Combine speed was mentioned in an article about the 2013 combine when Justin Onslow said the 40-yard dash is “the most overrated test at the combine”. There’s truth to the statement and when fans play down the importance of the combine speed test they usually list notable exceptions to the rule.
The fact remains that exceptions by rule are just that, “exceptions”. Straight line speed may not be the most important aspect in pro football, but you certainly can’t rank it as being unimportant. No, 40 yard speed is not very important to certain positions such as center or the offensive line, but at some positions a player is severely hamstrung without it.
Often exceptions to the rule in a defensive player are explainable by the direction he’s traveling in to make many of his tackles. Great players with slower 40 yard speed compensate with their other skills. When you’re closing in on an offensive player coming towards you you’re going to meet regardless of your speed, unless he “jukes” you clean out of your jock strap.
At the moment the two meet, the agility and tackling skills of the defensive player are what makes the difference. For that matter all the speed in the world won’t get the job done if you have blinding speed but can’t tackle a Walmart stock clerk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downgrading the importance of skills such as agility, but even with agility success is often the product of timing between two players.
Case in point: A slower receiver may not be able to “get past” the defender before the ball is thrown, but a quarterback like Drew Brees can throw before the man cuts back toward him and drop it right into his arms. The defender is often still moving in the wrong direction when the bullet pass is caught.
So when exactly is “straight line speed” the most valuable asset on the field? It happens on offense, and it happens on defense. If the Saints are behind with seconds on the clock an a 5 point deficit, speed comes into play. The receiver has to be able to get past the defender with nothing but goal line ahead of him when the ball is caught, and he has to outrun the defender to the goal line after the catch.
Conversely there are times when a New Orleans Saints defender has to stay between an opponent and the goal line for the very same reason. Each and every season there are “game saving” tackles made where a receiver already has the ball in his hands with nobody between him and the endzone. When that happens you better have a defender fast enough to cross the field at an angle and pull him down from behind.
Special teams are another case where it’s crucial to have “the fastest man on the field”. The first play in the first Saints game ever played was perhaps the best example. The following video shows what the result can be when you have the fastest man on the field.
Picture Credit: Pic courtesy of our friends at Nola.com
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