Baylor cornerback Kalon Barnes wasn’t worried about how he would perform in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Yet even he was a bit taken aback when his time was officially announced.
“I couldn’t stop laughing,” he said. “All I was doing was smiling.”
Barnes’ time was originally announced as a very impressive 4.29 seconds, which was just about what he expected to run in Indianapolis.
Once his run was reviewed and timed again, it was revised to an official time of 4.23. It’s the fastest time ever run by a defensive back at the combine, eclipsing the 4.27 of Stanford Routt in 2005. It’s also the second-fastest time by any player, just one-hundredth of a second behind receiver John Ross’ 4.22 five years ago.
“It’s a blessing,” Barnes said. “I’m really excited. I knew I was going to run a fast time, but I didn’t know I was going to make history.”
The pedigree was certainly there to turn in such a performance.
Barnes was a two-time Texas state champion in both the 100 and 200 meters during his time at Silsbee High School, about 100 miles northeast of Houston. He set a then-national high school record with a wind-aided 10.04 at the state championships in 2018.
Still, he put in the prep work leading up to the combine to ensure he would post a good time.
“It felt great,” he said. “I knew I would run fast, but actually putting your mind to it and all the work I did in the last three months, it just felt good.”
Now he’s putting that same effort into showing he has more to his game than just speed. Every scouting report on Barnes looks pretty similar.
He possesses exceptional speed, though he is often too reliant on his ability to cover for mistakes and sometimes gets lost in coverage before closing on the ball. Fortunately for Barnes and the Baylor defense, that speed has often been enough. It’s a particularly effective strategy because he has decent length and ball skills that help him be disruptive at the catch point.
But Barnes, who is already 23, isn’t much of a tackler and can sometimes allow receivers too free a release in man believing he can cover the ground.
He has the kind of tape that could potentially make scouts ignore him if they watched in slow-motion. But that speed is difficult to ignore and teams are showing interest, particularly since that combine performance.
“I’m hearing a lot of things, but I’m just trying to take everything day by day and not look too far ahead,” he said. “I’m just trying to experience the moment and not rush anything.”
The Raiders, who also selected Routt 17 years ago, were one of the teams to bring Barnes in for a visit. He is also reported to have made visits to Minnesota and Seattle along with zoom interviews with several other teams.
“Most people say I’m a track guy that plays football,” he said. “I’m trying to show everyone I’m a football guy that’s fast and ran track. I’m trying to flip that. But I want to prove to people I can play football and show people I can do more than just rely on my speed.”
That’s what he tried to show at his pro day several weeks ago
“I just wanted to show movement in and out of my breaks,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about the 40, obviously. But I was just trying to focus on getting in and out of my breaks and the hip movement.”
Barnes is showing up in mock drafts anywhere from the third round to the seventh. There is even some suggestion he could go undrafted, but on physical traits alone he is likely to be selected at some point.
He played more of a zone scheme in college and is probably most comfortable in a similar defense at the NFL level, at least early on.
The bottom line, according to the Pro Football Focus draft guide profile on Barnes, is that players with an exceptional trait are usually given the benefit of the doubt in the draft.
“Barnes’ speed is too impressive not to take a flier on developing later in the draft,” it read.