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NFL's 40-yard dash times are deceiving (that and more in today's Horse Tracks)

Sometimes vacuous NFL teams put too much stock in 40-yard dash times.

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NFL players get slower as they grow older, 40-yard dash times have revealed.

It's no secret that humans get slower with age, but several participants in the NFL's first veteran scouting combine where shocked to hear their 40 times this weekend. Michael Bush's experience was heartbreaking:

"A scribe broke the news, telling the former Raiders and Bears back that he clocked out at an unofficial 4.91 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Bush was mortified.

"You gotta be (expletive) me," he said. "... 4.91? ... There you go, there goes my career."

Another question was asked, to break the silence, but Bush wasn't ready to move on.

"Man, stop playing. 4.91? You all just messed it up for me," said Bush, pointing to a reporter. "A 4.91? That's like saying you can come off the bench, and you can come catch me."

None of us could, but Bush argued that scouts will count Sunday's ill 40 time above all else, saying: "To me, I think that's all they look at."

That account was told by NFL.com's Marc Sessler on Sunday.

A 4.9 is alarmingly slow for a running back, but that time does not tell the whole story.

The 30-year-old, 245-pound running back has never been known as a speedster. He's been a power back since he entered the NFL with the Raiders in 2008.

Bush was also not the only veteran that received a poor time.

Almost every player's 40-yard dash time came out slower than they expected, according to SB Nation's Adam Stites.

"They said I was a 4.6 or something, but I’ve been running 4.3s and 4.4s all through training," former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Carlton Mitchell told Stites. "I think the lasers, I think it’s the first time they were using them. People that know me know that I’m not a 4.6 guy. When they told me that I said ‘What?’"

Mitchell raised a valid point.

The veteran combine used electric timers instead of hand system, which results in slower times, according to Yahoo!'s Charles Robinson. The difference can be as much as two tenths of a second.

If Robinson is correct, Bush's time could have been as low as 4.71. That's still slow, but not unexpected for a veteran power back.

In my opinion, the whole concept of 40-yard dash times is flawed.

Terrell Davis, the greatest postseason running back in NFL history, ran a 4.72. He was not a speedster, but Davis had game speed. Running backs rarely run 40 yards in a straight line. They juke, cut, and maneuver their way through a defense in hopes of breaking free.

Of course having great speed helps players be successful (Champ Bailey ran a 4.28 in 1999), but being a speedster out of pads does not always translate to success on the field. Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a blazing 4.30 in 2009, prompting the Raiders to select him seventh overall.

Since then, DHB has failed to start all 16 games in a single season, spending time with three different teams. His best season came in 2011 when he caught 64 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns. He caught three passes for 33 yards with the Steelers last season.

If the NFL really wants to measure how fast a prospect can sprint 40 yards, they should throw a helmet and shoulder pads on the player. Those results would more closely resemble the prospect's game speed.

But the 40-yard dash probably won't change anytime soon. It's used as a measuring tool to compare players, and NFL teams seem to be in love with it.

Fortunately for the players, a slow 40 does not always make or break them.

Joe Don Duncan told me that he ran a 4.74 (almost a tenth of a second slower than Virgil Green and Owen Daniels) when he worked out for the team two weeks ago. That's not blazing speed for a tight end, but Duncan probably won't be a traditional tight end in Denver.

The Broncos have not yet updated their roster to include Duncan, but NFL.com currently lists him as a running back. Denver worked him at fullback and H-back before he signed with them, and that's likely the type of position he'll play.

For background on what fullback-tight end hybrids (H-backs) are asked to do, see this 2013 story from SB Nation's Danny Kelly. As an H-back, Duncan's hands and blocking ability will be more important than his speed.

At the end of the day, 40 times are useful. But don't overvalue 40s when evaluating a player. Timed sprints can be deceiving, but the film will not lie.

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