August 24, 2009
Usain Bolt is as tall as Calvin Johnson(notes) (6-5) and he's faster than any human, ever. Thus it shouldn't be a surprise that we occasionally speculate about his NFL potential. The world record holder in the 100-meters and 200-meters would probably hold his own at the combine.
In fact, Bolt would likely shame anyone else who's ever competed. After reviewing 20-meter splits from the world championships, ESPN track and field reporter Larry Rawson declared that Bolt would run an NFL-style 40-yard dash in … well, in an absurd time. Almost inconceivably low. Way less than four seconds. You can listen to Rawson right here. These were his comments:
LR: "Forty yards, if he was being hand-timed by a scout and reacting to his movement - not electronically timed the way they do it [in track and field] - his 40-yard dash on a track, in spikes, would be 3.73 seconds."
Host: [Laughter] "He would run a sub four-second 40-yard dash?"
LR: "Listen, I did the math as though it was electronically timed, which it's not for football – electronically timed – and it came out to 3.97 seconds."
We can't say exactly what's in the heart of Raiders owner Al Davis – probably methane, metal gears, bats – but it seems safe to assume that he would be willing to spend something like $194 billion over five years for a guy with 3.73 speed.
People have estimated Bolt's 40 before, of course, and the projections are all over the place: 4.22, 3.9 to 4.0, 4.0 to 4.2. When elite sprinters go 100 meters, they don't even hit top speed within the first 40. (Again, check the splits).
But of course if Bolt were to train for a shorter distance, you'd expect a different result. And if you review the video of Bolt's most recent 100, you'll note that he holds a discernible lead over the field – presumably the next seven fastest men in the world – by the 20-meter mark. He's fast early; he's fast late. Rawson says that at top speed, Bolt covers 40 yards in less than three seconds.
Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward(notes) speaks for us all when he says that he'd like to see what Bolt could achieve in the NFL. But Ward also downplays the importance of straight-line speed:
"In this game, you have to have great hips and great footwork to get in and out of routes. You can take a fast guy like a Bolt, he might be able to run only one way," Ward said Monday. "He has to stop and turn. For me, I'll take a guy with quickness and great route-running ability over speed. But you can't teach speed."
And even if you could teach speed, you couldn't teach whatever Bolt has.
But why, you might reasonably ask, is this a fantasy topic? Because I've fielded more questions about Usain Bolt over the past week, since the 9.58, than about every rookie running back combined. If your league allows you to draft anyone without regard to NFL employment status and retain their rights for multiple seasons, then Bolt has at least crossed your mind.
But c'mon. Bolt is making a giant pile of money right now and he doesn't have to deal with defenders trying to maul him. Back in April, the New York Times reported that Bolt's endorsement earnings may exceed $3 million this year and he's eyeing the $10 million threshold by 2012. That's Larry Fitzgerald(notes) money without the tackling. Bolt simply has to run as fast as he can, unimpeded. No need for LaRon Landry(notes) to enter the discussion.
So forget him and his hypothetical 3.73, fantasy owner. Forget him, Al. Bolt is a little too good at his current profession … and anyway, he prefers soccer.
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