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Ranking the NFL's fastest players

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The importance of speed in today's NFL (1:30)

Former NFL safety Matt Bowen examines the speed of Tyreek Hill and Odell Beckham Jr. (1:30)

Former wide receiver Joey Galloway used to put fear in defensive backs when he took off down the field. This guy had blazing speed. Play deeper? Right, that's what my coaches would say. But it didn't matter when Galloway turned on that extra gear. He had the speed to roast you over the top. The post, the seam, the fade -- just pick one and try to keep up versus that world-class speed. Yeah, that was a long day of work.

Figuring out the NFL's fastest man used to be so easy. We'd line these dudes up and race. Now, not so much. So I'm here to help. I watched the tape to see whose track speed translates to the field.

Here are 12 current NFL players who can absolutely fly.

1. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Track times: 10.19 seconds (100 meters), 20.14 seconds (200 meters) | 40 time: 4.24 seconds

Hill's speed pops off the screen because he isn't limited in terms of his skill set. Along with the straight-line burst to slice through the secondary, Hill also has the balance and lateral-movement skills to shake defenders anywhere on the field. He cuts on a dime at top speed better than any other current player I've watched. Just check out this 68-yard touchdown run versus the Titans in 2016 (watch). That's nasty stuff. You want a game-breaker with ridiculous speed at receiver, running back and kick/punt returner? It's Hill. He can scoot.

2. Marquise Goodwin, WR, San Francisco 49ers

Track times: 10.24 (100), 21.24 (200) | 40 time: 4.27

The former Bills wideout, who was a two-time NCAA long jump champ, also has long speed outside of the numbers. I saw it back at the Senior Bowl workouts when Goodwin was coming out of Texas. He looked like a true 4.2 guy on the field down in Mobile, and that has translated to his NFL tape. Goodwin's straight-line speed makes him a consistent deep-ball threat on the fade and the post. In 2016, Goodwin put that speed on display when he blew past veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis for an 84-yard touchdown on a national stage (watch). This is a straight go route. Remember, you don't need any window dressing when you have Goodwin's speed. Throw it deep and let him go get it.

3. J.J. Nelson, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Track times: 10.49 (100), 21.76 (200) | 40 time: 4.28

In two NFL seasons, Nelson has averaged more than 19 yards per catch (19.3). He's a true big-play weapon with the speed to get over the top of the secondary and eliminate defensive pursuit. Check out this touchdown run versus the Dolphins on the reverse (watch). Nelson destroys the angle from the safety and outruns the defense on his way to six. Given his size (5-foot-10, 160 pounds), Nelson isn't going to earn his money on middle-of-the-field throws. Instead, he's going to work over the top of the secondary and rip off chunk plays with that 4.28 speed.

4. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, New Orleans Saints

Track times: 10.2 (100), 21.16 (200) | 40 time: 4.28

Ginn, 32, hasn't run a 40 since 2002, but do we really need a stopwatch time to judge his speed? Nah. Last week, Drew Brees said "[Ginn] can fly" -- and he's right. The new Saints wide receiver hasn't slowed down one bit. He is still blazing fast with the ability to take the top off the defense. Just look at him chase down Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (No. 11 on this list) from behind after an interception (watch). On offense, Ginn is just as dangerous running the post from an inside alignment versus the Raiders (watch). That's a nice ball from Cam Newton, but it's also a great look at Ginn's separation ability and vertical speed. If he gets behind you as a defensive back, forget about it. Time to strike up the band and play the fight song.

5. DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Track times: N/A | 40 time: 4.35

Even at age 30, Jackson hasn't slowed down on the tape. One of the top deep threats in the league, Jackson has the ideal combination of vertical speed, route-running ability and body control at the point of attack. We saw that this past season when Jackson smoked the Giants on a deep post (watch). Separate on the break, track the ball and then make a highlight grab. That's smooth. Based on what I see, I bet Jackson would drop a 4.3 on the stopwatch today. He can still fly.

6. Jakeem Grant, WR, Miami Dolphins

Track times: 10.41 (100) | 40 time: 4.38

During his rookie season, the Dolphins used Grant (5-6, 165) primarily as a punt returner, but we got to see his lightning speed and open-field ability on this touchdown versus the Titans (watch). Get to the outside, burst up the field and then cut back. To get a deeper look at Grant's speed, I went back to his college tape at Texas Tech. He torched TCU on a deep seam route (see video below). Yes, the straight-line speed in there, but so is that change-of-direction ability and the sudden burst to separate to the ball. He's a dynamic player with speed that consistently flashes on the tape.

7. John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Track times: 10.66 (100), 21.56 (200) | 40 time: 4.22

Ross blew up the 40-yard dash this year at the NFL combine with a record time of 4.22. That's incredible speed. And his lateral agility to set up defensive backs at the line makes that speed even more potent. Check out the video below and the release Ross puts on USC's Adoree' Jackson. Remember, Jackson is also a first-round pick and he ran in the low 4.4s. This cat can play. But Ross shakes him here, gets the Titans' rookie back on his heels and bursts down the field for a big-time play. Ross' stopwatch speed is no joke. We know that. But he's much more than just a track guy running in pads.

8. Brandin Cooks, WR, New England Patriots

Track times: 10.76 (100), 21.59 (200) | 40 time: 4.33

Cooks is an electric talent with the wheels to jump all over the secondary and the immediate burst to separate underneath after the catch. He gets rolling quickly. This past season, Cooks showcased his speed on multiple big plays, including the 98-yard touchdown he produced versus the Raiders (watch). Shake the press coverage at the line of scrimmage and then explode up the field on the fade route. Goodbye. That's six all day. With Cooks playing in New England this season, get ready for the wide receiver to produce in the open field. Catch and run. He's a great fit for Josh McDaniels' scheme.

9. Taylor Gabriel, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Track times: N/A | 40 time: 4.27

Gabriel has video game ability in space and the top-end speed to split the middle of the field wide open. Check out this touchdown versus the Cardinals on the quick screen pass (watch). He just bounces through the traffic, finds a crease and then hits the gas pedal. See ya. With Gabriel's combination of 4.2 speed, vision and the ability to slip tacklers in space, he's a quick-strike weapon for the Atlanta offense.

10. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

Track times: 22.31 (200) | 40 time: 4.43

Beckham ran in the low 4.4s at the combine, but he plays like a 4.3 guy in pads. Think about it: The majority of Beckham's explosive plays over the past two seasons came on the slant route. That's a simple, three-step passing concept to the middle of the field. But the Giants wide receiver shows such ridiculous speed after the catch that he consistently turns short passes into huge plays, like he did this past year versus the Ravens (watch). This is all about game speed, and Beckham can run with anyone in the league.

11. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals

Track times: N/A | 40 time: 4.34

Playing in the secondary is more about short-area closing speed and the ability to transition (or break) on the ball. That's why it can be hard to compare the long speed of Peterson to the wide receivers on this list. But if we go back to some of his punt returns earlier in his career (watch) or take a look at his interception this past season versus the Bills when he opened it up to track the ball (watch), there's no doubt that Peterson belongs with this group. He's a low-4.3 guy all day.

12. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Track times: 11.30 (100) | 40 time: 4.39

At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Jones has a freakish skill set. With the matchup ability to post up defensive backs and the speed to obliterate pursuit angles after the catch, the Falcons wide receiver might be the most feared offensive player in the league today. And after working through some foot injuries during his career, Jones showed us this past season just how fast he can play when healthy. Whether it is a deep shot to split the safeties in Cover 2 or this shallow crossing route that Jones turned into an explosive play versus the Panthers (watch), he has such a rare combination of speed and power at the position.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL.