10 Fastest Players in NFL History
Swifter, higher, stronger. The motto for the Olympic Games applies to all sports, including football; players with all three of these attributes are more likely to succeed at the highest level, as we’ll see this Sunday when Philadelphia and Kansas City lock horns at Super Bowl LVII. But who are the fastest players in NFL history?
It’s impossible to fully separate the gifts of speed, leaping ability and strength, but if you happen to be a running back, wide receiver or cornerback, getting downfield as quickly as possible is paramount. And if you’re a returner, you’d better have a pair of rockets strapped to your feet.
That’s how Desmond Howard won Super Bowl XXXI for the Green Bay Packers. Howard took a kick-off 99 yards to the house against the New England Patriots, scoring the final points in a 35-21 win for the Packers and earning the Super Bowl MVP award for his efforts.
Speed is also a big reason why Kansas City acquired WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the offseason. He’s one of the fastest players in the league; Valdes-Scantling was clocked at 22.09 mph last year while playing for the Packers in Week 11, the top speed recorded for any wideout during the 2021 campaign.
But is Valdes-Scantling one of the fastest players in NFL history? Tracking technology wasn’t around when the Super Bowl was launched in 1966-67, so we can’t say for certain, but our latest top 10 here at Bodog Sportsbook features the most dangerous speed merchants ever to play in the Big Game, working backwards in time and starting with the man Valdes-Scantling was hired to replace.
1. Tyreek Hill (LIV, LV)
The man they call “Cheetah” may very well be the fastest player the league as ever seen. He plies his trade for the Miami Dolphins now, reaching a career-high 22.6 mph earlier this year, but Hill is better known for his previous six years of work with Kansas City, where he made the Pro Bowl each season and racked up 105 yards on nine catches in their Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers. Hill was also named as the punt returner for the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team, although he’s been used primarily as a wideout in the 2020s.
2. Champ Bailey (XLVIII)
Bailey was a star track-and-field athlete at Georgia as well as a triple-threat for the Bulldogs on offense, defense and special teams. He blew everyone away at the 1999 NFL Combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.28, and eventually got to show off that speed at cornerback for the Denver Broncos at Super Bowl XLVIII. Bailey had four tackles that day, but his Broncos lost 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks.
3. Ted Ginn Jr. (XLVII, 50)
A wideout and returner for six different teams in his 14-year career, Ginn was a national champion in the 110m hurdles at Ohio State, and he was part of the blazing-fast Carolina Panthers team that couldn’t quite get the job done versus Denver at Super Bowl 50, despite Ginn’s four catches for 74 yards.
4. Randy Moss (XLII, XLVII)
Yet another track sensation (and a centre fielder) at Marshall, Moss posted a 4.25 40-yard dash at the 1998 Combine – and it was just a taste of things to come. Moss still holds the NFL record with 23 touchdowns in 2007, but Super Bowl success eluded him; he and Ginn were both on the San Francisco team that lost to the Baltimore Ravens at Super Bowl XLVII, and Moss was on the near-perfect Patriots team that got tripped up by the New York Giants five years earlier.
5. Devin Hester (XLI)
After starring in both football and track for the Miami Hurricanes, Hester made his name as a return specialist for the Chicago Bears, and owns the NFL career records for punt return TDs (14) and total return TDs (20). He returned the opening kick-off for a touchdown at Super Bowl XLI – the fastest TD in Super Bowl history at 0:14 of the first quarter – but it wasn’t enough as the Bears lost to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
6. Deion Sanders (XXIX, XXX)
Sanders was a multi-sport beast both at Florida State and as a pro, playing nine years in Major League Baseball when he wasn’t busy winning Super Bowls – first with the Niners, then with the Dallas Cowboys the following season. Arguably the greatest cornerback in NFL history, Sanders might also be the league’s fastest player ever, clocking an unofficial 4.21 in the 40-yard dash at the 1989 Combine.
7. Willie Gault (XX)
One of two members on our list from the immortal 1985 Chicago Bears, Gault won gold for Team USA in the 4x100m relay at the 1983 World Championships (Carl Lewis was the anchor), then parlayed those skills to become Chicago’s top wideout. Gault racked up 129 yards at Super Bowl XX on just four catches in their rout of the Patriots, and went on to post world record times into his 50s competing in Masters athletics.
8. Walter Payton (XX)
Still considered the greatest running back of all time, Payton had more success as a kick returner in his 1975 rookie campaign; two years later, “Sweetness” was named league MVP. And while he was held to just 61 yards on 22 carries at Super Bowl XX, Payton drew multiple double- and triple-teams from New England’s defense, clearing the way for the Bears to win 46-10.
9. Darrell Green (XVIII, XXII, XXVI)
Before Deion Sanders, there was Darrell Green. He’s the leading candidate as fastest player in NFL history, running an unofficial 4.15 in the 40-yard dash back in 1983 and winning the NFL’s Fastest Man competition four times in four attempts. Green played 20 years for Washington as a star cornerback and punt returner, winning two Super Bowls (XXII, XXVI) and reaching the Hall of Fame in 2008.
10. Bob Hayes (V, VI)
And then there was “Bullet Bob” Hayes, the only athlete ever to win both Olympic gold and the Super Bowl. Hayes set the world record at the 1964 Tokyo Games with a 10.06 in the 100m, and may have been even faster leading Team USA to a comeback victory at the 4x100m relay. After leading the league in touchdown catches in 1965 and 1966 for the Dallas Cowboys, the talented split end/wide receiver went on to play a minor role at the tail end of his career in their Super Bowl VI win over the Miami Dolphins.