I got a little mileage last spring out of Florida's fake 40 board, which ludicrously claimed that four Gators ran faster 40 times during winter workouts than any single player at last year's NFL combine. In the wake of cornerback Joe Haden's disappointing sprint Tuesday at this year's edition of the meat market, I've been encouraged via email to dig it up for old time's sake:
At Florida, Haden was listed at 4.33, significantly faster than any cornerback in last year's combine; coming into Tuesday's proceedings as a virtual lock to go in the top 10 of next month's draft, he was expected to run in the low 4.4 range, which still would have been faster than any cornerback actually posted Tuesday (the fastest official time by any corner in Indy this morning was 4.45, posted by Wake Forest's Brandon Ghee). Haden's times: 4.57 on the first run, 4.60 on the second, immediately putting his high-first-round status in jeopardy. (Those are unofficial times off hand-held watches, which typically get slower when "official" electronic times comes in.) Suddenly, Haden's not just the All-American and top prospect scouts saw on film -- there's a number that says he's kind of slow. Said one scout on the NFL Network, "People are going to have a hard time getting that 4.57 out of their head with a top-10 corner."
If that time had stood, it would have tied East Carolina's Chris Johnson as the fastest recorded time in combine history and solidified Mays as the freakiest of all freaks who walked through the door this year or almost any other. Of course, it didn't stand: When the electronic numbers came in, his official time was 4.43 -- still the fastest time among all DBs on hand, but nowhere near the eye-popping reports off the stopwatches. Trindon Holliday's initially record-breaking run on Sunday met the same fate, when the diminutive LSU return man/NCAA track champion's best time was downgraded from an absurd 4.22 on the stopwatches to a slightly less absurd 4.34 on the books.
What do the substantial differences in those numbers say about the potential of Joe Haden and Taylor Mays as pro prospects? Probably nothing, especially relative to the importance they may play in their actual draft status (which will likely be smaller than the initial reactions suggest). What does it say about those too-good-to-be-true 40 times often attached to college players and recruits? Overwhelmingly, they really are too good to be true. Even the pros have a tendency toward exaggeration and high variability. The only players this year who ran an official time below 4.4 -- Holliday, Cal's Jahvid Best and Clemson teammates Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller -- were all first-rate NCAA sprinters; Holliday and Ford (who put up the fastest official time at 4.28) are borderline Olympians. If a sub-4.4 time is attached to anyone else -- such as, say, a 235-pound quarterback -- there's no reason to believe it.
And there's certainly no reason to believe these tedious, minute differences among elite athletes translate to any significant difference on the field.