The best wide receiver in the history of the San Francisco 49ers – and arguably the NFL – ran a rather pedestrian 40-yard dash before turning pro.
“He didn’t have a great 40 time, but his play speed – how many people ever saw him caught, run down?” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke asked at his annual pre-draft roundtable with reporters. “He played fast.”
Yes, Jerry Rice did. Rice was the 16th overall selection out of Mississippi Valley State in 1985.
“Hat’s off to the decision-makers at that time that saw through that and were still willing to step out there, especially for a small-school guy and make a pick like that.”
Many expect the 49ers to select at least one wideout during – and likely early into – the May 8-10 draft. Baalke explained how valuable the 40 time is in evaluating collegiate pass-catchers.
“I’ve seen guys run real fast and then play real slow,” Baalke said. “I’ve seen guys run slow and play fast. That’s why, to me, the film doesn’t lie.”
To be more specific: Baalke said he and his staff will rate the “play speed” of a prospect off of their game tape – and compare the mark to a set standard for the position – before comparing it to the time you see on televised pro days and combines.
“You’re hoping that they match up,” Baalke said. “What’s hard is when you really like a player and you think he plays fast and you get to the combine and he runs slow. You have a real tough dilemma in your mind to sort through.”
Rice, for the record, ran the dash in 4.59 seconds, according to the late Bill Walsh. (Rice bristled at the thought of recording something above 4.6 seconds but also didn’t run the 4.37 that NFL Media’s made-up “Jerry Ricecake” ran at the Scouting Combine.)
The 13 fastest wideouts participating in this past combine all ran the drill in under 4.46 seconds. Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks led the way at 4.33.
The 49ers have reportedly interacted with Colorado’s Paul Richardson (4.40 seconds), Clemson’s Martavis Bryant (4.42) and LSU’s Odell Beckham (4.43), among others.
Baalke seemed to suggest the 40 is a better tool when evaluating prospects at the skill positions, where a 10-yard split is employed more for bigger-bodied players.
“There’s value to everything, and you rate everything differently,” Baalke said. “We have a computer system far smarter than myself. You can punch that data in and, based on the position, you can weigh things differently. A 40 is weighted higher for a skill position than it is for a defensive lineman or an offensive lineman.”
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