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2011 NFL Draft: Speed and the CB Position

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In desperately trying to hang on to anything remotely pertinent to football in the NFL, I join the pre-draft hoopla like so many of us do each year.  Obviously I'm looking at players the 49ers could potentially select to fix some areas of need.  One of those areas is definitely cornerback.

Nate Clements is scheduled to make 400 billion dollars in 2011 with incentives ranging from a pony to Donald Trump's toupee.  Shanwntae Spencer was poised for a quiet season of not being targeted, much less giving up any plays...but that sorta didn't happen.  The 49ers pass defense was near the bottom of the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed.

In looking at potential draft prospects my big thing thus far has been: speed.  Now, I preface that by saying if the guy isn't fluid with his feet and hips, naturally athletic, then the speed doesn't matter.  Then again, most guys who aren't naturally fluid probably aren't playing CB, at least not at a high enough level to be in the conversation here.

The reason I'm looking for a fast CB is this: you can't teach speed.  Granted I don't want a guy who sucks at every aspect of playing the position, "but he sure is fast!".  I'm not Al Davis.  Point being that if there's a guy who's fast and fluid but needs to hone his technique...we can work with that.  I guy who's pretty technical but lacks elite speed is someone who has a lower ceiling,o has to be near-perfect on every play, and might often need help from the Safety over the top.

But I started to think: I'm sure not all of the CB's considered "good" in the NFL have elite speed.  But how many of them are slower guys and how slow are they?  How fast are the fastest CB's and how good are they compared to the slower guys?

Now I'm not going to get into game speed because I can't measure it.  I'm just talking about measurable speed, the 40-yard dash to be specific, compared to playing at a high level in the NFL at CB.  I found a site that says it's compiled the 40 times for just about everyone in the NFL.  I'll use the times for the 2011 Pro-Bowl roster for this excercise and we can draw whatever conclusions we want from that.

Let's check out the numbers, after the jump.

The site 40-yard-dash-times.com has sections for this year's Pro-Bowl rosters and each player's 40-yard dash time.  They break it down by AFC and NFC rosters.  Anyone who wants to spend more time or give me a better source for any/all times, please do so.  Here are the times for the CB's from each conference:

AFC CB's

Nnamdi Asomugha - 4.45

Darrelle Revis - 4.38

Devin McCourty - 4.38

Champ Bailey - 4.28

NFC CB's

Asante Samuel - 4.49

Charles Woodson - 4.44

DeAngelo Hall - 4.37

Tramon Williams - 4.57

Antoine Winfield - 4.41

Brent Grimes - 4.57

 For good measure, the site reports the following 49ers CB's times as well:

Nate Clements - 4.38

Shawntae Spencer - 4.48

Tarrell Brown - 4.45

What I see is that there aren't many guys running in the 4.5's who are elite CB's.  Out of the "shut-down" CB's in the league, 4.4's or better seems to be the trend.  Keep in mind a lot of the lockdown CB's are also great off the line, meaning they jam or disrupt the pattern so that the receiver can't get up to speed for a few seconds after the snap.  Some are also zone CB's who don't run with receivers down the field.

It's difficult to say what role speed has in making an elite CB based on the 40 times alone.  I still say that you can't teach speed, although technique does go a long way.  I do feel that there's a requirement to be fast though in order to be a man-to-man shutdown CB.  At some point you're running down the field with a receiver and if you're markedly slower, you're getting beat.

Let me know what your thoughts are on how speed plays a role in the CB position, how important you think it is, and what makes some of these players great.  I'll be watching the Combine and pro-days no matter what to get an idea of just how fast some of these guys in the draft are.