The 40-yard dash in football is a drill used to determine the speed of football players by having them sprint 40-yards. This drill is used at the NFL combine as well as private pro days.
When coming out of college football to the NFL the 40-yard dash is regarded as the best measure of a player’s speed. The speed of a player’s 40-yard dash can greatly affect their draft stock.
Players that are able to put up elite 40-yard dash times will find their draft stock much higher after the event.
In a forty-yard dash, a player will line up in a three-point stance similar to a sprinter. They will then start their run on their own time. As they cross the fourty yard line these players will run through a laser that will stop the clock.
Why Is The Fourty Yard Dash Fourty Yards?
When judging the speed of football players many football fans wonder why the dash itself is fourty yards. After all, players will rarely run fourty yards in a straight line during a game.
The reason that speed is measured in this distance is due to the length of the average punt.
The book The NFL: America’s Game, The Epic Story Of How Pro Football Captured a Nation explains that this dash distance was originally setup up to determine if a player could down a punt.
Additionally, punts have a hang time of roughly 4.5 seconds. This means if a player can run fourty yards in under 4.5 seconds he will be able to get to the punt returner before the ball arrives.
This standard was set and has remained as the go-to drill to test a player’s speed in the NFL.
Timing The Dash
The timing of the 40-yard dash is an important aspect because the way in which it is timed can greatly affect the result.
Nowadays the NFL uses electronic timing in order to accurately measure the timing of the fourty yards dash.
The electronic timers with lasers will start and stop when they are passed through. This means the players will not have to worry about reacting to a starting sound. Instead, as a player crosses the starting laser the dash the clock will start.
Once the player gets to the end of the dash he will cross through the laser which will stop the clock. This results in the most accurate timing of how long it takes to sprint fourty yards.
Though for this reason this dash can not be compared against track and field sprinting times. In those events, a gun will sound letting runners know the race has started. The reaction time to the gun takes about a half-second.
This makes a big difference in the timing of a sprint.
Previously the 40-yard dash used several ways of tracking this time that resulted in more inaccuracies.
The NFL would play an audible signal to let players know to start. When the audio played a stopwatch would be started by hand.
Throughout the history of the league, they have used both stopwatches and electronic timing to time when a player finishes the race.