I don’t hate the Combine. It’s cool and all, and it’s a chance to watch something that’s sort of football but not really football at all in late February. I hate what the Combine does to us. Or more specifically, to you if you’re among those who really think Manti Te’o's supposedly horrible 40-yard dash times this afternoon are the worst thing to happen since that time Kristen Stewart looked awkward at the Oscars and she made everyone who knows she’s awkward hate her so much more for being awkward.
When players run the 40 — or any of the patented prodding drills of the Underwear Olympics — they do them twice. And if they falter once, the immediate impulse is to worry, and to hate. We wonder why they weren’t faster, because for whatever reason we have this already embedded perception that Player X is fast, and not being fast is therefore disappointing.
This is what happened to Te’o this afternoon, even though he’s never been a burner, and he’s never had terrific straight-line speed. He has sufficient speed, and certainly enough to be effective at his position. His supreme field vision and anticipation are what led to his 437 tackles over four years at Notre Dame. Not blazing speed.
Yet there was John Harbaugh, caught on camera expressing shock when Te’o ran a 4.83 on his first 40 attempt, and he followed that up with a 4.80. And to be sure, average times are something less than ideal for a linebacker trying to silence that whole fake dead girlfriend thing, and for those who care more about actual on-field concerns, his poor performance in the BCS Championship game also still lingers.
But let’s be abundantly clear: Te’o's times today were average, or maybe only a little below average. Not devastating or woefully slow. He has average speed, and therefore he posted average 40 times.
Over the past three years 44 inside linebackers have participated in the NFL Combine, according to ESPN’s archived stats. Of those ILBs, 32 of them registered a 40 time that’s 4.70 or worse. How much weight are you willing to put on one-tenth of a second? Too much, probably.
Of course, there’s been speed at the position in recent years. Luke Kuechly, the defensive rookie of the year in 2012 who led the league with 164 tackles, posted a 4.58 last February, while Mychal Kendricks was even quicker with a 4.47. And going a bit further back, the Patriots’ Jerod Mayo ran a 4.54. But they’re the exceptions, as there’s been many more names on the opposite end of the stop watch.
I know. It’s great fun to have a hearty laugh about Te’o being outrun by a 306-pound offensive lineman after Terron Armstead posted a 4.71 Saturday. But here are a few other guys to laugh at, and they’re all pretty good at football:
- Vontaze Burfict: 5.09
- Brandon Spikes: 5.0
- Rey Maualuga: 4.86
- Curtis Lofton: 4.79
- Sean Lee: 4.72
- Pat Angerer: 4.71