The NFL measures 40 yard dash times when evaluating NFL prospects. For some positions, such as Defensive Tackle, offensive line, and Quarterback, speed is nice, but not really required. However even for those positions, greater speed in the 40 yard dash indicates greater athleticism, and a muscle composition that indicates a higher level of athleticism.
Speed matters most for the positions that run the most – Wide Receiver and Cornerback. And there is a certain level of athleticism that NFL teams look for that indicates elite potential. The following positional minimums are what I've gleaned from over 25 years of looking at NFL drafts, and how draft prospects ultimately performed in the NFL statistically. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are rare. Also below each minimum are lists of current Cowboys players, and how they measure up to the minimum standard.
Cornerback – Minimum 40 yard dash time – 4.45 seconds
Cornerbacks need to be the fastest players on the field. This is because they go up against the second fastest group, wide receivers, and cornerbacks need recovery speed when they get beat on a route. Wide Receivers will consistently beat cornerbacks because they know what route they are running, while a cornerback must react. So recovery speed is of critical importance.
4.35 – Kelvin Joseph
4.41 – CJ Goodwin
4.42 – Trevon Diggs – starter
4.46 – DaRon Bland
4.49 – Nahshon Wright
4.54 – Jourdan Lewis – starter
The Cowboys have 7 CB's on the roster and 4 of them meet the minimum standard, including the two starting CB's. There is a reason that Jourdan Lewis, who was stellar in college, is limited in the NFL. He's too slow to play outside receivers, and when the opposing slot receivers are fast, he's too slow to play the slot. He can make up for it with instincts, but only so much. The Cowboys obviously want to upgrade the speed of Lewis, as he's more suited to dime CB than nickel CB. DaRon Bland is borderline, and Nahshon Wright's height does make up for some lack of speed if playing against tall, but slower wide receivers. If Joseph can become what was expected when the Cowboys drafted him with the 44th overall pick last year, then Brown can move back into the slot, and the Cowboys will have the speed they need at the 3 starting positions.
Wide Receiver – minimum 40 yard dash time – 4.50 seconds
Wide Receivers must be fast enough to beat cornerbacks, and fast enough to run away from safeties. Because they know where they are going, wide receivers will always have an advantage on cornerbacks, but that advantage can disappear very quickly if they aren't fast enough to maintain a gap after they make their breaks when running routes.
4.37 Simi Fehoko
4.45 Michael Gallup – starter
4.48 Jalen Tolbert – starter
4.51 CeeDee Lamb – starter
4.52 Dennis Houston
4.52 Brandon Smith – PS
4.54 James Washington – IR
4.56 Noah Brown
4.60 Dontario Drummond – PS
The Cowboys don't have great speed in their WR corps, which makes it harder to get open, and makes the windows that Dak Prescott must throw into tighter. Speed is not the only factor, as route running precision matters quite a bit. But it makes it more difficult to get big plays with a slower WR corps, and that means it is harder to get TD's. CeeDee Lamb is a borderline player according to speed, but he's very elusive. The other starter, Michael Gallup has good WR speed, and draft pick Jalen Tolbert also has good speed. Turpin is the new addition who will be the primary returner, but he lacks route running ability. Fehoko is a better downfield threat on offense. Noah Brown is entering his 6th year in Dallas primarily because of his size and blocking ability. He's not a downfield threat at all. And there is a reason that James Washington never lived up to his 2nd round draft status – and that's because he shouldn't have been a 2nd round pick because he's too slow.
Running Back – minimum 40 yard dash time – 4.55 seconds
Running backs must have lateral quickness. Speed is important, but can be made up for with vision, lateral quickness, and balance. Emmitt Smith barely met the minimum speed, but his vision, lateral quickness and balance were exceptional. Running backs need the speed to outrun linebackers and safeties to get to the edge, and beat the angles that favor the defensive players.
4.52 Tony Pollard
4.54 Rico Dowdle
4.57 Malik Davis – PS
4.58 Qadree Ollison – PS
The Cowboys have good speed in their RB corps, but there is some question as to whether Elliott has slowed down since he was drafted 6 years ago. That could be why his YPC average is dropping. But his first three years in the NFL, he used his speed to be at the top of the NFL RB yardage lists.
Safety – minimum 40 yard dash time – 4.65 seconds
Safeties typically play with the ball in front of them, and get to survey the field. This means that their reaction times are not as critical as they are for cornerbacks. But they still need the speed to get from sideline to sideline, and must be able to chase down ball carriers to make plays.
4.41 Markquese Bell
4.46 Israel Mukuamu
4.47 Malik Hooker – starter
4.55 Juanyeh Thomas – PS
4.62 Jayron Kearse – starter
4.85 Donovan Wilson
Overall, the Cowboys have good to excellent speed in their safeties. I love Donovan Wilson's instincts, and he really shows up when playing in preseason against lower quality competition. But he'll never break into the starting lineup because of his lack of speed. The Cowboys have some very fast youngsters on the team playing safety.
Linebacker – minimum 40 yard dash time – 4.68 seconds
Linebackers can be slower than RB's because they have an advantage of playing downhill and have better angles to cover running backs. But they do need sideline to sideline speed to play the game effectively.
4.39 Micah Parsons – starter
4.50 Devin Harper
4.52 Malik Jefferson – PS
4.52 Jabril Cox
4.57 Damone Clark – NFI
4.65 Leighton Vander Esch – starter
4.66 Anthony Barr
4.68 Luke Gifford
4.70 Davonte Bond – IR
Overall, the Cowboys have good to excellent speed with their linebackers. Micah Parsons is a freak, and Anthony Barr was drafted to play in a 3-4 defense, so his 4.66 speed is good when it comes to rushing the passer, and passable when covering running backs as long as he maintains good angles.
Tight End – minimum 40 yard dash time – 4.70 seconds
There is obviously a difference between a Tight End who is used primarily as a blocker and one who is primarily a receiver. The ideal Tight End has a combination of blocking and receiving skills. Large bodied, tall receivers can be taught to block, but there are some tight ends in college that eventually convert to Offensive Tackle and become Pro Bowl players at OT. This is a hard position to find an elite player.
4.72 Sean McKeon – PS
4.75 Dalton Schultz – starter
4.80 Peyton Hendershot
4.81 Jake Ferguson
4.93 Ian Bunting – IR
Overall, the Cowboys are slow at Tight End, and this is an area of weakness the Cowboys will likely address in a future draft. Most of their Tight Ends are more suited to blocking than receiving. Recently retired and future HOF tight end Jason Witten ran a 4.65 in the 40 yard dash.
Defensive End – minimum 40 yard dash time 4.80 seconds
Elite DE's run below 4.70 seconds. Randy Gregory ran a 4.64, which explains why the Cowboys offered him a $70 million contract. Soon-to-be HOF player Demarcus Ware ran 4.56. DE's need to have closing speed to get to the quarterback when rushing the passer, and also speed enough to chase down running backs trying to get outside the edge of the defense. Technique and pass rushing moves are also important, but speed is a differentiating factor – e.g. Micah Parsons in 2021.
4.46 Sam Williams
4.61 Dante Fowler, Jr.
4.64 Tarell Basham
4.80 Demarcus Lawrence – starter
4.83 Chauncey Golston
4.87 Dorance Armstrong – starter
4.95 Mika Tafua – PS
The Cowboys have been slow at DE for a number of years, which is why they haven't gotten very many sacks compared to other NFL teams. Adding Dante Fowler, Jr. and Sam Williams to the roster this year is an attempt to get faster. Although he is currently listed as the starter, there is a reason Dorance Armstrong is taken out on passing downs. He is simply too slow to get to the QB. Expect Armstrong to lose his starting position. In my opinion, giving a $100 million contract to Lawrence was always a mistake. His 10 sack seasons were flukes, and there was and is no reason to expect him to repeat that performance in the future. This is also the reason Micah Parsons lining up at DE was such a refreshing change last season. This is also the reason Dan Quinn is so excited about Sam Williams.
Speed is simply not a determining factor of success for the Defensive Tackle, Offensive Line, and Quarterback positions. Because of that, some offensive and defensive line players do not participate (DNP) in the 40 yard dash when being tested. But here are the 40 times for Cowboys players in these other positions.
Quarterback – desired 40 yard dash time – 4.90 or less
4.84 Will Grier – PS
4.93 Cooper Rush – PS
Offensive Tackle – desired 40 yard dash time – 5.05 or less
Offensive Tackles need to be more athletic than Guards and Centers, so their 40 times indicate a level of athleticism required for the position.
4.93 Jason Peters – contract pending
4.95 Tyron Smith – IR
5.02 Tyler Smith – starter
5.03 Terence Steele – starter
5.03 Matt Waletzko
5.20 Josh Ball
Speed is one reason I have higher hopes for Matt Waletzko than Josh Ball. Ball may not have quick enough feet to be the "dancing bear" we need at Left Tackle. He may still be able to make it in the NFL as a right tackle or offensive guard. It's not an accident that the two players on this list with 17 Pro Bowl appearances and 10 1st and 2nd team All-Pro selections between them are sub-5.0 in the 40 yard dash.
Defensive Tackle – desired 40 yard dash time – 5.05 or less
4.72 Neville Gallimore – starter
4.73 Osa Odighizuwa – starter
5.01 Carlos Watkins – PS
5.04 Trysten Hill
5.30 John Ridgeway
5.48 Quinton Bohanna
It shouldn't shock anyone that the fastest two DT's on the team are the starters. Obviously, Ridgeway and Bohanna are NT type run stuffers only. By comparison, All-World DT Aaron Donald had a 4.68 40 time.
Offensive Guard and Center – 5.30 or less
5.18 Alec Lindstrom – PS
5.20 Matt Farniok
5.36 Tyler Biadasz – starter
DNP – Isaac Alarcon – PS
DNP Zack Martin – starter
DNP Connor McGovern – starter
Specialists – Punter, Place Kicker and Long Snapper – 40 times irrelevant
4.89 Brett Maher – PS
5.07 Jake McQuiade