NFL Draft: Who are the fastest pound-for-pound athletes of all time?


With the NFL draft in the rearview mirror (and college football a few months away), let’s take a look at the pound-for-pound fastest NFL Combine athletes of all-time. These are not the fastest times, in an absolute sense – but rather, rankings of which athletes’ speed are most impressive for their size.


NFL player heights, weights, and 40 times from 1987 to 2019 were compiled from (immense thank you to them).

Data Analysis

I compared three statistical models — linear regression, random forest, and gradient boosting –with each achieving comparable accuracy. I ultimately selected the gradient boosting model, which slightly outperformed the other models, and included player height and weight as predictors (R² = 79%). 

To rank 40-times, z-scores for each athlete were created by subtracting predicted 40-times from observed 40-times, with standard deviations tailored to the player’s weight range (for example, there was greater standard deviation in 40-times for 300 lb. players than 170 lb. players).

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Who are the Fastest Players?

top 10 - revised

Whose NFL combine times are most impressive, given their size? Congratulations to Bruce Campbell, who, according to data from, occupies the #1 spot, running a blistering 4.75 40-yard dash at 6’6″, 314 pounds. Unfortunately, there is a bit of controversy with this figure, as he has an “official” NFL 40-yard time of 4.85 – still very impressive, but not top on the list. However, we’ll leave him at #1, for now.

Others in the Top 10 include Vernon Davis (#3 on list), a notable NFL combine freak athlete who posted a 4.39 time as a 6’3″, 254 pound tight end. In addition, Calvin Johnson (#5 on list) makes an appearance on the list, further solidifying his standing within the Combine canon — alongside the story where East Carolina QB James Pinkney was so impressed with Calvin’s 40-time that he asked to borrow his cleats.

Am I NFL Caliber?


Last year, I attended the Indianapolis Colts training camp, which had a kids section that was, technically speaking, not prohibited for adult use. There was a laser-timed 40 yard dash, which allowed me to test myself against the NFL combine greats. 

me vs NFL

Unfortunately, I fell a bit short. Even Tom Brady, a much maligned 40-yard runner, was about 16 standard deviations faster than me.

What are the fastest positions?


Wide receivers, cornerbacks, running backs, etc. are typically the positions most strongly associated with speed. However, which position has the fastest NFL combine 40-times, given their size? The results are interesting: Defensive tackle and defensive end have the fastest athletes for their size — a major coup over wide receiver (listed at #3), a position that strongly values speed. 

Full Rankings

OK, who were the slowest players? Out of deference to these NFL combine athletes, I won’t call them out by name. However, I can’t stop you from scrolling through the list below to see for yourself. 


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