Top 10 fastest NFL players of all time

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Jason Ence

August 3rd, 2021

Speed kills in the NFL, but there is a difference between being quick and being fast. While explosive speed can help you make plays, sustained top-end speed can give opposing players nightmares and electrify crowds. But who are the fastest players to play in the National Football League?

Between combine results and in-game performances, these 10 players showed the most dangerous speed in the NFL over the course of their careers.

10. Deion Sanders

Position: Cornerback, wide receiver
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Football Team, Baltimore Ravens
Years active: 1989-2005

"Prime Time" was electrifying, and he ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.27 seconds at the 1989 NFL Combine. He unofficially ran a 4.21 time but it was deemed to be wind-aided. At Florida State, Sanders also ran a 10.21 time in the 100 meters.

Sanders was a freak athlete who played both football and baseball, and his speed allowed him to be one of the best return men in the history of the league. Only Devin Hester has more non-offensive touchdowns than Sanders’ 19. 

9. Darrell Green

Position: Cornerback
Team: Washington Football Team
Years active: 1983-2002

Few people could run a 40-yard dash in just 4.43 seconds. Green did so…at the age of 50. Well, so he says. But it’s believable, because few players were faster during their playing days than the former Washington defensive back. While unconfirmed, many have reported that he ran a 40-yard dash in just 4.09 seconds during training camp in 1986.

Green did run an official time of 10.08 in the 100 meters in college, and he chased down speedsters in his career like Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson. I wouldn’t bet against him chasing down some NFL players even today.

8. Fabian Washington

Position: Cornerback
Teams: Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens
Years active: 2005-2010

A high-school track star, Washington ran a 4.29 40-yard dash his senior year of high school, and then ran a 4.25 at the 2005 NFL Combine. His 10-yard split of 1.50 and 20-yard split of 2.43 are among the fastest in combine history.

While his speed helped him as a cornerback, his coverage skills were often found lacking, and his NFL career lasted just six seasons.

7. Renaldo Nehemiah

Position: Wide receiver
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Years active: 1982-1984

Nehemiah is a name few know, but before he entered the NFL he was a world-record holding high hurdles runner. He was the first man in history to run the 110 meter high hurdles in under 13 seconds, as he set a world record in 1981 with a time of 12.93 seconds.

He never played football in college, but the 49ers signed him in 1982 to play wide receiver. He spent three years with the franchise and won a Super Bowl in 1984. After Jerry Rice was drafted, he was let go and resumed his track career.  

6. John Ross

Position: Wide receiver
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Years active: 2017-present

Ross set the new NFL combine record when he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds (more on that later) in 2017, and was taken by the Bengals in the first round of the NFL Draft. However, in four seasons with Cincinnati he caught just 51 passes and played in only 27 games as injuries have derailed his career. When he has been on the field, he has shown the ability to lift the lid off defenses with his blazing pace.

5. Tyreek Hill

Position: Wide receiver
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Years active: 2016-present

Few players make you stand up and take notice when they get their hands on the ball more than Hill. He announced himself with a 4.29 time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day coming out of college. Since entering the NFL in 2016, no player has more receiving touchdowns of 25 or more yards, and he is already half way to Jerry Rice’s record of 19 touchdowns of 50 or more yards.

Only three players clocked a faster speed in 2020 than the 21.91 miles per hour on Hill’s 44-yard touchdown in Week 14. He also has two of the 50 longest punt return touchdowns in NFL history.

4. Dri Archer

Position: Wide receiver 
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Years active: 2014-2015

To make it at the NFL level, having superhuman speed is simply not enough. Nobody exhibits this truth more than Archer, whose 40-yard combine time of 4.26 seconds is one of the fastest recorded. Pittsburgh drafted the running back out of Kent State and tried to utilize him at wideout and on special teams, but he simply was not able to make it at the next level and was out of the league two years later.

3. Chris Johnson

Position: Running back
Teams: Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals
Years active: 2008-2017

"CJ2K" was a terror for years in the NFL, setting a league record in 2009 with 2,509 yards from scrimmage in one season. He announced himself at the 2008 NFL Combine when he clocked a 4.24 time in his 40-yard dash, a record at that time. Johnson believes he ran a 4.18 at the combine, and many have put his run side-by-side with that of Ross, and it does appear Johnson was a step ahead at the end.

When Johnson got into the open field, few could touch him. Injuries derailed his career, but in his prime there were few players that scared defenses more.

2. Bo Jackson

Position: Running back
Team: Los Angeles Raiders
Years active: 1987-1990

While it was a hand-timed 40 yard dash, Jackson’s 4.13 time is the fastest verified NFL workout run ever. Jackson played just four years in the NFL before injury ended his career, but he averaged more than five yards per carry. That speed came from a man standing over six feet tall and weighing more than 220 pounds.

Multiple sources online state that Jackson ran a 4.12 at the combine in 1986, but he actually did not attend the event. He ran the hand-timed 4.13 sprint at Auburn’s pro day, and in a preview of what would come later in his career, he ran through the finish line and out the door of the facility.

1. Bob Hayes

Position: Wide receiver, split end
Teams: Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers
Years active: 1965-1975

When you set a world record in the 100-meter dash, you get to lay claim to being the fastest man in the NFL. "Bullet Bob" Hayes played in the NFL during the 60s and 70s, but in 1963 and 1964 he set sprinting records that took years to fall. First, he set a world record with a 9.1 second time in the 100-yard dash, a record that would stand for eleven years. That same year, he also set an unofficial world record in the 200-meter dash.

The following year, Hayes represented the United States at the Olympics. Running in borrowed shoes because he accidentally left his at home, he won the 100-meter dash with a world-record time of 10.06 seconds. He then ran the fastest leg in the history of the 4x100, with his 8.60 being five hundredths of a second faster than Usain Bolt’s time in 2015.

Hayes would be drafted in the 1964 draft with a "future" pick by the Cowboys, whom he played with for 10 years. He would posthumously be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, seven years after his death. To this day, Hayes is the only man to win both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl.