Ted Ginn Jr. might have bolted for New Orleans, but most Carolina Panthers veterans agree this year’s team might be one of the fastest in recent memory.
What remains a topic of debate in the locker room: Which player is the fastest?
That depends in part on whether you’re judging on straight-ahead speed or playing speed.
Former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was more interested the latter, putting more stock in a player’s speed when wearing pads and helmets rather than “how fast a guy goes 40 yards in his underwear.”
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These Panthers have players that check both boxes.
Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey ran the 40 in 4.48 seconds at the combine this year. But given the burst McCaffrey showed during the preseason, the No. 8 overall pick somehow looks even a little faster in pads.
The Panthers’ training camp roster featured 40-yard burners (second-round pick Curtis Samuel ran 4.31 at the combine), former track stars (Damiere Byrd, Teddy Williams and Trevor Graham Jr.), sneaky fast runners (safety Colin Jones) and guys who haven’t forgotten how they were labeled as slow (Devin Funchess).
The 6-4 Funchess weighed 232 leaving Michigan in 2015, and some scouts wondered if he might be better suited as a tight end than a receiver in the NFL.
He did nothing to change that perception with a slow 40 time (4.70 seconds) at the combine, when he says he was dealing with a couple of injuries.
“I know y’all don’t think I’m fast because of what I did at the combine and all that stuff with a broken toe and pulled hammy (hamstring). But I’m pretty fast,” Funchess told reporters at training camp this year.
Funchess came back a few weeks later with a 4.48-second clocking at Michigan’s pro day. A couple of months later the Panthers traded their second-, third- and sixth-round picks to move up and take Funchess at No. 41 overall.
Determining the fastest Panther by their pre-draft 40 times is one way to settle the debate. Wideout Byrd would be the winner in that case: The former South Carolina wideout/sprinter ran a 4.28 at the Gamecocks’ pro day in 2015 – on grass.
A couple of players had another idea – a 4-x-100 relay race at training camp featuring select wideouts against the defensive back counterparts.
It never materialized.
But Funchess was certain of one group at Wofford he could beat in a foot race – the assembled media members asking about his speed.
“When you come line up against me,” Funchess said, “you’ll see.”
A look at some of the fastest Panthers’ players, based on their pre-draft 40-yard dash results (times listed in seconds):
Sources: NFL.com combine and pro day results.
*–Williams reportedly ran a 4.31, according to several Dallas media outlets.
**–Nfldraftscout.com reported Peppers ran times of 4.64 and 4.74 at UNC pro day in 2002.