Since the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, seven eventual New England Patriots defensive backs have slipped under that time in the three-cone drill.
Four of whom were drafted by the organization, another was signed as an undrafted free agent, another was signed as an unrestricted free agent, and another was acquired via trade. And while each of their tenures has gone – or went – differently, there’s reason to think the forward-and-back-and-forward-and-around-and-back helped highlight the attributes that garnered New England’s interest in the first place.
An L-shaped run that actually calls upon four cones, the three-cone often goes without a live broadcast from Lucas Oil Stadium. But its effectiveness in gauging change of direction and agility is arguably more applicable than the 40-yard dash.
Particularly when it comes to the responsibilities of a cornerback or safety, where the average sits around 6.94 seconds, per MockDraftable’s aggregate combine statistics.
The off-coverage reading or the on-the-line jamming, then the recovering, and then the clicking and closing relies on it. Enough nuance in a route can take a cover man with all the long speed in the world and turn him into the victim of an 80-yard touchdown if not for the necessary short-area quickness. Enough space in the open field can send a tackler heading 20 mph in the wrong direction. And even so, there’s no guarantee that a number stamped in Indianapolis is going to be the difference.
But the Patriots’ track record of adding defensive backs who excelled in the combine event provides context.
Here are the New England’s most recent seven south of 6.75.
PATRIOTS’ SUB-6.75 DEFENSIVE BACKS SINCE 2010 COMBINE
- Stephon Gilmore: 6.61 in 2012 – Gilmore ranked fourth among defensive backs at the 2012 combine in the three-cone before landing with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10 overall that spring. The South Carolina product earned Pro Bowl honors in 2016, and started each of his 13 appearances for New England in 2017 after penning a five-year, $65 million deal to record 50 tackles, nine passes defended and two interceptions.
- Justin Coleman: 6.61 in 2015 – The top overall three-cone performer at the 2015 combine, Coleman proceeded to go from the Minnesota Vikings to the Patriots to the Seattle Seahawks and back to the Patriots before playing his first regular-season down. The undrafted Tennessee corner played 20 games across two regular seasons with New England, and was traded back to Seattle this past September. Coleman logged 42 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine passes defensed and two pick-sixes in 2017.
- Logan Ryan: 6.69 in 2013 – The Rutgers Scarlet Knight checked in fourth among defensive backs in the three-cone at the 2013 combine, and was picked in the third round by New England in the months that followed. Ryan appeared in every game for the Patriots through 2016, starting 40 to amass 243 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, 41 pass deflections and 13 interceptions. He signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Tennessee Titans last March.
- Devin McCourty: 6.70 in 2010 – The first-round Rutgers cornerback-turned-safety ranked fourth among DBs at the 2010 combine. He’s since earned Pro Bowl accolades at both spots in New England’s secondary in addition to three second-team All-Pros. A team captain since the 2015 season, the-now-30-year-old McCourty has started each of his 123 contests, accruing 632 tackles, three sacks, eight forced fumbles, 76 passes defended and 20 interceptions.
- Eric Rowe: 6.70 in 2015 – The Utah Ute, with a background at corner and safety, notched the secondary’s second-fastest three-cone time at the 2015 combine and went in the second round to the Philadelphia Eagles. Rowe was sent to the Patriots in exchange for a conditional fourth-rounder in 2016, and has since started 10 of his 17 regular-season appearances. He’s tallied 72 career tackles, 15 breakups and two picks – and was a starter in Super Bowl LII.
- Cyrus Jones: 6.71 in 2016 – Jones, who ran a top-three three-cone among participating defensive backs in 2016, spent the entirety of 2017 on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason finale. The former No. 60 overall draft choice out of Alabama saw action in 10 games as a rookie, yet was a healthy inactive from Week 17 through Week 22 and was scratched additional six times prior to then. Jones finished that year with seven tackles and five fumbles on returns.
- Jordan Richards: 6.74 in 2015 – Despite a 4.65 40-time, Richards’ 6.74 checked in third among 2015 combine defensive backs. The Stanford Cardinal checked in at No. 64 overall some two months later, and between his work at dime linebacker, punt protector and elsewhere, Richards has played 528 snaps on defense and 713 on special teams for the Patriots. He’s started seven games, collecting 49 tackles, three deflections and two forced fumbles while struggling to take coverage angles as well as he did three-cone angles.
It isn’t a clear-cut correlation with success, of course. Just a piece to an imperfect puzzle.
“I think it gives you some evaluation of a combination of his lateral movement and vertical movement,” Bill Belichick said of the three-cone at the 2014 combine, as transcribed by ESPN, later adding, “It is what it is. It is a time measurement that isn’t really a football-specific drill because of all the variables in football that are not a part of it.”
Current or onetime Patriots defensive backs who ran the three-cone above 6.75 at the combine since 2010 include Troy Hill (6.81), Brock Vereen (6.90), Leonard Johnson (6.96), Alex Carter (7.05), Damarius Travis (7.08), Brandon Dixon (7.15) and Jonathan Jones (7.25). The likes of Ras-I Dowling and Alfonzo Dennard did not run it there. And a handful of non-combine invites who made stops in the defensive backfield were forced to wait until their hand-timed pro days, too, then landed on the higher side of the ledger. Like Duron Harmon, who ran a reported 7.02 at his in 2013. Or Jemea Thomas, who ran a 7.03 at his in 2014. Or Malcolm Butler, Cre’von LeBlanc and so forth.
But upwards of 50 combine defensive backs have hit the three-cone in 6.75 seconds or less since 2010, according to the Pro Football Reference archives, and seven have made their way to Foxborough. Since 2015, three out of a dozen have.
So as another class of defensive backs touches down in Indianapolis, it’s some fluidity for thought. The Patriots figure to take the three-cone as such.