In these couple posts on 40 yard dash times, Dr. Saturday (Matt Hinton of Yahoo.com) is correct that the reported marks he highlights are probably bogus, but he neglects to mention the best reasons why that is the case.
It’s not that it is physically impossible for a human to run that fast, as Hinton claims. It certainly is possible if the runner is talented enough and concentrates on training just for 40 yards. Many people, including Hinton here, make the mistake of citing the first 40 yards of Ben Johnson or Usain Bolt as reasons why regular football players can’t run a sub 4.3 seconds.
The problem is that Johnson or Bolt never actually ran a 40 yard dash. They were running 100 meters, which is an entirely different type of race, with different techniques and strategies involved. So you can’t just take their 40 yard splits (in which Bolt ran a 4.35) and declare them analogous to what football players are running. A college sprint coach friend of mine insists that if Bolt or Johnson focused on training and preparing for a 40-yard dash, they’d run closer to 4.0 flat than 4.3.
But the biggest problem with 40 yard dash times–whether in college or pro–is that they are measured with imperfect devices, usually stopwatches started and stopped by a human digit. The other problem is that they are run under widely disparate settings. Some are on a track, some on turf, some on grass, some with cleats, some with sneakers, some with spikes, some against the wind, some with the wind and so on and so forth. Yet all the times are reported as if the conditions were uniform, unlike the 100-meter dash which takes most of these factors into account. Let’s not even talk about how some strength and conditioning coaches have it in their best interest to overinflate these times to make it look like they are making their guys faster…
Hinton is right that it is highly unlikely that Terrelle Pryor ran a 4.33 as reported by Ohio State. And given his size and height, it is highly unlikely that he could ever run that fast even if he did focus on it. But guys like Jeff Demps or Trindon Holliday certainly have the ability to do so, so I wouldn’t scoff at their 40 times just yet.