He’s a longshot to make anything more than the practice squad, but Dan Chisena is bound to open a few eyes during training camp next month. The former Penn State wide receiver, special-teams player and track star signed with the Vikings in May as an undrafted free agent. Speed has always been his calling card, and his 4.32 time in the 40 will get him noticed at the TCO Performance Center.
As humans, we have a natural fascination with the biggest, fastest and strongest of our species. This is particularly true in sports, where the biggest, fastest and strongest seem to converge — sometimes all at the same time in one freakish athlete. Outside of the Olympic Games, this is most evident in the NFL, where college athletes are timed and measured at the NFL Scouting Combine each winter in advance of the NFL Draft.
Chisena’s 4.32 time in the 40 would have been the second-fastest time at this year’s combine, behind only the blistering 4.27 posted by Henry Ruggs III.
If by some chance Chisena made the Vikings, he would be among the fastest players in franchise history. Naturally, that begs the question: who actually is the fastest player in Vikings history?
The easiest and most popular answer to that question would be Randy Moss, and it’s probably correct. However, I would be negligent in my journalistic duties if I didn’t do a little digging to see if I could unearth some data to either support or dispute that assertion.
NFL Next-Gen Stats technology, which enables the speed of players to be tracked in real-time during games via computer chips in their shoulder pads, has only been around since 2016. The league publishes the results of the 20 fastest ball-carriers each season, whether they clocked their speeds on offense or returning a kick or turnover.
Only three Vikings have cracked the Top 20 in the last four seasons.
Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes recorded the fourth and sixth-fastest rates in 2016, while Dalvin Cook had the second-fastest rate in 2018. For context, Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs owns the fastest recorded speed by NGS (23.24 in 2016). It’s also worth noting that former Viking Cordarrelle Patterson had the second-best speed in 2020 (22.23).
Of course, the usefulness of this data is limited, as it only accounts for plays on which the player had the ball in his hands. And in our quest to find the fastest Vikings player dating back to 1961, four years worth of limited speed data doesn’t provide a satisfactory answer.
The next place I turned in my search for the fastest Viking was 40 times from the combine. Pro Football Reference has combine results dating back to 2000. You can find NFL Combine data going back to 1987 if you do even a little digging, but it’s not sortable. Also, the combine began in 1982, so we’re missing a few years of 40 times.
The trouble with the 40-time data is also pretty obvious. It was one clocked run on one day before their NFL careers even started. Maybe they got faster in their prime. Maybe they had a bad day at the combine. For instance, Adrian Peterson was recovering from a broken collarbone when he ran his 40, and his half-brother had been murdered the night before the combine, so he wasn’t operating at full capacity. He has also run sub-4.4 times in the 40.
For the record, Moss clocked a 4.38 time in the 40 in 1998, which is ridiculous for someone who’s over 6’3″. However, who knows if he was going at top speed or if he ran just fast enough. He played when he wanted to play, after all. Maybe he did the same at the combine.
I would also cite Robert Smith’s time of 4.47 in 1993 as further evidence of the lack of utility in observing 40 times as the ultimate gauge for speed. Smith was a college track star who once ran the 100 meters in 10.24 seconds. Smith was a long-strider as a runner and was probably better at longer distances than 40 yards. The same was probably true of Moss.
Qadry “The Missile” Ismail was drafted along with Smith in 1993 and was also one of the fastest Vikings of that era; however, his 4.49 time in the 40 disputes that theory. Did they have a slow gun at the combine in 1993, or what was the deal?
Oh, and remember Herschel Walker?
Walker once ran the 100 meters in 10.23, just a hundredth of a second faster than Smith. Plus, he claims he was still running the 40 in 4.3 when he was 53. Herschel liked talking about Herschel, so who knows how valid that 40 time might be.
Finding more data gets more problematic the further we go back.
Gene Washington played wide receiver for the Vikings from 1967-72. In 1965, he was the NCAA Indoor Champion for the 60-yard hurdles. Try finding a sprint time for him. Good luck. Besides, everyone knows that athletes today are just faster and bigger than they were in the 1960s and 1970s.
Moreover, players tend to slow down once they get the pads on anyway, so what good are 40 times or 100-meter times?
The truth is, we’re probably not going to get a definitive answer to our question because all our avenues for doing so are flawed.
What I do know is that few players in NFL history appeared to be so effortlessly faster than everyone else on the field than Moss. He played the game at a different speed. Until modern technology is able to go back and clock players’ speed based on old game film, I feel pretty comfortable in suggesting he was the fastest to ever wear a Vikings uniform. His third touchdown (on three receptions) against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day in 1998 might be the only proof I need.
Think you have the angle on him? Think again.
Feel free to disagree.
Also, is there anyone I missed from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s who warrants recognition among the fastest Vikings? Let me know on Twitter.
Obvious next question: Is Michael Pierce the strongest Vikings player of all-time? Best of luck determining an answer to that one.