The 40-yard dash is one of the standard tests used to measure the speed and explosiveness of college football players (and athletes in general).
It’s performed at the NFL Combine each year with the top college prospects in the country as well as at schools and camps all over the country.
I went through 20 years of data on college football 40-yard dashes with teams that I’ve worked with, combined with numbers from other strength coaches, and have broken it down by position into ranges of what’s considered “good”.
Before we get into the numbers, please understand that “good” is very relative.
For example, if you’re a high school sophomore you most likely will not stack up to the numbers listed below and that’s okay. You still have a lot of development and maturing to do and your 40 will improve quite a bit over the next couple of years with proper training.
Also, you’re going to find a difference depending on what level of college football you’re examining. Average times at an SEC school are generally going to be lower than what you may find at a D2 or D3 school.
Next, while these are broken down by position, size is still a huge factor when evaluating what a good 40 time is.
I’ve coached Defensive Ends who were 215 pounds and I’ve coached Defensive Ends who were 285 pounds. All else being equal, a 215-pound athlete is likely to have a much better 40-yard dash time.
40-yard Dash Numbers By Position
|College 40 Ranges by Position|
|Quarterback||> 5.01||4.90 – 5.01||4.78 – 4.89||4.60 – 4.77||< 4.60|
|Running Back||> 4.81||4.72 – 4.81||4.63 – 4.71||4.56 – 4.62||< 4.56|
|Wide Receiver||> 4.79||4.71 – 4.79||4.61 – 4.70||4.53 – 4.60||< 4.53|
|Tight End||> 5.05||4.93 – 5.05||4.81 – 4.92||4.70 – 4.80||< 4.70|
|Offensive Line||> 5.48||5.38 – 5.48||5.28 – 5.37||5.18 – 5.27||< 5.18|
|Safety||> 4.87||4.79 – 4.87||4.66 – 4.78||4.58 – 4.65||< 4.58|
|Cornerback||> 4.75||4.68 – 4.75||4.56 – 4.67||4.48 – 4.55||< 4.48|
|Linebacker||> 4.94||4.85 – 4.94||4.70 – 4.84||4.60 – 4.69||< 4.60|
|Defensive Ends||> 4.97||4.88 – 4.97||4.77 – 4.87||4.65 – 4.76||< 4.65|
|Defensive Tackles||> 5.44||5.32 – 5.44||5.20 – 5.31||5.07 – 5.19||< 5.07|
What Do The Categories Mean?
The terminology I used for each category was Reserve, Starter, All-Conference, All-American and NFL Athlete.
These are just categories that I found resonated well with our players. They don’t carry any deeper analytical meaning though. They could easily be Elite, Above Average, etc.
Where Do These Numbers Come From?
The number ranges are rooted in historical data that I’ve accumulated over the course of my career.
Other input like NFL Combine Data, testing data that our coaching staff had acquired in their careers and feedback we received from peers in the strength and conditioning field are also considered.
Finally, when looking at the category ranges understand that they are not designed to be evenly distributed.
Most of the guys on our team would fall into the Starter or All-Conference categories (freshmen often fell into Reserve or Starter). Fewer players would achieve All-American level and fewer still would reach NFL Athlete.
Why Do Colleges Test The 40?
At every college that I worked at, each year we would have about half a dozen camps on campus. Other than height, weight and reach there were usually only two physical tests given – the 40 and the Broad Jump.
Both the 40 and the Broad Jump are really good indicators of power, explosiveness and acceleration.
But, there is another reason they are used so often by colleges that goes beyond the data that they can provide. They are both quick and easy to run and record.
I’ve been a part of camps that had over 500 players at it. Even with a large amount of staff, testing 500-plus athletes quickly and efficiently can be a challenge.
The 40 is simple to set up and multiple lanes can easily be set up on the field. This allows for a large number of athletes to test in a relatively short amount of time.
These are the reasons you should expect to be tested when at a college camp.
How Can I Improve My 40?
So, if you know you’re going to be tested in the 40, what are some ways you can improve your jump?
The quickest way to improve your 40 time is to improve your technique – specifically the start.
Lining up in your defensive end stance is not the most advantageous way to start a sprint.
There is too much to cover here, but if you’d like more details on ways to lower your 40 through technique and speed training, then check out my article on improving your 40 time.
The other way to improve your 40 is by getting stronger and more powerful in the weight room and utilizing plyometrics to help learn how to apply that force.
I’m a big believer in using the Olympic lifts (ex. Power Clean, Hang Snatch) to develop power in athletes. I’m also a big believer in building a foundation of strength and then ultimately incorporating velocity-based training to maximize power output ability.
If you’re a high school athlete reading this, focus on learning proper Olympic lifting technique, work on getting stronger without compromising form and include some jump training (plyos) into your workouts.
Jump training can include things like Box Jumps, Bounding and Power Skips.
For more info, here are my favorite lower body exercises for football players. All of those exercises can help with improving your 40-time.
Bonus Tips for Attending a College Football Camp
I want to leave you with a few tips if you’re planning on attending a college football camp.
I’ve probably done over 100 camps and been in the room with football staff as we evaluate the players we saw at camp that day. Some of the same things always come up that have nothing to do with physical ability.
I want to share a few of those with you to hopefully give you an edge at your next camp.
When Possible, Be First in Line
You don’t need to be obnoxious and start a scuffle with other players, but if at all possible, try to be first in line. Do that consistently enough throughout the day and you’ll catch the attention of coaches.
You may have a bad play. You may slip during a drill. You may have hated what they served for lunch.
Don’t let those kinds of negative things affect your attitude. Try to always stay positive, encourage your fellow campers and have fun playing football.
Work Hard at Everything
No football player (that I’m aware of) has ever been recruited because coaches thought they were cool. While other players are going through the motions during the warm-up, listen and execute each movement.
When doing a drill that might not apply to “your position”, don’t blow it off. Look at every drill as an opportunity to get better and it will get noticed.
I’m not saying doing those things is going to get you a scholarship. Let’s be honest, if you run a 6.48 those things aren’t going to help that much.
What I am saying, is every year I see a few players who got onto our recruiting boards because we thought they would make a positive influence on the culture of our team. It happens.
The 40 is one of the most popular physical tests done at the college football and NFL level and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Knowing what a good 40 number is at your position is a great way to set goals and use them as motivation.
Just remember, if you’re still a few years away from college, your scores may still have a lot of improvement left to go, but don’t let that discourage you!
Work hard, work smart and you’ll see your 40-time continue to improve.