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Your annual reminder about importance of 3-cone drill in Patriots’ pre-draft evaluation process

02.23.16 at 5:30 am ET
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There are very few things you can point to as “commonalities” when it comes to the Patriots pre-draft style, but it’s hard not to draw a line between the way New England approaches the team-building process and the 3-cone numbers we’ve seen over the last dozen or so years, at least when it comes to wide receivers and defensive backs. And with the 3-cone being one of the measurable drills for all the prospects at the combine later this week, it’s a good a time as any to revisit the Patriots’ approach to the 3-cone drill.

Bill Belichick dismissed the idea of New England going all-in on the 3-cone a few years ago, but taking a look at some of the numbers posted the last few years, it’s clear that the Patriots put an emphasis on quickness and agility more than straight-line speed. Just about every year, the Patriots have zeroed in on at least one of the top 10 finishers in the 3-cone at the combine every year. That’s not to say they can’t appreciate a good burner. Instead, it’s only to suggest that they treasure guys who show great footwork on the outside.

The drill is fairly simple — three cones are placed five yards apart in the shape of a right angle. The prospect begins the drill with one hand on the ground, and pushed out of his stance, running to the middle cone and touching that. Then, he reverses direction back to the first cone and touches that (or the starting line). The prospect then reverses direction again, running around the outside of the middle cone on the way to the far cone running around it in figure eight fashion on his way back around the outside of the middle cone. After that, he finished back at the starting cone. Athletes are timed for this whole procedure, with a good time coming in seven seconds or less.

Through the years, the Patriots have found some prospects who fit their system perfectly thanks in part to their times in the 3-cone. Julian Edelman (6.62 seconds), Deion Branch (6.71), Wes Welker (7.06), Devin McCourty (6.7), Logan Ryan (6.69), Justin Coleman (6.61) and Nate Ebner (6.59) have been some of their 3-cone hits over the last decade or so, as all of them have posted elite-level times in the agility drill. (For the record, Edelman and Welker didn’t get an invite to the combine — instead, they posted their times at their respective Pro Days.) Meanwhile, late-rounders and undrafted rookies like Jeremy Ebert (6.7) and T.J. Moe (6.53) who failed to stick long-term still clearly drew the attention of the Patriots with their agility skills.

Of course, there have been some 3-cone misses as well, as players like Josh Boyce (6.68) and Chad Jackson (6.74) had dynamite times, but have failed to find success in the Patriots’ program.

Ultimately, a good 3-cone time alone isn’t a guarantee New England will considering you as a prospect. Instead, this week in Indy, it’s clear that flashing some agility as opposed to a stellar time in the 40 is far likelier to get a wide receiver or defensive back prospect noticed by Belichick and the Patriots braintrust.

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