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Grantland: Cleveland Browns NFL's 5th Fastest Team

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Bill Barnwell at Grantland.com recently rated the Cleveland Browns the 5th fastest team in the NFL.

Andrew Hawkins
Andrew Hawkins
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns ranked as the 5th fastest team in the league, just behind the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Washington Redskins, and the speed champion Tennessee Titans. The St. Louis Rams, Indianapolis Colts, and Miami Dolphins ranked right behind the Browns, while the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, and New England Patriots were rated as the five slowest teams in the league.

So, how did Bill Barnwell arrive at these rankings? He used 40 yard dash times from NflDraftScout.com and NFLCombineResults.com. He decided not to consider the "slower" positions along the offensive and defensive lines and did not include linebackers either. He also wanted to focus on players that saw the field a lot and not allow a team that stockpiles speedy projects on the back end of its roster to skew the rankings. Here's how he described the methods he used:

I took each NFL team and grabbed 10 players from each: their likely starters at quarterback (1), running back (2), wide receiver (2), tight end (1), cornerback (2), and safety (2). I used a player’s 40 time from the combine when available, and when one wasn’t, I used that player’s pro day. To adjust for the ravages of time, I added two-hundredths of a second for each year since a player’s arrival into the league. So, with 15 years under his belt, Champ Bailey’s 4.28 40 from the 1999 combine becomes a 4.58 40-yard dash. Some players will have been affected by injuries and age more than others, but I think it’s a reasonable best-fit assumption to make.

Okay, that gives us a general idea of what players he likely considered when rating the Browns, but let's take a closer look:

1 Quarterback: Brian Hoyer's time would have come out to 5.12 after adjusting it for how many years he's been in the NFL. The author likely used Johnny Manziel's much lower 4.63, considering we ended up ranking 5th place in his speed rankings. For comparison, Tom Brady's 5.28 in the year 2000 converts to a 5.56 after age-adjustment. Yikes!

Brian Hoyer 5.02 = age adjusted 5.12
Johnny Manziel 4.63
Rex Grossman 5.06 = age adjusted 5.28
Connor Shaw 4.62

2 Running Backs: Ben Tate's adjusted 4.51 and Terrance West's 4.50 probably have us in the middle of the pack for running back speed. Last year, Willis McGahee would have counted as a 4.65 due to age with Chris Ogbonnaya also at 4.65. Quite a difference.

Ben Tate 4.43 = age adjusted 4.51
Terrance West 4.50
Isaiah Crowell 4.53
Edwin Baker 4.40 = age adjusted 4.44
Dion Lewis 4.45 = age adjusted 4.51
Chris Ogbonnaya 4.57 = age adjusted 4.67

2 Wide Receivers: My guess is that Barnwell used Josh Gordon's age-adjusted 4.58 and Andrew Hawkins' 4.50 as our WR times. If he considered Gordon to be suspended, then he probably would have picked Miles Austin and his 4.63. The fact that Gordon and Austin have numbers within five hundredths of a second from each other seems mind-boggling to me and does not seem to reflect what we see on the field.

Josh Gordon 4.54  = age adjusted 4.58
Andrew Hawkins 4.38 = age adjusted 4.50
Miles Austin 4.47 = age adjusted 4.63
Anthony Armstrong 4.38 = age adjusted 4.56
Nate Burleson 4.51 = age adjusted 4.73
Charles Johnson 4.41 = age adjusted 4.41
Travis Benjamin 4.31 = age adjusted 4.35
Taylor Gabriel 4.40
Willie Snead 4.62

1 Tight End: Jordan Cameron would have been the only tight end included with his age-adjusted 4.59. That's impressive speed for a tight end, but Cameron's elite agility and well-above-average cutting ability are what make him really special.

Jordan Cameron 4.53 = age adjusted 4.59
MarQueis Gray 4.68 = age adjusted 4.70
Jim Dray 4.82 = age adjusted 4.88
Gary Barnidge 4.61 = age adjusted 4.71
Emmanuel Ogbuehi 4.70 = age adjusted 4.72

2 Cornerbacks: Joe Haden would have been included with a 4.60. The second corner could have been either Buster Skrine or Justin Gilbert at 4.43 or 4.37 respectively. Another possibility is that Barnwell used the 4.31 time that NFL Draft Scout has for Gilbert, even though he ran a 4.37 at the combine.

Joe Haden 4.52 = age adjusted 4.60
Buster Skrine 4.37 = age adjusted 4.43
Justin Gilbert 4.37
Pierre Desir 4.52
Isaiah Trufant 4.31 = age adjusted 4.47
Leon McFadden 4.50 = age adjusted 4.52

2 Safeties: Donte Whitner with a 4.56 and Tashaun Gipson at 4.66 are the likely inclusions at safety. It's possible that Jordan Poyer was given the nod, as he was getting tons of first team reps in Gipson's injury absence. Poyer's 4.52 would certainly help our speed rating.

Donte Whitner 4.40 = age adjusted 4.56
Tashaun Gipson 4.62 = age adjusted 4.66
Jordan Poyer 4.50 = age adjusted 4.52
Jim Leonhard 4.63 = age adjusted 4.81
Josh Aubrey 4.48 = age adjusted 4.50
Johnson Bademosi 4.46 = age adjusted 4.50

Speedsters Not Considered in This Study: A few noteworthy things here: OLB Barkevious Mingo and ILB Chris Kirksey have times better than several defensive backs and receivers...and a few guys named Josh Gordon, Johnny Manziel, and Joe Haden. (Now, there are disputes about both Gordon's and Haden's 40 times -- Haden's due to hamstring issues at the Combine and Gordon's due to lack of proper training and preparation for the Supplemental Draft -- but still, these are the numbers we have to go by.) It's also interesting to note that 10-year veteran Karlos "Old Man" Dansby, Jabaal Sheard, and Armonty Bryant all have lower adjusted times than Craig Robertson and that DT Billy Winn slips in ahead of OLB Paul Kruger. Oh, and Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, and Desmond Bryant are freaks.

ILB Chris Kirksey 4.59
ILB Karlos Dansby 4.56 = age adjusted 4.76
ILB Craig Robertson 4.75 = adjusted 4.81
OLB Barkevious Mingo 4.53 = adjusted 4.55
OLB Jabaal Sheard 4.68 = age adjusted 4.74
DE Armonty Bryant 4.78 = age adjusted 4.80
OLB Paul Kruger 4.83 = age adjusted 4.93
DT Billy Winn 4.86 = age adjusted 4.90
DT Desmond Bryant 4.92 = age adjusted 5.02
LG Joel Bitonio 4.92
OT Joe Thomas 4.92 = age adjusted 5.06

My Take:

Personally, I find this study interesting but I question some of its methods and assumptions. I can understand not including offensive and defensive linemen, but I think linebackers should be included when considering team speed. Sure, these guys are rarely the fastest players on the field, but their speed or lack thereof has an enormous impact on the functional speed of the defense. Do receivers get a chance to make a move before a defender closes on them on short passes over the middle? Can running backs get to the perimeter and get north-and-south before they make their first contact? The speed of a team's linebackers has a huge impact in these and many other situations.

Additionally, there's no standardized measurement of player speed once they're in the NFL -- which makes quantifying and ranking team speed difficult at best -- and the course of players' careers varies so widely that attempting to adjust pre-draft 40 yard dash times for age seems doomed to horrible inaccuracy. I can buy that Miles Austin is a 4.65 or slower guy now but what about Anthony Armstrong at 4.58? He certainly seems more than a step faster than Austin but this adjusted time suggests otherwise. Bill Barnwell addressed these issues and concerns in his article, even to the point of calling his own method "arbitrary", but this still reminds me of having issues with Madden™ ratings as a kid (okay, I still have a problem with them every new year they come out).

Anyways, those are just my thoughts, what do you guys think? Are the Cleveland Browns the 5th fastest team in the NFL? Faster? Slower? How should we measure team speed? Or should we just give up and go back to racing snails on the sidewalk?