A common refrain among experienced coaches, scouts, and personnel managers is that football players rarely run untouched in a straight line for 40 yards. I’m not knocking the 40-yard dash as a combine activity — only attempting to place a proper frame around the evaluation tool when the media and fans magnify its importance.
Whether using a stopwatch for game film, judging football speed can be a difficult endeavor. Beyond the likes of Deion Sanders, Randy Moss, Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Chris Johnson, and Dri Archer, most football players lack blazing speed by NFL standards. Some players don’t have great speed beyond a shorter area of the field, but the precision of their technique for their position combined with a fast mind for processing decisions makes them faster than their peers who don’t possess the same conceptual and technical acumen for the game.
When it comes to evaluating speed on the field, sometimes fans and analysts pass judgment on a player without examining the proper context of the play they’re watching. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is a good example. I’m studying the Nebraska senior’s game to kick off another season of my Futures column at Football Outsiders as well as continue my research for the 2015 RSP. Although I don’t know how others have judged Abdullah’s speed within the canon of running backs in the 2015 draft class (Abdullah’s speed is not the point of this article), the play I’m sharing today illustrates how people can get speed wrong because they don’t account for context.