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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 is the fastest player in the NFL for 2021?
Here are the NFL’s fastest ball carriers in the 2021 regular season so far (via Next Gen Stats):
Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos RB: 21.52 mph
Sammy Watkins, Baltimore Ravens WR: 21.05 mph
Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens WR: 21.01 mph
Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears RB: 20.88 mph
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears RB: 20.80 mph
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals RB: 20.66 mph
Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans WR: 20.62 mph
Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders WR: 20.62 mph
Isaiah McKenzie, Buffalo Bills WR: 20.52 mph
Anthony Schwartz, Cleveland Browns WR: 20.43 mph
Gordon set the top mark with a 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put a nail in the New York Giants’ coffin. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson nearly caught him at the goal line, but Gordon still blazed his way into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
The second-, third- and fourth-fastest times from Week 1 all came from different play situations. Watkins’ play came on a reception, Duvernay’s came on a punt return and Herbert’s came on a kickoff return.
Who was the fastest NFL player in 2020?
With just a one-week sample size for 2021, the 2020 data offers a more comprehensive glimpse at the fastest players in the league.
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.
Mostert takes it 76 yards to the 🏠pic.twitter.com/jgB3PstYUH
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) September 13, 2020
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.
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2020
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.
ANOTHER injury at MetLife? Shocker. The turf is horrible!! Shut that field down, @nfl.
— Raheem Mostert (@RMos_8Ball) October 2, 2020
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:
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) October 26, 2020
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.
On Sept.18, 2016 @cheetah reached a speed of 23.24 mph on a 105-yard kickoff return against the Texans. Unfortunately it was nullified by a holding penalty against Chiefs. Still to this day is the fastest ball carrier speed ever recorded by @NextGenStats 🐆✌️ pic.twitter.com/fKl4Y8bsG5
— Brad Henson (@bradleychenson) May 19, 2021
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.