There's just something exciting about watching a player with incredible speed fly down the field.
Whether it's using that speed to break away down the sideline, cut through the middle of the defense and score or dice up a coverage unit on special teams, those big plays with breakaway speed always add another level of excitement to the game.
And there are several players in the league capable of carving up defenses with their speed. Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, nicknamed Cheetah, is often viewed as the fastest, but he certainly hasn't run away with the title as other talents like 49ers running back Raheem Mostert and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson have shown they too can race past just about anybody.
Is there a way to find out who the actual fastest player in the league is? Sporting News is taking a look to see which players have posted the strongest cases.
Who is the fastest player in the NFL?
There are always several different ways one can come to a conclusion about the fastest player in the league, and each one will likely bring up a different result.
Certain guys just meet that eye test, where their speed just seems to be at a different level than other players. But our eyes aren't perfect, and it's incredibly subjective, so we won't be using that method.
What about the fastest times posted in a game? There's a lot going on in game action. Players have to run routes, avoid tacklers, carry a football or catch the ball. We can also take a look at 40-yard dash times, where players are asked to run in a straight line as fast as they can. But even then, some player might not have their best day. Another might have an adrenaline rush.
There's no perfect way to decide who the fastest player in the league is, but we're going to lay out the data available to see who might come the closest to meeting that description.
Top 10 fastest players in 2021
NFL Next-Gen Stats has been tracking the fastest players in contact with the ball since 2016. This, like any other method, remains an imperfect method as it does not include defenders — such as safeties and corners — running after a ball-carrier to make a tackle. Still, it gives us a great glimpse overall of the players that have recorded the fastest times when trying to avoid being tackled.
Here are the players that posted the fastest times during the regular season.
|Jonathan Taylor||Colts||22.13||15||67-yard rushing TD|
|Marquez Valdes-Scantling||Packers||22.09||11||75-yard receiving TD|
|Patrick Surtain||Broncos||22.07||12||70-yard interception TD|
|Jonathan Taylor||Colts||22.05||9||78-yard rushing TD|
|Jonathan Taylor||Colts||21.83||8||1-yard rush|
|Derrick Henry||Titans||21.8||6||76-yard rushing TD|
|Jaylen Waddle||Dolphins||21.8||12||57-yard reception|
|Henry Ruggs III||Raiders||21.78||4||51-yard reception|
|Devin Duvernay||Ravens||21.76||4||42-yard punt return|
|Ja'Marr Chase||Bengals||21.74||17||72-yard receiving TD|
Top 10 fastest times in 2020
The 2021 season is still underway. So let's take a look at who the fastest players from last year's regular season were. One player seems to stand out above the rest.
|Raheem Mostert||49ers||23.09||2||80-yard rushing TD|
|Raheem Mostert||49ers||22.73||1||76-yard receiving TD|
|Kenyan Drake||Cardinals||22.11||6||69-yard rushing TD|
|Jonathan Taylor||Colts||22.05||17||29-yard rush|
|Tyreek Hill||Chiefs||21.91||14||44-yard receiving TD|
|Nyheim Hines||Colts||21.85||13||19-yard kickoff return|
|Nelson Agholar||Raiders||21.72||17||57-yard reception|
|Trevon Diggs||Cowboys||21.72||8||0-yard interception|
|Michael Davis||Chargers||21.68||4||78-yard interception TD|
|DK Metcalf||Seahawks||21.66||7||6-yard reception|
Who has the fastest time in a regular season game?
Maybe a little unsurprising to see that the fastest time ever recorded by NFL's Next Gen Stats, which dates back to the start of the 2016 season, belongs to Hill. He returned a kickoff 27 yards and was clocked at 23.24 mph.
Hill and Mostert split the top four, as Hill checks in at first and third and Mostert is second and fourth. Mostert is the only other player to record a speed over 23 mph. Xavier Rhodes is the only defensive player to crack the top 10.
|2016||Tyreek Hill||Chiefs||23.24||2||27-yard kickoff return|
|2020||Raheem Mostert||49ers||23.09||2||80-yard rushing TD|
|2016||Tyreek Hill||Chiefs||22.77||12||86-yard kickoff return TD|
|2020||Raheem Mostert||49ers||22.73||1||76-yard receiving TD|
|2016||DeSean Jackson||Redskins||22.6||13||59-yard reception|
|2016||Stefon Diggs||Vikings||22.5||2||44-yard reception|
|2016||Xavier Rhodes||Vikings||22.4||11||100-yard interception TD|
|2016||Brandin Cooks||Saints||22.4||15||45-yard receiving TD|
|2016||Mike Wallace||Ravens||22.34||6||70-yard reception|
|2019||Matt Breida||49ers||22.3||5||83-yard rushing TD|
Fastest 40 times
Before each NFL draft, players are evaluated based on their ability just to sprint straight ahead 40 yards.
Here are the fastest players tracked at the NFL Combine, according to Stathead, since 2000. Times from 2021 are from college Pro Days as the 2021 NFL Combine was canceled, and come courtesy of the NFL Draft Bible.
|2020||Henry Ruggs III||Raiders||WR||4.27|
What is Lamar Jackson's 40 time?
Jackson did not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft, but at a Speed Day at Louisville, he was clocked in at running a 4.34-second 40-yard dash. According to Stathead, that time would have been the third-fastest time recorded by a quarterback since 2000, behind only Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick, who both clocked in at 4.33.
What is Tyreek Hill's 40 time?
Hill was not at the 2016 NFL combine due to a domestic abuse arrest. Hill did run at West Alabama's Pro Day and ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash. That would tie him for the 15th-fastest time, per Stathead, and would be the 11th-fastest among wide receivers.
What is Devan Duvernay's 40 time?
Duvernay clocked in with the eighth-fastest time in the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine when he ran a 4.39, according to Stathead. It was the fifth-fastest time among wide receivers in the class, behind Raiders' Henry Ruggs III (4.27, fastest overall in 2020), Eagles' Quez Watkins (4.35), Jets' Denzel Mims (4.38) and Bears' Darnell Mooney (4.38). It was tied with Washington's Antonio Gibson.
What is Ja'Marr Chase's 40 time?
There was no 2021 NFL combine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Chase was still able to clock in during LSU's Pro Day, and he exceled, posting a 4.34 40 time. That was the third-fastest time among players in the 2021 NFL Draft, according to Stathead.
What is Derrick Henry's 40 time?
Henry has been known mostly for his ability to truck over defensive players, using his strength to plow through defenses and break off big runs. But he's got the speed to be able to race past players too. Per Stathead, he had the 12th-fastest time in the 2016 NFL Combine among running backs, posting a 40 time of 4.54 seconds.
What is Marquez Valdes-Scantling's 40 time?
Valdes-Scantling posted the second-fastest time on the field in 2021, behind only the Colts' Jonathan Taylor. Back when he was at the 2018 NFL Combine, he showed off the jets, racing to a 4.37 40 time, trailing only D.J. Chark, who was drafted in the second round by the Jaguars, according to Stathead.
What is Quez Watkins' 40 time?
The Eagles took two of the fastest wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft, but the fastest of the pair was Quez Watkins. Stathead listed his 40 time in the combine at 4.35 seconds, second only to Ruggs of the Raiders. Jalen Reagor also ranked up there in speed, clocking in at 4.47 seconds, the 15th-fastest time among receivers.