For at least one day last year, the spotlight belonged to Zedrick Woods.
The Ole Miss safety wasn’t a widely known prospect before the 2019 NFL scouting combine, never having made an all-conference team during his tenure as a three-year starter. By the time he completed the final 40-yard dash of the event, however, he had many evaluators double-checking their notes about the player who set the bar with a 4.29-second run, the ninth-best mark of anyone since 2006.
The newfound fame meant little for Woods’ NFL career, however. He was not selected in last year’s draft, and he retired on the first day of training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Woods’ journey reinforced that hype for the 40 has frequently outpaced the drill’s utility for NFL scouts, particularly when assessing players who struggle to translate their speed to the field. Yet the test has remained synonymous with the event, and the popularity of the runs have helped propel the combine into a prime-time affair this year.
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But let’s embrace the spectacle by running down a few of the leading candidates to run the fastest 40 this year:
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Though it’s difficult to crown any one player as a clear front-runner for the fastest 40 time, Ruggs is the leading candidate. The 5-11, 188-pound target turned 24 of his 98 career catches into touchdowns, regularly outrunning top-tier defensive backs in the Southeastern Conference. Ruggs notched a 4.25 40 last summer at Alabama’s junior day and said he believes he can improve upon it. Even if he doesn’t break Bengals receiver John Ross’ combine record of 4.22, Ruggs will be the most closely watched player during the drill.
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Though he’s perhaps the most prominent threat to best Ruggs in the 40, Reagor might be poised to fare even better in other drills. A high school long jump champion, he should also post top numbers in the broad jump, vertical leap and three-cone drill. Reagor was clocked at 4.29 by his coaches last year, though bulking up from 195 pounds to 206 might slow him down. Former Horned Frogs teammate Jeff Gladney is also a candidate to secure one of this year’s top times.
Javelin Guidry, CB, Utah
In high school, Guidry won a title for the 100-meter dash in Texas before moving to California and setting a state record in the same event with a 10.13-second mark. The 5-9, 193-pound defensive back continued to excel in track at Utah, where he finished tied for 11th in the U.S. by running 60 meters in 6.59 seconds. His former Ute defensive back teammates — cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safeties Terrell Burgess and Julian Blackmon — are all superior prospects, but Guidry’s athleticism will set him apart at the combine.
Javaris Davis, CB, Auburn
Giants rookie Darius Slayton was asked in 2016 which one of his Auburn teammates was the fastest, and the speedy receiver gave the nod to Davis, the cousin of former NFL first-round picks Vernon and Vontae Davis. That designation seems particularly notable given Slayton ran a 4.39 40 last year only to be bested by former Tigers cornerback Jamel Dean, who clocked in at 4.30. Davis claims to have notched a time of 4.18, though that will be extremely difficult to replicate in Indianapolis.
LeVante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan
Cue the Dri Archer comparisons. At 5-9 and 190 pounds with a claimed 40 time of 4.28, Bellamy has a similar physical make-up to the former Kent State speedster, who in 2014 recorded a 4.26 run that now stands at the third best since 2006. Bellamy will have a difficult time, however, matching Archer’s draft stock as an eventual third-round pick, as he doesn’t offer much beyond his impressive burst as a ball carrier.
Raymond Calais, RB, Louisiana
Rocketing past defenders in the Sun Belt was no problem for Calais, who averaged 7.6 yards per carry as a senior. The 5-9, 185-pound back was also a champion track athlete in high school, claiming titles in the 100-meter (10.59 seconds) and 200-meter (21.21) dash. Highlighting his breakaway ability with an impressive run could help him boost his standing as a likely Day 3 pick.
Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame
One of our earlier picks as a sleeper to watch at the combine, Pride could seize the stage at the combine by following a standout Senior Bowl with another impressive workout. Pride said he’s “way faster now” than when Notre Dame hand-timed him at 4.30, and he was recognized as one of the Athletic Coast Conference’s top sprinters during his freshman and sophomore years.
Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
With a blazing 100-meter dash time of 10.27 seconds in high school, Duvernay arrived at Texas as a big play waiting to happen. The wait took longer than expected, though, as he didn’t break out until his senior year, during which he tallied 106 catches for 1,386 yards and nine touchdowns. Duvernay still has to become more than a screen fiend in order to become a complete receiver, but his penchant for piling up yards after the catch should earn him some looks on Day 3.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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