Leistikow: Fast 40 times by Josh Jackson, Josey Jewell should ease NFL concerns

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Last week, as my conversation with Chris Doyle wound down, I had to ask: What does Iowa’s longtime, revered strength and conditioning coach really think of the NFL Scouting Combine?

The question was posed in the context of the perception that outgoing Hawkeye cornerback Josh Jackson was being supposedly dinged for his time of 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Doyle’s reply?

Josh Jackson is shown running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine on March 5. Jackson, a likely first-round pick in next month's NFL Draft, timed faster at Iowa's Pro Day on March 26.

“Turn on the tape,” he said simply. “What did he do on film? How does he play? I just think there’s a little bit (of an) unrealistic emphasis put on some arbitrary physical tests.”

The 40 is something Doyle oversees only once a year ... on Iowa's Pro Day.

That day was Monday.

Doyle understands — as do the players that take part in the so-called “Underwear Olympics” — that some NFL teams and scouts put more stock into 40-yard dash times than he would.

So, for that reason alone, it's become important.

Mock Draft: Latest USA TODAY outlook for first round 

And it’s why Monday’s straight-line speed performances at Iowa’s Pro Day should eliminate apprehension that NFL decision-makers may have in where they draft the Hawkeyes’ two reigning consensus all-Americans: Jackson and linebacker Josey Jewell.

Jewell said he ran 4.68 seconds in Monday’s 40, a significant improvement from the 4.82 that he recorded at Indianapolis earlier this month. (He even saw the 4.68 written down, so he felt good that the 39 NFL personnel in attendance got something similar.)

“A 4.68 I’m fine with,” Jewell said, grinning. “Let’s hope those other guys got the same time.”

Jackson did not participate in optional media interviews Monday, but Blair Sanderson of Rivals.com reported that Jackson clocked in with 40-yard times of 4.52 and 4.54 seconds — upgrades from his marks of 4.56 and 4.60 in Indy. Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com reported even better times for the ball-hawking corner.

"I’m told most watches had him in the mid to low 4.4’s with some timing him as fast as 4.42," he wrote.

Do two- to four-hundredths of a second really make a difference?

Should they make a difference?

“A lot of people outside put a lot of stress on the 40, which is totally fine,” Jewell said Monday. “I mean, it’s going to be how fast you can run in a straight line, which I don’t know if you always do that on a football field. Probably not, depending on if you’re a wide receiver.”

For Jewell, an improved 40 probably isn't going to wildly affect his draft position. He’s projected to go in the middle rounds either way. Some franchise should be (and likely will be) smart enough to draft the ultra-productive, tough, football-fast linebacker from Decorah.

For Jackson, the uptick in measured speed could be worth hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars. It's a stop-watch position.

According to Spotrac.com, which does a great job tracking NFL salaries, the No. 14 pick owned by the Green Bay Packers — middle first round — will merit a contract worth roughly $13.8 million (including $8.1 million guaranteed).

Late first round? The money is more like $9.5 million, with $5 million guaranteed.

Early second round? It drops to a ballpark of $7 million, with $3 million guaranteed.

It’s interesting how much this all really means.

After the Combine, mock drafts dropped Jackson into the late first round. NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks termed the Hawkeye the top Combine “Loser” among defensive backs, pointing out the “pedestrian” 40 time and adding, “He didn't look comfortable with his turns and transitions, and his upright stance could be an issue as a young player."

At the same time, though, Jackson ran a 4.03-second time in the 20-yard shuttle in Indianapolis — probably a more relevant measure for a position that stops and starts frequently. That was fifth-best among corners at the Combine.

Brooks did add this, though: “While most scouts will trust the evaluations compiled off film study, this disappointing showing is a definite setback for the potential first-rounder heading into the pro day circuit."

That brings us to Monday. And that's why Jackson getting to 4.52 — or better — on Pro Day should allow teams to relax and focus on his tape.

And that’s where Jackson shines. He racked up eight interceptions and 27 passes defended last fall. Nothing pedestrian about that.

Bottom line: Jackson remains one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL Draft. After Monday's performance, he took a step in ensuring his spot in the first round.

If so, for Jackson, Monday will go down as a pretty good day.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.