Track and the NFL: Who's the fastest ever?

The other day, Tim Warsinskey of the Cleveland Plain Dealer incorrectly tweeted that Ted Ginn still holds the Ohio high school record in the 110 meter hurdles, with his 13.40 in 2004. He, in fact, never held the record, as Chris Nelloms ran 13.30 some 14 years earlier. (Warsinskey may have been confused, as Ginn's 13.40 is the state meet record, but a journalist should know the difference.)

This all came up not because of Ginn's notoriety as a hurdler but as an NFL return specialist. I was asked if anyone has ever compiled all-time lists for NFL players in the various track and field events. I replied that I was not aware of any, but putting one together sounded like a job for yours truly.

I dimly remembered a compilation of notable track athletes who went on to other professional sports. Google helped me find it: Track Guys Gone Bad, available at the great www.tilastopaja.org statistics website. It's a very good piece of research and quite deep. So the heavy lifting had already been done for me.

Over the years there have been a lot of discussions about who the fastest guy in the history of pro football was, and it usually comes down to Bob Hayes and Darrell Green. Notably absent from the discussion? Tommie Smith.

Yes, Tommie Smith played pro football, a total of two games for the Bengals back in the AFL days. He was signed more or less as an experiment and publicity stunt. Putting aside a longing for days when a pro football outfit would turn to track stars for publicity, we have to decide who really qualifies as a pro football player.

I didn't want players who were experiments or washouts to take precedence over bona fide NFL players.  Here's what I decided: the athlete in question must have played the equivalent of a full season for an NFL or AFL team. That means appearing in a career total of at least 16 games, or 14 games prior to 1978. (Thus Trindon Holliday is not listed here.) Players in other leagues, such as the USFL or CFL, were eligible if they were bona fide stars who unquestionably would have made an NFL roster.

Additions, corrections and deletions are always welcome.

Here we go -- position, team(s) and career number of games noted...

100 meters


10.01 - Jacoby Ford (WR, Clemson - Oakland Raiders, 23 g)
10.06 - Bob Hayes (WR, Florida A&M - Dallas/San Fran, Hall of Fame)
10.06 - Ron Brown (WR, Arizona St - LA Rams/Raiders, 100 g)
10.07 - Alvis Whitted (WR, NC State - Jacksonville/Oakland, 122 g)
10.08 - Darrell Green (CB, Texas A&I - Washington Redskins, Hall of Fame)
10.09 - Sam Graddy (WR, Tennessee - Denver/LA Raiders, 43 g)
10.10 - Willie Gault (WR, Tennessee - Chicago/LA Raiders, 170 g)
10.11 - Mike Miller (WR, Tennessee - NY Giants/New Orleans, 16 g)
10.11 - Curtis Dickey (RB, Texas A&M - Balt/Ind/Clev, 85 g)
10.14 - James Trapp (CB, Clemson - Raiders/Balt/Jkv, 149 g)
hand timing:
10.0 - Cliff Branch (WR, Colorado - Oakland/LA Raiders, 4 Pro Bowls)
Other notables
10.01 - Jeff Demps (RB, Florida - ?)
10.23 - Herschel Walker (RB, Georgia - 6 teams, 2 Pro Bowls)
10.26 - Deion Sanders (CB/WR, Florida St - 5 teams, Hall of Fame)
10.44 - Bo Jackson (RB, Auburn - LA Raiders, 1 Pro Bowl)
10.3h - O.J. Simpson (RB, USC – Buffalo/San Fran, Hall of Fame)

Two things to note...
1. Al Davis liked speed, and the fact that seven out of the above played for his Raiders really calls that into focus.
2. Johnny Majors apparently liked speed too, as Graddy, Gault and Miller all were football/track dual-sport stars for his Tennessee Volunteers.

200 meters


20.01 - Michael Bates (RB, Arizona - 5 teams, 5 Pro Bowls)
20.15 (A) - Mike Miller (WR, Tennessee - NY Giants/New Orleans, 16 g)
20.17 - James Trapp (CB, Clemson - Raiders/Balt/Jkv, 149 g)
20.19 - Phil Epps (WR, TCU - Green Bay/ NY Jets, 95 g)
20.23 - Michael Timpson (WR, Penn State - NE/Chi/Phi, 116 g)
20.27 - Danny Peebles (WR, NC State - Tampa Bay/Cleveland, 30 g)
20.28 - Tony Jones (WR, Texas - Houston/Atlanta, 43 g)
20.29 - Alvis Whitted (WR, NC State - Jacksonville/Oakland, 122 g)
20.30 - Sam Graddy (WR, Tennessee - Denver/LA Raiders, 43 g)
20.32 - Jerome Mathis (WR, Hampton - Houston Texans, 1 Pro Bowl)
Other notables
20.76 - Deion Sanders (CB/WR, Florida St - 5 teams, Hall of Fame)

400 meters


* = 440 yards time X 99.42%
44.94 - Rod Jones (CB, SMU - Tamba Bay/Cincinnati, 146 g)
44.98* - Larry Jones (DB, Truman St - Washington/San Fran, 51 g)
45.17 - Travis Hannah (WR, USC - Houston Oilers, 37 g)
45.38 - Patrick Johnson (WR, Oregon - Balt/Wash/Jkv/Edm, 70 g)
45.69 - Scott Turner (DB, Illinois - Wash/SD/Denver, 101 g)
45.73 - Robert Smith (RB, Ohio State - Minnesota Vikings, 2 Pro Bowls)
45.76 - Ed Hervey (WR, USC - Edmonton Eskimos, 2x CFL All-Star)
45.88 - Alvis Whitted (WR, NC State - Jacksonville/Oakland, 122 g)
45.91 - Johnny Thomas (DB, Baylor - Wash/SD/Clev/Phi, 94 g)
46.02 - Russell Carter (DB, SMU - NY Jets/LA Raiders, 64 g)
hand timing:
45.4 - Henry Carr (DB, Arizona St - NY Giants, 37 g)
45.5* - Karl Farmer (WR, Pittsburgh - Atlanta/Tampa Bay, 17 g)
45.9 - Darrell Green (CB, Texas A&I - Washington Redskins, Hall of Fame)
Other notables
46.6h - Ollie Matson (RB, San Francisco - 4 teams, Hall of Fame)

Two things to note...
1. When defensive backs show up in these rankings, it appears to be in the 400 (and hurdles, below). Is this because the position requires greater endurance, or because the 400 doesn't attract the attention hogs you tend to get at wide receiver?
2. Darrell Green was one hell of an athlete.

110 meter hurdles


* = 120 yards time + 0.04
12.93 - Renaldo Nehemiah (WR, Maryland - San Francisco 49ers, 40 g)
13.26 - Willie Gault (WR, Tennessee - Chicago/LA Raiders, 170 g)
13.29 - Rod Woodson (DB, Purdue - Pit/SF/Bal/Oak, Hall of Fame)
13.32 - Jabari Greer (CB, Tennessee - Buffalo/New Orleans, 106 g)
13.43 - Earl McCullouch (WR, USC - Detroit/New Orleans, 75 g)
13.46 - James Owens (RB, UCLA - San Fran/Tampa Bay, 70 g)
13.54* - Richmond Flowers (DB, Tennessee - Dallas/NY Giants, 55 g)
13.56 - Reyna Thompson (DB, Baylor - Miami/Giants/NE, 116 g)
13.60 - Qadry Ismail (WR, Syracuse - 5 teams, 137 g)
13.65* - Don Shy (RB, San Diego St - Pit/NO/Chi/StL, 84 g)
hand timing:
13.3y - Jerry Tarr (WR, Oregon - Denver Broncos, 14 g)

400m Hurdles


* = 440 yards time X 99.42%
49.55 - Paul Lankford (CB, Penn State - Miami Dolphins, 130 g)
49.74 - Nolan Cromwell (DB, Kansas - LA Rams, 4 Pro Bowls)
49.77 - Brian Moorman (P, Pittsburgh St - Buffalo Bills, 2 Pro Bowls)
50.0* - Jerry Tarr (WR, Oregon - Denver Broncos, 14 g)
50.54 - Michael Timpson (WR, Penn State - NE/Chi/Phi, 116 g)
51.5* - Richmond Flowers (DB, Tennessee - Dallas/NY Giants, 55 g)
Other Notables
49.22 - Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor - ?)

Two things to note...
1. Yes, that's the Bills' punter up there at #3. He's considered exceptionally athletic for a punter and competed in the 2006 Pro Bowl Skills Competition.
2. Robert Griffin III, this year's Heisman winner, sports a 49.22 PR and will go to the head of the list if he makes it in the NFL.

Long Jump


8.44 - Eric Metcalf (RB, Texas - 7 teams, 3 Pro Bowls)
8.24 - James McAlister (RB, UCLA - Philadelphia/New England, 43 g)
8.24 - Reggie Jones (WR, LSU - Car/KC/SD, 21 g)
8.23 - James Lofton (WR, Stanford - 6 teams, Hall of Fame)
8.21 - Vance Johnson (WR, Arizona - Denver Broncos, 128 g)
8.17 - Chris Sanders (WR, Ohio State - Houston/Tennessee, 97 g)
8.14 - Latin Berry (DB, Oregon - LA Rams/Cleveland, 32 g)
8.11 - Bo Roberson (WR, Cornell - SD/Oak/Buf/Mia, 81 g)
7.98 - Santana Moss (WR, Miami FL - NY Jets/ Washington, 2x All-Pro)
7.97 - Johnny Hector (RB, Texas A&M - NY Jets, 126 g)
Other notables
8.17 - Marquise Goodwin (WR, Texas - ?)
7.92 - Paul Warfield (WR, Ohio State - Cleveland/Miami, Hall of Fame)
7.92 - Mel Gray (WR, Missouri - St Louis Cardinals, 4 Pro Bowls)
7.91 - Mel Renfro (CB, Oregon - Dallas Cowboys, Hall of Fame)
7.89 - Champ Bailey (CB, Georgia - Washington/Denver, 10 Pro Bowls)
7.58 - Gayle Sayers (RB, Kansas - Chicago Bears, Hall of Fame)
7.37 - Devin Hester (WR, Miami FL - Chicago Bears, 3 Pro Bowls)

Two things to note...
1. Eric Metcalfe is, in my opinion, on the short list for the best at both football and track; he is by far the best long jumper ever to play pro football, and is the NFL's #2 all-time punt return touchdown leader. Some of the moves he made for the Browns in the early 90s are still highlight-film material.
2. Texas' Marquise Goodwin has a PR of 8.17, but it is unclear whether the Longhorn wide receiver will pursue football at a level beyond college. He is the reigning US long jump champion.

Triple Jump


17.12 - Reggie Jones (WR, LSU - Car/KC/SD, 21 g)
16.81 - Dokie Williams (WR, UCLA - LA Raiders, 74 g)
16.73 - Henry Ellard (WR, Fresno St - LA Rams/Wash/NE, 3 Pro Bowls)
16.65 - Al Toon (WR, Wisconsin - NY Jets, 3 Pro Bowls)
16.41 - Latin Berry (DB, Oregon - LA Rams/Cleveland, 32 g)

High Jump


2.27 - Percell Gaskins (LB, Kansas St - St Louis/Carolina, 27 g)
2.21 - Herman Moore (WR, Virginia - Detroit/NY Giants, 4 Pro Bowls)

Two things to note...
1. Donald Driver of the Green Bay Packers is commonly credited with jumping 7' 6" or better in college at Alcorn State, but this is simply not true. His best mark ever reported is 7' 4½", listed in the USATF Annual as a "questionable performance" (a designation not given out lightly, so it's highly likely to be a bogus mark). He never competed at an NCAA Championships, and Track and Field News has no mention of him whatsoever, either on their annual lists (going down to 7' 1¾") or at the SWAC Championships.
2. The crossover in this event isn't particularly big, as the long-and-light body type required for great high jumping doesn't stand up well to NFL abuse.

Shot Put


21.76 - Michael Carter (DT, SMU - San Francisco 49ers, 3 Pro Bowls)
20.84 - Jeff Stover (DE, Oregon - San Francisco 49ers, 81 g)
20.83 - Brian Robison (DE, Texas - Minnesota Vikings, 76 g)
20.20 - Shane Collins (DE, Arizona St - Washington Redskins, 30 g)
19.46 - Vince Goldsmith (DE, Oregon - Sask/Calg/Toronto, CFL All-Star)
19.42 - Jonathan Ogden (OT, UCLA - Baltimore Ravens, 11 Pro Bowls)
19.29 - Tom Newberry (OG, UW La Crosse - LA Rams/Pittsburgh, 2 Pro Bowls)
19.03 - Joe Thomas (OT, Wisconsin - Cleveland Browns, 4 Pro Bowls)
18.72 - John Hannah (OG, Alabama - New England Patriots, Hall of Fame)
18.36 - Elvin Bethea (DE, NC A&T - Houston Oilers, Hall of Fame)
18.33 - Billy Joe (RB, Villanova - Den/Buf/Mia/NY Jets, AFL All-Star)
18.00 - Jeff Smith (LB, USC - NY Giants, 14 g)
Other notables
17.22 - Al Blozis (OT, Georgetown - NY Giants, 1940s All-Decade Team)
17.15 – Rosey Grier (DT, Penn State – NY Giants/LA Rams, 2 Pro Bowls)

Two things to note...
1. Carter and Stover played on the same 49ers teams that dominated the 1980s.
2. Ogden and Hannah considered the greatest ever at their positions and happen to also be the best shot putters at their positions. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Discus Throw


64.72 - Christian Okoye (RB, Azusa Pacific - Kansas City Chiefs, 2 Pro Bowls)
63.22 - Brian Milne (RB, Penn State - Cin/Seattle/NO, 63 g)
61.96 - Michael Carter (DT, SMU - San Francisco 49ers, 3 Pro Bowls)

Indoor Sprints and Hurdles


Getting accurate data here was much more difficult. These lists won't go nearly as deep.

50 meters
5.76 - Darrell Green (CB, Washington, Hall of Fame)

55 meters / 60 yards
6.03y - Sam Graddy (WR, Tennesee - Denver/LA Raiders, 43 g)
6.07 - Raghib Ismail (WR, Notre Dame - Raiders/Carolina/Dallas, CFL All-Star)
6.18 - Danny Peebles (WR, NC State - Tampa Bay/Cleveland, 30 g)
6.18y - Willie Gault (WR, Tennessee - Chicago/LA Raiders, 170 g)
6.18 - Bo Jackson (RB, Auburn - LA Raiders, 1 Pro Bowl)
hand timing:
5.9 - Bob Hayes (WR, Florida A&M - Dallas/San Fran, Hall of Fame)

60 meters
6.51 - Jacoby Ford (WR, Clemson - Oakland Raiders, 23 g)
6.58 - C.J. Spiller (RB, Clemson - Buffalo, 28 g)

50m Hurdles
6.36 - Renaldo Nehemiah (WR, Maryland - San Francisco 49ers, 40 g)
6.62 - Rod Woodson (DB, Purdue - Pit/SF/Bal/Oak, Hall of Fame)

55m / 60y Hurdles
6.83y - Renaldo Nehemiah (WR, Maryland - San Francisco 49ers, 40 g)
6.96y - Willie Gault (WR, Tennessee - Chicago/LA Raiders, 170 g)
7.11 - Rod Woodson (DB, Purdue - Pit/SF/Bal/Oak, Hall of Fame)

60m Hurdles
7.55 - Jabari Greer (CB, Tennessee - Buffalo/New Orleans, 106 g)

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