“What’s the 40 time?” is a common refrain when discussing NFL hopefuls. The 40, referring to the 40-yard dash, is the shorthand metric for comparative speeds between NFL prospects. It’s a curious conceit because the measurement almost never comes up after the draft. However, it remains arguably the most important result of any of the combine or pro day tests. At least, this is true for any non-quarterback position (the QB still has to demonstrate arm strength and accuracy).
For everyone else, though, the 40-yard dash is the do-or-die result. Why? Because of the Dallas Cowboys. Gil Brandt, a longtime Dallas personnel chief, was there when the team adopted the 40-yard dash as a standard test, and he explained the reasoning to The Commercial Appeal:
[Head Coach Paul Brown] did it as a way of deciding which players to keep, but we decided, “Why not get them to run a 40 before we have them in camp?” Some of it also had to do then with deciding who you switched over to defense, which is always where you wanted your fastest players.
And there you have it. Without further adieu, here are the fastest standardized 40 times in the NFL. (The league switched to electronic timing in 2000.)