I won’t keep you in suspense: a quarter of the way into the year, we’re witness to the success – and often the immediate success – of speedy offensive players. Not on Ted Thompson’s team, mind you, but on a number of other teams that have been converting this attribute into excitement, big plays, and wins.
Let’s start with those undefeated Chiefs, who gave us an exciting show on Monday night. Tyreek Hill wasn’t at the NFL Combine, but his 40-yard dash time has been reported variously as 4.24, 4.25, and 4.29. Blazing fast, in other words.
Here’s what Hill, a second-year receiver, returner, and sometimes runner, accomplished in 2016: 61 catches for 593 yards and six TDs; 24 rushes for 267 yards, three TDs, and an 11.1 average; 14 kick returns for 384 yards and a TD; 39 punt returns for 592 yards and two TDs. That’s 12 touchdowns and 1,836 all-purpose yards. He’s off to a fast start in 2017, too.
The top rusher in the league is rookie sensation Kareem Hunt. He’s been handed the ball 68 times, is averaging over 125 rushing yards per game, and you can throw in 13 catches for 157 yards. His dash speed of 4.62 is anything but fast, but I saw one quick and shifty runner on Monday night. Tacklers had but one brief moment to bring him down before he went by them. Hunt is the NFL’s leading rusher.
Over in Minnesota, Dalvin Cook was having a fabulous year before going down with an ACL tear on Sunday. The rookie was number three in the league, with 354 rushing yards on 74 carries, an average of 4.8 yards. His 4.49 dash time put him in the 70th percentile for running backs.
How in God’s name did the Patriots acquire Brandin Cooks for Tom Brady to throw to? Cooks, now in his fourth year, recorded a 4.33 time at the NFL Combine. After three fine years with the Saints, he’s caught 13 Tom Brady passes for 294 yards so far. His 22.6 yards per catch average is tops in the league.
Todd Gurley was recovering from an ACL surgery when the 2015 NFL Combine was held. His estimated 40-yard dash time is 4.40. He’s run in the 4.3s before, and he ran the 110-meter hurdles at the World Junior Championship in 2011, so he’s very fast. In his third year, the Rams running back is currently ranked second in rushing yards, with 362 on 86 carries. He also just helped beat Dallas with his seven catches for 94 yards.
Devonta Freeman (4.58 dash time) doesn’t qualify as fast, but the 5’8” runner makes up for it with his quickness and agility. The Atlanta little man is the NFL’s seventh-ranked rusher
Joining Jordan Howard in the Bears’ backfield is Tarik Cohen – the 5’6” scatback does the 40 in 4.42 seconds. In his rookie year, he’s averaging 6 yards per carry as the “lightning” complement to Jordan Howard’s “thunder.”
And how about those two young big backs who are ranked seventh and eighth in rushing on the year? The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott had a fine dash time of 4.47 seconds. Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette, an even bigger dude, also had a pretty fast time, 4.51 seconds.
All of the above guys are relatively new to the NFL. I probably don’t need to remind you that many of the top perennial NFL receivers are also speedsters, such as: Julio Jones (4.34), T.Y. Hilton (4.34), Demaryius Thomas (4.38), Odell Beckham, Jr. (4.43), Alshon Jeffery (4.48), and A.J. Green (4.48).
Back in March, I had the pleasure of reporting that the Packers draft team was finally starting to get the desire for having athletic, and particularly speedy, players. If that seems obvious to you, it certainly hasn’t been obvious to Ted Thompson and crew over the past decade or more.
While the Packers in 2016 added speed to the defense, we still don’t see much happening on the offensive side of the ball. The Packers only have two fast receivers, but neither Jeff Janis nor Trevor Davis get any playing time to speak of other than as returners. And none of the Packers running backs have notable speed – and unless I’ve forgotten someone, that statement is true throughout Thompson’s 12 years in charge of the team’s draft.
Green Bay still has a long way to go in adding speedy players to its running back and receiver groups. It certainly can be done, however, and it doesn’t necessarily require using round one and round two selections.
Tyreek Hill was a round five pick in 2016. Kareem Hunt went late in the third round this year. Devonta Freeman was a round four pick in 2014. The Colts chose T.Y. Hilton in the third round in 2012. The Bears nabbed Tarik Cohen this year in the fourth round. Dalvin Cook lasted till well into the second round.
Fast players are available, even in the late rounds of the draft, for those who value speed in their offensive attacks. Many NFL teams have speedsters available to change the pace of things, and to make some big plays, even if they lack the all-around ability to become starters.
One person who obviously values speed in his offensive skill players is John Dorsey – a former Packers player and member of its scouting department. He’s the guy who, as the Chiefs’ general manager, built that unit into the league’s only still-undefeated team.
After four distinguished years with Kansas City, Dorsey was released unexpectedly in June. The Chiefs stayed in-house in replacing Dorsey with 39-year-old Brett Veach, who for the last two years had been the Chiefs’ co-director of player personnel.
Memo to Packers’ CEO Mark Murphy: Mr. Dorsey appears to be without a job, and Ted Thompson appears to need to be without a job. Your job doesn’t get any simpler than this.