In a league where speed matters, the fastest NFL players ever are known for wreaking havoc on opposing offenses and defenses. They add an element to the game that is difficult to match, creating mismatches every time they step foot on the field. They become your worst nightmare.
Like a cheetah in the wild, they hold an advantage over everyone else. Whether they’re trying to create space, blow by a defender, or chase down an offensive player, you likely don’t stand a chance against them. While you can’t hide in the game of football, these players sure can run.
For the most part, speed comes naturally. And while that’s true with the fastest NFL players ever, they don’t stop there. Instead, they continue to work on their speed year-in and year-out. From the moment they enter the league, they only want to get faster, quicker, and more agile.
Ranking the 25 Fastest NFL Players Ever
Like anything in life, the fastest NFL players ever aren’t created equal. Some players showcase their speed without pads during practice or at the NFL Combine, while others showcase in-game speed — when the pads are on and intensity is at its highest level. It’s different for everyone.
When ranking the top-25 fastest NFL players ever, you must appreciate both types of players and that’s exactly what I’m about to do. Just because an NFL player runs a fast 40-yard or 100-yard dash, doesn’t mean they display that same speed in a live game — and vice-versa.
A couple things I’d like to note before jumping into these rankings. First off, you’ll see me mention each player’s 40-yard dash time (when available). These are almost always timed without pads on. You also have to factor in hand-timed vs. laser-timed — laser is more accurate.
In addition to that, I’ll only be mentioning players that saw at least a little success at the NFL level. There are a lot of players that made it to the NFL with world-class speed, but never found their footing in the league. For the most part, those players are listed in our honorable mentions.
With that said, let’s sprint through our honorable mentions and make our way through the fastest NFL players ever — all the way to No. 1, which may surprise you.
Honorable Mentions: Rondel Menedez, Dri Archer, Jerome Mathis, Jacoby Ford, Jalen Myrick, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Yamon Figurs, Tye Hill, Trindon Holliday, Renaldo Nehemiah, Donte’ Stallworth
25. CB Darrent Williams
Darrent Williams entered the league in 2005 out of Oklahoma State and was the fourth-fastest player in his draft class. He ran a 4.30 40-yard dash and was selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round. It was clear that he had speed and he wasn’t afraid to showcase it.
He only spent two years in the league, but his time was cut short after he was shot and killed in a tragic drive-by shooting. In those two years, he played in 27 games and recorded 140 tackles, 6 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 1 sack, and 2 defensive touchdowns.
24. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Darrius Heyward-Bey was one of the best wide receivers out of the 2009 draft class and was drafted 7th overall (first round) by the Oakland Raiders. He played his college ball at Maryland and recorded a 4.30 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine — tied for the fastest in his draft class.
He would go on to play 10 semi-productive seasons in the NFL from 2009-2018 with the Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Over that time, he played in 144 games and recorded 202 catches, 2,897 yards, and 18 touchdowns (2 of which were rushing).
23. CB Fabian Washington
Fabian Washington was a member of the same draft class as Darrent Williams and finished with a faster 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine — albeit a slight advantage. His 4.29 40-yard dash was third-best in that draft class and it showed when he stepped foot on the field.
Washington was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round with the 23rd overall pick. He had a breakout season in 2006 with 4 interceptions, his second year in the NFL. Unfortunately, he couldn’t sustain that level of play and slowly faded out of the league by 2010 after six years.
22. RB Dante Hall
Dante Hall is one of those players that didn’t run the fastest 40-yard dash, but that changed on the field. He posted just a 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which ranked 19th-best that year. He did, however, post one of the fastest 20-yard shuttle times ever at 3.82 seconds.
Drafted in the fifth round by the Kansas City Chiefs, Hall would go on to play 9 years in the league. He was most known for his kick and punt return abilities, recording six punt return touchdowns and six kick return touchdowns — thanks in large part to his speed and agility.
21. WR JJ Nelson
There was only one player to record a 40-yard dash under 4.30 during the 2015 NFL Combine — JJ Nelson. His 4.28 was the fastest of his draft class, which included Amari Cooper, Nelson Agholor, Tyler Lockett, Tevin Coleman, DeVante Parker, Todd Gurley, and Stefon Diggs.
JJ Nelson was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round and has recorded 85 catches, 1,475 yards, and 11 touchdowns in 58 games played. He’s currently a member of the Indianapolis Colts, but hasn’t played a game since the 2019 season as his role has diminished.
20. QB Michael Vick
Michael Vick is regarded as one of the fastest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He posted the second-best 40-yard dash at the 2001 NFL Combine with a time of 4.33 seconds, but he seemed much faster when on the field. It’s part of the reason why he was drafted No. 1 overall.
Although he spent a few years in prison due to his involvement in dog fighting, he played a total of 13 years in the league by the time he retired. With 143 games under his belt, he totaled 22,464 passing yards, 133 passing touchdowns, 6,109 rushing yards, and 36 rushing touchdowns.
19. WR Devin Hester
Devin Hester only recorded a 4.41 40-yard dash at the 2006 NFL Combine, which was the 25th-best time in his draft class. You wouldn’t think he would find himself on the list of the fastest NFL players ever, but he certainly knew how to put his foot on the gas pedal at the right time.
Although Hester saw time at wide receiver, he was largely known for his punt and kick returns. Over his 11-year career, he compiled 255 receptions, 3,311 receiving yards, 16 receiving touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown, 14 punt return touchdowns, and 5 kick return touchdowns.
18. CB Champ Bailey
The 1999 NFL Combine featured a record 4.24 40-yard dash from Rondel Menedez, who we mentioned in our honorable mentions. Although that beat Champ Bailey’s 4.28 time, Menedez didn’t have the Hall of Fame career that Bailey did — which is why Champ is on the list.
Champ Bailey was drafted 7th overall in the 1999 NFL Draft and went on to play 15 years in the league. He played 215 games and started 212 of those, recording 52 interceptions, 4 defensive touchdowns, 7 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 3 sacks, and 931 combined tackles.
17. WR Willie Gault
Although we don’t have an official 40-yard dash time for Willie Gault, we do know that he was a track star that found some success on the football field. He recorded a 10.10-second 100-yard dash, set records in the 110m hurdles, and a world record in the 4x100m relay with Carl Lewis.
In fact, Gault qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, but didn’t attend it due to the US boycotting it. Willie Gault enjoyed an 11-year career in the NFL and played in 170 games, recording a total of 333 receptions, 6,635 receiving yards, and 44 receiving touchdowns.
16. WR Cliff Branch
Speaking of track and field stars turned NFL receivers, it’s only right that we mention Cliff Branch. He not only had a better personal best at the 100m (10.00 seconds), but he had a better (and longer) NFL career than Gault. Branch also recorded a 20.5-second 200m event.
After his college track and field days, Cliff Branch spent 14 years in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders (who eventually changed to the Los Angeles Raiders). Over that time, he played in 183 games and recorded 501 receptions, 8,685 receiving yards, and 67 receiving touchdowns.
15. WR Henry Ruggs III
Henry Ruggs III became extremely close to beating the all-time record 40-yard dash at the 2020 NFL Combine. His 4.27 time was the fastest since John Ross — a player we’ll talk about a little later. He’s a young player in his second season, but has a lot of promise in the NFL.
Ruggs III was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In his first season with the team, he recorded 26 catches, 452 yards, and 2 touchdowns. There’s a chance we see him blossom into one of Oakland’s top receivers.
14. CB Stanford Routt
We’ve already mentioned three other players on this list from the 2005 draft class — Jerome Mathis (honorable mention), Darrent Williams (No. 25), and Fabian Washington (No. 23). Now, it’s time to talk about the man that had a faster time than all three of them — Stanford Routt.
Routt recorded a 4.27 40-yard dash and was eventually drafted in the second round by the Oakland Raiders. Over his 8-year career in the NFL, he recorded 12 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, and 265 tackles. He quickly faded out of the league after the 2012 season.
13. WR Anthony Schwartz
Anthony Schwartz was the most recent player to impress the NFL world with an incredible 40-yard dash time. He recorded a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the 2021 NFL Combine, which was the fastest of his draft class. We don’t really know how his career will turn out just yet.
What we do know is he had an impressive NFL debut recently with the Cleveland Browns. The third-round draft pick finished the game with 3 receptions, 69 receiving yards, and 17 rushing yards. His speed can take him a long way in the NFL, but he’ll need to prove to be consistent.
12. CB Deion Sanders
A man that needs no introduction, Deion Sanders earned the nickname ‘Prime Time’ for a reason. He’s one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the game and transformed the way NFL players carry themselves on and off the field. He’ll always be remembered for that.
Of course, he’ll also be remembered for his blazing speed, which he showcased on a daily basis. He recorded a 4.27 40-yard dash at the 1989 NFL Combine, though many people believe he could easily run faster. Either way, he’s one of the fastest NFL players ever to play the game.
11. WR DeSean Jackson
DeSean Jackson entered the league in 2008, the same year Chris Johnson ran an incredible 4.24 40-yard dash. While Jackson only ran a 4.34 at the 2008 NFL Combine, he makes up for it with his in-game speed. He beats you a number of ways, which makes him a constant threat.
Jackson has enjoyed an illustrious 14-year career in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Los Angeles Rams. He has amassed 614 catches, 10,677 receiving yards, 56 receiving touchdowns, and 4 punt return touchdowns.
10. WR Marquise Goodwin
Marquise Goodwin was the fastest player in his draft class, recording a 4.27 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine. In fact, it wasn’t even close with the next closest player recording a 4.34. The college track star is a threat to go the distance every single time the ball is snapped.
Goodwin has played 8 seasons in the NFL (and counting) with the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, and Chicago Bears, recording 144 receptions, 2,368 receiving yards, and 13 receiving touchdowns. He looks to be reinventing himself in Chicago and should continue to impress.
9. WR Tyreek Hill
Tyreek Hill wasn’t invited to the 2016 NFL Combine, but he recorded a 4.29 40-yard dash at West Alabama’s Pro Day. Don’t let that fool you because he’s much faster than that 40 time leads you to believe. Especially with pads on, there aren’t many people that are faster than him.
Not only that, but Hill has plenty of football in front of him. He has already enjoyed an incredible six-year career in the NFL, playing in 58 games and recording 379 receptions, 5,588 receiving yards, and 48 receiving touchdowns. He also has 627 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns.
8. WR Randy Moss
Randy Moss is one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game. While speed isn’t usually the first thing people think of when it comes to Moss, it’s certainly responsible for a lot of his success on the field. After all, he was the third-fastest player in his entire draft class.
Moss recorded a 4.38 40-yard dash at the 1998 NFL Combine, but don’t let that fool you because he would blow right past the defense whenever he needed to. He finished his 14-year NFL career with 982 receptions, 15,292 receiving yards, and 156 receiving touchdowns.
7. RB Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson surprised the entire NFL community in 2008 when he set the record for the fastest 40-yard dash ever at the NFL Combine at 4.24 seconds. While that record has since been broken, Johnson will still go down as one of the fastest NFL players ever to play the game.
Johnson would go on to play an incredible 10-year career in the NFL. With 130 games under his belt, he recorded 9,651 rushing yards, 55 rushing touchdowns, 307 receptions, 2,255 receiving yards, and 9 receiving touchdowns. In his prime, there weren’t many that could stop him.
6. WR John Ross
Speaking of the record 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, John Ross was the player that passed Chris Johnson as the GOAT. Ross recorded a 4.22-second 40-yard dash and still holds the record at the NFL Combine. Who knows when we’ll see that record fall once more.
Unlike Chris Johnson, John Ross has struggled to find his footing in the NFL. He has played a total of four seasons thus far and only has 51 receptions, 733 yards, and 10 touchdowns to show for it. He still has time to figure things out, but he certainly isn’t living up to all the hype.
5. CB Ike Taylor
Ike Taylor was another player that didn’t receive an invitation to the NFL Combine (much like Tyreek Hill), but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t fly. In fact, he completely smoked the 40-yard dash at his Louisiana-Lafayette Pro Day, recording a 4.26 and some clocking him at 4.19.
Ike Taylor would go on to play 12 years in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being drafted in the fourth round. He played in 174 games, started 140 of those games, and recorded 14 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 3 sacks, and 636 combined tackles.
4. WR Joey Galloway
Joey Galloway doesn’t have a 40-yard dash time recognized by the NFL, but the Ohio State Buckeye is said to have recorded a 4.18 40-yard dash back in 1995. If true, that would be one of the fastest times ever recorded, which would make sense for someone with his type of speed.
Galloway was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the first round (8th overall) in the 1995 NFL Draft. He went on to play 16 years in the NFL, playing in 198 games and recording a total of 701 receptions, 10,950 receiving yards, 77 receiving touchdowns, and 496 rushing yards.
3. RB Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson is one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports — not just football. With that said, it’s no surprise to see him on the list of fastest NFL players ever. While he never attended the NFL Combine (he didn’t need to ), he did record a 4.13 40-yard dash at his Pro Day.
Jackson would go on to have an illustrious career in both football and baseball. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the seventh round of the 1987 NFL Draft. He only played four years in the league, but who knows what he could’ve accomplished if given more time.
2. WR Bob Hayes
You don’t give someone the nickname ‘The Bullet’ without a reason, and that was the case with ‘Bullet Bob.’ He is hands-down one of the fastest NFL players ever and while there’s no official 40-yard dash to prove it, we do know he once ran a 5.28 60-yard dash and 9.1 100-yard dash.
Bob Hayes went on to play 11 years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. He played in 132 games and recorded a total of 371 receptions, 7,414 receiving yards, 71 receiving touchdowns, 3 punt return touchdowns, and 2 rushing touchdowns in his career.
1. CB Darrell Green
Everyone knew Darrell Green was fast and he didn’t need a 40-yard dash to prove it. Still, he turned heads with a 4.09 40-yard dash at a Washington Redskins’ training camp. While that was in 1986, Green took it a step further by running a 4.43 40-yard dash in 2010 at the age of 50.
Green was drafted by the Redskins in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft and went on to play 20 years in the NFL — until he was 42 years old. He played in 295 games (started 258 of them) and recorded 54 interceptions, 8 touchdowns, 5 forced fumbles, and 10 fumble recoveries.
The Need for Speed Continues in the NFL
If you’re like most coaches in the NFL today, then you appreciate a player that can burn rubber whenever his number is called. It’s one of the things that makes Tyreek Hill such a joy to watch in the NFL today. The same goes for John Ross, Henry Ruggs III, and Marquise Goodwin.
Even players like Raheem Mostert, Saquon Barkley, Brandon Wilson, Cordarelle Patterson, Mecole Hardman, Christian McCaffrey, and Nic Chub are known to blast off with their speed. Defending them can be tricky if you let them get the upper hand (upper foot) on you.
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With that said, it’s clear that the 25 players listed above are some of the fastest NFL players ever. Who knows if we’ll ever see anyone work their way into that list, especially considering how difficult it is to run any faster. If history serves us right, it’s only a matter of time!
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