Analyzing the three-cone drill

Matt Williamson is co-host of “SNR Drive” on Steelers Nation Radio. He contributed to SNR’s coverage of the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine and the following are some of his personal perspectives of what he’s seen while in Indianapolis.

Earlier in the Combine, I broke down what I feel is the hidden value of the 20-yard short shuttle drill for offensive linemen. Now, let’s flip over to the other side of the ball and recap some of what we saw on Sunday.

I have always thought that the athletic test that correlates extremely well to success from the edge position is the three-cone drill. While it is great if an edge defender can run forty yards in a very short amount of time, to me, it is even better if they can drop their weight and pad level while doing what some scouts will call “bending the edge”. Think of someone like Greg Lloyd bearing down on a quarterback with extreme power and without losing speed, all the while giving the blocker very little to get his hands on because Lloyd’s inside shoulder is so low to the ground.

I have always felt that pure athletic ability is more important in edge pass-rushers than most NFL positions. For me, this is especially true with a defender’s closing burst to the quarterback, fluidity, ankle flexion, the ability to corner without losing speed and a player’s balance to withstand contact while on his path towards wreaking havoc in the backfield.

That is exactly what the three-cone (or L Drill) measures, where I have typically seen most of the NFL’s best players off the edge posting scores under 6.9 seconds. Unlike the 20-yard short shuttle with offensive linemen, this drill is much easier to get your head around as a fan watching the Combine at home. The three-cone drill is nearly a mimic of what edge pass-rushers are asked to do and doesn’t need as much explanation. The three-cone drill, I feel, is the biggest indicator from the Combine when predicting pass-rush success off the edge.

Last year, Sam Hubbard (6.84), Harold Landry (6.88) and Kyle Fitts (6.88) were the best in class in this drill, although many of the edge defenders a year ago chose to skip this drill in Indianapolis and overall, the 2018 edge group was not particularly strong with just three edge defenders being selected in the first 41 picks, including Landry. At the 2011 Combine, even at 6’ 5” and 290 pounds, J.J. Watt posted an amazing 6.88 three-cone score, while Von Miller recorded an incredible 6.70. Two others in recent years to get under 6.9 are Chargers teammates Melvin Ingram (6.83) and Joey Bosa (6.89).

This year, Sutton Smith from Northern Illinois raised some eyebrows with his time of 6.75, but it should be noted that he is only 6’ 0” and weighed in at 233 pounds. While many feel that this is considered a strong draft overall for defensive linemen of all shapes and sizes, we absolutely must note that only Smith and Maxx Crosby (6.89) from Eastern Michigan were in what I feel is the elite range on the 3-cone and overall, only four of the 36 defensive linemen (including defensive tackles) that participated in the drill were beneath 7.0. And incidentally, Nick Bosa was slower than his brother in this exercise by .21 seconds despite weighing in three pounds lighter.

Overall, while there were some truly remarkable 40-yard dash times as well as end results from the jumps from the big men on defense, I don’t think the 3-cone drill went quite as well for this incoming class of rookies as some experts might have anticipated.

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