The NFL Scouting Combine starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, symbolizing the end of the league's Super Bowl hangover and the beginning of the 2012 season. With the final pieces of Giants confetti cleared, Lucas Oil Stadium will be set for the combine, especially its marquee event: The 40-yard dash. If the 100-meter dash at the Olympics determines the World’s Fastest Man, the 40-yard dash at the combine determines the nation's fastest potential NFL star.
Bo Jackson is rumored to own the event's fastest combine time with a mark of 4.12 seconds at the 1986 Combine. On the flip side, 40 times were known to be exaggerated before the use of electronic timing started in 1999.
But speed isn't everything. In 1999, Rondel Menendez, a receiver from Eastern Kentucky, set a record in the combine 40 that has yet to be broken at 4.24 seconds. His speed was applauded, but not rewarded. The Falcons drafted him in the seventh round at No. 247 overall. Maybe a team would have been willing to take a chance on the 5-9 Menendez earlier in the draft, but this was in the pre-Wes Welker/Steve Smith Era. As it turns out, the teams knew what they were doing. Menendez never played an NFL down for the Falcons or any other NFL team. According to lowellsun.com, Menendez could not even make a European League roster.
But here are five speedy players continued from the combine to the NFL:
Jacoby Ford, 4.28
2010. In his senior year of high school, Ford was ranked No. 17 in the nation by Rivals.com, which called him the "faster player on the East Coast." He was the ACC indoor freshman of the year for track and field in 2007 and an All-American in three different events. In 2009, he was the NCAA champion in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.52 seconds, one-hundredth of a second shy of the NCAA championship meet record. Ford's 40 time was probably the least surprising of these six players. Still, size and hands being an issue, Ford was picked in the fourth round at 108th overall by the Raiders. As a rookie, Ford returned 53 kicks for 1,280 yards and three touchdowns. In a win over the Chiefs on Nov. 7, he posted 148 receiving yards and a 94-yard touchdown. A 101-yard return against the Dolphins later in the month lifted Ford to AFC Special Teams Player of the Month honors. In 2011, Ford only recorded 11 kick returns for one touchdown in eight games, but showed his potential in 2010.
Jerome Mathis, 4.28
2005. At Hampton University, Mathis made a name for himself as a kick returner, averaging 26.6 yards and returning six kickoffs for touchdowns (both are FCS records). Mathis' 40 time lured the Texans into gambling on him in the fourth round with 114th overall pick. As a rookie, Mathis returned 54 kicks for 1,542 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went for 99 yards. Mathis was one of three rookies to make the Pro Bowl (Shawne Merriman and Lofa Tatupu were the other two.) Injuries limited him to five games in 2006 and 2007 combined. The Texans released him in 2008 after he was charged with choking his wife. The Redskins signed Mathis for a month before waiving him. In the next three seasons, Mathis split time between the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, the Hartford Colonials of the UFL and the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena League. He will be likely be working outside the NFL in 2012 again.
Champ Bailey, 4.28
1999. Bailey's impressive dash was overshadowed by Menendez's surprising mark. But Bailey's impressive resumé at Georgia, along with his combine stats, was good enough for him to go seventh overall to the Redskins. Bailey has lived up to the hype, making 11 Pro Bowls (most ever by a cornerback) and six All-Pro teams. He was named to the first team of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. In 13 seasons, he has 829 total tackles, 50 interceptions, and 191 pass deflections.
DeMarcus Van Dyke, 4.28
2011. At 6-1, Van Dyke is the tallest member of this list. The former Miami Hurricane cornerback lit up the combine to share the event's third-fastest ever time. His speed helped slot him on the draft board in the third round at 81st overall to the Raiders. Van Dyke's rookie season was nothing spectacular, but it is too early to consider him a "40 bust." He registered 13 tackles, 14 pass deflections and one interception in 14 games. Van Dyke was not known for putting up big numbers in college with just six tackles his senior season at the U. But he cornerback makes his paycheck off covering a wide range of ground (i.e. Nnamdi Asomugha).
Chris Johnson, 4.24
2008. Johnson was widely considered a second- to third-round pick upon arrival in Indy. His record-tying 40-yard dash, complemented by fifth-place and third-place finishes among running backs in the vertical jump and broad jump, respectively, propelled his draft stock. The Titans took the East Carolina alum with the 24th overall pick. Johnson has lived up to his 40 hype, rushing his way to three Pro Bowls and an AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2009. Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards in all four of his NFL seasons, including a 2,006-yard season in 2009. (During an NFL telecast, announcer Gus Johnson once said of Johnson: "He's got getting-away-from-the-cops speed," then apologized to those who perceived racism in his comment.)
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