Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rick Cleveland: Speed does not always mean fast

John Ross, a wide receiver out of the University of Washington, made huge news last week at the NFL Scouting Combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds, which is to say be broke the all-time combine record.

Which is to say, he ran like he was shot out of a cannon.

This does not, in and of itself, mean he is going to become an All-Pro receiver in the NFL. It does mean he is going to make a huge pile of money before he has a chance to become an NFL star.

A 40 time of 4.22 gets everyone's attention. As someone tweeted shortly after Ross's record sprint: “Al Davis just woke from the dead.”

Davis, the Pro Football Hall of Fame owner of the Oakland Raiders, believed in speed. He placed utmost importance on 40-yard dash times, which is most interesting because his greatest wide receiver ever was a guy named Fred Biletnikoff who would be just be crossing the 35-yard line in a 40-yard dash at 4.22 seconds. Biletnikoff was more like a 4.6 guy.

And, for the record, Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver in NFL history, ran a 4.67 40 when he was first timed by the pros.

I remember hearing about that and calling Archie Cooley, Rice's head coach at Mississippi Valley State and asking him about Jerry's slow time.

“Hell, man,” Cooley said, “nobody was chasing him.”

And that puts the 40-yard dash in perspective for me. Yes, all things being equal you would much prefer to have a 4.4 40-yard dash guy than a 4.7 40-yard dash guy. But that doesn't necessarily mean the 4.4 guy is going to be a better football player than the 4.7 guy.

For one thing, they run these 40-yard dashes in shorts and singlets without pads. Some people run as fast in pads as they do without them; some don't.

I'll give you an example: Running back Sammy Winder ran a 4.75 40-yard dash as a senior at Southern Miss. Funny thing, he looked like a 4.5 guy when he was running in full pads with people trying to maim him. I remember asking an NFL head coach at the Senior Bowl about Winder's chances of making it in the pros.

“He won't make it,” the coach said. “Not fast enough.”

Let the record show, Winder rushed for 5,427 yards, scored 46 touchdowns, played in two Pro Bowls and played in three Super Bowls in the NFL. The equipment didn't slow him down. And he was tougher than 99 percent of the guys who ran sub-4.5 40s. He was a gamer.

This is not to say that raw speed is not important, because it surely is.

John Ross will be faster than any cornerback who tries to cover him. The test will be whether or not he is able to get past physical cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage, whether he can run precise routes, whether he can stay on those routes when he gets bumped, and… whether or not he can catch the danged ball.

There are signs that he can. He caught 81 passes and 17 touchdowns last year at Washington.

He will face bigger, stronger, faster defensive backs in the NFL. He will face the kind of cornerbacks he played against when Washington played Alabama in the college football playoffs semifinals. Ross caught 5 passes for 28 yards with a long of nine yards against the Crimson Tide. In other words, he never got into the space where 4.22 speed matters.

So here's what we know: John Ross is the fastest guy who has ever run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That's all.

It remains to be seen whether he will become a successful NFL wide receiver. What we know: He's plenty fast enough.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is


Anonymous said...

Every year there's a new speed demon and rarely does he become a HOFer. This guy may be a stud, but I wouldn't bet on it. He will get a nice signing bonus, but I'm not convinced a combine performance will translate to a stellar NFL career.

More than likely he'll get a big cash advance, buy a Rolls Royce and a Bentley and play for three teams in six years, then find himself on a traveling team, then cut altogether with only a few thousand dollars left. He'll move to a mid-sized city where business is fleeing and open a daiquiri bar in a half-empty shopping center. He'll call it "The Luxury Suite" or something and go on Facebook and point a pistol at the camera to threaten people who send their lemon pepper chicken wings back.

Oh, wait. I think I have him confused with someone else. Not sure who, though...

Anonymous said...

That's a great quote about Rice from Archie Cooley. I miss the Gunslinger days at MVSU. The SWAC was fun to watch when Cooley was coaching at Valley, McNair was QB at Alcorn and W.C. Gordon was coaching Jackson State. That was a great convergence of talent and personalities.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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