Throw out Dexter McCluster’s 40 times

Ask Eric Berry and the Tennessee defense just how fast Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster plays. Ask Auburn, ask Arkansas, ask LSU. Do you think any of those teams think McCluster is slow?

McCluster was one of the most anticipated runners at this year’s NFL Combine. He was expected to post one of the better times in Indy, only to fizzle out at 4.58 in the 40. Now, is 4.58 a bad time for a running back? No, but when you’re 5-9 and only 172 pounds, you want to post something a little faster. I’m not making excuses for him, but it was clear that McCluster stumbled slightly out of the blocks on both his runs and never looked entirely comfortable during the 40 process.

Sometimes that just happens with a prospect. He gets himself so hyped up for an event that he can actually ends up psyching himself right out of it. I don’t think that was exactly the case with McCluster, but after posting a disappointing first run, I think you saw a guy who began to press to try to make up for it.

Nevertheless, even though 4.58 was his official time, we can say that the majority of people who have seen him this year agree that McCluster plays much faster than his time would indicate. And even with such a disappointing time, he still ranked in the top-10 at the position.

However, maybe an even more telling time that was recorded during the combine, but was vastly overlooked, was McCluster’s 4.06 short-shuttle drill. The short shuttle never gets the attention it deserves, but running back is a position that’s consistently asked to change directions and accelerate out of breaks. One could even make the case that the short shuttle has much more bearing on a prospect’s chances in the NFL than the 40.

And when looking over the top performances in this year’s short-shuttle, McCluster ranked first out of every participant, including California’s Jahvid Best and Auburn’s Ben Tate, who both ran significantly better than McCluster in the 40.

What’s the point of all this? You can’t teach speed, but you can teach prospects how to run the 40. So guys who pick up on the intricacies and techniques of running the 40 may be able to run better than prospects who might be faster but struggle to handle the same techniques. The short shuttle, on the other hand, is more of a football-related test that allows game-fast players to run at their capable speeds without worrying about maximizing their start and making themselves as aerodynamic as possible.

So in the case of McCluster, turn on the tape – or any game you can get your hands on -- and tell me if you think this guy is too slow for the next level. Sure, in an environment like the combine, he might not have tested as well as he wanted, but when he’s put on field and asked to make plays, his short-area quickness, body control and explosion will make him look a whole lot faster than his times in Indy.

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