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The NFL is filled with some of the strongest and fastest humans on Earth, but this group of players manages to leave its opposition in the dust. So which player gets to take the title of fastest player in the NFL?
NFL’s Next Gen Stats offer an answer. They have been tracking ball carrier speed since 2016 and can determine a player’s top speed with possession. Using their data, here are the fastest players in the league.
Who was the fastest player in the NFL in 2021?
These players were the NFL’s fastest ball carriers in the 2021 regular season, with one young running back dominating the top 10 (via Next Gen Stats):
- Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts RB: 22.13 mph in Week 15
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers WR: 22.09 mph in Week 11
- Patrick Surtain, Denver Broncos CB: 22.07 mph in Week 12
- Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts RB: 22.05 mph in Week 9
- Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts RB: 21.83 in Week 8
- Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans RB: 21.8 in Week 6
- Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins WR: 21.8 in Week 12
- Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders WR: 21.78 in Week 4
- Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens WR: 21.76 in Week 4
- Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals WR: 21.74 in Week 17
Taylor made three appearances in the top 10. His fastest run was a 67-yard touchdown carry against the New England Patriots, while his second run on this list was a 78-yard touchdown sprint against the New York Jets. Both games ended in wins.
It was not surprising to see him dominate the list, as Taylor led the league in rushing yards (1,811) and rushing touchdowns (18) last season.
The position with the most appearances was at wide receiver, with Valdez-Scantling’s 75-yard touchdown in Week 11 being the fastest.
Surtain was the only defensive player to make an appearance, as his 70-yard interception return for a touchdown clocked an impressive speed that proved to make a key difference in the Broncos’ 28-13 win against the Los Angeles Chargers that week.
Who was the fastest NFL player in 2020?
Taylor captivated audiences with his speed in 2021, but there was another running back on the top the year prior.
Here were the NFL’s fastest ball carriers for the 2020 regular season (via Next Gen Stats):
- Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers RB: 23.09 mph (Week 2)
- Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers RB: 22.73 mph (Week 1)
- Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals RB: 22.11 mph (Week 6)
- Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts RB: 22.05 mph (Week 17)
- Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs WR: 21.91 mph (Week 14)
- Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts RB: 21.85 mph (Week 13)
- Nelson Agholor, Las Vegas Raiders WR: 21.72 mph (Week 17)
- Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys CB: 21.72 mph (Week 8)
- Michael Davis, Los Angeles Changers CB: 21.68 mph (Week 4)
- D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks WR: 21.66 mph (Week 7)
Mostert’s top two plays came in consecutive weeks to start out the 2020 season.
First came a Week 1 reception against the Arizona Cardinals where he topped out at 22.73 mph for the 49ers’ first touchdown of the season.
The next week, Mostert wasted no time and went even faster.
He took the first play from scrimmage to the house, blowing past the New York Jets’ defense up the right sideline for an 80-yard score.
The turf that Mostert shredded on his way to a touchdown turned into a major detriment for the 49ers. Mostert and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo missed multiple weeks with injuries sustained against the Jets in their Week 2 game at MetLife Stadium, while defensive ends Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas suffered season-ending injuries. The 49ers were in East Rutherford, N.J., again the following week to take on the Giants and they once again endured a major injury, this time to tight end Jordan Reed. The injuries continued in a Week 4 Thursday Night Football contest between the Broncos and Jets, and Mostert had seen enough.
Mostert’s injury woes continued in 2021, as the running back suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 49ers’ win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
After Mostert, the next-fastest player was Kenyan Drake, who eclipsed 22 mph on a 69-yard touchdown run against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6 of last season.
Two prominent receivers also made the top 10 list for 2020. Hill put up his fastest play of the season in Week 14 with a 44-yard touchdown reception in Miami, while Metcalf came in at No. 10 with his 6-yard touchdown reception against the Arizona Cardinals. It was not the most impressive play he made with his wheels in that game, though:
Metcalf has also put his speed to the test on the track. He participated in the USA Track and Field Golden Games in May and posted a 10.36-second time in the men’s 100m. For context, that time was faster than 15 Olympians’ from the 100m heats at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Two more players featured in the top 10 from 2020 are cornerbacks. Davis posted his top speed on a 78-yard pick-six, while Diggs’ came on an interception in the end zone.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, former Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller and Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown were among the players who just missed the cut for the top 10.
Who is the fastest NFL player of all time?
Next Gen Stats were not around in the days of Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson or even Chris Johnson. John Ross has the fastest 40-yard dash time in NFL combine history, but that only marks players’ speeds before they enter the league and electronic timers were introduced in 1999.
There’s no empirical way to determine the fastest players prior to 2016, but what we can determine is the fastest ball carrier of the Next Gen Stats era. That distinction belongs to Hill, who got up to 23.24 mph on a kickoff return against the Houston Texans. Hill and Mostert are the only players to exceed 23 mph with the football in their hands since Next Gen Stats started tracking speed.
"Cheetah" reached the end zone on his record-setting play, but what could have been a 105-yard touchdown was brought back because of a penalty in a crucial spot in the game.
Hill has made a habit of breezing past defenders during his six NFL seasons, but he has set loftier goals for showcasing his speed. The Chiefs receiver has talked trash to the fastest man of all time, Usain Bolt, and the two have even brought up the idea of racing each other.
Bolt’s fastest recorded speed on the track was 27.78 mph during the 100m at the 2009 IAAF World Championships, so it’s possible Hill could be on the receiving end of a peace sign taunt from Bolt if the two ever went toe-to-toe.