SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Like any athlete possessing a world-class skill, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin isn’t in the business of acknowledging that anyone can do the thing he does best better than him.
Asked Wednesday how his speed stacks up to Hill’s, Goodwin made it clear how he feels without the use of many words.
“I don’t compare myself to anybody, but I mean …” Goodwin said, his words trailing off.
Goodwin then reached for his left sleeve and rolled it up to reveal the forearm tattoo commemorating his appearance in the 2012 London Olympics.
Is that an official response?
“I didn’t say nothin’,” Goodwin said, smiling. “You take that wherever you want to take it.”
While Goodwin was clearly having a little fun, he also was quick to point out that he has great respect for Hill’s speed and said he believed that he and Hill being called the league’s two fastest players is “probably accurate.”
“The dude is unbelievably fast,” Goodwin said. “I was fortunate enough to watch him compete when he was in college a little bit in track and field. And he did his thing on the football field as well. So I’m excited to see him play.”
For the first time since Hill entered the league in 2016, the speedy duo could share the same field Sunday when the Niners and Chiefs meet in Kansas City. The “could” is dependent on the deep thigh bruise Goodwin suffered early in Week 1 being healed enough for him to play. That injury kept Goodwin out last week against Detroit, but he did practice Wednesday on a limited basis and there’s optimism he’ll be able to play this week.
If Goodwin does return, don’t be surprised if vapor trails replace barbecue as the order of the day at Arrowhead Stadium.
While plenty of players before them have worn the crown as fastest in the league, teammates, coaches and executives speak about Hill’s and Goodwin’s speed in far more reverential tones. ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen ranked Hill as the fastest player in the NFL last year with Goodwin checking in at No. 2. And there’s little reason to believe much has changed in the time since.
Goodwin, who said he was always the fastest kid in school growing up, is a two-time NCAA long jump champion as well as a seven-time All-American and five-time Big 12 Conference champion. He placed 10th in the London Olympics after winning the long jump at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.
The speed needed to generate such prolific jumps also has been evident throughout his NFL career after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds at the 2013 NFL scouting combine. Last year, Goodwin recorded the fastest speed of any receiver in the league, according to Sportradar. In a Week 9 meeting with Arizona, Goodwin reached 21.68 mph.
“It’s different throwing a go ball to Marquise than it is to another receiver,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “I’ve never had a receiver like Marquise where you have to change a couple of things, tweak a couple of things and you’re dropping [back ready to throw]. I don’t know, it just happens differently.”
Given all of that, speed has long been a big part of Goodwin’s athletic identity and something he openly embraces.
“It used to be a secret weapon, but a lot of people know it now so I just try to focus on doing what I can with it,” Goodwin said. “There’s a lot of confidence [in it], especially in the game that I play, my position, being a receiver and having to run away from guys and set the team up for great field position or to score. So being that guy is definitely a blessing. I’m proud that I’m that guy.”
Like Goodwin, Hill also takes great pride in leaving defenders in his dust. A USA Today track and field All-American at Coffee High in Douglas, Georgia, Hill fell one-hundredth of a second short of the national high school record in the 200 meters in 2012. He also blazed a 4.24-second 40 at West Alabama’s pro day before the 2016 NFL draft.
This season, Hill already has clocked the two fastest game speeds in the league multiple times and holds the distinction of the speediest burst in the league since NFL Next Gen stats began tracking in 2016. He reached 23.24 mph on a 105-yard kick return touchdown that was called back for a penalty against the Houston Texans in 2016.
All of that speed has earned Hill the nickname “Cheetah,” which doubles as his Twitter handle and is the animal he cites when he goes into “Cheetah mode,” the moniker he uses for when he gets to full throttle.
Earlier this week, Hill took exception when he found out that Niners running back Matt Breida also goes by “Cheetah,” though the soft-spoken Breida has never publicly referred to himself as that and it just so happens to rhyme with his last name. Hill told the Kansas City Star that he is the one true cheetah in the league.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Goodwin spoke to reporters Wednesday while wearing some cheetah-print garments, something he has done before but seemed particularly appropriate given what’s on the schedule this week.
“I have definitely got more than a few pieces of cheetah in my wardrobe,” Goodwin said.
While Hill and Goodwin won’t be on the field at the same time, it’s safe to say they’re both eager to stake their claim to the unofficial title of the NFL’s fastest man on Sunday the only way they know how: in a hurry.