Speed kills, they say, and perhaps in no sport is that truer than the National Football League (NFL). In today’s offensive-minded NFL climate, wide receivers who can stretch the field and flip a game on its head with one play are amongst the most valued players. Cornerbacks who can guard the NFL’s fastest receivers able to do that are nearly as highly valued.
But selecting these players is often a high-priced game of chance, as picking a player based too much on only measurable has gotten many a team into serious trouble. The 40-yard dash can become a bedazzling stat for some scouts, and sometimes, it shows a player is worth the hype. More often, however, it proves the fact that combine measurable just don’t predict future on-field success in the cutthroat league that is the NFL. Bearing that in mind, check out the fastest NFL players who turned out to be busts via USA TODAY.
20. LaMichael James – RB, San Francisco 49ers:
James was another track star who could not cut the mustard in the NFL. He had a highly decorated college career at the University of Oregon and ran a 4.45 40 at the 2013 NFL combine. It wasn’t exactly the fastest of all-time, but his collegiate tape was tantalizing enough to take a chance on him.
The San Francisco 49ers did so in the second round and immediately regretted their decision. He was a bust in his rookie year and requested to be released from the team early in the 2014 season. He signed with the Dolphins but was eventually released early in the 2015 season, flaming out of the NFL as a huge bust.
19. Taylor Mays – S, San Francisco 49ers/Cincinnati Bengals/Oakland Raiders:
A former track star with a hulking frame at 6’3”, 240 pounds, it’s arguable about how fast he really was. He supposedly ran an unreal 4.24-second 40 at the 2010 NFL combine. That would have tied running back Chris Johnson’s record at the time. But his official time was adjusted to a much more ‘pedestrian’ (for him) time of 4.43 seconds.
Either way, San Francisco took him in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. He was later traded to Cincinnati for a seventh-round pick the following year. Mays served as a sparingly used safety for the Bengals from 2011-2014. He did start 10 games in 2014. Mays played for the Oakland Raiders in 2015. He was then suspended for performance-enhancing drugs twice before the 2016 season, ending his NFL career as a monster bust despite his immense natural talents.
Calico was another product of pre-draft hype after he ran a 4.42-second 40 coming out of Middle Tennessee State. It was an impressive time for a receiver standing 6’4” and weighing 223 pounds. The Titans made him the 28th overall pick in the 2003 draft.
He showed some initial promise with four touchdowns in his rookie season. Unfortunately, however, we’ll never know how good Calico could have been. A now-illegal horse-collar tackle from one of the dirtiest players in the NFL gave him a serious knee injury. He was cut by Tennessee after the 2005 NFL season.
Gilbert has earned the dubious distinction of being on both this list of super-fast busts and the list of biggest NFL busts period. He wowed at the combine with a 4.37-second time in 2014, earning him the high draft status of the number eight overall pick. Cleveland didn’t get what they paid for.
Gilbert never panned out as an NFL player, routinely being replaced by players with not even close to the status he brought into the league from Oklahoma State. He was also suspended for drug-related issues. He signed with Pittsburgh but that hasn’t done anything to change his status as a speedster who never delivered on the NFL field.
16. Matt Jones – WR, Jacksonville Jaguars/Cincinnati Bengals:
After playing quarterback at the University of Arkansas, Jones became the definition of a combine star by running a 4.37-second 40 in 2005. His other measurables were also off the chart and supposedly proved he could make a seamless switch to wideout in the NFL. Few if any teams were actually interested in him playing quarterback for them. So he was selected in the first round by Jacksonville to play wide receiver.
But like many on this list, it just didn’t translate into on-field production. Jones finished his four-year career with only 166 receptions for 2,153 yards and 15 touchdowns. He actually caught 65 passes for 761 yards in only 12 games in his final season in the NFL back in 2008. However, drug-related arrests saw him released from Jacksonville. He sat out the 2009 season and resurfaced with the Bengals, but ultimately retired in 2010.
15. Kevin White – WR, Chicago Bears/Arizona Cardinals:
White could be considered one of the biggest wide receiver busts in NFL history up to this point. His measurables coming out of the University of West Virginia were off the charts. He ran a 4.35-second 40, an amazing feat for a man standing 6’3” and weighing 216 pounds.
The receiver-needy Bears took him with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, a high price to pay to be certain. Like many promising NFL talents, White’s career was immediately affected by injuries. He missed his first season with a broken shin and was sent to injured reserve in both 2016 and 2017. White has signed with Arizona for the upcoming season, but he’s got work to do to shed his label of a massive bust.
14. Tavon Austin – WR, St. Louis Rams & Dallas Cowboys:
Austin was one of the highest-drafted players on this list, running a 4.34-second 40 in 2013. The St. Louis Rams traded up from pick no. 16 to select him eighth overall in the draft. He failed to capitalize on that draft status in a big way. The diminutive Austin was more of a gadget player in the NFL, and more often than not, that gadget didn’t work.
He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for the low price of a sixth-round pick before the 2018 season. Overall, he only has 202 catches for 1,819 yards and 14 touchdowns in six seasons. He does have 1,293 rushing yards for nine more touchdowns. Still, he’s a major bust based on his lofty draft status.
13. Trindon Holliday – KR, Houston Texans/Denver Broncos/Four Other Teams:
Holliday turned heads with a truly insane 40 time, unofficially running a 4.21. Indeed, he had the background to be one of the fastest players in the NFL. He registered the fastest 100-meter dash time for an NCAA football player. But that 4.21 was self-reported, calling its legitimacy into question. He officially ran a 4.34 at the 2010 NFL combine.
Houston drafted him in the sixth round. After failing to catch on in Texas, he was claimed by the Denver Broncos off of waivers in 2012. He found some success with Denver, recording a 90-yard return TD against Baltimore in the 2012 playoffs. But that was short-lived, as he began bouncing around to four other teams beginning in 2014. Holliday also never caught on as a wide receiver whatsoever. He had some success in the NFL, but it could have been so much more.
12. Philip Dorsett – WR, Indianapolis Colts & New England Patriots:
Dorsett was somewhat surprisingly drafted by the Colts in the first round of the 2015 draft. They appeared to have much more glaring needs than wide receiver. But after he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard-dash at the combine, the Colts’ old regime couldn’t resist pairing him with quarterback Andrew Luck.
He had 51 receptions for 753 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons with the Colts, hardly the numbers befitting of first-round expectations. He was traded to the New England Patriots in 2017 and actually won a Super Bowl with them last year. But the speedster still only has 44 receptions for 484 yards and three touchdowns in two years with the Pats, proving he’s a bust.
Marshall spent much of his collegiate career at Georgia in the shadow of eventual Rams superstar Todd Gurley. Because of that, he was not expected to be drafted high in the 2016 draft – if he was drafted at all.
But he ran a blazing 4.31-second 40 at the combine, prompting the Redskins to take him in the seventh round. He quickly became a preseason hype darling due to his quick 40 time. Unfortunately, Marshall suffered a series of injuries that prevented him from playing a regular-season snap in 2016 and 2017. He was cut before the 2018 season as a result. It may be because of injuries, but Marshall is still a bust who really only had a super-fast 40.
Heyward-Bey was the definition of a burner. He was also the prototypical example of a draft pick under the old Oakland Raiders regime. The wideout from Maryland ran a blazing 4.30-second 40-yard-dash in 2009.
The Raiders took him with the seventh pick in the 2009 draft amid much criticism. The critics were proved right when he proceeded to bust for the Raiders. His best season was 2011 when he recorded 64 receptions for 975 yards and four touchdowns. He carved out a career mainly on special teams and still plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But overall he’s a massive bust based on his draft position. He’s only caught 202 passes for 2,897 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career.
9. Yamon Figurs – KR, Baltimore Ravens & Five Other Teams:
Figurs ran a blazing 4.3-second 40 in 2007. The Ravens took him in the third round of the draft that year and he played well enough. Filling in for starting kick returner BJ Sams, Figurs returned both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in 2007.
However, he was replaced in the 2008 season and then Baltimore cut him before the 2009 season. Figurs bounced around to the Lions, Raiders, Bucs, Browns, and Titans before fizzling out of the NFL in 2011. Despite his blazing speed, he could never gain any traction in the NFL.
8. Mike Thomas – WR, Jacksonville Jaguars & Three Other Teams:
He only stands 5’8”, but Thomas was taken in the fourth round of the 2009 draft after a blazing 4.30-second 40-yard dash. Thomas ended his four-year run in Jacksonville with 171 catches, 1,772 yards, and seven touchdowns.
He then bounced around to Detroit, Arizona, and Houston and was out of the NFL in 2014. While his draft position wasn’t so costly that it made him a major bust, his career left much to be desired.
7. Tye Hill – CB, St. Louis Rams & Three Other Teams:
Hill had a stellar collegiate career with NCAA powerhouse Clemson. After running a 4.3-second 40 at the 2006 combine, the Rams took him with the lofty 15th pick overall. His career actually started in impressive fashion, as he appeared well on his way to becoming the shutdown corner many envisioned he was. He was even voted the Rams’ Rookie of the Year in 2006.
However, his 2007 and 2008 seasons were marred by injury. He then bounced around the league with the Falcons, Titans, and Lions before flaming out of the league. Like many speedsters on this list, injuries sapped him of his speed. We never really knew how good Hill could have been.
Ford was another Clemson product who was so blazing fast that he ran track in addition to playing on their football team. He tallied a smoking 4.29 40 time in 2010 and was drafted by who else, the Oakland Raiders. Ford promptly became an all-purpose threat for the team, scoring seven total touchdowns in his first year.
He injured his ankle in 2011 and was forced to sit out the 2012 season. He returned but made only 13 catches in 2013 before his NFL career came to an abrupt end.
Robinson made a splash at the 2012 combine after a solid career at Central Florida. He ran a 4.29-second 40, ranking him among the top 20 of all-time. The Vikings liked it enough to draft him in the third round of that year’s draft.
Like many super-fast straight-line runners on this list, however, it just didn’t translate into success on the field. He spent multiple seasons falling down the Vikings’ depth chart until moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015. He was last seen signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2018 and is currently a free agent.
4. DeMarcus Van Dyke – CB, Oakland Raiders/Pittsburgh Steelers/Four Other Teams:
Van Dyke turned heads when he ran a 4.28 40 at the 2011 Combine, which was the fourth-fastest record time ever at the time. True to form, the Raiders drafted him to shore up their defensive secondary. When new management came for the chaotic franchise in 2012, Van Dyke was cut.
He moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers and then four other teams until he was out of the NFL in 2016. It’s safe to say the speedy Van Dyke was little more than a combine superstar, making him a clear bust in terms of real football.
Myrick was most likely headed to undrafted free agent status following his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota. Then, he blazed a 4.28 second 40 in 2017 and was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars that year.
There’s not much else to say other than he was another super-fast player who couldn’t put the total package together on the field. He washed out in Jacksonville and resurfaced on the Viking’s practice squad, but his NFL career is close to over.
2. J.J Nelson – WR, Arizona Cardinals/Oakland Raiders:
Nelson came blazing into the league with a 4.28-second 40 in 2015. The Arizona Cardinals took him in the fourth round. He actually showed some promise as a deep threat playing with quarterback Carson Palmer under aggressively minded coach Bruce Arians.
Then Steve Wilks and Josh Rosen came to town in 2018. Nelson had a horrific seven catches for 64 yards in 2018 as Rosen appeared lost behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Wilks’ hapless play calling didn’t help matters either. Nelson was signed by the Oakland Raiders (of course he was) before the 2019 season. He can potentially turn things around under Jon Gruden, but he’s teetering on bust status as of now.
Like the aforementioned Matt Jones, Mathis blew the doors off the 2005 combine by running a 40 in 4.26 seconds. He showed a ton of talent and potential as a kick returner early in his career. After being drafted in the fourth round by Houston, he even made the Pro Bowl his rookie season.
But injuries began to sap him of his speed. In a terrible turn of events, Mathis fractured his foot in that Pro Bowl. He was then relegated to injured reserve for the duration of the next two seasons. He was then signed by Washington before the 2008 season but waived that May. Mathis never got the chance to show live up to his potential in the NFL.