Love him or dis him, no one can argue that Hunter S. Thompson isn’t an important voice in American literature and culture.
I go there because while “speed kills” is an oft used phrase in any number of walks of life, it was Thompson who credited NFL Hall of Famer and former Raiders owner Al Davis with first coining the phrase.
Davis, who died in 2011, himself was also a highly controversial figure, in the Hall as much or more for his contributions to the game on the field as a former head coach and his own G.M.
Thompson credited Davis for explaining, “Speed kills, you can’t teach speed. Everything else in the game can be taught but speed is a gift from God.”
Davis’ teams annually had the fastest players in the league. It was a priority with every skill position player he drafted.
The Dallas Cowboys built their first dynasty around the “world’s fastest man” at the time, Bob Hayes, in spite of his limited football experience.
The Chicago Bears lone Super Bowl champion featured Olympic sprinter Willie Gault, an average wideout by every other measure, but the special weapon that unlocked the entire offense.
Most recently the Kansas City Chiefs have dominated the AFC with two of the game’s fastest players in receivers Tyreek Hill, and Mecole Hardman and one of the game’s faster tight ends in Travis Kelce.
Now, while not widely discussed yet, it appears to also be a central theme of Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s and head coach Matt Nagy’s best and possibly last chance to jumpstart their wobbly offense.
Nagy, of course, was previously the offensive coordinator of the Chiefs’ track team in the making. It’s no coincidence he appears to be trying to recreate the plan in Chicago.
Let’s just say it and move on, leaving those who want to debate it in the dust: Justin Fields is the second best quarterback prospect from this year’s draft.
One of the main reasons is his 4.44 40-yard dash time that makes him the third fastest quarterback in the league behind only Kyler Murray (4.31) and Lamar Jackson, and Fields has a bunch more arm talent than either.
It doesn’t mean he’ll be great, but it sure won’t hurt.
Nagy recently said Fields has rare speed for a quarterback.
“So what happens when you naturally have that, defenses can collapse the pocket and they still can’t get you ,and you extend plays with your legs,” Nagy said. “That’s hard for defensive coordinators.
“When you become a runner and not just being able to run for 15 or 20 yards, but you’re able to take it the distance and go for 70 or 80, which he can do, that’s a whole other element. When you have that speed that he has, it’s definitely a rare element.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You find the base when you acknowledge receivers Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd weren’t brought here to compete in the slot because they are Pro Bowl pass catchers.
Since we first started getting NFL scouting combine numbers only four players have ever run faster than Goodwin’s 4.27 40 time. Of that group, only Chris Johnson became an impact player.
Only seven, including Champ Bailey and Henry Ruggs, outran Byrd’s 4.28.
For more perspective, consider Tarik Cohen ran 4.42 at the 2017 combine, and with Anthony Miller, Darnell Mooney and Dazz Newsome all having clocked 4.38, the Bears may now have the fastest receiving corps in the league to balance No. 1 possession guy Allen Robinson.
It is also a big reason new No. 2 running back Damien Williams brought his 4.45 speed to town, to provide a change of pace to David Montgomery, who even with 57- and 80-yard runs last season timed a pedestrian 4.63 in the 40.
Even tight end Cole Kmet, who is not a blazer but clocks in the 4.7-to-high 4.6 range, runs extremely well for a big man and fits the Bears sudden need for speed.
Whether or not all this new smoke at Soldier Field ignites a firestorm of wins remains to be seen, but it’s certain to generate consistent blazes and matchup nightmares opposing defenses will dread if the QB can get them the ball.