DK Metcalf, a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, has committed to running in the men’s 100 metres at the USATF Golden Games track competition on Sunday. If you’re using victories and defeats as your yardsticks for success, you should be prepared to see him get washed.
To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Metcalf, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound anomaly who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the 2019 NFL Combine.
Yet this weekend he will compete against Ronnie Baker, who has already run 9.94 metres this year, and Toronto’s Bismark Boateng, who ran 10.17 metres last week. He hasn’t done track since high school and doesn’t have any publicly verifiable 100-meter times.
Those two, along with the other serious Olympic contenders in the race, will likely win the event and place ahead of Metcalf. That’s the gap between fast and world-class, though.
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And if you’re giving Metcalf a grade based on how close he gets to 9.88 seconds, be ready to be let down. Those 9.88-second claims have no basis in actual race times. It’s the estimated time in the 100 metres that a football writer derived from the GPS data collected during Metcalf’s famous, end-to-end chase-down tackle of Arizona’s Budda Baker last autumn.
There are too many unknowns to confidently predict an outcome in 9.88 seconds. For instance, you can’t simply take Metcalf’s top speed of 22.64 mph and use it as his average. Metcalf’s top speed averages up to 9.88 seconds in the 100-meter dash, but his peak is significantly faster.
Alternately, we might watch Trayvon Bromell run the 100-meter dash in a world-record 9.88 seconds, beating out a field of elite competitors. Metcalf’s viral walk-down of Baker may have gone viral, but whatever he did, he didn’t come close to Bromell’s top gear.
Even if he doesn’t get close to 9.88 seconds this weekend, we can’t hold that against him. Rather than being a standard, the figure was made up. Metcalf will have had a fantastic day if he can run faster than 10.6 seconds.
Six weeks before the U.S. Olympic trials, the fact that mainstream sports fans are talking about track and field on Twitter shows that Metcalf has already fulfilled half of his goal.
For an early-season track meet, NBC may borrow some of his viewers thanks to his appearance, with the expectation that the spike in viewership will translate into sustained interest in the network’s programming.
Metcalf’s decision to run, if we remove it from the context of the inflated expectations, is old-fashioned in the best possible way, and tremendously gutsy.
A lot of people think NFL players are faster than Olympic sprinters, but putting that theory to the test would be a huge hassle. In the end, Metcalf will be defeated, but he will provide explanations.
If you were a fan of the NFL in the 1980s, you probably remember seeing Herschel Walker compete against the likes of Carl Lewis in the track and field during the offseason. The 1984 Summer Olympics were a great opportunity to see future NFL stars like Ron Brown, Sam Graddy, and Michael Carter earn medals.
And you watched the 60-yard straightaway, electronic starting blocks, and annual NFL’s Fastest Man competition. Certainly no room for doubt. Washington’s future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green was the fastest football player every year, putting an end to any arguments in little over six seconds.
Green, at 50, made a credible claim eleven years ago that he ran 40 yards in 4.43 seconds. He also had track credentials. The 100-meter dash was his specialty, and he won the NCAA Division II championship as a junior.
To put that in perspective, Tyreek Hill is widely considered to be the quickest player in the NFL at the moment, but his personal best of 10.08 seconds puts him more than a tenth of a second ahead of him.
Green, however, joined the NFL in 1983, a time when player earnings were lower and they might supplement their income by competing in off-season novelty competitions like Superstars or World’s Strongest Man.
He was a player in an era before year-round football-specific training was the standard and it was assumed that those in speed positions would maintain their fitness with regular track workouts. The highlight reels of Walker, Bo Jackson, and Deion Sanders all testament to their blazing speed. However, we can estimate how fast their tyres are by examining their track records.
Marquise Goodwin, a receiver for the Chicago Bears, is a hidden gem for football fans looking for a hero on and off the field. Long jump champion at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, he set a world record of 8.45 metres in 2016 before deciding on an Olympic tryout. This year, he’s putting in extra work to make it to the Summer Games before the start of the season.
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Now, the 40-yard dash is seen as more important than track performances when evaluating a player’s speed on the football field, and multi-sport heroes like Jackson, Sanders, and even Goodwin are increasingly rare.
The emphasis on the 40 has contributed to a misleading valuation of speed, as hand-times and isolated sprints indicate little about how a player would actually use his speed during a game. However, football scouts like to stick with tried-and-true criteria, such as the hand-timed 40.
The data gathered from GPS sensors worn by players can shed light on how fast players are actually moving during games, but the results can also be misconstrued.
In one instance, Metcalf reached a top speed of 22.64 miles per hour. With an objective eye, it’s a staggering sum. The vast majority of column readers probably couldn’t ride a bike at that speed. However, sprinters don’t compete over long distances, so that figure can’t accurately reflect competition on the track.
Putting that in track terms, Metcalf ran 10.12 metres per second, which is quicker than 99.9 percent of the human population but still not as fast as 9.88. Take U.S. sprinter Maurice Greene, for example, who ran the 100-meter dash in 9.86 seconds in 1997 and posted splits of 11.67, 11.8 and 11.68 metres per second in the middle of the race.
Though it stands to reason that Metcalf would improve his speed by running on a track without pads, even if we grant him an extra half metre per second and assume (generously, incorrectly) that he can maintain top speed for three seconds, he would reach 31.8 metres. Over the same time period, a 9.86 second sprinter would cover more over 35 metres.
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In a race of 100 metres, that is an insurmountable deficit. This is not a minor calculation error. Fastballs from Steven Matz and Aroldis Chapman.
To pit a greyhound against a cheetah. A top-fuel dragster faces up against a Dodge Charger. All three are swift, but in very different ways.
If Metcalf ends up eating dust on Sunday, I’d like to think that casual track spectators would be understanding of that fact.
Assuming Metcalf is in good shape, he might set some impressive times in the race. Baker and company can improve their pace by focusing on their wellbeing. Faster than the majority of NFL players. In a sprint, they can easily outrun the competition. Expectations that are too high won’t be able to close the gap.