There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, who are the fastest players of all time in the NFL? The easiest thing to do is show 40-yard dash timings, but that isn’t the same as a football game played in pads with defenders trying to tackle the ball carrier. Thankfully, the NFL’s Next Gen Stats have started to help with this problem by reporting sprint speeds for specific players on particular plays. That’s useful since it can show us who has the fastest top-end speed in the league.
In most cases, a player’s straight-line speed in gym clothes will convert to his speed on the football field. However, the main issue for some of the fastest players is that they don’t get enough opportunities to show off their scorching speed with the football in space. Regardless, we have done our best and scrolled through as many stats as we can find to bring you the fastest NFL players ever.
When you establish a world record in the 100-meter dash, you can call yourself the NFL’s fastest man. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hayes was a member of the NFL, but in 1963 and 1964, he broke sprinting records that took years to break. First, he set a world record in the 100-yard dash with a speed of 9.1 seconds, which he held for eleven years. He also established an unofficial world record in the 200-meter dash that year.
Hayes went on to represent the United States at the Olympics the following year. He won the 100-meter dash with a world-record timing of 10.06 seconds while running in borrowed shoes because he left them at home. He then ran the fastest leg in 4×100 history, clocking in at 8.60 seconds, five-hundredths of a second quicker than Usain Bolt’s mark in 2015. Hayes is the first man to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl.
Jackson, who stood 6’1″ tall and weighed 227 pounds, was an unstoppable force on the football field. However, he only played four seasons in the NFL, scoring 16 touchdowns and averaging 5.4 yards per run. Jackson’s physical characteristics extended much beyond his lightning speed. Still, his acceleration, combined with his bulk and power, made him such a difficult player to stop.
Darrell Green was known for his speed, and he didn’t need a 40-yard run to show it. Despite this, he made headlines at a Washington Redskins training camp with a 4.09 40-yard dash. While that was in 1986, Green went one step farther in 2010 when he ran a 4.43 40-yard sprint at the age of 50. Green was picked in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and went on to play in the league for 20 years until he was 42 years old. He had 54 interceptions, eight touchdowns, five forced fumbles, and ten fumble recoveries in 295 games.
You’ll notice a pattern among the players with the fastest 40-yard sprint times. A large number of past Raider draftees are present. Al Davis was known for picking guys who could light up the stopwatch and run the fastest 40 times, and Fabian Washington is no exception. The No. 23 choice in the 2005 NFL Draft, Washington is one of the fastest cornerbacks in NFL history. However, Washington’s blunder at the 2006 NFL Scouting Combine didn’t pay off, as the team only played 81 games in six seasons.
For years, Johnson was a nightmare in the NFL, establishing a league record with 2,509 yards from scrimmage in a single season in 2009. He made his name in the 2008 NFL Combine when he ran a 4.24 in the 40-yard dash, which was a world record at the time. However, few could touch Johnson once he entered the open field. Injuries wrecked his career, but few players in his prime frightened defenders more.
In the NFL, speed kills, but there’s a distinction to be made between being quick and being fast. While explosive speed might help you create plays, sustained top-end speed can give opponents nightmares and enthrall audiences. The gentlemen above certainly did that.