Isaih Pacheco, Breece Hall Lead 2022 Speed Scores
NFL Draft - And we're back! After a one-year COVID-induced hiatus, the NFL combine returned to Indianapolis for what may well be the final time. That means we can once again get apple-to-apple comparisons for the top prospects in this year's draft; getting drill results and timings in identical conditions rather than the variable and less trustworthy times you see at pro days around the country. It's the return of draftniks drooling over gauntlet drills and wowing over broad jumps; of scouts dissecting bench presses and hand size. And it also means the return of Speed Score.
Created by Bill Barnwell and introduced in Pro Football Prospectus and ESPN Insider back in 2008, Speed Score is one of Football Outsiders' metrics for evaluating running back prospects. It's built on the simple idea that smaller backs tend to run faster than larger backs, so we should be more impressed by a 4.5s 40-yard dash from a 220-pound back than the same clock reading from a 170-pound back. As such, Speed Score incorporates a back's official time in the 40-yard dash with his weight to produce a measure of his speed given his size using this formula:
(Weight * 200)/(40 time^4)
The average running back who makes it to the NFL will have a Speed Score around 100.0, with most prospects at the position falling between 85.0 and 110.0.
Speed Score measures speed in the context of strength and power. It doesn't measure agility, receiving ability, or any of the other aspects related to the position. It does not claim that a larger player with a higher 40 time is somehow faster than a smaller player with a lower 40 time thanks to the power of exponentiation. Speed Score is useful because it's beneficial for a running back to be both fast and large.
Speed Score has a higher correlation with yards, carries, and DYAR than 40-yard times alone, making it a better way to contextualize the performances at the Underwear Olympics and a better tool for finding valuable players later in the draft. It's also a part of our BackCAST projections, which combine these numbers with college production and will come out later this offseason.
The last time we actually had a combine to talk about, your Speed Score leaders were Jonathan Taylor (121.7), AJ Dillon (117.3), and Cam Akers (108.7); not a bad list of players to have in your top three. While no one in this year's class could catch Taylor or Dillon, we did have six players break the 110.0 barrier for the first time since 2012, as well as one massive flop.
Let's start with the Speed Score table, and then discuss the notable names and numbers on it.
|2022 Speed Scores|
|Player||School||Weight||40 Time||Speed Score|
|Breece Hall||Iowa State||217||4.39||116.9|
|Kenny Walker||Michigan State||211||4.38||114.7|
|D'vonte Price||Florida International||210||4.38||114.1|
|Pierre Strong||South Dakota State||207||4.37||113.5|
|Rachaad White||Arizona State||214||4.48||106.3|
|Ty Chandler||North Carolina||204||4.45||104.0|
|Jaylen Warren||Oklahoma State||204||4.55||95.2|
|Zonovan Knight||NC State||209||4.58||95.0|
|Leddie Brown||West Virginia||213||4.64||91.9|
|Ronnie Rivers||Fresno State||195||4.62||85.6|
|Kyren Williams||Notre Dame||194||4.65||83.0|
Did not run: Greg Bell, Max Borghi, Jashaun Corbin, Kevin Harris, Hassan Haskins, Abram Smith, Isaiah Spiller, CJ Verdell, Quan White.
The 110.0-Plus Club
Breaking a Speed Score of 110.0 is special; it gets you into some rarified air. Only 75 of the 593 running backs to do a 40-yard dash at the combine since they went to electronic timing in 1999 have hit 110.0, and about 35% of them have gone on to have successful NFL careers. That doesn't sound like a huge number, but only 15% of all running backs to show up at the combine manage 2,500 yards in their first five seasons, so we're talking being two or three times as likely to succeed once you enter this sort of range.
Your Speed Score winner this year, by a hair, is Rutgers' Isaih Pacheco, with a 118.5 (4.37 at 216 pounds)
Isaih Pacheco 4.45 40 2nd attempt
— Alex 👋 (@dbs408) March 5, 2022
It's fair to call this significantly unexpected. Pacheco came into the combine as a borderline draftable guy—a "race car with no brakes" who plays with energy, aggressiveness, and a total lack of rhythm or cohesion. I can think of half a dozen running back coaches who would love his enthusiasm and urgency, especially if it comes with measurables like this—tied for the fastest time among running backs this year, and with a very solid build to boot. Give 'em a guy who can run fast, and you can teach 'im patience and timing. At the very least, I think Pacheco's combine has more or less clinched him actually hearing his name called on draft day, especially coming off of the back of an impressive Shrine Bowl performance as well. If a running backs room can turn this bundle of speed and athleticism into a fully-rounded player, Pacheco might be a great Day 3 steal come April.
Pacheco finishes just ahead of two much less surprising names: Iowa State's Breece Hall at 116.9 and Michigan State's Kenny Walker at 114.7.
That Hall would test well is no real surprise; he's the top running back on many (but not all!) draft boards. He's not the top running back in the FO Forty, but he's close. We call him "an explosive, barreling north-south runner who becomes ordinary when moving parallel to the line of scrimmage … at his best when finding the first available cutback lane, squaring his shoulders, and blasting past or through tacklers." Well, there's little more north-and-south you can get than running a 40-yard dash in a straight line, and it plays right into Hall's skillset. The combine broadcast compared him to Jonathan Taylor and Ezekiel Elliott, but he ends up trailing both of those players in Speed Score—both players were larger, and Taylor was also faster. Instead, a better comparison might come from Lance Zierlein's scouting report, where he compares Hall to Matt Forte. At his combine in 2007, Forte ran an identical 4.44 at 217 pounds. This sort of performance locks up Hall as a Day 2 pick at worst, and might even be enough to propel him into the back half of the first round when you couple it with his 40-inch vertical and 10-foot-6 broad jump and the like.
Walker is the top running back in the FO Forty; a runner defined by that initial burst through a crease. His acceleration is incredible, and his ability to change direction is beyond compare in this class. He won't come out as well in BackCAST or some of our other metrics because of a lack of receiving ability, but as a pure runner, Walker may well be the best of the lot. Our comparison for Walker is Jonathan Taylor without the receiving chops. Walker didn't hit those marks at the combine, but that's really an unfair expectation to have of anyone considering Taylor was setting records out there. Most importantly, we didn't see anything from Walker (or Hall, for that matter) which would sway anyone from considering them a top-50 pick at worst.
Scrolling down the 110.0-plus club, Zamir White running a 4.4s 40 is a surprise. White's a bruiser, a run-at-you-and-break-your-tackles guy, not a speedster. A time in the low 4.5 range would have been enough to confirm him as a Day 3 draftable talent, but a 4.4 flat should turn some heads, and earns him a 114.2 Speed Score. White paired it with a top-in-class broad jump too, so it's not just one drill. You could have made some serious money betting that White would have a better 40 time than fellow Bulldogs runner James Cook.
Florida International's D'vonte Price has been labeled a "height-weight-speed" prospect; traits in search of development. In that case, it's really good for him that he ran a 4.38s 40 and checked off the "speed" requirement. He also weighed in at 210 to give him that 114.1 Speed Score. That's important, because that was one of his major issues at the Senior Bowl, weighing in at just 198. A sub-4.4s 40 is going to be solid no matter what your build is, but being able to add on 12 pounds and still display that kind of speed is a very good sign for Price.
Finally, you had South Dakota's State's Pierre Strong, who tied Pacheco atop the leaderboards with a 4.37s 40. Pacheco's a bigger back and so he takes the Speed Score crown, but it's not like Strong's a waif; 207 pounds is perfectly reasonable and clocks him in with a 113.5 Speed Score. Most mocks and big boards place Strong somewhere in the middle of Day 3. This kind of speed might bump him into Day 2, or at least the fourth round—4.39 matches what Jonathan Taylor did in 2020. Strong dominated at the FCS level, being named three-time all MVFC, and has a habit of busting big plays, with 10 touchdowns of 50-plus yards in his college career. Zierlein's scouting report compares him to Tevin Coleman, but Coleman didn't have anything near Strong's speed. Not a bad way to draw attention to yourself coming out of a smaller school.
The Arian Foster and Ahmad Bradshaw Lines
Speed Score doesn't guarantee anything, of course, but the higher your score, the better career you generally have. You can see the production of backs fall off as Speed Score drops off in this table:
Back after a year's absence, just in time for the running backs to show off at the combine:
Speed Score table! X% of players with a Speed Score of Y go on to average Z yards per season.
In short: Run really fast, be really big, or be Arian Foster. pic.twitter.com/J0QdEryuHO
— Bryan Knowles (@BryKno) March 4, 2022
One of the better uses of Speed Score, I think, is as a negative indicator. You can run fast and still not succeed at actually playing football; you may be a track star in pads. But if you can't run well in jockey shorts, the odds that you'll transition into a successful running back in the pros drop dramatically.
There are a pair of "lines" we like to track—floors for production. Arian Foster is one of them; he had a Speed Score of just 94.2, but still topped 5,000 yards in his first five years. He's the "1.2%" on the chart—the only running back with a Speed Score under 100.0 who managed to average a thousand yards a season for five years. He's the only player since electronic timing was introduced to have a below-average Speed Score and still develop into a superstar. Only five backs ended up below the Foster line, and most of them were borderline prospects anyway. It sort of confirms Leddie Brown, Sincere McCormick, Jerrion Ealy, and Ronnie Rivers as undraftable prospects; they needed to do something special and turn heads just to get picked in April, and they didn't do that.
The other line is the Ahmad Bradshaw Line. Bradshaw had a terrible combine back in 2007, running a 4.61s 40 and weighing in at 198 pounds. His Speed Score of 87.7 was a nightmare—and yet, he still ended up a useful back. Only one player below that mark even managed 1,000 yards combined in their first five seasons, and most players at that level wash out after a year or two, if they're even drafted at all. We may have to revise that line going forwards, as Devin Singletary (Speed Score: 86.1 in 2019) is already approaching the 500-yards-per-season mark, but the point stands that if you're down in this range, your chances of a successful NFL career rapidly approach zero. And that's where we scroll down to the bottom of the table.
Kyren Williams is not supposed to be talked about in the same breath as the McCormicks and Ealys of the world. He was on our Fantasy 40 prospect list coming into the combine, has some second-day pick hype, with some very good film—he's supposed to be one of the most intriguing players out there. He didn't clear the Bradshaw line. He didn't come close to clearing the Bradshaw line. He ended up with a Speed Score of 83.0. His 4.65s 40 was the worst of the day, and he weighed in at just 194 pounds. It's tied for the third-slowest 40 since 1999 for players under 195 pounds, just behind Shaud Williams and Robbie Rouse. If you've never heard of either player, that's kind of the point. Williams started clawing out of the hole he dug in the 40 with some good, fluid work in the receiving drills, and he has strong tape as a patient, smart runner, but 4.65 seconds may be disqualifying as a player. He'll have to show more speed at his pro day, because this was a shockingly terrible performance that places him well behind anyone who has ever turned into a solid runner in the NFL. Just a disaster of a 40, and a performance that probably cost him at least $3 million to $5 million in contract value.
Other Big Prospects and Standout Performances
Many of the second- and third-tier running backs below Hall and Walker did just fine. Alabama's Brian Robinson and Cincinnati's Jerome Ford both ended up in the 106.0 range, which they should be very happy with and should see them firmly locked into Day 2 picks. James Cook was hoping to dip under 4.4, but a 4.42 is a perfectly respectable time for a back of his size. It puts him squarely in the Tyler zone, breaking up the flow between Tyrion Davis-Price, Ty Chandler, Tyler Goodson, Tyler Badie, and Tyler Allgeier in the middle of the Speed Score table. Even Dameon Pierce's somewhat disappointing 4.59s 40 isn't the end of the world; his unofficial timings had him in the 4.6-range, so if anything, he probably breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that second digit.
Rachaad White is a little higher on our Fantasy 40 than I have seen him on most other draft boards, but perhaps his 106.3 Speed Score will turn some heads and help people flip their evaluations from "slow" to "patient." But the most intriguing performance might have come from Baylor's Trestan Ebner, who was not remotely on my radar before the combine. Ebner's 4.43 at 206 pounds puts him in the top 20% of Speed Scores, and he couples that with some very solid receiving skills; he was an all-state receiver in high school. He has had some success as a kick returner, so he's good with the ball in space; he can line up at either running back or wideout so he has some mismatch versatility...
... I think I need to put some change in the Football Outsiders staff swear jar for comparing another prospect to Deebo Samuel, huh? Fair enough.
As always, Football Outsiders' 2022 NFL draft coverage is presented by Underdog Fantasy.