Want to predict Patriots draft picks? Look at the three-cone drill

Mar 3, 2019; Indianapolis, IN: Akron defensive lineman Jamal Davis does the three cone drill during the 2019 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
Mar 3, 2019; Indianapolis, IN: Akron defensive lineman Jamal Davis does the three cone drill during the 2019 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The three-cone drill has long been a favorite of the Patriots at the NFL Combine. And it's become a strong predictor of future picks at the NFL Draft. Like Chandler Jones.

Yes, defensive end Chandler Jones. Most associate the three-cone with wide receivers and cornerbacks because they typically dominate the top of the list. But the Patriots have also drafted players who ranked highly in the drill at edge rusher and elsewhere.

Whether intentional or not, the three-cone drill is a deep well of future Patriots at a variety of spots on the roster. Players dart around the cones in a right angle formation, typically finishing in the 7-second range. The best performers are closer to 6.50. Some of them have parlayed that into a career with the Patriots.

Belichick has drafted several top three-cone performers at their respective positions. For instance, Chandler Jones (2012) finished fourth at defensive end in the 2015 Combine at 7.07 seconds. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (2014) finished third among all quarterbacks at 7.04. Edge rusher Derek Rivers (2017) posted the second-best time of all DEs with an excellent 6.94.

But most of all, the Patriots like to draft receivers who perform well in the drill. The 40-yard dash gets all the glory, but if Bill Belichick had his way the three-cone would headline the Combine. It's the best test of agility and short-area quickness. So it's no surprise that Julian Edelman (2009) and Deion Branch (2002) are among the most famous examples.

Edelman wasn't invited to the Combine, which only adds to his Patriots legend. But he posted a blazing 6.62 three-cone at Kent State's Pro Day, which would have tied him for fourth overall at the 2009 Combine. Coincidentally, former Pats receiver Tiquan Underwood was the top receiver with the same time.

But despite not being a Combine participant, Edelman is included on the below list because of the value he's brought to the team as a seventh-round pick. Their interest in high-performing three-cone prospects continued as recently as last year. Note the variety of positions among players they like in the drill.

Year Name Pos. 3-cone Time Pos. Rank
2018 Christian Sam LB 7.03 4th
2018 Ryan Izzo TE 7.15 5th
2017 Derek Rivers DE 6.94 2nd
2016 Cyrus Jones CB 6.71 2nd
2016 Malcolm Mitchell WR 6.94 6th
2015 Jordan Richards S 6.74 1st
2015 Trey Flowers DE 7.34 10th
2014 Jimmy Garoppolo QB 7.04 3rd
2014 James White RB 7.05 8th
2013 Logan Ryan CB 6.69 2nd
2012 Chandler Jones DE 7.07 4th
2011 Stevan Ridley RB 6.78 4th
2010 Devin McCourty CB 6.70 3rd
2010 Taylor Price WR 6.82 8th
2009 Julian Edelman WR 6.62 3rd*
2002 Deion Branch WR 6.71 4th

So who are they taking this year?

Mar 20, 2019; Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Miles Boykin catches a ball during Notre Dame Pro Day at the Loftus Center. (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)
Mar 20, 2019; Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Miles Boykin catches a ball during Notre Dame Pro Day at the Loftus Center. (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

There are eight intriguing prospects for the Patriots at receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft class. They've all met the Pats either privately, at the Combine/Senior Bowl or their Pro Day, or a combination.

Here they are, along with their three-cone times. The majority finished in the top-10 among all receivers.

Name College 3-cone Time Pos. Rank
Miles Boykin Notre Dame 6.77 1st
Stanley Morgan Nebraska 6.78 2nd
Hunter Renfrow Clemson 6.80 3rd
Andy Isabella UMass Amherst 6.95 6th
David Sills West Virginia 6.97 8th
Terry McLaurin Ohio State 7.01 12th
Deebo Samuel South Carolina 7.03 13th
Riley Ridley Georgia 7.22 23rd

Here are six other notable prospects who excelled at their position in the three-cone drill who should be on your radar for the NFL Draft.

-- QB Daniel Jones, Duke. Oh boy. Jones had the second-best three-cone time (7.00) among all quarterbacks at the Combine. He has prototypical size at 6-foot-5 and has been praised for his mechanics, accuracy, and football IQ. Sounds like a Patriot. But Jones' relative lack of arm talent drops him down to a late-first-round selection at best, if not second round. But he's a quarterback, so the Pats might need to spend pick No. 32 to get Jones, who recently visited the team. Discussions about Tom Brady's successor always polarize, and Jones has drawn a wide range of opinions. But if the Patriots take him in the first round? They've found their guy for the future.

-- TE Noah Fant, Iowa. Of all the tight ends in a top-heavy 2019 draft class, Fant is the most athletic. As a pass-catcher he has "matchup nightmare" potential. He beat all tight ends in both the three-cone drill (6.81) and 40-yard dash (4.50). He visited the Patriots this month. If the Pats want to jump-start their post-Gronk reset with a freak playmaker at tight end, Fant is the best and most realistic option. Fant's Iowa teammate, T.J. Hockenson, may go too high for Bill Belichick. Even Fant may require a trade-up if the Patriots covet him. But hey, John Schneider and the Seahawks are sitting there at 21...

-- RB Miles Sanders, Penn State. Sanders said at the Combine that he met with the Patriots. He runs a little like Sony Michel and has potential as a pass-catching back, too. It makes sense that the Patriots at least took a look. Running back certainly isn't a need for the Patriots, but if he's the best player on their board in the second or third round they might pick him.

-- OL Kaleb McGary, Washington. McGary reportedly met privately with the Patriots as a top-30 visit. In the three-cone, he finished third among all tackles with 7.66 seconds. He could play right tackle right away at the NFL level. Though the offensive line is intact for 2019, left tackle remains a bit flimsy with Isaiah Wynn as by far the best option at that spot. Belichick may want to keep throwing darts at the tackle board.

-- EDGE Ben Banogu, TCU. Banogu earned First Team All-Big 12 honors as a senior with 8.5 sacks in 13 games. An athletic edge rusher who could contribute to the Patriots' rotation as a rookie, but may need seasoning to add moves to the toolbox. But his three-cone time? Sixth among all edge rushers at 7.02. He projects as a mid-round pick. So if he does end up a Patriot, there's a chance he takes the same trajectory as Trey Flowers and Derek Rivers and we don't see much of him until his second full season.

-- DL Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan. Day 3 prospect who said at the Combine that he met with the Patriots. He has good size and length, but will need to bulk up and develop for some time at the NFL level. Belichick may be able to see 3-4 years down the road at the kind of player Crosby has the potential to be. Especially because he topped all defensive linemen with a 6.89-second three-cone drill.

A Sure Sign?

It's not that a single Combine drill is the end-all-be-all for Patriots draft picks. Ultimately, this is a small percentage of Belichick's total. But it's fascinating that he's consistently drafted players who excelled in this category, seemingly regardless of position. Probably not a coincidence.

Keep all these names on your radar ahead of the weekend. They should've been there the second you saw their three-cone.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].

* All Combine stats/rankings via Pro Football Reference