Top 10 Fastest Players in NFL History
There are a few ways to determine the fastest players in NFL history. One way is to look at the fastest 40-yard dash times ever of players at the NFL Combine, which is an annual event where college football players perform a variety of physical and mental tests in front of NFL coaches, scouts, and executives. Another way is to look at the speed and agility statistics of players during their careers, such as how many times they broke away for long runs or how quickly they were able to cover the field on kick or punt returns. Additionally, some players may have gained reputation or fame for their speed, through records or Olympic participation. But ultimately, this list is based on in-game speed.
There are certain players that are one of the NFL fastest players ever on the track when it comes to recording their fastest 40-yard dash time. The problem with using that as a metric is once they hit the field with shoulder pads and a helmt, their speed doesn’t always translate. There is NFL combine speed and then there is real in-game speed. The fastest 40-yard dash times do not always result in the fastest NFL players. That is why we are determining the top 10 fastest players in NFL history based on in-game speed.
If you are interested in a more up-to-date list, I also ranked the fastest players in the NFL today as of 2023.
#10 – Willie Gault
40 yard dash time: N/A
Far too many people only consider a players’ 40 yard dash time to determine how fast they are. While Willie Gault never ran the 40 yard dash, there is no argument against him being one the fastest NFL players ever.
Willie Gault recorded a 10.10 second 100-yard dash and set records in the 110m hurdles as well as a world record in the 4x100m relay with Carl Lewis. He also qualified for the 1980 summer Olympics but did not attend due to the US boycott.
Not only was he a track star, but he also had the in-game speed to back it up. His track speed was nothing short of legendary for a football player, but it was his ability as a wide receiver that cements his spot in this top 10 list.
#9 – Devin Hester
40 yard dash time: 4.41
Once again, if you only look at someone’s 40 yard dash time to determine how fast they are, you are not getting the full picture. Devin Hester is living proof of that. While he ran an underwhelming 4.41 40-yard dash by his standards, he put his speed on full display while becoming the best returner in NFL history.
Madden has butchered player ratings for many years, but giving Hester the nod as the first 100 speed player was admirable. It was clear that Hester was far and away the fastest player in the NFL and they gave him the respect he deserved.
“Devin Hester, you are ridiculous!” There is no arguing that as he has the highlights to back up that fact.
#8 – DeSean Jackson
40 yard dash time: 4.35
Just more proof that the 40 yard dash should not be the only metric to consider when determining who is the fastest player in the NFL. A 4.35 40 yard dash time is nothing to scoff at, but it’s over a tenth of a second slower than the fastest time ever. In-game speed trumps combine speed every time in the NFL.
When you put DeSean Jackson in pads and on a football field, he becomes electric. That is with or without the ball in his hands.
Just ask the New York Giants. The Miracle in Meadowlands is one of the best buzzer beater touchdowns ever and proof of the freakish speed that Desean Jackson put on display.
It was also a joy to watch Michael Vick absolutely cork some balls deep as Desean Jackson effortlessly tracked them down. It seemed inevitable you would watch him high step into the endzone.
#7 – Randy Moss
40 yard dash time: 4.25*
Some nicknames write themselves. Randy Moss was “the Super Freak”. His freakish athleticism was something that had never before been seen for someone his size. It was a quick path for him to become the best Wide Receiver in the NFL and one of the best Wide Receivers in NFL history.
When it comes to the greatest deep threat ever, the one name that comes to mind is Randy Moss. He had both the straight-line speed to burn defenders and the vertical leaping ability to jump over them. Don’t get “Mossed”.
While that jumping and catching ability is what most people remember, he was way ahead of his time in terms of his ability to run with the football in his hands. Someone who is 6’4″ should not be able to move the way Randy Moss did. He frequently torched defenders for long touchdowns on plays that should have been short gains.
#6 – Chris Johnson
40 yard dash time: 4.24
The NFL didn’t start electronically timing their 40 yard dashes until 1999. Before that, some of the hand timed 40 yard dash times seemed more like myth than factual. Fast forward to the 2008 NFL Draft Combine and Chris Johnson took the NFL by storm. Chris Johnson broke the record for the fastest 40 yard dash ever with a time of 4.24. He then stated he could beat Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt in a 40 yard race.
Unlike players like John Ross who didn’t have their combine metrics translate to the field, Chris Johnson immediately became one of the most dangerous running backs in the NFL with his electric speed and playmaking ability. He was a home run hitter who made plays out of nothing with a lackluster Titans offensive line.
Speed kills and Chris Johnson’s record breaking speed led to breaking multiple records. His 2509 yards from scrimmage in 2010 is still the NFL record today.
#5 – Bob Hayes
40 yard dash time: N/A
This is one of those rankings I will never be able to get right in the eyes of the fans. For old-heads, they will think he deserves to be number one on this list. For the new casual fan, they probably don’t even have an idea who this is. Let me explain this ranking to both sides.
Very few people earn the title of, “the only person to ever”. Personally, I’m the only person to ever take off his skate and try to stab somebody. An admirable accomplishment. Bob Hayes on the other hand, is the only person to ever win an Olympic Gold Medal and a Super Bowl in a lifetime and nobody will ever accomplish that feat again. This wasn’t just any gold medal either. He officially became the fastest man on the planet by breaking the world record. THE WORLD RECORD!
We talk about people way ahead of their time, and that was Bullet Bob. It wasn’t the pass centric NFL we see today, but he still found massive success through the air. Many credit him for the creation of Zone Defense because there wasn’t a single player on the field who could run with him in man coverage.
#4 – Bo Jackson
40 yard dash time: 4.13*
Bo Jackson is the ultimate what-if story. He was a freak of nature. His 4.12 40 yard dash time is the fastest ever recorded albeit hand timed instead of laser timed. That is especially impressive considering he was 225 pounds. Yes you heard me right, 225 pounds!
Bo Jackson had the ability to put his shoulder down and run through defenders then follow up by running away from everyone else. That led to his pro-bowl nod without even finishing a full season.
If it weren’t for injuries, Bo Jackson would have had a long successful career, but his football career was derailed. That led to him having to join the MLB where he became an all-star at that sport as well. For that reason he is considered one of the greatest multi-sport athletes ever.
#3 – Deion Sanders
40 yard dash time: 4.27*
The Deion Sanders combine story is legendary. He allegedly ran his 40 yard dash time so fast that he ran out of the stadium and did not return. Legend has it he sprinted all the way to the airport on his way home. The rest is history.
He was selected 5th overall and bounced back and forth to championship contending teams. Being regarded as the best cover cornerback in NFL history is a high honor and is something you can’t accomplish without exceptional speed. Deion’s 4.27 40 yard dash time is proof of that. There wasn’t a single player he couldn’t run with.
He was also considered one of the best returners in NFL history. With that kind of speed, you need to find ways to get involved. On top of getting some playing time at Wide Receiver, Deion recorded 9 return touchdowns over his career.
#2 – Darrell Green
40 yard dash time: 4.15*
To make an NFL roster is impressive. To play in the NFL for a few years is even more impressive. Darrell Green was special. This man played in the NFL for an unheard-of 20 seasons at a position that mostly relies on athleticism. And he barely lost his speed throughout that time leading him to being one of the best NFL cornerbacks ever.
They called him “the Ageless Wonder” and running was one of the things he loved. He loved it so much that for his 50th birthday he decided to celebrate by running the 40 yard dash. At 50 years old this freak of a man ran a 4.43 which most top level athletes can’t even accomplish in their prime.
His highlight reel tells the story too. There are countless times he chased down some of the fastest players in the NFL from the opposite side of the field. He had no quit and was never shy to put his speed on display.
#1 – Tyreek Hill
40 yard dash time: 4.29*
I usually shy away from placing current players first on any list. Ranking the NFL’s fastest players ever is different. The NFL is ever-evolving and one thing is certain. While it may have become a less physical game, it has also become a faster game. Tyreek Hill is a product of this.
I continue to preach about this fact. Speed with pads on is completely different than running the 40 yard dash without them. Tyreek Hill with pads on is in a league of his own. His burst, his top line speed, everything.
To the old heads I will reiterate my point. The game of football continues to become faster for every position. Tyreek Hill is the fastest player in the NFL during a time in which the NFL has the fastest players ever. With or without the ball, this man continues to impress.
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Bo Jackson played in the MLB before he played in the NFL and he did both simultaneously. He didn’t turn to baseball because of his injury. That injury ultimately ended both his football and baseball career.
How do you players from the 20’s 30’s 40’s or 50 were not faster? Should be retitled fastest of the modern era not ever
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