Today, the blog is turned over to my former partner, Troy Brown, whom I’ve discussed in this space previously. Though he doesn’t write formally for a draft publication, he’s closely followed the draft for about three decades.

I think he makes some great points here, and backs it up with numbers and facts. I’ll turn things over to Troy now.


Like many, I ranked Ole Miss WO Laquon Treadwell as the No. 1 pass-catcher for the 2016 draft throughout the entire 2015 season. I still do.

However, long before the real draft process began, it seemed to me that Treadwell would not be the first receiver to come off the board on draft night. The simple reason was twofold: he’d likely run a subpar 40 time in the spring and drop down many big boards; and a less-polished player would blaze his way up many big boards.

So when Houston traded up in the first round to take Notre Dame’s Will Fuller—who easily clocks in the low 4.3s—ahead of Treadwell (and Josh Doctson, my No. 2 WR), it came as no surprise. It’s happened time and time again over the past 30 years.

It’s a strange phenomenon, considering that the vast majority of the best wide receivers in the NFL — both in today’s game and historically — have not been true “burners.”

In fact, of the 26 wide receivers in the Hall of Fame, there’s only one elite speed merchant, Bob Hayes. The vast majority of the others, including Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Steve Largent and Chris Carter, etc. would have a hard time breaking 4.6.

In terms of historical productivity, among the Top 25 wide receivers in career receptions, only Marvin Harrison (No. 2) and Steve Smith (No. 13) ever clocked below 4.4. What’s more, even in today’s game, consider the top wide receivers. Based on numbers over the past couple of seasons, you could make a strong case it includes Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas. In that group, only Jones is a 4.3 guy.

Yet it’s easy to rattle off dozens of guys who blazed sub-4.4 times prior to the draft, dramatically shot up draft boards, then never came close to fulfilling their potential. In fact, most of them became major disappointments. Alexander Wright, R. Jay Soward, Troy Williamson and Donte Stallworth come to mind, to name just a few.

To test the theory that speed is overrated, consider the last 20 years of official combine 40 times for receivers. Let’s begin with players who’ve been in the league for at least three seasons, figuring that by that time you pretty much know who can and cannot play. For our purposes, “burners” are receivers with a 40 time below 4.4.

Over the 20-year span, from 1994-2013, a whopping 71 wide receivers recorded an official combine 40 time lower than 4.4. Of that group, just five made a Pro Bowl. Leading the group are Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson, both Hall of Fame talents with multiple selections. DeSean Jackson is a three-time Pro Bowler while Mike Wallace and Javon Walker each made just one appearance.

Below is a list of all 71 WRs to clock a sub-4.40 during a 20-year stretch:

Round Name Team Time
2013
1 (8) Austin, Tavon Rams 4.34
3 (78) Goodwin, Marquise Bills 4.27
4 (102) Boyce, Josh Patriots 4.38
6 (174) Swope, Ryan Cardinals 4.34
2012
1 (30) Jenkins, A.J. 49ers 4.37
2 (43) Hill, Stephen Jets 4.3
3 (69) Graham, T.J. Bills 4.35
4 (96) Givens, Chris Rams 4.37
4 (100) Benjamin, Travis Browns 4.32
4 (107) Wylie, Devon Chiefs 4.37
6 (198) Streeter, Tommy Baltimore 4.34
Undrafted Owusu, Chris 4.31
2011
1 (6) Jones, Julio Falcons 4.34
4 (111) Gates, Edmond Dolphins 4.31
Undrafted Lockette, Ricardo 4.34
2010
4 (107) Easley, Marcus Bills 4.39
4(108) Ford, Jacoby Raiders 4.22
6 (197) Holliday, Trindon Texans 4.21
Undrafted Banks, Brandon 4.39
2009
1 (7) Heyward-Bey, Darius Raiders 4.25
1 (22) Harvin, Percy Vikings 4.39
3 (84) Wallace, Mike Steelers 4.28
3 (91) Butler, Deon Seahawks 4.31
4 (107) Thomas, Mike Jaguars 4.3
4 (124) Murphy, Louis Raiders 4.32
5 (140) Knox, Johnny Bears 4.29
5 (141) McKinley, Kenny Broncos 4.37
7 (224) Byrd, Demetrius Chargers 4.35
7 (253) Underwood, Tiquan Jaguars 4.31
Undrafted Ogletree, Kevin 4.36
2008
2 (42) Royal, Eddie Broncos 4.39
2 (49) Jackson, DeSean Eagles 4.38
2 (58) Jackson, Dexter Bucs 4.33
3 (97) Caldwell, Andre Bengals 4.35
4 (105) Franklin, Will Chiefs 4.37
4 (125) Shields, Arman Raiders 4.37
2007
1 (2) Johnson, Calvin Lions 4.35
1 (27) Meacham, Robert Saints 4.39
3 (74) Figurs, Yamon Ravens 4.3
3 (75) Robinson, Laurent Falcons 4.38
3 (76) Hill, Jason 49ers 4.32
3 (79) Walker, Mike Jaguars 4.35
5 (146) Allison, Aundrae Vikings 4.39
5 (157) Clowney, David Packers 4.36
2006
2 (36) Jackson, Chad Patriots 4.32
3 (95) Reid, Willie Steelers 4.37
7 (233) Aromashodu, Devin Dolphins 4.35
2005
1 (7) Williamson, Troy Vikings 4.38
3 (68) Roby, Courtney Titans 4.36
4 (114) Mathis, Jerome Texans 4.32
2004
4 (99) Francis, Carlos Raiders 4.31
4 (105) Parker, Samie Chiefs 4.34
6 (171) Luke, Triandos Broncos 4.33
2003
1 (17) Johnson, Bryant Cardinals 4.38
2 (45) Johnson, Bethel Texas A&M 4.3
2 (60) Calico, Tyrone Mid Tenn St. 4.27
2002
1 (20) Walker, Javon Packers 4.32
2 (46) Carter, Tim Giants 4.34
2 (47) Davis, Andre Browns 4.36
7 (254) Lockett, Andre Bucs 4.27
2001
3 (74) Smith, Steve Panthers 4.38
5 (162) Carter, Jonathan Giants 4.35
6 (190) Kasper, Kevin Broncos 4.38
7 (208) Capel, John Bears 4.37
7 (214) Germany, Reggie Bills 4.37
7 (218) Taylor, Chris Steelers 4.31
2000
1 (29) Soward, R. Jay Jaguars 4.34
3 (70) Cole, Chris Broncos 4.34
1999
None
1998
2 (42) Johnson, Pat Ravens 4.39
1997
1 (15) Green, Yatil Dolphins 4.38
1996
None
1995
None
1994
3 (70) Coleman, Andre Chargers 4.39

 

As you can see, there seems to be absolutely no correlation between blazing 40 times and wide receiver success in the NFL. I would venture to guess that, unless you are a true aficionado, you likely won’t remember the vast majority of these guys.

Who wasn’t on the list? Guys such as Terrell Owens (4.63), Anquan Boldin (4.75), Isaac Bruce (4.53) and Antonio Brown (4.54), to name a few.

So, next spring, when the media freaks out about the receiver who blazes a 4.31 in Indianapolis and proclaims him to be “shooting up the draft boards,” ask yourself, “why?”

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