Jedrick Wills | Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images
Highlighting the importance of a couple of the on-field drills
The NFL Scouting Combine is a fantastic tool for evaluating players as they prepare to enter the league. The medical evaluations are of the utmost importance and the Combine acts as a great opportunity for every team to further get to know these prospects with the interview process. Obviously, the drills and athletic testing are also very useful, and it can act as one stop shopping with every player in his respective position group side by side in a very digestible format.
Everyone gets caught up in the heights and weights and the outlier testers, whether positive or negative. And of course, the 40-yard dash is the highlighter for fans, armchair scouts and they obviously do carry a lot of weight for NFL evaluators as well. That is all fantastic and very useful, but here are two drills that Giants fans should be paying close attention to for positions that New York should be looking to draft rather high.
20-yard short shuttle for offensive linemen
Assuming a college offensive lineman has at least the baseline level of athletic ability for the NFL game, if you can find a prospect that is both smart and tough, that player will likely be very difficult to get off the field in this offensive line-starved league. Such players have extreme value, often for many years.
But what if there is an athletic test that indicates more than many of you might think? Sure it is great to see a big man’s 10-yard splits in the 40-yard dash (which is a better indicator than you might think by the way) to see how he accelerates from a stopped position. Obviously that correlates to what is asked of offensive linemen off the snap of the ball. But the test to really keep an eye on is the 20-yard short shuttle.
You would think that the short shuttle drill would be most important for smaller great athletes that do most of the work in space. But for offensive linemen, these test results very much correlate to what they are asked to do time and time again. Offensive linemen do operate quite a bit in space, but it is just in tight quarters, which isn’t easy to see while watching the games on television.
The defenders NFL offensive linemen are asked to block are always faster, quicker and better athletic specimens and that is truer in today’s NFL than in any time in history. These huge human beings have to adjust their path on the fly time and time again. Too often, these giants become “Objects in motion that remains in motion” in straight line path while their defensive blocking assignment isn’t doing them the courtesy of standing in one place and begging to be blocked. The best offensive linemen have the ability to abruptly redirect to get their man.
The short shuttle demonstrates and quantifies this ability extremely well. You also can’t do well in this drill without being able to bend at the knees and sink your hips; two very important traits needed for high-end offensive line play. Registering around a 4.4 in the short shuttle is just exceptional by an offensive lineman.
Two years ago, James Daniels (4.4), Joseph Noteboom (4.44), Kolton Miller (4.49), Austin Corbett (4.50), Brian O’Neil (4.50) and Quentin Nelson (4.62) where all best in class amongst all offensive linemen. All but Noteboom and O’Neil were selected in the first 39 choices overall. O’Neil went to Minnesota at the bottom of the second round and his career has been very promising. Noteboom went to the Rams with the 89th selection and is going to be counted on in a big way in 2020.
In recent years, several later round picks that have excelled in this drill have gone on to impressive careers such as Matt Paradis (4.46), a sixth-round pick that made big money from Carolina. Meanwhile, the poster boy for this argument, fellow sixth round Pro Bowler Jason Kelce, posted an amazing 4.14 20-yard short shuttle at the 2011 Combine and is on a Hall of Fame like career path.
At last year’s Combine, Andre Dillard (4.40) stole the show. He projects as Jason Peters’ long term successor at left tackle in Philadelphia. Overall, 10 offensive linemen recorded a short shuttle time of under 4.6, which is truly astonishing and could very well be an indicator that prospects are now entering the league at this position with not only more athletic ability than ever, but also with a great understanding of the importance of this test for this position. Other major notables from this group of 10 include Dalton Risner (4.52), Garrett Bradbury (4.52), Chris Lindstrom (4.54) and Kaleb McGary (4.58).
3 cone drill for EDGE defenders
The athletic test that correlates extremely well to success from the edge position is the three-cone drill. While it is great if an edge defender can run 40 yards in a very short amount of time, but it is even better if they can drop their weight and pad level while “Bending the edge”. Think of some of the great edge pass-rushers bearing down on a quarterback with extreme power and without losing speed, all the while giving the blocker very little to get his hands on because their inside shoulder is so low to the ground.
Pure athletic ability is more important in edge pass-rushers than most NFL positions. This is especially true with a defender’s closing burst to the quarterback, fluidity, ankle flexion, the ability to corner without losing speed and a player’s balance to withstand contact while on his path towards wreaking havoc.
That is exactly what the 3-cone (or L Drill) measures and most of the NFL’s best players off the edge have posted a score under 6.9 seconds. Unlike the case before with the offensive linemen, this one is much easier to get your head around as a viewer. The 3-cone drill is nearly a mimic of what edge pass-rushers as asked to do and doesn’t need as much explanation. The 3-cone drill, without question, is the biggest indicator from the Combine when predicting pass-rush success off the edge.
Two years ago, Sam Hubbard (6.84), Harold Landry (6.88) and Kyle Fitts (6.88) were the best in class, although many of the edge defenders in that class chose to skip this drill (probably because they aren’t good at it) in Indianapolis and overall, the 2018 edge group was not particularly strong with just three edge defenders being selected in the first 41 picks, including Landry. At the 2011 Combine, even at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, JJ Watt posted an amazing 6.88 three-cone score, while Von Miller recorded a 6.70! Two others in recent years to get under 6.9 are Chargers teammates Melvin Ingram (6.83) and Joey Bosa (6.89).
Here are some of the best edge benders from last year. Sutton Smith from Northern Illinois raised some eyebrows with his time of 6.75, but it should be noted that he is only 6’ 0” and weighed in at just 233 pounds. Smith and Maxx Crosby (6.89) from Eastern Michigan, who was exceptional for the Raiders last year, were in the elite range on the 3-cone and overall, only four of the 36 defensive linemen (including defensive tackles) that participated in the drill were beneath 7.0. And incidentally, Nick Bosa was slower than his brother in this exercise by .21 seconds despite weighing in three pounds lighter.
In conclusion, recent history has taught us that the short shuttle for offensive linemen and 3 cone drill for edge defenders is a great indicator of NFL success. Keep this in mind when reviewing the numbers posted in Indianapolis.