Fastest NFL Players of All Time: The Past, Present & Future

We take a look at some of the fastest NFL players ever, including some old flames and some current ballers.

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In a game of sometimes literal inches, speed is a vital part of the NFL game.

Measuring speed is interpreted in multiple ways in this sport, including 40-yard dash times, top speed on in-game plays, and time to throw from the quarterback.

When examining how productive a player will be, speed isn’t the only attribute to look at, however. As we saw the Oakland Raiders in the past, drafting solely for speed doesn’t always result in success. A prime example of this was wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Heyward-Bey Speed

Coming out of the University of Maryland, Heyward-Bey ran a staggering 4.3 40-yard dash at 6’2”. His best season was 2011 for the Raiders, where he caught 64 passes on 115 targets for 975 yards and four touchdowns. Besides that, he topped 40 receptions in a season just once.

His 55.7% catch rate in 2011 wouldn’t even crack the top 100 in 2021, where the lowest catch rate was over 65%.

Here, we’ll look at the fastest players from the past, present, and future and at how these players have done in terms of career outlook.

Past: Rod Woodson, CB, Purdue

Rod Woodson was one of the fastest players in NFL history.

Looking at fastest 40-yard dash times, there’s data dating back to the 1987 NFL Combine, where Rod Woodson topped each player with a 4.33 40-yard dash. Drafted 10th overall in that 1987 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Woodson would go on to have a Hall of Fame career.

Rod Woodson Fastest NFL Players

Woodson played 17 seasons across four teams: Steelers (10), Baltimore Ravens (4), Oakland Raiders (2), and the San Francisco 49ers (1). Starting as a cornerback, Woodson switched to free safety as the century came to a close in 1999.

During his 17-year career, Woodson accumulated the following accolades and statistical feats:

  • Six-time Pro Bowler
  • 11 Pro Bowls
  • 1993 Defensive Player of the Year
  • 71 Interceptions
  • 12 Touchdowns
  • 2009 Hall of Fame Inductee

While speed is not always the primary determining factor of success, in Woodson’s case, it was.

However, just a year later, running back Gaston Green led the 1988 NFL Combine with a 4.32 40-yard dash but played started just 29 games and ran for 2,136 yards and six touchdowns in his five-year career.

Present: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Coming out of Wisconsin in 2020, Taylor posted a 4.39 40-yard dash, which was the fastest amongst all running backs and tied for the fifth-fastest of all players. He was drafted 41st overall in the 2020 draft.

That speed continued in 2021, where Taylor, per NFL Nex Gen Stats, ran 22.13 miles per hour on a 67-yard rushing touchdown in Week 15. This was 0.04 miles per hour faster than the next player, former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling in Week 11 on a 75-yard touchdown catch.

Jonathan Taylor Speed Colts

In that same 2021 season, Taylor ran for 1,811 yards on 332 carries for 18 touchdowns in 17 games. In the receiving game, Taylor added 40 catches on 51 targets for two more touchdowns.

Heading into 2022, for fantasy football purposes, Taylor is going as either the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick, and his speed is a testament to his elite level of production. He is, without a doubt, one of the fastest NFL players in 2022 going by the stats.

Future: Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor

Looking at the present and the past, we see that the 40-yard dash times were in the 4.30 range, with Taylor bordering on 4.40.

No, Taylor wasn’t the fastest in 2021, but the fastest, cornerback Eric Stokes, was 4.31. In 2022, the speed was ramped up, with three players going under 4.30. Leading the way was Kalon Barnes, a cornerback out of Baylor who ran a mind-boggling 4.23 40-yard dash.

This is the fastest time posted at the NFL Combine since wide receiver John Ross had a 4.22 40-yard dash in 2017.

Kalon Barnes NFL

Standing at 6’0” and 185 pounds, Barnes was drafted 242nd overall in the seventh round by the Carolina Panthers. Barnes is third on the depth chart for the right cornerback spot in his rookie season.

Looking at Woodson and Taylor, both players had far higher drafted capital than Barnes.

It’s unfair to expect much out of a seventh-round rookie in the NFL, so we’ll need to revisit his career trajectory in a few years to see how he’s progressed or, considering his draft pick if he’s still in the NFL.

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