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The three cone drill is the NFL Combine’s most important drill

No test at the combine translates better to the football field better than the three cone drill.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone has their favorite drill at the NFL combine, but the ones that usually are talked about the most are actually some of the least effective in evaluating many positions. The 40 yard dash, for example, is mostly just a bragging rights competition between primarily defensive backs and wide receivers. Rarely does anyone get to really just open up and sprint on the field, and who knows if they are as fast as they looked in underwear when they have all that heavy gear on.

For most positions, the drills that test short range agility are the ones that really come into play in a game situation. The ability to quickly change direction while maintaining your balance and displaying explosiveness in your lower body are the things tested most often play to play. While some of these drills have measurable results, others do not and exist purely as tape for scouts to watch. The three cone drill provides a nice tidy time that gives scouts a rough estimate into how well an athlete can put it all together.

For those not familiar with the drill, here is a short video of a few prospects performing it.

As you can probably gleam from the video, this drill is universally useful. For offensive and defensive linemen, it represents a display of explosiveness and balance, particularly important for edge rushers and the tackles that must guard against them. For defensive backs, linebackers, and offensive skill players it shows their agility and burst acceleration, important for route running and getting out of breaks, as well as closing speed to defend.

All of the movements you see above directly translate to the field in some way for every single position. Analysts use the term “game speed” or “functional strength” a lot when talking about how a guy works out versus how he performs, and this is the closest you will get in the combine to quantifying such a thing.

“[The 3 cone drill is] the single most important drill at the combine, plain and simple,” an anonymous scout told CBS Sports. “Regardless of position, I want to know how the player performs in space and this helps show change of direction, explosiveness and overall athleticism. There is validity to this test translating to the football field.”

So while everyone will talk about which wide receiver or running back got the closest to cracking the 4.2 barrier in the 40 yard dash, but still didn’t beat Bo Jackson’s all-time 4.13 mark, i’ll be most interested in which linemen can run in circles the fastest.