Here’s our annual list of the fastest players in college football. Now, some of you are going to disagree with parts of this, probably by quoting a hand-timed 40-yard dash that you read about somewhere on some fan site.
But I am basing this list upon hard data, meaning verifiable and relatively recent track times. I have taken this data and combined it with my knowledge of track and field (I am an afficionado of the sport) as well as my own observations of how these players move on the gridiron, plus other factors such as injuries and weight gain. This list recognizes that most of the 40-yard dash times reported out there are bogus, due not only to innaccurate and scurrilous timing methods (a strength coach’s thumb being the main arbiter most of the time), but also because they are run under widely disparate and unreported conditions that render them unreliable.
The list is not about anecdotal evidence, but quantifiable data that we can verify. Track marks are generated under mostly uniform conditions (across a narrow range of parameters) with reliable timing instruments. While it is true that some players without a track time might indeed be very fast on the football field, it is difficult to accurately measure their speed compared to players who do have such times. So those are the players we stick with on this list.
Also, some of you will question the relevance of these marks when it comes to football, as in “Why does it matter if a football player can run a fast 200 meters when a football field is 100 yards?” The answer is that each track event provides us clues as to the overall speed potential of an athlete. A certain 100-meter time relates to a certain 40-yard dash mark. There’s basically no need to time a 10.6 or better sprinter in the 40–you already know he’s fast! A good 200-meter time indicates an athlete’s ability to maintain his speed (and hence, go ‘downtown’ on the football field). When someone long jumps a certain distance, it is often because he possesses excellent footspeed. And so on. Track marks help give us a more accurate measurement of true speed. Oh, and most of these guys are pretty darn good football players, too. Think track and football don’t mix? Well, four of the top 11 collegiate 100m runners this year also compete on the gridiron.
So, without further ado (and please, any additions are welcome if we overlook them), here is the list:
1. Jeff Demps, So., Florida
1A. Trindon Holliday, Sr., LSU
This was truly the toughest pick, but the speedster from Florida gets the nod for the second year in a row (barely) over LSU’s Holliday due to his superior 200m time. But this title could have gone either way and that’s why I call them No. 1 and 1A. Demps and Holliday both have a best of 10.01 in the 100m, making them the two fastest college football players of all time based on the short sprint, but I give the title to Demps for a couple reasons. First, he has topped out at 21.04 in the 200m (to 21.33 for Holliday, who is basically a 100m specialist), indicating to me that he has more ability to maintain his speed down the field (no doubt due to his 3-inch height advantage over the 5-5 Tiger). Also, Demps probably has a little less wear and tear on the tires, given that this is his first year in college. The fresher the legs, the faster the player. While Holliday ran his 10.01 just two weeks ago, Demps was only able to put up a 10.30 this track season before being taken down by a sore hamstring. However, I think that when both are healthy, it is Demps who has the most fire in his legs and who, if he took the shot, would have the best chance of running a sub-9.9 one day. So this is a judgement call on my part. You might say that Holliday is a touch quicker (he also has a 6.54 60m dash to his credit), but Demps is a bit faster. Again, it’s almost like splitting hairs. On top of it all, though, Demps is the better football player, too. But one last note: Holliday has a chance to better his 10.01 at the upcoming NCAA Track and Field Championships, so he may yet get this title. Check out the videos to compare:
3. Jacoby Ford, Jr., Clemson–Ford, a wide receiver, has a best of 10.04 in the 100m, 20.88 in the 200m and 6.51 in the 60m indoor dash. He is quick, he’s fast, he can fly. He’s a legitimate football player with 55 catches for 710 yards last season. If he keeps it up, he’ll be a high draft pick pretty soon.
4. C. J. Spiller, Sr., Clemson–Spiller might be the best football/track combo athlete in the country. He has bests of 10.22 in the 100m, 20.91 in the 200m and 6.65 in the 60m dash. Combine that with over 1,700 all-purpose yards and 11 TDs last year and you have quite an amazing athlete. Now that James Davis is off to the NFL, he might have a breakout season in 2009. Whatever the case, there are no faster teammates in the country than Ford and Spiller of Clemson.
5. Randall Carroll, Fr., UCLA–Carroll recently ran the fastest high school 100m time in California in 17 years, going 10.30 to lead all prep runners nationally. He’s the fastest recruit in the 2009 class and also has a 21.06 in the 200m. He’s a 5-star wide receiver recruit for the Bruins, giving them some much-needed speed.
6. Jahvid Best, Jr., Cal–We all know about Best’s exploits on the football field. Mostly, he can thank his incredible speed for his success. The only legit Heisman candidate on this list, he has bests of 10.36 in the 100m and 20.65 in the 200m. Oh, he also rushed for over 1,500 yards and averaged over 8 yards per carry last year.
7. Derrick Hopkins, Fr., South Florida–An overlooked lightning-quick RB/WR from the Sunshine State, years from now people will wonder why he wasn’t recruited by the big boys. Has bests of 10.43 in the 100m (10.35 wind-aided) and 20.97 in the 200m. Video here.
8. T. J. Graham, So., NC State–The sophomore receiver has a wind-aided best of 10.21 in the 100 meters (10.44 legal) and a wind-legal 20.82 in the 200 meters. He had 16 catches for 251 yards as a true frosh and also had over 1,000 yards on kick returns.
9. Jeshua Anderson, So., Washington State–Anderson won the NCAA 400m hurdles championship as a true freshman last season and is the favorite to repeat in 2009. His best time is 48.68. Now, to be able to run that fast in the hurdles, you have to have a certain level of footspeed along with an incredible level of athleticism and coordination. His time probably equates to a sub-46-second 400m dash, which means he probably runs in the 10.4 range in the 100m and in the 20.8 range at 200m. As a freshman receiver last year, he had 12 receptions for 372 yards (a 31 ypc avg!).
10. Robert Griffin, So., Baylor–It’s not often you see a quarterback on this kind of list. Actually, you’ve probably never seen a quarterback like Griffin, who finished third (behind Jeshua Anderson) in last year’s NCAA 400m hurdles final. His best mark in the event is 49.22 which, again, would equate to about a 10.5 100m. If he concentrated on the event, I have no doubt he would run in the 48 second range, which means that he has a lot of untapped speed in those legs. In football, he was even better, throwing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for over 800 as just a true frosh while accounting for 28 touchdowns. Quite possible the greatest athlete ever to play the quarterback position (or can you name some other quarterback who can run track’s hardest race in 49 seconds?).
Honorable Mention: Obviously, there are a ton of fast players who didn’t quite make this list. It doesn’t mean they aren’t fast, just that others might be a tad faster. Again, my apologies if I miss anyone.
Andre DeBose, WR, Florida
D.J. Monroe, CB, Texas
Luther Ambrose, RB, Louisiana-Monroe
Deonte Thompson, WR, Florida
Travon Patterson, WR, USC
Jamere Holland, WR, Oregon
Terrance Tolliver, WR, LSU
Lindsey Lamar, RB, South Florida
Hunter Furr, DB, North Carolina
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Sam McGuffie, RB, Rice
Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia
Brandon Saine, RB, Ohio State
David Gettis, WR, Baylor
Joe McKnight, RB, USC
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Derrick Hall, RB, Texas A&M