Fay: Who's faster? John Ross or Billy Hamilton?

Posted at 6:58 AM, Apr 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-29 09:50:50-04

CINCINNATI -- When the Bengals picked John Ross in the first round of the draft, Cincinnati went from the Queen City to Speed City.

Ross, the fastest man in the NFL, will begin work shortly in the same zip code as the fastest man in baseball, Billy Hamilton. Shortly after the Bengals picked Ross, chatter about a match race started on social media. It's not likely to happen.

The Reds are paying Hamilton a lot of money to use his speed to steal bases and run down fly balls, not to prove a point. The Bengals will be paying Ross a lot of money to use his speed to catch passes and elude defenders, not to prove a point.

So to determine who is faster, you've got to go with the available data. Sports science has become more prevalent in both football and baseball, but measuring each athlete's speed against the other is an inexact calculation.

Ross' speed is a matter of record. He ran a 4.22 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That's the fastest on record at the Combine, beating Chris Johnson's 4.24 in 2008.

Hamilton was clocked at 60 yards by the Reds before he was drafted. He ran it in 6.2.

"He wasn't quite the runner he became in pro ball because of added strength and development," assistant general manager Nick Krall said.

Thanks to Major League Baseball's Statcast, there's a lot of data on Hamilton. He has been clocked in a MLB-best 3.52 from home to first on a drag bunt. The distance there is 90 feet (30 yards). That clocks in at a 4.8 or so 40, but Hamilton was running on dirt with a bat in his hand from a standing start.

Statcast also has him the fastest from first base to third base, the fastest from home to third and the fastest from home to second.

He was clocked at 21.8 mph on a triple. He covered the 90 yards in 10.7.

The top NFL speed clocked last season was 22.77 mph by  Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Hill, a fifth-round pick in 2016, reportedly ran 4.24 for 40 in his pro day before the draft.

So it stands to reason that Ross' top speed would be a tick higher than Hill's and Hamilton's.

Or is it?

Major League Baseball introduced Sprint Speed to its Statcast lineup this year. It measures "approximately seven full-effort strides (that) can be captured over the course of a one-second window."

Sprint Speed had Hamilton covering 29.8 feet per second. That means he would cover 125.756 feet or 41 2/3 yards in 4.22 seconds.

Of course, Ross ran his 40 from a dead stop.

Ross and Hamilton have one thing in common beside speed: Neither ran much track. Ross ran one year in high school; Hamilton did not run at all. Ross' track times -- 10.66 in the 100 meters, 21.56 in the 200 meters -- would not win a lot of high school state meets.

Ross said on an video that he thought he could beat Usian Bolt at 40 yards. Bolt, of course, is the greatest sprinter in history.

But Bolt is a slow starter, so Ross might be able to hang with him early before being blown away as the race heated up. Bolt hit 27.8 mph in the 100 meter world championships in 2009.

In the case of both Hamilton and Ross, being the fastest in their sport is a cool thing.

"It feels good to be able to run by people," Ross said.

But the practical application of that speed is what makes them successful.

Deion Sanders was faster than Hamilton, but he wasn't the base-stealer or outfielder that Hamilton is. Hamilton's instincts and daring on the base paths make him the threat he is.

Tommie Smith is probably the fastest Bengal of all time. He was 200-meter world record holder and Olympic champion when the team signed him in 1969. He caught one pass in his career. The Bengals were trying to find another Bob Hayes with Smith: A track star whose speed carried over to football.

Ross isn't that. He's a football player first.

"He is a tough guy and a football player," Bengals receiver coach James Urban said.

So who's faster? Ross or Hamilton? My guess is Ross, but I'd take Hamilton if I needed some one to chase down a line drive into the gap. And I'd take Ross on a play in the red zone.

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at