It’s time for 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. If a mark is in the distant past and the player’s body composition has changed markedly, I take that into account. I compile the data and combine 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 inaccurate 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, at HP they do. So take another look. Without further ado (and please, any additions are welcome if we overlook them), here is the list for 2010:
1. Jeff Demps, RB, Florida–There’s really no doubt on this one. No one else is really even close. I posited when he first started at Florida that he would be the fastest player to ever play college football. Nothing has shaken this belief since, even though Trindon Holliday ran faster last year while Demps recovered from injury. When you look at the trajectory of his sprinting career, Demps will end up being the standard for speed in college football. His best legal mark in the 100 meters is 10.01 (the fastest-ever junior time by an American), but he recently won the NCAA 100m title in a wind-aided (2.5 mps) 9.96, which is currently merely the 12th best time in the world (under any conditions). Mind you, he destroyed the field despite spending last fall orienting his body for playing football (while the rest of his competition trained for track). Couple those 100m marks with a 6.56 in the 60-meter indoor dash (where he also won the NCAA title) and you’ve got the rarest of combinations: a truly world class athlete who also is a legitimate college football player, with a two-year total of 1,350 rushing yards (7.6 ypc) and 14 touchdowns, plus another 23 receptions and a couple punt blocks. Here he is on the track:
And on the gridiron:
2. Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas–Goodwin is another athletic phenom in the Demps mold who could one day be a huge name in track and field. Just a freshman, he is the newly-minted NCAA long jump champ and also is the U.S. high school record holder with a best of 26-10. To illustrate how the long jump can translate to overall speed (and vice versa), he ran a 10.09 as a junior in high school (10.43 this year, for training purposes) and 6.69 in the indoor 60m. But he’s not just a track guy, as he was rather impressive as a young wide out for the Longhorns, catching 30 passes for 279 yards and a score, while playing a key role in the win over Oklahoma (he also returned a kickoff for a score against Texas A&M). Look for bigger and better things from him this year…unless he decides that track is his true calling.
Read the rest of the list after the jump…
3. Luther Ambrose, WR, Louisiana-Monroe–How I missed Ambrose in my first go-around on this list, I’m not sure, but let’s put him here in his rightful spot, just a shade behind Goodwin. He finished third (to Demps) in the NCAA 100m dash this past June and has bests of 10.22 (10.12 wind-aided) in that race and 20.89 in the 200m. He has also run 6.70 in the Indoor 60m and 24-4 in the long jump. As a sophomore on the gridiron, he caught 34 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns and added another 311 yards and a score on the ground. He is also a dangerous kick returner.
4. Conroy Black, CB, Utah–Black, a junior, redshirted for the Utes last year after transferring in from Fullerton (Calif.) Junior College. He has bests of 10.30 in the 100m and 20.98 in the 200m.
5. Randall Carroll, WR, UCLA–Carroll is just a year removed from running 10.30 in the 100m (the nation’s top high school time in 2009) and 21.06 in the 200m as a high school senior. He only caught three passes for the Bruins as a true freshman, but word is that he made great strides this past spring and should be a factor in the UCLA offense.
6. Skye Dawson, WR, TCU–Dawson has bests of 10.41 in the 100m, which he ran this year at the Mountain West Championships, and 6.71 in the indoor 60m. He carried the ball 13 times for 111 yards as a 2009 freshman
7. T.J. Graham, WR, North Carolina State–Graham retains bests of 10.44 in the 100m (10.21 wind-aided) and 20.82 in the 200m. He has 31 catches in two seasons for the Wolfpack and returned a kickoff for a touchdown last year, too.
8. Travis Benjamin, WR, Miami–The Miami tradition of football/track guys is alive and well with Benjamin, who finished third in the 100m at the ACC Outdoor Championships with a wind-aided 10.40. He was also fourth in the Indoor ACC meet with a time of 6.74 in the 60m. On the gridiron, he caught 29 passes for 501 yards and four touchdowns this past season.
9. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan–It’s not often you find a quarterback who can run 10.44 in the 100 meters, but Robinson is one of them. No word on whether his laces were tied or not. Rich Rodriguez said he really improved this past spring, so look for him to build upon his 351 rushing yards and 181 passing yards he totaled as a true freshman.
10. Hunter Furr, RB, North Carolina–Furr played sparingly as a true 2009 freshman, gaining just six yards on three carries and collecting four tackles on special teams, but his speed is not in doubt. He has bests of 10.46 in the 100m and 21.15 in the 200m.
Excluded from consideration due to unresolved injury questions or transfer: Lamaar Thomas, New Mexico; Robert Griffen, Baylor; Andre DeBose, Florida
Very fast, but didn’t quite make the cut: Robert Woods, USC; Chris Rainey, Florida; Sheldon Price, UCLA: LaMichael James, Oregon; Devon Smith, Penn State; James Rodgers, Oregon State; Donald Buckram, UTEP; Lindsey LaMar and Derrick Hopkins of USF; LaMar Miller, Miami; Terrance Tolliver, LSU; Tyron Carrier, Houston; Deonte Thompson, Florida; Sam McGuffie, Rice; Jheraine Boyd, North Carolina; Chris Owusu, Stanford; Shane Vareen, California.
Please feel free to make additions/suggestions for this list in the comments sections. I will try to adjust as the summer goes on. Please provide data to backup your claim so we can make this list as comprehensive and accurate as possible. Thanks!