Okay, it's almost time for the NFL Draft - somewhat less exciting than usual now that neither New York team has a first round pick - and once again we are treated to that all-important skill-position stat, the time in the 40-yard dash. It's to wide receivers and defensive backs what radar gun readings are for pitchers, and probably about as reliable an indicator of success.
One of the interesting phenomena about the 40 time is that it seems like almost every year there's a prospect with a surprisingly slow time, or someone who "plays" faster than his 40 time. This is usually explained away with a variation of "everything's different when they put on the pads," which I don't entirely buy.
Anyway, here's my thought: 40 yards is a very short distance, so short that a significant portion of it is used up just getting up to full speed. So is the 40 really a true measure of raw speed, or is it more of a hybrid measure of speed + acceleration? What if the guys who play faster really are faster, but take a little bit longer to reach their top gear? There's a shuttle drill that measures acceleration a little more specifically - I wonder if anyone has ever correlated the results of the two drills, especially for those players with seemingly out-of-whack 40 times.
The other thing I reflect on is defense and speed in baseball. Taking the level of competition into account, I sometimes wonder if the slowest and clumsiest of major league defensive players (i.e., a Mo Vaughn or David Ortiz) would be agile, gazelle-like shortstops or centerfielders if they found themselves in one of our pickup softball games. Or if they're just lummoxes at any level.
I also wonder just how slow the slowest players are "in real life." Sure, they're slow compared to Ichiro, but are they slow compared to me, too?
Any volunteers to time me in the 40?