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Speed alone doesn’t make a terrific NFL player, but an amazing top speed will always catch our eye. It truly is remarkable to see a football player leave other elite athletes in the dust.
Although the league has excellent technology and shares some data, simply listing the fastest times recorded on NFL Next Gen Stats isn’t fair. That specific group does not include a top speed from someone not directly involved in the play. Plus, others have put down a scorching 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine or elsewhere.
Despite the available tools and their undisputed value, the exact list may be slightly different.
We are, however, nonetheless confident in saying the following players are absolutely among the fastest in the NFL.
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Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants: The second pick of the 2018 draft, Barkley finished with the league’s sixth-fastest ball-carrier speed each of the last two seasons. He topped out at 21.89 miles per hour as a rookie and edged up to 21.91 mph last year, according to Next Gen Stats (NGS).
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings: In 2018, Cook posted the second-fastest NGS time at 22.07 mph. Injuries limited him during his first two seasons, but he finally surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier and totaled 1,654 scrimmage yards in 2019.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Fournette maxed out at 21.38 mph last year, but he wowed the league as a rookie. His speeds of 22.05 and 21.76 mph ranked first and second, respectively, during the 2017 regular season.
Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots: The veteran has plenty of speed left in the tank. During the 2018 season, per NGS, he reached 22.05 mph on a pick-six.
Henry Ruggs III: An incoming rookie, Ruggs recorded a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the 2020 combine. He’s not officially on a roster, sure, but he’s an expected first-round draft pick.
Brandon Wilson, S, Cincinnati Bengals: While taking a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2019 season, Wilson hit 22.03 mph. He finished the year averaging an NFL-best 31.3 yards per kickoff return.
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John Ross has managed only 49 receptions in his three professional seasons, but he’s currently a record-holder at the NFL combine.
In 2017, the Washington product clocked a 4.22-second 40-yard dash. The sprint tied Donte’ Stallworth’s 15-year-old record and helped Ross become the No. 9 overall pick in that April’s draft.
Ross is hoping to put that speed on display in a critical fourth season with the Cincinnati Bengals.
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Although he’s listed as a wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson is still in the league because of his returning ability.
Through seven seasons, he ranks second in NFL history with 29.9 yards per kick return. His seven touchdowns trail only Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington, both of whom tallied eight.
Incidentally, Patterson’s fastest moment in 2019 happened during a 46-yard rush. He peaked at 22.23 mph, finishing second on the season chart behind Matt Breida.
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While his immediate future is uncertain, Marquise Goodwin remains on the San Francisco 49ers roster. He’s spent the last three seasons with the NFC West club, totaling 91 catches for 1,543 yards.
Goodwin, though, reached 22.56 mph last season in a unique way: punt coverage, per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner.
Whether he returns to San Francisco or is traded, Goodwin, who represented the United States in the long jump at the 2012 Olympics, is likely to hold a regular role in 2020.
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How does a coaching staff decide to remove Tyreek Hill from returning kicks and punts? The team drafts Mecole Hardman.
As a rookie, Hardman ranked fifth in the NFL with 26.1 yards per kick return and averaged a quality 9.3 yards on punt returns. He also contributed as a receiver, making 26 catches for 538 yards and six scores.
Hardman hit 21.87 and 21.74 mph on two of his receiving touchdowns. Those speeds ranked seventh and 10th in the league, respectively, according to NGS.
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Donte Jackson and Curtis Samuel both deserve a shout, but Christian McCaffrey had the fastest NGS time on the Carolina Panthers.
Last season, he topped out at 21.95 mph on an 84-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
McCaffrey put together an All-Pro campaign in 2019, racking up 1,387 yards and 15 scores on the ground. He also caught 116 passes for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the first running back in league history with multiple seasons of 100-plus receptions.
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McCaffrey’s scamper matched the speed Nick Chubb had achieved in the previous week opposite the Ravens. Chubb sprinted 88 yards for a touchdown, hitting 21.95 mph along the way.
“I think people underestimate his speed,” Baker Mayfield said, per Andrew Gribble of the team’s official site. “Once he gets to that second level, he’s got true breakaway speed. People say he’s a power back, which he is, it takes more than one guy to bring him down. But, he’s got that speed to make a play like that.”
The run highlighted a breakout season for the Cleveland Browns star, who totaled 1,494 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Over the last two seasons, Tyreek Hill’s fastest recorded speed as a ball-carrier is 21.95 mph. It happened on a 58-yard touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018.
That pesky football slowed him down.
In 2019, Hill reached 22.64 mph while catching up to teammate Damien Williams on a 91-yard run. That, per NGS (h/t ESPN’s Field Yates), is the fastest speed of his career so far.
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Matt Breida is such a smooth runner. He’s ridiculously fast, too.
In both 2018 and 2019, he finished the regular season as the fastest ball-carrier in the NFL. Brieda touched 22.09 mph in 2018 and improved to 22.3 mph last season. Impressively, the former came on an otherwise forgettable 33-yard run. He didn’t need much space to reach league-leading speed.
Despite seeing his role fluctuate annually, Breida has 2,463 scrimmage yards in three seasons with the 49ers.