The difference between track speed and football speed is evident in former Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey. Track speed wows scouts. Football speed impresses coaches and general managers.
While Carey’s 40-yard dash time (4.66) at his pro day has become a point of criticism, his production at the collegiate level can’t go unnoticed. Instead of blazing straight-line speed, Carey embodies the ability to maneuver his body in tight spaces and the strength to bowl over oncoming defenders. Those traits allowed him to run for 16 straight 100-yard games during his last two seasons.
Over a two-year period, Carey rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and scored 42 touchdowns. The stopwatches might indicate that Carey has average speed, but his play on the field suggests something different. Carey’s vision allows him to anticipate creases in traffic, and he has an instinct is to finish each run.
“Preparation is a main part of my game,” Carey told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview. “You have to be smart. I might not have the fastest 40 time, so I have to be smart so I know where things are going to open at the right time so I can hit that hole. I utilize my talent in different ways. That’s what makes me a special back.”
Carey’s ability to plant his foot and change course allows him to create separation from the defender. When wide receivers run routes, they rely on making sharp cuts and running precise routes to put distance between themselves and the opposing cornerback. It’s no different for a running back trying to shake a linebacker or safety in space.
“I feel like if you want to tackle me, you’re trying to hurt me,” Carey said. “I’m not going to avoid you and let you off easy. I’m going to make you pay. I turn into a beast when I put that helmet on. And if you try to get me high, then I’ll hit them with a juke move and it’s six, too. I like to switch it up on people.”
It’s more important that a running back can run behind his pads and allow his linemen to set up holes instead of impatiently hitting the hole and getting stuffed by a defender. It’s why solely relying on the 40-yard dash to project a running back’s success in the league is extremely overrated.
Over the last five years, only a handful of the five players who finished with the fastest 40 times at the running back position consistently produce in the NFL.
TOP 40-YARD DASH TIMES OF THE LAST FIVE YEARS
Cedric Peerman (4.45)
Jahvid Best (4.35)
Da’Rel Scott (4.34)
Lamar Miller (4.40)
Onterio McCalebb (4.34)
Ian Johnson (4.46)
C.J. Spiller (4.37)
Mario Fannin (4.38)
Ronnie Hillman (4.45)
Knile Davis (4.37)
Kory Sheets (4.47)
Ben Tate (4.43)
Derrick Locke (4.40)
LaMichael James (4.45)
Kerwynn Williams (4.48)
Andre Brown (4.49)
Ryan Mathews (4.45)
Jordan Todman (4.40)
Chris Rainey (4.45)
Jonathan Franklin (4.49)
Donald Brown (4.51)
Joe McKnight (4.47)
Demarco Murray (4.41)
Cyrus Gray (4.47)
Michael Ford (4.50)
Carey displayed body control, elusiveness and even speed in his career-high game against Colorado during his sophomore season. No matter the defensive front, Carey would slice and dice his way past defenders and ran for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and scored five touchdowns.
Carey credits his countless hours in the film room as a major reason for his success.
“I knew exactly what they were doing going into that game,” Carey said. “That definitely helped.”
After a few runs finished with big gains, Carey didn’t let up.
“Then I just got on a roll,” Carey said. “Our quarterback went out, so I knew the carries were going to come my way. I knew it was going to be a breakout game, and I knew I needed to make a name for myself. I just caught the rhythm, and they kept feeding me. I can’t even explain it. It was my Kobe Bryant moment when he dropped 81. Everything was falling.”
For the opposition, it was an ugly day. Despite being acutely aware of Carey’s explosiveness, former Colorado defensive coordinator Greg Brown didn’t have an answer.
“Obviously, we didn’t do a very good job that day,” Brown told FOXSports.com. “We were well aware of Ka’Deem and what he brought to the table.”
Brown, who was hired as the Louisville defensive coordinator this offseason, was the co-defensive coordinator at Arizona in 2010. He remembers the coaching staff recruiting Carey to Tucson, but he just didn’t know he’d be on the opposite sideline during the running back’s most explosive game.
“There was no surprise there,” Brown said. “He didn’t sneak up on us, and we still couldn’t get the job done. Basically, trying to tackle Ka’Deem Carey is like trying to tackle a coiled snake. He’s tough to bring down.”
Now, the all-time leading rusher for Arizona is fine-tuning his skills in Carlsbad, Calif., working out at a local military base. With the private visits and workouts winding down, prospects are eager to find out where they’ll land on draft day. For Carey, he hopes to end up playing with a good quarterback to alleviate some pressure.
“I know when I [played with quarterbacks] Matt Scott and Nick Foles where I had no pressure on me, I had my best years,” Carey said. “Then when the pressure is on the running back, they put eight in the box and the quarterback can’t read it. It’s a pass-first NFL, so they’re going to give me room to run. When I have room to run, it’s pretty dangerous.”
Although Carey received two first-round grades from the NFL Advisory Committee when he was mulling the decision to leave school early, some draft prognosticators project Carey falling into the mid-to-late second round. Because the NFL is widely devaluing running backs, some players who would’ve been surefire first-round picks five years ago could wait until Day 2 to hear their names called.
“I got another younger brother now, and I’m telling him, ‘Boy, don’t be a running back. Don’t do it,’” Carey said. “He’s an athlete right now, and I want him to play cornerback or something else.”
Wherever Carey lands, he’s eager to hit the ground … running.