The majority of talk overheard at the Combine last week was uncharacteristically rational.
So far, anonymous scouts are still mostly dormant as far as character assassination goes. Hype for individual players focused more on the total package, guys like Vic Beasley or Byron Jones who could perform a package of drills with incredible results. Seven players clocked in under 4.4 seconds in the 40, but the most discussed 40 at the Combine this year was easily Rich Eisen's.
Doesn't anyone love speed anymore, sprinting for the sake of sprinting? Of course they do, but since Al Davis left this earthly realm almost four NFL Drafts ago, 40 times just don't attract the same level of attention for individual players, not after becoming synonymous with Oakland's myriad draft busts over the years.
Speedsters are still a hot commodity, even if front offices are outwardly less impressed with track stars. How have those guys fared in the draft over the years? Are teams less drawn to 40 times than they used to be?
For some insight on the fate of the fastest players in the draft, we went back to 2006, digging into the numbers for the 15 players with the fastest 40 times in each draft, a total of 135 players. Here's what we learned.
The fastest players are most likely to get picked in the first three rounds
More than 58 percent of the 135 players have been picked in the first three rounds. Those numbers haven't slagged off any since Davis went to the great draft in the sky. In 2014, 11 of the 15 fastest players were taken in the first three rounds. Since 2012, 10 of the 45 fastest players have been first-round picks, including players like Tavon Austin, A.J. Jenkins and Dee Milliner, who can hold their own with any of Davis' fastest draft busts.
Receivers and corners dominate on the track
Not a big surprise here; those are almost always the fastest players on the field. Imagine Oakland's receivers and secondary had those picks actually panned out.
Running backs Dri Archer and Jerick McKinnon were the only players last year among the fast 15 who were not defensive backs or receivers.
Two quarterbacks have clocked in among the fastest players in their draft classes since 2006. Reggie McNeal, who ran a 4.35 in 2006, was Tampa Bay's sixth-round pick that year. He found his way to the Bengals practice squad by September and was out of the NFL completely a year later. The other quarterback on that list was none other than Robert Griffin III, who ran a 4.41 at the 2012 Combine.
Who's the tight end? Why it's Vernon Davis of the Niners, the sixth overall pick in 2006.
Speedsters get picked as early as ever
The average draft position for the Combine's fastest 15 players was 84.5 in 2006, a mid-third rounder. A year later that average draft spot inched all the way to 65, thanks in part to four first-rounders (Calvin Johnson, LaRon Landry, Leon Hall and Robert Meachem). After a big dip in 2009, it's leveled off over the last five years, with the average draft spot at 88 last spring.
Speed never helped the Raiders
We didn't need to do much research to confirm that conclusion, but the numbers are still pretty stark when you see them in print. The Raiders picked eight of the 135 players with the fastest Combine 40 times over the last nine NFL Drafts, twice the expected rate based on all 32 teams and the most out of any team since 2006. The most surprising part might be that only three were first-round picks (Michael Huff, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Darren McFadden).
Only three of those eight were on the roster last year (McFadden, Tyvon Branch and Chimidi Chekwa). McFadden is an unrestricted free agent this year, and few expect him to return. Chekwa, a low-cost special teams guy, could return as a restricted free agent. Branch is the only one under contract for 2015. However, he's seen action in a grand total of five games over the last two seasons and is owed almost $20 million over the next three years of his contract.
It's possible that Oakland will have none of its original speedsters on the roster when training camp starts this summer.
Other teams that draft speed do it better than Oakland
Oakland's AFC West rivals have a thing for speed too, taking seven of the fastest players at the Combine since 2006. The big difference is where the Broncos are taking those players, shown by the average draft position. Denver's stable of track stars also includes two undrafted free agents during that span. Those players have mostly been on the wrong side of so-so for the Broncos, but former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, a first-round pick last year, looks to be a keeper.
Interestingly enough, the Raiders haven't drafted a burner since 2011. The Davis era is definitely over.
Minnesota is the only dome team among the four speed-heavy teams. The Vikings have only drafted one player among the Combine's fastest in the first round, Percy Harvin in 2009.
Carrying the torch
|Buffalo||Kansas City||New York Jets||St. Louis|
|Top-15 speed players since 2012||4||4||3||3|
|Avg. wins since 2012||7||7.3||6||6.7|
Oakland isn't in the market for 40 times anymore, but other teams are taking their place ... and with similar results.
The Bills pulled three speedsters out of the 2012 NFL Draft, CB Stephon Gilmore in the first round, WR T.J. Graham in the third round and CB Ron Brooks in the fourth. Gilmore's career was starting to look shaky, but he had a breakthrough last season.
Kansas City found an important contributor in Knile Davis, a third-round pick in 2013. Davis' fellow class of 2013 pick, safety Sanders Commings, has only played in one game and spent all of last season on injured reserve. Devon Wylie, a fourth-round pick in 2012, was waived a year later.
The Rams found their own version of DHB, albeit about six inches shorter. St. Louis traded up to the eighth spot in the draft in 2013 to get glorified punt returner Tavon Austin. Cornerback Brandon McGee, a fifth-round pick in 2013, has been reduced to a bit role and spent most of last year on IR. Chris Givens, a forth-round pick in 2012, had a promising rookie season, but quickly faded away in the Rams' confused offense.
The award for most Davis-like picks goes to the Jets, who picked up a disappointing Stephen Hill in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. A year later they spent a first-round pick on the disappointing Milliner. A sixth-round pick last year, the Jets cut Brandon Dixon before the season started. The good news for the Jets is that they have a brand new coach and general manager making the picks this year.