INDIANAPOLIS | Wanting to post a time that would bolster his case as a first-round draft choice and increase the possibility of sneaking into the top 20, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any receiver Sunday at the NFL scouting combine.
Heyward-Bey's time of 4.30 seconds was tied for the second best since 2000 with Kansas State's Yamon Figurs (2007) and trailed only Hampton's Jerome Mathis (4.28 in 2004).
Outrunning three of the four receivers rated in front of him is certainly a plus for Heyward-Bey. But as happens every year at the combine, the importance of the 40-yard dash is being debated.
The consensus is that it's important but not as vital as the game tapes.
"The 40 time is one part of many," Washington Redskins director of player personnel Scott Campbell said last week. "You always have to weigh how fast they play on tape and how fast they are on the watch. In football, you're wearing pads and reacting to the play, and there are people trying to tackle you."
Heyward-Bey, who hoped to run in the 4.3-4.4 range and was not available for comment, may have distinguished himself from the other top receivers. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree didn't run because of a stress fracture, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks injured a hamstring, Missouri's Jeremy Maclin ran a 4.4 and Florida's Percy Harvin a 4.41.
No receiver was selected in last year's first round (10 went in the second round) but this year's class is not only deep in talent but in speed as well.
"This group ran amazingly well," Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said after the workout. "There were some amazing times. We know two things - it's a fast track, and we have bunch of fast receivers. That's all to the good. It will be interesting to go through the tape in greater detail than I have already and really break these guys down because when you find that kind of speed, it's a rare commodity. Clearly, it's a good group. Very deep and very exciting."
The days of the workout warrior climbing into the top 10 and making millions just because he had a few good months in shorts and a T-shirt are probably over. There won't be any Mike Mamula stories. The Boston College defensive end had a great winter and was drafted seventh overall by Philadelphia in 1995 but lasted only five years.
Heyward-Bey confirmed at the combined he can run fast. His next task during individual workouts is showing he has consistent hands. Catching the ball during the workout and then being forced to make an immediate cut or show improved route-running skills often can be more of a factor than the 40 time.
"You need to get a player at the position who can run, stop and adjust and has the skills to catch and run, can run and ad-lib," Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "That will project to whatever system that you have."
Heyward-Bey's 40 time may force teams picking in the 13-25 range to give him a second look. What teams see on Maryland's tape ultimately will contribute to the decision.
"How fast they run, how high they jump - that becomes part of the equation," Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "But it's still all about how they play the game."
Combining the film and the 40 time could help a team finalize a decision on Heyward-Bey.
"Some guys are faster in pads," Campbell said last week. "But it's nice when you're drafting a guy high and he has the fast time - it makes you feel better about the pick, knowing he ran a 4.4 and knowing you saw him play fast."