Ranking the fastest — and slowest — NFL teams: Why the Panthers, Eagles prioritize speed

  • ESPN staff writer
  • Previously a college football reporter for CBSSports.com
  • University of Florida graduate

  • Senior Analytics Specialist at ESPN
  • Former consultant to NFL teams
  • Pioneer of football analytics

The NFL will scour the Earth for a good 40-yard dash time. Just ask Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who recalls scanning thousands of FCS and NAIA player times ahead of undrafted free agency in 2019.

“Trinity Benson was high on the list,” Azzanni said.

Benson was a relative unknown out of East Central (Oklahoma) University with limited game film compared to bigger schools. But his long speed — an official 4.44-second 40 time — turned a perceived long shot into opportunity. The Broncos offered him $10,000 to sign. Two years later, Denver flipped Benson and a sixth-round pick to Detroit for future fifth- and seventh-round picks, and Benson is now part of Detroit’s rotation with six catches on the year.

Speed is currency. Anyone with even a mild interest in the annual scouting combine knows this. So we asked around to discover exactly how teams identify it, acquire it, feel it — and maximize it, to varied success. And with the help of Brian Burke at ESPN Stats & Information and data from NFL Next Gen Stats, we have created a ranking of which teams are the fastest and slowest on Sundays. To create the rankings, we factored in each team’s fastest players at every position who see plenty of playing time, and we weighted each position’s average yards covered per second for the players’ fastest plays since the beginning of the 2020 season.

More on the exact process and the final rankings are below, and you can jump to see which teams are best set up to win a track meet. The list includes a few surprises. Not all fast teams are winners — but at least they can keep up. But first, why is speed so important, and how is it playing a big part in the 2021 season?

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