Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Outstanding Article on 40 Times

The next time you hear some blowhard, in between telling you about how the new recruits for State U. are all studs who are going to be tops on, er, dominate your favorite team's players, refer to a player's "4.3 40" time, please refer them to this article (HT: Bruce Feldman, the only reason I visit ESPN's college football page in the offseason) and respond "oh, so you mean faster than Ben Johnson in Seoul."

The overstatement of players' speed based on 40 times has always been a pet topic of mine after hearing fans rave about their players running physically impossible 4.1 40s. (Hearing over and over again about how speed kills and Michigan would not be able to handle SEC speed, all while Michigan was on a three-game winning streak against very good SEC bowl opponents from '98 to '00 also had an effect on me.) Three fan bases always stood out in this regard:

1. Arkansas fans, mainly for Cedric Cobbs. (As it turned out, they weren't totally off on Matt Jones.)

2. South Carolina fans, the model for irrational exuberance. Corey Jenkins comes to mind, the supernatural athlete who weighed 240 pounds, could throw a ball from goalpost to goalpost, and ran faster than Carl Lewis. Naturally, he was benched before the end of his senior season.

3. Virginia Tech fans, who had the rare experience of being right in their hyperbole when talking about Michael Vick and then transferred their apocryphal tales of 40 times below 4.2 to Kevin Jones, DeAngelo Hall, Jimmy Williams, and probably the little man living inside Frank Beamer's jaw that tells him that UVA's punt protection scheme is vulnerable to an overload on the left side.

What's interesting to me is that the article debunks the 40 times that come out of the Indianapolis combine, which is noted for having slow times because of the surface, and out of pro days on campus, which are timed by NFL scouts who have no incentive to overstate the speed of the prospects. In the college football world, 40 times usually come from breathless high school and college coaches who have strong incentives to exaggerate how fast their players are. Thus, the article debunks the times of college seniors, but by implication, it completely demolishes the 40 times for high school and active college players.


peacedog said...

Actually, there's been a change in the college football world. 40 times are now generally coming from 2 places:

Camps like the Nike camps. And camps like the football camps our respective schools host several times in a summer. I won't claim either to be a particularly good place to get 40 times. . .but they're better than High School Coaches, aka our alma mater's HC and his son running a 4.19 (true story).

This is purely anecdotal on my part, but I've been following recruiting for years now, and I feel like I've seen a change in 40 times. For example: the so called recruiting gurus will be raving about a LB's speed. And his posted 40 time, likely from a nike camp, will be 4.6+ most likely. I think a couple of years ago it would have been reported as sub 4.5. I used to see 4.3s and 4.4s all the time. I'm not seeing them nearly as often
as I used to.

A small thing, but I think 40 times have gotten a touch more realstic. of course, even well reported 40 times are still 40 times; they're a poor measure of football speed. Players play games wearing pads, and often needing to interpret a series of inputs and react accordingly during aplay. It's rare where raw speed alone factors into a play (and usually only after all the other stuff has happened - WR beating his man and catching a deep ball for example).

Michael said...

Maybe I'm stuck in the past because my message board consumption has gone down precipitously in recent years. (You can probably tell that from the references to Cobbs and Jenkins.) You make a good point that there is now a premium on electronic timing at Nike camps, although those times are probably done differently than actual track times, as the article points out. (They probably start the clock on movement rather than the gun.)

We completely agree that raw speed is often overrated. Positioning and instincts can make a relatively unathletic player look much better because he has shorter distances to travel.

peacedog said...

No, I don't think you are quite stuck in the past. There's still *far* too much emphasis on the 40 yard times, aka "the holy grail".

I don't think the world has woken up to the gradual shift in 40 times getting higher. And I may well be wrong about it, but I think it is there if small. People on message boards still flip out when seeing 40 times. One of the excellent UGA sports guys will post an interesting article on a kid (say a LB), and the posted 40 time will be 4.7, and people will be wondering how the guy can be any good.

There were arguments that we didn't miss Josh Johnson this year because we needed speed at LB and he ran a 4.7something. That all just misses the point, IMO.

I think it's noteworthy that 40times are perhaps getting "less exaggerated", but it's nothing earth shattering. 40 times remain shite. Speed kills, but 40 times seem like the only way we have to measure it and that's why the football world is so fixated.