The 5: Cardinals NFL Combine 40-yard dash stars drafted by Steve Keim
The NFL Draft Combine took on quite a different look in 2021 due to COVID-19. Teams traveled to pro days for in-person workouts to get a feel for this year’s draft class instead of holding a an event at a centralized location.
Nonetheless, there was still quite a few standouts, especially when looking at the 40-yard dash times.
The list of potential first-round picks who ran sub-4.40-second dashes includes LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase (4.34), Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore (4.35), Florida receiver Kadarius Toney (4.39), Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (4.39), South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn (4.39) and Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman (4.39).
Taking a stroll through the history books, the Arizona Cardinals sure like nabbing speedsters, especially under the leadership of general manager Steve Keim.
Here are five notable 40-yard dash stars Arizona has ended up drafting, including the most recent to start.
Simmons boosted his already solid draft stock with an impressive 2020 NFL Combine, highlighted by a 4.39-second 40-yard dash.
It marked the second-fastest linebacker time since 2006. Simmons was just .01 seconds behind Shaquem Griffin, who ran a 4.38 in 2018.
The 6-foot-4, 238-pounder also turned in a 39-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump.
“The best thing about the guy for being such a long, gangly athlete, so to speak, is some of these guys that are that long, they have some stiffness or they have some limitations in space,” Keim told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf after drafting Simmons last April.
“The thing that I really like about his tape was you saw a guy with tremendous length be able to come to balance in space, be able to bend his knees, change direction and was a very, very good open field tackler.”
After getting his feet wet to start 2020, Simmons carved out a nice role in the defense. In 16 games (seven starts), the linebacker recorded 54 tackles, four of which were for losses, 2.0 sacks, an interception, two pass deflections, a forced fumble and three QB hits.
Isabella tied for the third-fastest 40-yard dash time at the 2019 combine and tied for the quickest among wideouts with a 4.31.
One of the three pass-catchers drafted by Keim in 2019, Isabella was selected at No. 62 overall in the second round, the pick Arizona acquired from the Miami Dolphins in the Josh Rosen trade.
Isabella led all NCAA receivers with 1,698 receiving yards last season and tied for the fifth-most TDs with 13.
“We’re extremely excited about him,” Keim said of Isabella after the draft. “He brings a different skill set that we don’t currently have, which the footspeed and the explosiveness to take the top off.”
Isabella has struggled to find his footing as a consistent wide receiver for the Cardinals. In two seasons, the wideout has caught 30 of his 48 targets (62.5%) for 413 yards and three touchdowns. Isabella finished finished sixth among the team’s pass catchers last season with 402 yards. His touchdowns (2) ranked fifth.
Nelson’s 4.28 40-yard dash was the fastest run in the 2015 combine.
The receiver out of Alabama-Birmingham weighed in at just 156 pounds, but his frame proved functional in flashes over his four seasons with the Cardinals. In both 2016 and 2017, Nelson had over 500 yards receiving, including six touchdowns in 2016.
Drops, though, became a concern with Nelson and in 2018 he was phased out of the offense with only seven catches in 14 games.
Nelson went on to play for the then-Oakland Raiders (2019) and San Francisco 49ers (2020). He signed on with the Buffalo Bills practice squad in January, only to be released days later. In February, Nelson signed a futures contract with the Indianapolis Colts.
An all-state running back in high school, Swope was known for having standout athleticism with reliable hands.
Catching balls from Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel in his last two seasons at Texas A&M, Swope is the school’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.
His 4.34 40-yard dash tied for second in 2013 among wide receivers, failing to beat out only Tavon Austin and Marquise Goodwin. He also put up an impressive 37-inch vertical and the best three-cone drill of Keim’s draftees at 6.76 seconds (tied with Budda Baker).
Drafted by the Cardinals in the sixth round, Swope had to retire three months after being selected due to ongoing concussion issues.
Since his playing days, Swope has been working in real estate.
Projected (at least by NFL.com’s profile) to go undrafted out of Pittsburg State in 2014, Brown showed out with a 4.34 40-yard dash. That fell short of only Dri Archer and Brandin Cooks in the class.
Perhaps that skyrocketed his draft stock. Arizona picked Brown 91st overall (third round) and saw that speed translate to the NFL.
Brown caught five touchdowns and was targeted 103 times for 696 yards as a rookie, then became a 1,000-yard receiver his second season in 2015. Health problems related to a sickle cell trait hampered Brown in 2016, and that lingered into 2017 as other minor injuries limited the speedy wideout.
Brown signed with the Baltimore Ravens for the 2018 season, where he got back to a solid level of play. He caught 42 passes for 715 yards and five touchdowns for the Ravens.
That output earned Brown a three-year, $27 million deal from the Buffalo Bills in free agency in 2019. Brown had a breakout 2019 in Buffalo as Josh Allen’s most reliable target, posting career highs in catches (72) and yards (1,060).
But with the addition of Stefon Diggs to the lineup, Brown’s production fell off in 2021. In nine games (eight starts), the WR caught 33 balls for 458 yards and three touchdowns. He was released in March before signing a one-year deal with the Raiders.
T.J. Logan (Honorable mention)
Logan’s 4.37 mark was the best at the 2017 combine among running backs and the sixth-best overall.
The time is tied for the ninth-fastest 40-yard dash for a running back in combine history.
The Cardinals selected Logan in the fifth round at No. 179 overall, eyeing him as the team’s potential new return man with upside for more.
Logan, though, never got a chance to fight for playing time his rookie year after he suffered a dislocated wrist and missed the entire season.
He played in 10 games in 2018, factoring in mostly on special teams.
Logan was waived by the Cardinals in 2019 and was one of the many players recycled by Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay, with the Buccaneers claiming him off waivers. Used primarily as the kick and punt returner, Logan had 395 return yards on 26 returns before being placed on the injured reserve later that year.
In 2020, Logan was again placed on the IR after suffering a leg injury in training camp. He also spent time on the reserve/COVID-19 list.