The NFL Scouting Combine is an interesting part of the NFL offseason. Many people think it's incredibly boring to watch football players do non-football things and/or football-related things without pads and contact. Others will point out that as a scouting tool it is way overrated, and too much is made from 40-yard-dash times and bench press reps.
While those are good points, draftniks, real draftniks, and scouts often say that the Combine is best utilized as a compliment to film study. If a player blows the minds of all the scouts at the Combine with a blazing 40-time but his film is subpar, a scout can go back and re-watch the film and see if that speed is translating to game tape or not.
Now for non-skill position players, which drills project future success at the NFL level? Obviously there is no one drill but for many skill position players it's easy to look at 40 time and bench press, and then look at the agility drills and make sure it all matches up with the tape the player produced.
However, for linemen it's difficult to get some of those tests to translate. A DL is unlikely to need to sprint 40 yards at any given time and if he does, well the play is probably already messed up. Bench press can indicate straight strength but doesn't factor in things like reaction time, ability to counter an opposing lineman's blocking, etc.
Luckily though, Josh Norris of Rotoworld is here to help us out. Norris wrote last week in the Combine-preview piece linked there that the two short-area quickness tests provide one of the best indicators of future NFL production among linemen. For offensive linemen, it's the 20-yard shuttle and for edge players (DEs and 3-4 OLBs) it's the 3-cone drill.
Now, for the purpose of the Bears I will be focusing on the defensive line since the team doesn't have an offensive line need (when's the last time we could say that with certainty) but I do want to note that, according to Norris, Kyle Long was among the fastest 20-yard shuttle times last year, and we saw how that worked out.
For the edge players though, Norris writes:
Much is made of a pass rusher's initial upfield get-off, but ability to plant and quickly change direction can be equally effective. The 3-cone drill puts different types of pass rushers on an equal playing field. Since 2006, pass rushers like the Cardinals’ Sam Acho, Seahawks’ Bruce Irvin, Chargers’ Melvin Ingram, Browns’ Barkevious Mingo, Eagles’ Connor Barwin, Texans’ J.J. Watt, Lions’ Devin Taylor and Vikings’ Brian Robison make up eight of the top 10 times in the "DL" group, all running under a 6.90. The Seahawks’ Cliff Avril is also in the next grouping.
Like any combine drill, this isn't the end-all, be-all but it is a nice place to start when looking at pass rushing ability. Not all of these guys were first round picks either, which says to me that it's not the most weighed time scouts and GMs are looking at, but all of the above mentioned players were drafted before round five. In fact Robison, Avril, Taylor and Acho were all fourth-round picks. If it's day two or three and the Bears take a DE, note his 3-cone time because that could be a good value pick.
Now lets look at the fastest 3-cone drills from this year. Norris mentions 6.90 as the threshold for these edge players but only one player broke that mark this year:
Kony Ealy, DE, Mizzou - 6.83
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas - 6.97
Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA - 7.08
Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt - 7.11
Howard Jones, DE, Shephard - 7.16
For what it's worth South Carolina DE and possible-number-one-pick Jadeveon Clowney ran it in 7.27, good for 12th among the DEs. Donald was the only DT to place in the top 15. SBN posted a more complete list of times for the DL here so that is worth a look. To my eye, it appears Donald was by FAR the fastest DT which bodes well for his stock, which has been on the rise and he's widely viewed as the best pass-rushing DT in the class. Jeffcoat is seen as a day two pick while Marsh is seen as a day three pick. Jones, coming from the D-II school Shepherd is seen as a very raw prospect but, with his eye-popping Combine numbers (in addition to his 3-cone time, he placed top-5 in the broad jump, vertical jump and 40-yard dash), he will likely be a day 3 pick.
So who sticks out to you? Considering the production and ranking of Donald and Ealy, if both were there at 14 which would you want the Bears to take?