekend has done nothing but improve his draft stock.

Running Back

Nyheim Hines | N.C. State | 4.38
Any time a player has a sub 4.4 40-time, it’s something of which to take note. Hines led the Wolfpack backfield with 1,112 yards on 197 attempts last year and has been compared to current NFL RB, Danny Woodhead (Hines is half an inch taller and one pound heavier with identical 40-times and a similar game). Hines has the ability to be a great receiving back in a backfield committee.

Saquon Barkley | Penn State | 4.40
Barkley’s athleticism has been the talk of the combine this week as he put up numbers that smashed expectations. His 4.4 time at his 233 weight reinforced the magic that many saw on tape last season at Penn State. Barkley’s athleticism was always a known commodity, but the ability to quantify it is now realized and has many believing he has cemented his top-five status, overall. Barkley’s knocks still remain, as some question his ability to lower his pads and embrace physicality as a part of his game.

Kalen Ballage | Arizona State | 4.46
The Sundevils had two RBs who worked out in Indy this week and the two saw quite opposite results. While Demario Richard’s performance was underwhelming, Kalen Ballage sparked some interest as his 4.46 tied for the third-fastest this year, at the position. Ballage’s size and playmaking ability make for an intriguing prospect. Ballage is second in career college receptions for RBs in this class (behind only Barkley).

Rashaad Penny | San Diego State | 4.46
When looking at RBs in this year’s draft class, it’s hard to find a more polarizing prospect than Rashaad Penny. Some have him as high as the third-highest-rated RB in the draft, while others have him middling further back. Regardless of where you fall on Penny’s tape, it’s easy to say that his speed at the Combine has helped showcase his skill set and brought his game into the spotlight moving forward.

Wide Receiver

D.J. Chark | LSU | 4.34
LSU’s passing game is often under criticism due to sub-par QB play. However, in the wake of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, attention should be given to the Tiger WRs that prove their athleticism and intangibles are at the top of their class. Chark certainly did so as he recorded the fastest 40-time by an offensive player this week, in Indy. His speed is undeniable, however, his route-running and physicality have been the biggest knocks on him, thus far.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling | South Florida | 4.37
Valdes-Scantling is South Florida’s single-season receiving yards leader but appears to be a rather raw prospect by NFL scouts. His speed and size will give him an opportunity at the next level, but his outlook is currently that of a day-three pick. If he puts in time to polish his game he can be a solid contributor at the next level, but his impact on a team won’t be immediate.

Robert Foster | Alabama | 4.41
All eyes seem to be on the other Alabama WR, Calvin Ridley, this draft. However, Robert Foster took advantage of his moment in the 40-yard dash. Foster, with a 4.41 time in Indy, never really came to fruition as a player on the Crimson Tide. He saw only 14 receptions in 14 games for 174 yards during his senior season and has major question marks that must be cleared up before getting drafted in April, though his athleticism seems to be his only ticket into the league. With a 40-time as such and his Five-Star pedigree coming out of high school, it will be interesting to see if a team gives him a chance to prove his worth with a late-round pick.

Antonio Callaway | Florida | 4.41
Callaway, as with Valdes-Scantling and Foster, seems to be a day-three name that might be worth watching. Working to combat the knocks against him (off-field issues and lack of dedication in weight/film rooms), Callaway has raw talent that could get him into an NFL training camp. If he’s able to make a roster, he’s likely not going to have any immediate playing time.

Tight End

Mike Gesicki | Penn State | 4.54
If you watched any Penn State football last season, it’s likely you know of Gesicki’s background as a volleyball player with a freakish set of intangibles. His catch-radius and overall athleticism were expected to impress in Indy, however, it was surprising that it would be at this level. At 6’6″/252, Gesicki’s 4.54 was the first indicator that he’d start climbing in the eyes of GMs and scouts. It’s worth noting that beyond Gesicki’s 40-yard time, he also placed as a top-5 TE in every event during his workout in Indy (including an absurd 41.5″ vertical).

Jaylen Samuels | N.C. State | 4.54
The Wolfpack used Samuels all over the field last season in an attempt to get the most of their most athletic player. Samuels is slated as a WR/TE hybrid, currently, who got some exposure in the backfield while at N.C. State. Samuels’ 4.54 tied for the top time with Gesicki and makes a bit of a splash as he jockeys for position with the other (more traditional) TEs in this draft. Also, like Gesicki, Samuels was a top-5 TE in all of his events during his Indy workout, however, he opted not to run the 60-yard shuttle.

Offensive Line

Brian O’Neill | Pittsburgh | 4.82
Pittsburgh recruited O’Neill to play TE, originally, however in 2015 (after his redshirt season) they moved him to OT. His athleticism is still there as he put in the second-fastest 40 time for an offensive lineman since 2014 (behind Aviante Collins‘ time from last year). O’Neill is still projected as a solid second- or third-round pick with a great combination of quickness and strength that should help as he improves his technique.

Defensive Standouts

EDGE | Leon Jacobs | Wisconsin | 4.48
When looking for those NFL “War-Daddy” guys on the outside, speed and burst are vital in being a real difference maker off the edge. Jacobs’ speed gives him the ability to drop into coverage and cover in space if needed but also the ability to gain the edge on blockers. Scouts have mentioned slow diagnoses of plays put him at a bit of a disadvantage off the edge, but he should definitely have an opportunity to make and NFL roster this Fall.

LB | Shaquem Griffin | Central Florida | 4.38
If you haven’t watched Shaquem Griffin’s tape (specifically his 90-plays against Auburn in the Peach Bowl) then please find time to do so. Griffin is one of the hardest-working, highest-motor guys available in this year’s draft. Clearly, his athleticism is nothing to overlook either as he posted the single fastest 40-time of any LB since 2003. Don’t sleep on this guy.

CB | Donte Jackson | LSU | 4.32
Donte Jackson is an undersized corner with extreme athleticism. His speed and technique should have him off the board early, come April, and he’s poised to see the field early as a CB3. The 4.32 time was also met by CBs Denzel Ward and Parry Nickerson but was the quickest of the entire Combine this year.

CB | Denzel Ward | Ohio State | 4.32
Ward measures up an inch shorter than Jackson but 16-pounds heavier. His small frame is the biggest critique of his pro-potential, to date, and the question on if he can compete against NFL physicality. NFL analyst, Lance Zierlein, compares Ward to Chris Harris Jr. and believes he’ll be off the board in the first round.

S | Troy Apke | Penn State | 4.34
We’ll close out the list with a third Penn State prospect ranking at the top of his position group in the 40. Apke (who was named the MVP of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl) has been steadily improving his stock since the end of the season. Coming into the combine, Apke was seen as a day-three player, however, with the impressive workout, he may be drifting up big boards as April draws near.

Closing Thoughts

As a talent evaluator, it’s important not to place too high of an importance on any one drill at the Combine. However, with the limited quantifiable information available, conclusions have to be drawn from somewhere. Over the next few weeks, as workouts are completed at pro days (and added to the pool of data we have to pull from) make sure to analyze the data again and combine it with composite rankings of athletic profiles as they’re completed. From a fantasy football aspect, the landing spot for these players will play a dramatic role in their relevance in the 2018 season. Still, knowing how athletic young players are can give great insight into potential ceilings for fantasy performance if they are given an opportunity.

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Ethan Sauers is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Ethan, check out his archive and follow him @ethansauers.

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