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NextGen Stats: What Does It Mean to Be Faster in Pads?

The sexiest current trend in NFL data collection is the league’s use of NextGen technology. It’s exciting to consider how NextGen stats could advance what we know about the game of football.

Currently, the public has limited access to these NextGen stats, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start looking into what we do have for clues about what might be learnable down the road.

One of the things the NFL shared this season is the 20 fastest ball carriers each week, as measured by miles per hour. Let’s have some fun discussing speed by comparing that list to 40-yard dash times.

NextGen Stats — Top Speed Data

First of all, let me emphasize this data does not list the fastest players on a football field for the season. It lists the fastest ball carriers. Even then, it’s separated by the 20 fastest per week, not the 340 fastest on the season.

Let’s work around that latter constraint a bit, though. We have 17 lists of 20. If we look at all the players who were 20th fastest in a given week and identify the fastest among them, we can use that speed as a cutoff and know we’ll have every recorded faster time in our sample.

That’s Week 6, where Ted Ginn ran 20.52 MPH as the 20th fastest ball carrier of the week. Theoretically, the 21st fastest time in Week 6 might have been faster than times that made other lists, but what we do know is we have a record of everything 20.52 MPH or faster.

That reduces the sample to the 202 fastest times on the season for a ball carrier, which is still a decent sample. Here are those players along with their 40-yard dash times:1

PlayerTeamPositionMPHDistanceWeek40 Time
Tyreek HillKCWR23.24139.3724.34
Tyreek HillKCWR22.77122.24124.34
DeSean JacksonWASWR22.661.58134.35
Stefon DiggsMINWR22.553.3124.46
Brandin CooksNOWR22.467.87154.33
Xavier RhodesMINCB22.4121.03114.43
Mike WallaceBALWR22.3470.8364.28
Marquise GoodwinBUFWR22.2588.5124.27
Tevin ColemanATLRB22.2559.3654.39
Johnny HoltonOAKWR22.2358.7474.54
Travis BenjaminSDWR22.1752.0824.36
Brandin CooksNOWR22.13101.9414.33
Ted GinnCARWR22.1157.6924.43
Jordan HowardCHIRB22.0371.2754.57
Isaiah CrowellCLERB21.9796.6924.57
Ted GinnCARWR21.9560.33134.43
Melvin GordonSDRB21.9562.5494.52
Wendell SmallwoodPHIRB21.93103.6664.47
J.J. NelsonARIWR21.9149.43134.28
Tyreek HillKCWR21.9161.1284.34
Tyrell WilliamsSDWR21.9165.6214.48
Brandin CooksNOWR21.8992.8364.33
LeSean McCoyBUFRB21.8791.88124.5
Odell BeckhamNYGWR21.8578.19144.43
Benny CunninghamLARB21.8547.49104.69
Ted GinnCARWR21.8395.59124.43
Aldrick RobinsonATLWR21.877.99154.35
Ezekiel ElliottDALRB21.873.83164.47
Sammie CoatesPITWR21.7879.3554.43
De'Vante HarrisNOCB21.7854.6834.56
J.J. NelsonARIWR21.7465.75164.28
Justin BethelARICB21.7483.1174.58
Tyreek HillKCWR21.7249.68134.34
Deion JonesATLOLB21.72104.0534.59
Corey GrantJAXRB21.6677.35174.33
Cordarrelle PattersonMINWR21.6684.0614.42
Will FullerHOUWR21.6291.1744.32
Marcus SherelsMINCB21.6268.8144.37
Sammie CoatesPITWR21.654.1944.43
Mack BrownWASRB21.677.49164.66
Andre RobertsDETWR21.58117.1544.4
Kenyan DrakeMIARB21.5678.83164.45
Travis BenjaminSDWR21.5479.854.36
Taiwan JonesOAKRB21.5255.89114.53
Tavon AustinLAWR21.537.6854.34
Taylor GabrielATLWR21.552.9884.45
Ezekiel ElliottDALRB21.572.4454.47
Marcus MariotaTENQB21.558.3364.52
DeSean JacksonWASWR21.4891.16144.35
Cordarrelle PattersonMINWR21.48134.12114.42
Damien WilliamsMIARB21.46104.86174.45
Mike GillisleeBUFRB21.4657.0764.55
Tyreek HillKCWR21.44126.9174.34
DeMarco MurrayTENRB21.4489.06104.37
Bradley RobyDENFS21.4473.1784.39
Ezekiel ElliottDALRB21.4464.83154.47
Jordan TodmanINDRB21.4115.2894.4
Sammy WatkinsBUFWR21.466.59124.43
A.J. GreenCINWR21.451.6974.48
DeMarco MurrayTENRB21.3580.7124.37
Marquette KingOAKP21.3557.974.67
Quincy EnunwaNYJWR21.3383.0274.45
Tyreek HillKCWR21.31135.5344.34
Ted GinnCARWR21.3151.49114.43
David JohnsonARIRB21.3179.8424.5
Devonta FreemanATLRB21.3188.79174.58
Mark IngramNORB21.3190.3894.62
Lamar MillerHOURB21.2946.5764.4
Sammie CoatesPITWR21.2746.0734.43
Ronnie HillmanMINRB21.2757.8494.45
Breshad PerrimanBALWR21.2553.93104.24
Bryce TreggsPHIWR21.2565.1794.44
Brandon LaFellCINWR21.25104.49164.58
Alex EricksonCINWR21.25115.72104.59
J.J. NelsonARIWR21.2384.75144.28
J.J. NelsonARIWR21.2391.56164.28
Richard ShermanSEACB21.2355.49114.54
Jay AjayiMIARB21.2369.58164.57
Mike WallaceBALWR21.2158.82124.28
Lamar MillerHOURB21.2153.17114.4
Tyler LockettSEAWR21.21104.64134.4
Josh HuffPHIWR21.21111.1374.51
Tyreek HillKCWR21.1942.7294.34
C.J. ProsiseSEARB21.1992.71114.48
Marcus SherelsMINCB21.1776.1534.37
Ted GinnCARWR21.1771.89174.43
Marvin JonesDETWR21.1754.6674.46
Jordan TaylorDENWR21.1759.1884.57
Darrius Heyward-BeyPITWR21.1393.3164.3
Phillip DorsettINDWR21.1155.0514.33
Julio JonesATLWR21.0995.0744.34
Julio JonesATLWR21.0961.4144.34
Robby AndersonNYJWR21.0951.39104.41
David JohnsonARIRB21.0969.35164.5
DeSean JacksonWASWR21.0782.47164.35
Emmanuel SandersDENWR21.0746.76124.4
Marcus CooperARIDB21.0772.8824.45
Stefon DiggsMINWR21.0749.85144.46
Chris MooreBALWR21.0769.74144.53
Jordan HowardCHIRB21.0752.6434.57
Tyreek HillKCWR21.0543.19114.34
Tyreek HillKCWR21.0541144.34
Mike WallaceBALWR21.0360.9774.28
DeSean JacksonWASWR21.0371.61124.35
Odell BeckhamNYGWR21.0380.1664.43
Darren SprolesPHIRB21.0361.8534.47
Kenjon BarnerPHIRB21.0392.72134.52
Christine MichaelSEARB21.0357.9734.54
Alex EricksonCINWR21.0394.67154.59
Tyreek HillKCWR21.01113.8764.34
Marquise GoodwinBUFWR20.9973.1874.27
Terrelle PryorCLEWR20.9958.9754.41
Chris IvoryJAXRB20.9957.5574.48
Bennie FowlerDENWR20.9985.77124.52
Jarvis LandryMIAWR20.9977.98154.58
Melvin GordonSDRB20.9757.0494.52
Jay AjayiMIARB20.9757.34104.57
Patrick PetersonARICB20.9546.8934.31
Tyreek HillKCWR20.9544.1874.34
DeSean JacksonWASWR20.9550.1634.35
Nelson AgholorPHIWR20.9551.91164.42
Matt ForteNYJRB20.9542.9694.44
Marcus MariotaTENQB20.9544.7154.52
John BrownARIWR20.9389.8434.34
Ezekiel ElliottDALRB20.9339.89104.47
Melvin GordonSDRB20.9362.7964.52
Mike WallaceBALWR20.9107.5394.28
Latavius MurrayOAKRB20.965.4194.38
Doug BaldwinSEAWR20.965.0434.53
Tramaine BrockSFCB20.966.98164.54
Tevin ColemanATLRB20.8863.5314.39
Tevin ColemanATLRB20.8842.3154.39
Marqise LeeJAXWR20.88111.92154.52
Mike WallaceBALWR20.8674.77154.28
Matt JonesWASRB20.8674.7164.61
Travis BenjaminSDWR20.8451.0524.36
Tyrell WilliamsSDWR20.8458.0674.48
Taylor GabrielATLWR20.882.6104.45
Robby AndersonNYJWR20.7856.04154.41
Sammy WatkinsBUFWR20.7848.32164.43
Chris HoganNEWR20.7881.89144.55
Tyreek HillKCWR20.7650.5974.34
Brian QuickLAWR20.7681.5244.55
Jordan HowardCHIRB20.7690.2884.57
Blaine GabbertSFQB20.7643.0154.61
Peyton BarberTBRB20.7658.2674.64
Mike WallaceBALWR20.7444.6344.28
Odell BeckhamNYGWR20.7452.6514.43
Odell BeckhamNYGWR20.7485.8564.43
Ezekiel ElliottDALRB20.7446.7864.47
Robert WoodsBUFWR20.7444.8364.51
Terron WardATLRB20.7464.98154.61
J.J. NelsonARIWR20.7251.1764.28
Julio JonesATLWR20.7247.2844.34
Todd GurleyLARB20.7245.52114.5
De'Anthony ThomasKCWR20.760.23124.34
Tyrod TaylorBUFQB20.748.84164.47
Jordy NelsonGBWR20.768.6784.51
Breshad PerrimanBALWR20.6874.62134.24
Julio JonesATLWR20.6858.7174.34
Travis BenjaminSDWR20.6849.2124.36
Chris HoganNEWR20.6857.3354.55
Chris JonesDALP20.6853.5184.68
Will FullerHOUWR20.6641.5124.32
Ted GinnCARWR20.6655.9714.43
A.J. GreenCINWR20.6648.0844.48
Colin KaepernickSFQB20.6648.0374.53
Demaryius ThomasDENWR20.6451.6824.38
Kenyan DrakeMIARB20.6456.1644.45
Logan RyanNECB20.6465.5154.56
Jeremy HillCINRB20.6464.334.66
Travis BenjaminSDWR20.6254.23164.36
Eddie RoyalCHIWR20.6277.3944.39
Jakeem GrantMIAWR20.6270.7164.42
Albert WilsonKCWR20.6245.2794.43
Ted GinnCARWR20.6275.91144.43
David JohnsonARIRB20.6279.0764.5
Devonta FreemanATLRB20.6243.8684.58
Will ParksDENDB20.6254.264.63
Travis BenjaminSDWR20.665.1144.36
Andre RobertsDETWR20.693.32114.4
Albert WilsonKCWR20.667.53134.43
Lucky WhiteheadDALWR20.653.6964.44
Cam NewtonCARQB20.646.63104.56
Vance McDonaldSFTE20.683.1294.69
Mike WallaceBALWR20.5875.4414.28
Jordan MatthewsPHIWR20.5857.0264.46
Brittan GoldenARIWR20.5872.55154.53
Reggie BushBUFRB20.5672.6584.42
Bryce TreggsPHIWR20.5642.41124.44
Kenyan DrakeMIARB20.56108.1124.45
Jalin MarshallNYJWR20.5652.7184.6
Tyreek HillKCWR20.5493.4624.34
John BrownARIWR20.5460.55114.34
Travis BenjaminSDWR20.5443.6844.36
Taylor GabrielATLWR20.5464.57124.45
Tajae SharpeTENWR20.5445.43114.55
Vance McDonaldSFTE20.5483.3824.69
Ted GinnCARWR20.5281.9564.43
Marcus GilchristNYJFS20.5261.8974.45
Quinton PattonSFWR20.5255.23104.53
Pharoh CooperLAWR20.5252.85174.7

Let’s consider some fun facts real quick. Only 15 records in the sample come from players who recorded a 4.6 or slower in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Another 49 recorded between 4.5 and 4.59, meaning 138 of those 202 fastest times were in the 4.4s or better (68.3 percent).

There are 115 different players who show up in the 202-record sample. Among them are two punters, Marquette King and Chris Jones. Here is the positional breakdown of the 115 players (keep in mind this is only ball carriers at top speed, which slants things toward offensive players and returners).

Position Number of Unique Players in Sample
WR 59
RB 35
DB 12
QB 5
P 2
TE 1
LB 1

Nine players show up four times or more, eight of which are WRs.

Player Team Position Count
Tyreek Hill KC WR 13
Ted Ginn CAR WR 8
Travis Benjamin SD WR 7
Mike Wallace BAL WR 7
Ezekiel Elliott DAL RB 5
DeSean Jackson WAS WR 5
J.J. Nelson ARI WR 5
Odell Beckham NYG WR 4
Julio Jones ATL WR 4

Apart from fun trivia, is there anything we can learn here?

Comparison Shopping

Matthew Freedman has argued over at FantasyLabs that we should think of athletes as cars. It’s a great analogy here; what we’re now going to compare is zero-to-sixty against top speed.

While it’s easy to take for granted that 40-yard dash times are the correct measure of “speed”, the first thing this comparison does is open the question of whether that’s the case. Shawn Siegele has found that 40-yard dash times may be overvalued in the NFL draft; what if that’s because they aren’t really an appropriate measure of the best type of speed for the game of football?

That’s not to say top speed is, either, but merely to point out that we now have two different ways to look at speed in general. Let’s compare the two, keeping in mind our data set is limited to only the 202 fastest readings in one of the two measures.

NextGen vs. 40 Times

Here’s a scatter comparing those top ball carrier speeds from 2016 with the players’ 40 times. I threw in a linear trendline for shits and giggles mostly — it shouldn’t be expected to measure anything in a biased sample that only includes the upper tail for one of the variables.

It fascinates me that there are players who run up around 4.7 who made this list. Or that there were only 14 instances all season of a ball carrier traveling more than 22 MPH, yet two of them were recorded by guys who ran in the 4.5s (Jordan Howard and Johnny Holton – the latter of whom only touched the ball eight times all season but managed to find himself on this list).

Final Thoughts

With only traces of NextGen stats in the public domain, there’s plenty more that is unanswerable at this time, including questions like, “How many players with sub-4.5 speed even carried the ball in a sprinting situation in a given week or all year?” Perhaps the 4.7s who made this list are a byproduct of the fastest players in the league never really being in the open field enough to utilize that top gear (with the ball in their hands).

What we have established is there are different measures of speed, and while we shouldn’t expect a direct correlation, notes like what we see from Howard and Holton seem to validate the logical complaint of 40 times — players might be slow to accelerate but be capable of reaching extremely high speeds. I can think of a variety of ways either would be beneficial on a football field.

Keep these things in mind the next time you blindly look up a 40 time as a measure of a player’s speed. I know I’ll be giving Howard a little more credit for having high-end speed going forward. At the WR position, production matters more than 40 time, but we don’t know if top speed aids production.

Nothing in this post provides evidence from which sweeping generalizations can be made, but it does give a glimpse into what our trusted metrics might be in five or 10 years. Until then, consider whether the metrics we rely on heavily at present are worth the trust we put in them.

  1. I couldn’t find all the 40 times in one place, so there may be slight inconsistencies. Big thanks to the three resources I used: Mockdraftable, PlayerProfiler, and NFL Draft Scout.  (back)

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