INDIANAPOLIS — It's become a running joke, of sorts. Find the player who runs the fastest time in the three-cone drill, and you've found a player who is likely somewhere on Bill Belichick's radar.
The Patriots head coach has developed a penchant for picking players that excel in the three-cone drill, in which orange construction cones are set up in an L-shape, five yards apart from each other. The players at the scouting combine run around the cones in a drill that is used to measure short-area quickness.
The three-cone drill can be seen in this video, and at his press conference in Indianapolis on Thursday, Belichick was asked what insight the three-cone drill can provide to a player's football ability.
"Well, I mean, I think it gives you some evaluation of his combination of his lateral movement and his vertical movement," he said. "We can see the vertical movements in the 10's, the 40's — 10, 20, 40, I mean that's all one drill; the shuttle drill for the skill players, which is a 60-yard test, but it's all vertical; the 20-yard, 5-10-5, change of direction drill is really a lateral drill; the L drill or the three-cone drill combines a vertical and lateral element with it."
Over the years, the Patriots have taken several players that have excelled in the three-cone drill. Devin McCourty ran it in 6.7 seconds, the second-fastest time among cornerbacks at the 2010 combine. The Patriots may have felt justified in Julian Edelman's move to wide receiver based on his 6.62-second three-cone drill.
Just last year, wide receiver Josh Boyce ran it in 6.68 seconds, the third-fastest at his position at the 2013 combine despite running it on a broken foot. The Patriots wound up with three of the top 10 performers in the three-cone drill from last year's combine: Boyce, wide receiver T.J. Moe and cornerback Logan Ryan.
There are some cautionary tales to the three-cone drill as a measuring tool for talent. Former Patriots receiver Chad Jackson clocked a 6.74-second finish in the three-cone drill, one of the best at his position in 2006, but never panned out in a two-year stint with the Patriots.
While we may joke about its value in the Patriots' war room, Belichick cautioned heavily against reading too much into it.
"Once again, I think you always want to keep in mind in those drills, whichever ones of those you're talking about — [you have] ideal conditions, ideal start, nobody lining up across from you, nobody hitting you when you try to release and run 'em, nobody hitting you at the finish line, nothing to think about, no play, no snap count, no defense, no offensive adjustments, no anything. It's just a straight time measurement."
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