I never really thought twice about “SEC speed.”

It’s a phrase that as soon as it’s mentioned, one thinks about the freakish athletes the conference boasts. The fact that the SEC has had the most players drafted of any conference in each of the last 13 years suggests there’s plenty of validity to that.

Henry Ruggs III and “SEC speed” are going to be used to in the same sentence a lot during the NFL Scouting Combine in a couple weeks. There’s buzz that he’s going to compete for John Ross’ 40-yard dash record of 4.22 seconds. Ruggs’ former Alabama teammate, Jaylen Waddle predicted that he’d hit the 4.22-mark. Jerry Jeudy said that the last time they ran the 40, Ruggs hit 4.25 seconds … with a bad start.

It’s not just Alabama people who are hyping Ruggs’ 40. NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah predicted that Ruggs would run in the 4.2-range.

What many might not realize is that whether Ruggs breaks the combine record or not, he can redefine SEC speed. Well, at least in the modern era.

Ole Miss safety Zedrick Woods ran a 4.29-second 40 in Indianapolis, which was the best time at the combine of any player in 2019. Believe it or not, Woods is the only SEC player to log an official sub-4.3 40 as far as the NFL’s official database goes back (2006). Only 9 players officially accomplished that feat during that stretch. Woods and Jamel Dean are the only SEC players are among the top 15 times at NFL Combine since 2006.

These are the 8 fastest official SEC times for the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine since 2006:

  • 1. Zedrick Woods (MISS), 2019 — 4.29
  • 2. Jamel Dean (AUB), 2019 — 4.30
  • T3. Keith Marshall (UGA), 2017 — 4.31
  • T3. Jonathan Joseph (SC), 2006 — 4.31
  • T5. Chris Houston (ARK), 2007 — 4.32
  • T5. Chad Jackson (UF), 2006 — 4.32
  • T5. Tim Jennings (UGA), 2006 — 4.32
  • T5. Donte Jackson (LSU), 2018 — 4.32

The expectation is that Ruggs will break Woods’ mark, and he’ll own the SEC’s fastest combine 40 of the NFL database era. That might be a little wordy for a graphic, but you can bet the fine folks at Alabama will have that number ready to roll if that happens.

Speaking of Alabama, Ruggs is in position to top the school’s best 40-yard dash time of the NFL database era.

Here are the leaders among the Crimson Tide players during that stretch:

  • 1. Julio Jones, 2011 — 4.34
  • 2. Tony Brown, 2018 — 4.35
  • 3. Anthony Averett, 2018 — 4.36
  • 4. Dee Milliner, 2013 — 4.37
  • 5. Kareem Jackson, 2010 — 4.40

It’d be surprising if Ruggs didn’t also own Alabama’s best mark of the last 15 combines.

Why? Ruggs is the guy who was clocked during a game at running 24.3 MPH, which isn’t very far behind Usain Bolt’s max speed of 27.8 MPH. The game speed isn’t in question. We saw Ruggs make plenty plays like this the last 2 years:


And just in case you wanted to see that speed from essentially a stopped position, here’s that:

There’s no doubt that Ruggs will have as much pre-combine hype as anyone because of the blistering time he’s expected to record. He earned that by doing some remarkable things against SEC competition. The question now is how it’ll translate to this stage.

That’s one thing to keep in mind if Ruggs’ combine doesn’t stack up with Ross or even Woods. It’ll be deemed a disappointment because of the anticipation, which sort of feels like Ross has a whole lot more to lose than he has to gain. Personally, I’d rather be Justin Jefferson and have expectations of a time in the high-4.5s compared to Ruggs, who is being overwhelmingly pegged to run in the 4.2s.

What I hope doesn’t happen with Ruggs is that we question his speed for a second. Aside from going into the combine 30 pounds overweight and waddling through all of his drills, there’s not much that should prevent NFL teams from thinking that Ruggs is the same dude who ran through/past secondaries the last 2 years at Alabama.

And as many have already pointed out, speed is Ruggs’ biggest asset, but it’s not his only asset. He’s a willing blocker, his route-running is greatly improved and he can high-point a football, too.

Ruggs showed a variety of skills at Alabama, so anyone basing his first-round status on his combine 40-time is foolish. How he runs should be more to see how he competes and takes on a challenge with the bright lights on him. But if a team is going to take him in the first half of the first round, it’ll be because he checked all the boxes in his interviews with teams and he won’t have any medical red flags. Time will tell how he handles those often forgotten elements of the combine.

Do I want to see Ruggs make history with his 40? Absolutely. Records were meant to be broken, or something like that. That’s the type of thing that makes someone a household name to even the casual fan who doesn’t pay attention to the draft.

Let’s just remember the elite company that Ruggs is shooting for with his 40. And if he joins that group, well, that buzz isn’t going anywhere.