Speed can thrill, especially when it comes to NFL prospects. Of course, converting dazzling speed into production on the football field is when things get trickier.
Let's say you're evaluating two players, Player A and Player B, who both have speed. Player A recorded an eye-popping time in the 40-yard dash but finished with mediocre showings in the short shuttle and three cone. Player B had a decent, if not blazing, 40 but posted top-end times in the short shuttle and three cone. If I were doing the choosing, I would take Player B nearly every time.
Straight-line speed alone is often not enough to drive a successful pro career; quickness and agility are often also required. Below are seven players -- listed in alphabetical order -- poised to turn speed into tangible production in the NFL.
Yes, he's a 4.6 40 guy -- pretty good speed, if not exactly special. But he's also a 3.95 guy (in the short shuttle, the fourth best time at the NFL Scouting Combine) and a 6.79 guy (in the three-cone, tops in his position), and that suggests a running back with the quickness to make people miss tackles. When you have times like those, you usually end up with an effective, productive player; I expect Abdullah will play faster than his 40 speed, which, it must be said, was still among the 15 best times by running backs at the combine.
Agholor is not a straight-line speed guy. And that's OK, as plenty of pure straight-line speed guys -- like Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was drafted seventh overall by the Raiders in 2009 but has averaged just 402 receiving yards in six seasons since -- end up failing to make much of an impact in the NFL. The thing with Agholor is, when you combine his 40 time (which, at 4.42 seconds, is still pretty good, even if it's not best-in-class) with his impressive showings in the short shuttle and three-cone drill at his pro day, you have a picture of a receiver who can burn when he needs to and change direction with alacrity. Agholor is a good route-runner who could be the big surprise among this year's receiver crop. With his speed, quickness, hands and fluidity, he's got a shot to be this year's version of Odell Beckham Jr.
When you weigh 246 pounds and can run a 6.91-second three-cone, as Beasley did at the combine, that's pretty impressive. He's got the kind of quick get-off that really helps a pass rusher make plays, as indicated by the fact that he collected 25 sacks over the past two seasons. Beasley's first step calls to mind Bruce Irvin, Charles Haley and Dwight Freeney. He's got the speed (his 4.53 40 was tops among linebackers) to leave blockers sitting in a cloud of dust, wondering what just happened to them.
Cooper posted an astonishingly fast short shuttle (3.98 seconds, best in his positional group at the combine) and an impressive three-cone (6.71 seconds). When you give a guy with Cooper's size (6-foot-1, 211 pounds) that kind of ability to change direction, watch out. He caught 124 passes his senior season, and I expect him to continue to be a big factor on the pro level; he really knows how to take advantage of his speed.
Dorsett is the fastest of these guys, having posted a jaw-dropping 4.25 40 at Miami's pro day earlier this month. He also showed good speed in the short shuttle (4.11 seconds) and three-cone (6.70 seconds) at the combine. He needs to work on his hands, but I'm confident he can get better in that area; once he does that and maybe adds some physicality to his game, you're going to be reading a lot about him. He has that raw material you like to start with.
Mariota's speed -- he ran a 4.52 40 at the combine, along with a 4.11-second short shuttle, which is tremendous for a quarterback, and a 6.87-second three-cone, best in his position group -- will, of course, help him when he has to run with the ball. But it'll also be a boon behind the line of scrimmage: He's got that quickness of movement that should make it difficult to sack him. Think of guys like Dan Marino -- who had that quickness of movement, as well, even though he wasn't a particularly speedy guy -- or Tony Romo. We don't have a three-cone time for Romo, but if we did, I imagine it would be pretty good.
Randall's 4.46 40 was the third best among safeties at the combine, and he also posted the third-best three-cone (6.83 seconds) and tied for the third-best short shuttle (4.07 seconds). Speed might not have been as important for safeties in the days when they were mostly covering tight ends, but in today's game, safeties often end up with the third or fourth receiver, so it's crucial that they have good catch-up speed. Randall isn't really that meet-'em-in-the-hole tough tackler, but we don't need that in a safety as much as we need coverage ability, and Randall is very fluid. He was burned a bit more than you'd like to see in college, but then, that can be a job hazard of his position, which involves covering a lot of ground. He also made a lot of plays.