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The Need? for Speed - CB

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Another look at a speed position where plenty of big/fast CBs have failed and a handful of slow CBs have succeeded.

Roby is fast and he likes to hit, but is that enough to succeed in the NFL?
Roby is fast and he likes to hit, but is that enough to succeed in the NFL?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This is part two to the post. In part one we looked at WRs. In this one we'll look at CBs - there are plenty of big/fast ones who failed and not that many "slow" ones who succeeded. Like part one, I'll be using the same strictures for evaluation. So let's start by looking at the best speed scores for cornerbacks at the combine going back to 1999 (all of these guys ran with the CBs even if they played safety in the NFL)

The speed demons on the defensive side

Year Name College Height(in) Weight(lbs) 40 Speed Quix
2011 Patrick Peterson Louisiana State 72 219 4.31 126.9 119.2
2010 Akwasi Owusu-Ansah Indiana (PA) 73 207 4.32 118.9 93.4
2008 Tyvon Branch Connecticut 73 204 4.31 118.2
2012 Josh Robinson Central Florida 70 199 4.29 117.5 113.7
2005 Stanford Routt Houston 74 193 4.27 116.1 109.9
2005 Ronald Bartell Howard 73 211 4.37 115.7
2013 Sanders Commings Georgia 73 216 4.41 114.2 89.5
2005 Nick Collins Bethune-Cookman 71 206 4.36 114.0 95.0
2005 Karl Paymah Washington State 73 204 4.35 113.9 97.5
2004 DeAngelo Hall Virginia Tech 70 202 4.34 113.9
2011 Prince Amukamara Nebraska 73 206 4.38 111.9 96.7
2006 Johnathan Joseph South Carolina 71 193 4.31 111.9 85.6
2003 Kevin Garrett Southern Methodist 70 194 4.32 111.4 97.6
2008 Justin King Penn State 71 192 4.31 111.3 78.2
2005 Fabian Washington Nebraska 71 188 4.29 111.0
2003 Dennis Weathersby Oregon State 73 204 4.38 110.9 88.5
2014 Justin Gilbert Oklahoma State 73 202 4.37 110.8
2011 Jimmy Smith Colorado 74 211 4.42 110.6 101.2
2002 Joseph Jefferson Western Kentucky 73 205 4.39 110.4 103.5
2008 Orlando Scandrick Boise State 70 192 4.32 110.3
2013 Dee Milliner Alabama 73 201 4.37 110.2 87.2
2004 Ahmad Carroll Arkansas 70 195 4.34 109.9
1999 Champ Bailey Georgia 73 184 4.28 109.7
2002 Dante Wesley Arkansas-Pine Bluff 73 211 4.43 109.6 85.3
2014 Bradley Roby Ohio State 71 194 4.34 109.4 100.6
2007 Marcus McCauley Fresno State 73 203 4.39 109.3 105.2
2013 Xavier Rhodes Florida State 74 210 4.43 109.1
2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Tennessee State 74 184 4.29 108.6 90.9
2003 Nnamdi Asomugha California 75 213 4.45 108.6
2004 Michael Waddell North Carolina 71 187 4.31 108.4 93.8

I've extended this list beyond the top 20 to catch Champ, Roby, DRC and Asomugha. The "success" rate on this list is fairly high, so let's look at the failures - the guys who generally were "overdrafted" because of their size/speed at the combine. I'm going to omit discussion of the players drafted in 2013; Commings and Rhodes may turn into busts, but they still have a chance to make something of their careers despite their somewhat inauspicious beginnings.

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah - despite playing at the D2 level, Owusu-Ansah was taken in the 4th round in the 2010 draft by Dallas based on his ability to dominate D2 receivers and his speed score (2nd best ever for a CB at the combine). He has had a fairly undistinguished NFL career mostly as a special teams player on 4 teams in 4 seasons. He has started 2 games in his career but those were for a very bad team (2012 Jax after they had some injuries in their secondary). It's hard to call a 4th round draft pick a "bust", but this is player who probably would have not been drafted if he had run a slower 40.

Karl Paymah - Paymah was a Shanny pick (3rd round, 76th overall in 2005). Paymah was a 3-year starter at WSU, but did not put up huge numbers (3 INTs total). Retrospection tells us that he was "overdrafted". His NFL career lasted until 2010 and he did start 7 games in his 6 seasons (yipee!) but 5 of those starts came for the 07 and 08 Broncos defenses which were abysmal. Paymah was a below average NFL player (that's being generous) and he was never able to translate his speed into playmaking ability. His career NFL totals - 74 games, 7 starts, 3 ints, 115 tackles, 14 PD.

Kevin Garrett - Garrett was a 4-year starter at SMU with decent stats on a bad D1 team. His combine results put him on the map and got a team to take a chance on him in the 5th round in 2003 (StL). Despite blazing speed, Garrett only started one game in his 3 year NFL career. He was a failure as an NFL player, but, again, it's hard to call a 5th rounder a bust.

Dennis Weatherby - Another player drafted in 2003, Weathersby was taken in the 4th by the Bungals (98th overall). Weathersby was a 3-year starter for the Beavers where the set the school record for career passes defended (57). He was projected to be a first or second round pick but was shot in the back a few days before the draft. Weathersby had recovered enough from his wounds to appear in 4 games as a rookie, but his run of back luck continued. He was severely injured in a car accident in 2004 causing him to be in an extended coma. He missing the entire 2004 season. He recovered from the accident and the coma, but never played in the NFL again.

Joe Jefferson - Jefferson played at WKU (where Quanterus Smith played) where he was a standout CB. His speed and coverage skills enticed the Colts to take him in the 3rd round in 2000 (74th pick). Injuries plagued him during his short, 3-year, NFL career. He only started 5 games and played mostly as a special teams player during his career. For a 3rd round pick, he would have to be considered a bust.

Dante Wesley - Another smaller school prospect (Arkansas - Pine Bluff) who was taken in the mid-rounds, Wesley was drafted in the 4th by the Panthers (100th overall) in 2002 after putting up impressive numbers against FCS receiver talent in college. Wesley made an NFL career as a special teams player, parlaying his straight-line speed into a gunner role. He lasted 9 years in the NFL, but started a total of 2 games. His pass defended numbers indicate that he did get some use as a #4 CB (18 PDs in 9 years), but even then his use was limited. Wesley is another example of a "big" fast CB who was not able to translate his 40 speed into success as an NFL CB.

Marcus McCauley - McCauley was a 3-year starter at Fresno State where he put up decent but not great stats. His size/speed combo combined with his tape enticed the Vikings (who had a really bad passing D in 2006) to draft him in the 3rd round in 2007 (72nd overall). McCauley actually started 9 games as a rookie, but he was a below average CB for the worst passing D in the league in 2007. He only started one more NFL game and was out of the league by 2009. He currently plays in the Arena League. He's the last example of a big/fast CB failure that we are going to discuss.

For those who are interested there are only two safeties who have speed scores of 120 or better since 1998: Taylor Mays - 133.3 and Josh Barrett - 125.7. Both are/were overdrafted and are NFL "failures" despite their amazing combinations of size and speed.

For what it's worth here are the "top 10" 40 times run by CBs at the combine since 1999. R.I.P. Darrent.

Year Name College Height(in) Weight(lbs) 40Yard
2011 Demarcus Van Dyke Miami 73 176 4.25
2005 Stanford Routt Houston 74 193 4.27
1999 Champ Bailey Georgia 73 184 4.28
2012 Josh Robinson Central Florida 70 199 4.29
2005 Fabian Washington Nebraska 71 188 4.29
2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Tennessee State 74 184 4.29
2005 Darrent Williams Oklahoma State 69 176 4.30
2011 Patrick Peterson Louisiana State 72 219 4.31
2008 Tyvon Branch Connecticut 73 204 4.31
2006 Johnathan Joseph South Carolina 71 193 4.31
2008 Justin King Penn State 71 192 4.31
2004 Michael Waddell North Carolina 71 187 4.31

The "Slow" Guys who Succeeded

Rather than looking at all of the CBs who had speed scores below 93 at the combine, I'm going to focus on the success stories and call them out in the table below. There are 17 guys on the table below but I will only focus on the most interesting (IMO) of them for further review. Those guys are highlighted

Year Name College Height(in) Weight(lbs) 40Yard 10-yd split Speed Quix
2001 Renaldo Hill Michigan State 71 178 4.68 1.63 74.2 78.9
2013 Johnthan Banks Mississippi State 74 185 4.61 1.60 81.9 81.1
2007 Brandon McDonald Memphis 71 181 4.58 1.46 82.3 57.2
2012 Josh Norman Coastal Carolina 73 197 4.61 1.52 87.2 84.0
2009 Captain Munnerlyn South Carolina 69 182 4.51 1.58 88.0 76.8
2008 Brandon Flowers Virginia Tech 70 189 4.55 1.47 88.2
2013 Logan Ryan Rutgers 71 191 4.56 1.55 88.3 100.1
2010 Perrish Cox Oklahoma State 73 195 4.58 1.59 88.6
1999 Dre' Bly North Carolina 70 186 4.51 1.58 89.9 83.0
2012 Mike Harris Florida State 70 188 4.52 1.58 90.1 93.9
2013 Tyrann Mathieu LSU 69 186 4.50 1.53 90.7 88.6
2003 Asante Samuel Central Florida 71 185 4.49 1.59 91.0 85.6
2005 Bryant McFadden Florida State 71 193 4.53 91.7
2012 Morris Claiborne LSU 71 188 4.50 1.57 91.7 85.8
2011 Richard Sherman Stanford 75 195 4.54 1.56 91.8 88.3
2003 Terrence McGee Northwestern State (LA) 70 201 4.57 1.60 92.2 97.2
2010 Joe Haden Florida 71 193 4.52 1.53 92.5 83.4

Renaldo Hill - Hill was a 3-year starter for MSU (under Saban) at CB. As a senior he made second-team All-Big Ten. His stats were impressive, but his combine was hugely underwhelming. Hill showed himself to be not fast AND not quick. Despite that, the Cardinals took a chance on him in the 7th round pick in 2001. After a slow start to his NFL career, he broke through as a starter in 2003 and lasted as a starter (later at FS) in the NFL until 2010. Hill was not a great NFL player, but he was average and average is good enough to last as a starter (on the right teams) for a long time in the NFL.

Brandon Flowers - Flowers ran a slow 40 at the combine and then didn't improve his 40 at all at his pro day, but that didn't keep KC from taking the two time All-American CB in the 2nd round (35th overall). Flowers was the 7th DB taken in the 2008 draft (that also produced Talib and DRC). Based on AV (approximate value) Flowers has had the best NFL career of an DB taken in the 2008 draft (although the distinction between him, DRC, Carr, Decoud and Talib is slight). Flowers is definitely an example of CB who plays a lot faster than his 40-time. Looking at his 10-yd split also tell us that Flowers has great reaction time and initial speed even if he can be beaten down the field on longer routes.

Perrish Cox - the 2010 5th round pick of the Broncos ran a poor 40 and then had off-the-field trouble causing this talented CB to fall to us in the 5th. Cox didn't help himself at his pro-day by running another slow 40 (4.56s). While Cox has not been a great success in the NFL, his ability to hang around the NFL and contribute qualifies him as a success because he was drafted in the 5th. Cox started 9 games for the horrid 2010 Broncos D, but despite a decent rookie campaign he has never been able to reproduce his rookie numbers. He ended up starting 7 games from the 49ers in 2013, but he was almost non-existent on the stat sheet (6 tackles, 2 PD in 7 games).

Dre' Bly - Bly ran a slow 40 at the combine and then chose not to show up to his his pro-day. Despite that, he was taken with the 41st overal pick in 1999 by the Rams. At 5-9, 185 Bly was both small and "slow" but he put up good stats while at UNC, once leading the nation in interceptions (with 11 as a freshman). He was a two-time all-American at CB. Bly spent 11 years in the NFL and was twice named to the Pro-Bowl. He retired after the 2009 season with 117 games started, 113 passes defended and 43 interceptions (5 for TDs) during his career. Bly has the dubious distinction of being a member of the atrocious 2008 Broncos D, but that doesn't make his career in general any less of a success.

Richard Sherman - The first thing that should jump out at you about Sherman is his height. He was measured as 6'3" at the combine - that's the tallest guy on the "slow" list. Sherman played both WR and CB while at Stanford, although his final two seasons were on defense. His senior season was his most productive in college, but his numbers were not great (50 tackles, 4 Ints, 13 PD, 2 FF). His slow combine 40 was followed up by a slow pro-day 40. Questions about his speed and experience caused him to fall to the 5th round where he was taken 154th overall. Sherman just turned his performance into a 4-yr contract with 40 million in guaranteed money. He is probably the best CB in the NFL at shutting down the opponents #2 WR, but he doesn't get matched up against the other teams #1 WR normally because of his lack of elite speed. Despite that lack of elite speed, Sherman has 20 Ints, 59 passes defended and 4 forced fumbles in 3 seasons. He is asked to play a very specific role for the Seattle defense and he plays that role (press-cover CB) exceedingly well.


Big/fast CBs have a better NFL success rate than big/fast WRs. We can debate why that happens in the comments if you wish.

I think it's also to keep in mind the scale here. The "slow" CBs are still running 4.4s or 4.5s 40s which is blazingly fast when compared to 99.99% of the population of the planet. On a 9 route, straight-line speed makes a big difference, but many teams don't employ deep passes as a weapon on a regular basis so defenses can generally "protect" their CBs who may excel at everything else except straight-line speed (see Sherman, Richard). The 10-yd split ends up almost being a better measure of a CB given that most of their play is within 15 yards of the LOS. FWIW Roby had the best 10-yd split of any CB at the combine this year (1.47s), but the difference between him and a guy with the one of the worst 10-yd splits (Keith McGill had a 1.60s this year) may not be as large as the gap between the two numbers would seem to suggest. McGill would be travelling at 270 in/s at 10 yards, Roby at 294 in/s. So at 1.47s into a head-to-head race Roby would be 35 inches ahead of McGill - that's a full yard of separation so maybe this difference is a big as it looks. Looking at Chris Harris' pro-day results are contradictory though. He is arguably one of the best slot CBs in the league, yet his 10-yd split was a 1.59 (pro-day, he didn't get a combine invite).

Player evaluation is a tripod, if you take away one-leg, the tripod will no longer stand. The three legs of that tri-pod are combine results, in-game stats and film. Focusing on one or two without the other(s) is useful, but it can be misleading. The best talent evaluators in the NFL know how much weight should be put on each leg of that tripod.

Thanks for reading.