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Chandler Jones ranked fourth in the three-cone drill, which helped him become a Patriot in the 2012 draft. He's gone on to become an All-Pro pass-rusher. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

To find the next Patriots pass-rusher in the draft, it often boils down to the results from one of the Combine’s more unheralded events: the three-cone drill.

No Combine in 2021, as NFL talent evaluators adjusted to the continued restrictions of a COVID-wracked world. But the three-cone and all the other familiar drills have lived on at Pro Days and other events, and Pro Football Reference gathered the results like it does every season. Bill Belichick almost always drafts at least one player who ranked highly at his position in the three-cone – and it’s particularly eye-opening at defensive end.

Out of 16 DEs drafted by the Patriots since 2000, 10 of them participated in the three-cone drill. Six of them ranked fourth or better at the position. Four ranked second.

Three-cone results, good or bad, don’t necessarily indicate long-term NFL success. For every Chandler Jones (4th in three-cone in 2012), there’s a Jake Bequette (2nd in three-cone in 2012). There are outliers like Trey Flowers (7.34, 10th) and Zach Moore (7.41, 11th), and Flowers has become a premier edge defender, while Moore fizzled out after four seasons and only 26 games. The important thing, here, is that the drill consistently draws the interest of the Patriots.

Wide receiver Diondre Overton runs the three-cone drill during Clemson's 2020 Pro Day. (Clemson/NFL)

Wide receiver Diondre Overton runs the three-cone drill during Clemson’s 2020 Pro Day. (Clemson/NFL)

The drill itself is quite simple: players run from the first to second cone, then from the second to the third cone, and back. The best times are typically from receivers and cornerbacks in the 6.5-second range. But the 6.75-7.00 range is excellent for defensive ends. It’s not surprising that the Patriots, who often run a lot of stunts and twists, want their pass-rushers to have short-area quickness. The three-cone results are the best measurement of that.

Belichick’s most recent three-cone stud on the edge is 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich (6.94, 2nd at “EDGE” in 2019). The former Michigan product has flashed as a pass-rusher in his first two seasons in New England, with 11 sacks and 22 QB hits in 32 games. With no edge players drafted in 2020, Kyle Dugger was the guy, based on posting a ridiculous 6.70 in 2019.

Predicting The Next Pats

The average three-cone time of all 10 DEs drafted by Belichick is 7.13, but five of them had sub-7 times. Low performers like Flowers and Jarvis Green (7.52) skew that number. The average position rank is 5.8. So with all this data in mind, let’s take a closer look at the top-7 edge defenders in this year’s three-cone results, and whether they’d fit with the Patriots.

What About Other Positions?

The three-cone drill isn’t only important for the Patriots on the defensive line. Wide receiver Julian Edelman (3rd), defensive back Devin McCourty (3rd), and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (3rd) are a few notable examples of players at other positions who ranked highly in the three-cone. So here are several more names to keep in mind.

Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
Milton Williams, DT, Louisiana Tech
Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa
Jacob Harris, WR, Central Florida
Eric Stokes, DB, Georgia
Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, WR, Northwestern

As is often the case, the Patriots are virtually impossible to predict at the draft. But keep the three-cone results in mind. Because history suggests that they’ll target someone who scored well in their favorite drill.

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.