If you have ever watched the Combine or have friends that watch it, you know that the 40-yard dash and the weight-lifting competition typically steal the headlines, but there is more to dictating success in the NFL, than just straight-line speed and strength. The 3-Cone drill is one of the major ways that NFL scouts learn how athletic and coordinated rookie prospects truly are. The drill is a good indicator of strong pass rushers, elite cornerbacks, great route runners, and running backs with tremendous shiftiness.
To begin, let's look at how NFL.com describes the 3-Cone drill process:
The 3 cone drill tests an athlete's ability to change directions at a high speed. Three cones in an L-shape. He starts from the starting line, goes 5 yards to the first cone and back. Then, he turns, runs around the second cone, runs a weave around the third cone, which is the high point of the L, changes directions, comes back around that second cone and finishes.
The act of the 3-Cone drill reveals hip movement, ability to change directions, recovery speed, and several other traits that are important for the next level. Obviously, forty-times are impacted by different positions due to size and weight requirements, and the same can be said about the 3-cone drill.
BodyBuilding.com spotlights why the 3-Cone drill is so important in the evaluation process:
Circular cuts are vital in football. There's no better way to demonstrate your ability to navigate those turns than to put a 5-yard radius on the turn itself. Some NFL scouts think the 3-cone technique is the most important skill at the combine. It has everything you need: straight line and linear power, circular multi-directional speed and braking.
As you can probably already guess, the biggest positions impacted by the drill are defensive end, cornerback and wide receiver. That's because it shows how the pass rusher can beat an offensive lineman with speed instead of power (think Aldon Smith, Trent Cole). It gives scouts a good look at how slot recievers can turn up-field after a catch across the middle (Wes Welker, Danny Amendola). The drill also shows NFL decision-makers how well cornerbacks will do out of their back pedal.
We now know about the drill itself, but in practice, how do we know when a guy has owned his 3-Cone?
According to BodyBuilding.com, linemen must get a 7.5 or lower. They consider 7.3 or lower elite for lineman. For pass rushing linebackers, they want players below 7.0. For wide receivers and defensive backs, the website says they should be between 6.6 and 6.7.
Since there is no way to indicate in statistics how the 3-Cone impacts the WRs and DBs, let's take a look at some of this year's top pass rushers and see how the 3-Cone may have shown their skills before they ever played an NFL game:
|J.J. Watt||Houston Texans||3-Cone: 6.88||Season Sacks: 20.5|
|San Francisco 49ers||3-Cone: 7.19||Season Sacks: 19.5|
|Von Miller||Denver Broncos||3-Cone: 6.70||Season Sacks: 18.5|
|Cam Wake||Miami Dolphins||3-Cone: 7.12||Season Sacks: 15|
|Clay Matthews||Green Bay Packers||3-Cone: 6.90||Season Sacks: 13|
|Charles Johnson||Carolina Panthers||3-Cone: 7.50||Season Sacks: 12.5|
|Geno Atkins||Cincinnati Bengals||3-Cone: 7.33||Season Sacks: 12.5|
|Jared Allen||Minnesota Vikings||3-Cone: 7.11||Season Sacks: 12|
|Seattle Seahawks||3-Cone: 7.48||Season Sacks: 11.5|
|Chris Long||St. Louis Rams||3-Cone: 7.02||Season Sacks: 11.5|
As you can see, 7 of the 10 top pass rushers last season, ran sub-7.3 in the drill. Of the guys who were over, Geno Atkins (the only DT on this list) placed .03 over the "elite" criteria. The other two guys, Clemons and Wake, both had unique journeys to the top of sack boards, with Clemons already having played for 4 teams in his career and Wake playing in the CFL.
The 3-Cone like all other drills is not without its hiccups. For instance, Thaddeus Gibson (6.84) and Daniel Teo-Nesheim (6.93) ran great 3-Cones, but are not top rushers. Still, most elite rushers typically run faster times than guys who fizzle out of the league. It is an important drill that should be taken seriously when considering guys like Oregon's Dion Jordan, Texas A&M's Demontre Moore, FSU's Bjoern Werner, and LSU's Barkevious Mingo. So when you watch your favorite guys in the upcoming Combine, whether they are pass rushers or defensive backs, pay close attention to the 3-Cone when deciding who is among the elite in the Draft.
Editor's Update Note: Trent Cole ran a 6.98 and Vinny Curry ran a 6.90.
You can follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @mike_e_kaye.