INDIANAPOLIS -- Turn on NFL Network today and you'll see offensive linemen run one of the final 40-yard dashes of their football career.
Yes, these players are fresh-faced college prospects who haven't even started their NFL careers, but the situations in which they run 40 yards in a straight line as fast as they possibly can are few and far between.
Yet the spectacle remains, growing bigger and bigger with each passing year, and there's a reason for it.
"This is a size and speed league," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "It truly is, and you don't want to build your team on exceptions.
"You can have a handful of those guys on the team but you don't want to build your team around it."
There are plenty of exceptions, and Pettine was quick to acknowledge them. Two -- journeyman safety Jim Leonhard and former Ravens offensive lineman Kelly Gregg -- stand out to him in particular as players who thrived in the NFL without splashy times and measurements.
And there are examples like Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, who struggled through his 40-yard dash at the Combine because of a back injury he sustained one day earlier while he bench pressed. It ultimately mattered little, as he redeemed himself at his Pro Day and landed with the Browns at No. 7 in the 2010 NFL Draft.
"It's a measure, but it's not the be-all, end-all," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said. "I would tell you that I'm much more inclined to see how a kid plays the game and what scouts reference as playing speed is probably more indicative of what's reality. There's guys that run really, really fast and in football terms they say they don't carry their pads well so they don't play as fast."
For wide receivers, running backs and defensive backs, the 40-yard dash can pay off before they sign their first NFL contract. The three players who run the fastest time this year will receive $100,000.
The fastest 40-yard dash since the NFL began keeping official records in 1999 is 4.24 seconds, a time notched by both Chris Johnson and Rondel Melendez. Among current Browns, wide receiver Travis Benjamin holds the best Combine 40 time (4.31).
"The video tape for us is how they play football is truly the most important thing but they have to meet minimum NFL standards," Pettine said. "That's important they demonstrate here they can, under a pressure situation, perform well."
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.
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