Can the fastest NFL players beat the NCAA track stars? Here's what the numbers say (2024)

Are football players faster than track and field athletes? It's a question that's been in the spotlight recently, with the likes of Tyreek Hill (NFL's Miami Dolphins) challenging Usain Bolt (arguably the greatest Olympian sprinter ever) and more. However, before we get to the all-time greats, we should figure out if NFL players can even beat the best sprinters in the NCAA.

I compiled data from the NFL and the top collegiate sprinters to finally get an answer to the oft-asked question. Here's what the numbers say.

Fastest 2022 regular season NFL speeds

Every year, the NFL uses Next Gen Stats to track the fastest players each game. Below you'll find the fastest players that carried the ball from the 2022 regular season.

RANKSPEED (MPH)PLAYERPOSITIONTEAMNFL WEEK
122.11Parris CampbellWRIndianapolis Colts18
222.09Kenneth WalkerRBSeattle Seahawks7
321.87Breece HallRBNew York Jets7
421.72DeSean JacksonWRBaltimore Ravens12
521.72Christian WatsonWRGreen Bay Packers13
621.68Jaylen WaddleWRMiami Dolphins16
721.68Dalvin CookRBMinnesota Vikings10
821.62Travis EtienneRBJacksonville Jaguars17
921.6Devin DuvernayWRBaltimore Ravens2
1021.58Tariq WoolenDBSeattle Seahawks4

In total, 36 NFL players ran faster than 21 mph during the 2022 regular season, but only Parris Campbell and Kenneth Walker surpassed the 22 mph threshold. Campbell's 22.11 mph speed ranks as the fifth-fastest top speed by a ball-carrier during an NFL season since 2016.

πŸ‘€:Here are the DI track and field teams with most NCAA championships

RANKSPEED (MPH)PLAYERYearTEAM
123.34Tyreek Hill2016Kansas City Chiefs
223.09Raheem Mostert2020San Francisco 49ers
322.3Matt Breida2019San Francisco 49ers
422.13Jonathan Taylor2021Indianapolis Colts
522.11Parris Campbell2022Indianapolis Colts
622.09Matt Brieda2018San Francisco 49ers
722.05Leonard Fournette2017Jacksonville Jaguars

So, how do these speeds relate to the top track and field athletes? Let's find out.

DESTINATIONS:The greatest venues in outdoor track and field, according to you

Fastest NCAA track athletes in 2023

While mph data for NCAA track and field races isn't always readily available, there's luckily data from NCAA sprinters who participated in the 2022 World Athletics Championships. We'll be using that data for this article.

Top male sprinters

The 100 meters is the premier male sprinting event, with track athletes running the shortest distance during an outdoor meet. To compare the 100 meters to football, it equates to just over 109 yards, roughly the front of one end zone to the back of another end zone.

It's rare that a football player will ever run 100 meters in a straight line continuously in a game like a sprinter would in a race, but a football player still needs to hit his peak speeds to escape from opposing players in the same way a sprinter needs to hit his peak speeds to win a race.

That said, here are the fastest 100 meter sprinters that returned to collegiate track and field in 2023.

SPEED (MPH)PLAYERSchoolTime (Round)
26.2Favour AsheAuburn10.00 (Heats)
25.6Ismael KoneFlorida State10.17 (Heats)
24.3Shaun GillTexas A&M-Kingsville (DII)10.76 (Prelims)

All three of the collegiate 100 meter sprinters ran faster than allNFL players since 2016. Yet, none of the collegiate sprinters above made the 100 meter final at World Championships, meaning there were even faster sprinters in track and field in 2022.

NCAA T&F:Here's how the outdoor track and field championships work

What about the equipment?

A common cry in debates between football and track speed is that football players where equipment that can slow them down. Per Sports Illustrated, football equipment like shoulder pads, helmets and more can weigh more than 10 pounds. While there's no hard data on how much football equipment slows down a player, one can assume that it likely knocks off tenths of a second from top speeds.

40-yard dash

That said, we have seen football players run their top speeds in non-game like settings via the NFL Combine's 40-yard dash. Take a look a some of the speeds from 2022's NFL Combine.

Speed (MPH)40 TimeAthleteSchoolPosition
25.14.23Kalon BarnesBaylorCB
24.84.26Tariq WoolenUTSACB
24.64.31Velus JonesTennesseeWR
24.54.34Bo MeltonRutgersWR
24.14.33Danny GraySMUWR

Speeds taken from Reel Analytics.

.@BUFootball CB Kalon Barnes (@KaayBarnes_) exceeded 25 mph during his record-setting 40-yard dash at the #NFLCombine pic.twitter.com/cY4GdDru4g

β€” Reel Analytics (@RAanalytics) March 7, 2022

Kalon Barnes ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash time in NFL history, only one-hundreth of a second behind the NFL record of 4.22 seconds. Tariq Woolen ran the fifth-fastest time in NFL history.

However, none of the top-speeds from the 2022 NFL Combine ran without football equipment surpass the top two recorded speeds from the NCAA athletes listed above at World Championships.

While the 40-yard dash is a decent indicator of speed, it's not the end all be all as shown by analytics experts. There's no correlation between 40-yard dash speed and in-game speed, with players with slow 40 times running just as fast β€” with equipment on β€” as players with fast 40 times.

Data suggests no correlation between the 40-yard dash & play speed (MPH) for many reasons. For example, both Jordan Howard & Ted Ginn have reached a max speed of 22 mph although Howard ran a 4.59 & Ginn a 4.28 40-yard dash. Don’t over-emphasize the 40. #NFLCombine2022 pic.twitter.com/BeciA7lw76

β€” Cory Yates (@CoryRAanalytics) March 4, 2022

Moreover, the NFL record of 4.22 seconds in the 40-yard dash pales in comparison to what track athletes have ran in the 40-yard dash. Take former NCAA Champion Christian Coleman for example. He ran a 4.12 second 40-yard dash back in 2017, blowing the NFL Combine record out of the water. Coleman even beat NFL legend Bo Jackson's rumored 4.13 second 40-yard dash time.

Coleman's 40-yard dash performance shows that even in similar conditions, without equipment, track speed is faster.

The DK Metcalf race

While Christian Coleman tested out NFL conditions with his run in the 40-yard dash, NFL wide receiver DK Metcalf did the opposite, running a 100 meter race on the track.

Metcalf ran the 100 meters at the Golden Games in an attempt to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials. In his first 100 meter race with only a few months of training, Metcalf ran a 10.37-second time to finish 15th out of 17 competitors in the preliminary round.

Great start for @Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf.

He ended up finishing his 100m heat in 9th with a time of 10.36.@usatf // #JourneyToGold pic.twitter.com/OSPrrMZFVe

β€” NBC Olympics & Paralympics (@NBCOlympics) May 9, 2021

Metcalf's speed paled in comparison to track and field sprinters in a race that didn't include some of the America's best 100 meter runners. Yet, when it comes to the NFL, Metcalf is one of the fastest in the league with a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash and a top speed of 22.64 mph 2020.

DK Metcalf would’ve caught Daniel Jones

DK Metcalf’s speed 22.64 mph matches Tyreek Hill last year πŸ’¨
pic.twitter.com/GumVZMhBHR

β€” John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) October 26, 2020

Metcalf's top speed in the NFL is one of the fastest since the NFL has tracked the data. However, when Metcalf transferred his football speed to the track β€” without equipment β€” his speed didn't keep up

The dual-sport athletes

NFL x track speed

For all the comparisons between NFL and track speed, there's one person who blurred the lines in 2022, Devon Allen. Allen, an NCAA champion and Olympian, was a finalist in the 110 hurdles at the 2022 World Championships and also is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles roster, even scoring a touchdown during the preseason.

OLYMPIC SPEED. @DevonAllen13 flies into the end zone!

πŸ“Ί: #PHIvsCLE on @NFLNetwork (check local listings)
πŸ“±: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/GH49hZ3d4L pic.twitter.com/pkTHZbyrHF

β€” NFL (@NFL) August 21, 2022

Reid Sinnett & Devon Allen (55-yd TD)
Completion Probability: 28.8%

πŸ”Ή Air Distance: 59.6 yds
πŸ”Ή Target Separation: 4.9 yds
πŸ”Ή Allen Top Speed: 20.93 mph

Sinnett's pass traveled 59.6 yards in the air, the longest completed pass so far this preseason.#PHIvsCLE | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/gj4Dfj64u0

β€” Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) August 21, 2022

Devon Allen hit a top speed of 20.93 mph on his 55-yard touchdown in the preseason. While Allen's top speed ranks below some of the top speeds in the NFL this year and the top collegians in track and field at the World Championships, Allen is an Olympian hurdler, running the third-fastest 110 hurdles time ever (12.84 seconds) at Worlds. With out football pads and routes and without hurdles, Allen's top speed is likely much higher.

πŸ’¨:Wind and scoring in track and field, explained

NCAA football x track speed

Texas A&M's Devon Achane is a soon-to-be NFL player with legit track speed. How do we know this about the 2023 NFL draft prospect? Because he actually ran track in college.

Achane qualified for the 2022 DI outdoor championships in sprint events. Achane finished in the semifinals during the outdoor championships with a 10.48-second 100 meter time. On the gridiron, Achane was clocked at 22.2 mph in 2021 on a kick return for a touchdown.

.@AggieFootball RB Devon Achane hit a max speed of 22.2 mph on his 96-yard KOR for a TD in the #Aggies’ win over #Bama on Saturday. #myRAmaxspeed pic.twitter.com/sHVqs3wtCq

β€” Reel Analytics (@RAanalytics) October 11, 2021

Achane's speed on that kick return is faster than any NFL player's top speed during the 2022 regular season. He's one of the select few players than when someone says "he has track speed" legitimatelydoes.

Elsewhere, Kentucky has a football-track standout of its own β€” and he's only a freshman. Jordan Anthony plays wide receiver for the Wildcats and runs sprints. Prior to enrolling, he won the U.S. U-20 200 meter title with a personal-best 20.34-second finish.

FOOTBALL TRANSITION:Arkansas' RojΓ© Stona's attempted transition to NFL

Anthony kicked off his 2023 indoor season with less than a week of track practice between the transition of football and track season by breaking the Kentucky freshman record in the 60 meters in 6.57 seconds. That performance comes after Anthony redshirted on the gridiron, playing in just two games.

Anthony is another dual-sport athlete with true "track speed".

πŸ“Έ @Jordan_anthony6 wins the Rod McCravey Memorial with a #UKTF Freshman Record time of 6.57. Fellow Wildcat @lang_jackson9 finished in 3rd, stopping the clock at 6.77.

πŸ“Ί: https://t.co/40G9geRPKD pic.twitter.com/zgs82nWHIt

β€” UK Track & Field (@KentuckyTrack) January 14, 2023

MORE:Complete history of The Bowerman award

So who's faster?

From the data, it's clear than the top-end speed of NCAA track and field athletes is faster than the top-end speed of NFL players. While there are other external factors like distance run, equipment weight, directions run and more, the top-end speed data is plain to see.

Could things change if the fastest NFL players raced track and field's best? Maybe, but until that happens the win goes to the trackletes.

For reference when NFL Players say they’re faster than track athletes:

The top NFL MPH the last 6 years

β€˜21 Jonathan Taylor: 22.13
β€˜20 Raheem Mostert: 23.09
β€˜19 Matt Breida: 22.3
β€˜18 Breida: 22.09
β€˜17 Leonard Fournette: 22.05
β€˜16 Tyreek Hill: 23.24

Track speed is different! https://t.co/PKbiX22FQG

β€” Stan Becton (@stan_becton) July 17, 2022
πŸƒTRACK AND FIELDπŸƒ

Can the fastest NFL players beat the NCAA track stars? Here's what the numbers say (1)
πŸ†:Arkansas, Texas Tech win 2024 indoor titles |Florida, Arkansas win 2024 outdoor titles|How the outdoor championships work

πŸ”₯ B/R: Follow college track and field on Bleacher Report
πŸ’₯HISTORY:Programs with the most titles|Men's champ history | Women's champ history| Bowerman history
🧠 WHAT TO KNOW
:Wind and scoring explained|Greatest venues| Best uniforms| The difference between indoor and outdoor seasons

Can the fastest NFL players beat the NCAA track stars? Here's what the numbers say (2024)

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