WHAT DOES HISTORY SAY ABOUT THE 40-YARD DASH AND THE 3-CONE DRILL?

There is so much hype surrounding the annual NFL Combine. The NFL Combine is an event in which the NFL invites approximately 330 college players to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Players from around the nation accept the invitation to showcase their athleticism and skill; to improve their draft stock. Owners of Franchises, Head Coaches, General Managers, and Pro-Scouts all attend the NFL Combine to take a closer look at some of the up-and-coming talent NCAA has to offer.


Players engage in a series of events including; medical evaluations, interviews with NFL teams personnel, and performing on-field drills to impress at least 1 of the NFL Teams in attendance. Players hope to make such a great impression in Indianapolis so that they will hear their name called on draft night and be allowed to make an NFL roster.


All the activities that players engage in are important, but the on-field events are the most anticipated. Players will be asked to perform in the following drills:


  • Bench Press (225 lbs)

  • Broad Jump

  • Vertical Jump

  • 20 Yard Shuttle (Pro-Agility)

  • 3 Cone Drill (L- Drill)

  • 60 Yard Shuttle

  • 40 Yard Dash

  • Position-Specific Drills


Out of all the drills performed, it is no doubt that NFL Personnel put the most emphasis on the 40 Yard Dash. I completely understand the logic behind NFL scouts looking to find the fastest and most explosive player to add to their team. The style of play of today's game is more spread out and pass dominance. This is the opposite of the early years of the NFL when teams would run most of the time and pass very few. Now, the NFL is looking to throw the ball all over the field, and they want explosive players that are productive.


It makes complete sense to look for Wide Receivers that record an elite time in the 40-Yard Dash, BUT in my observation receivers that run the fastest 40-Yard Dash are usually less skilled. Consider the metrics below as a guide to how NFL Personnel look at 40 Yard Dash times.

*All measurements are in seconds*

  • Elite: 4.40 and below

  • Good: 4.41-4.50

  • Average: 4.51-4.60

  • Slow: 4.60 and above



*John Ross 40-Yard Dash at the NFL Combine*


I believe that NFL Personnel is looking at the wrong metric to find the explosive and productive receiver. History has displayed that players with "Average" to "Slow" 40-Yard Dash times tend to make the best receivers. So, what does this mean? Scouts are looking in the wrong area when evaluating whether a receiver will be productive and explosive on the field. It is one thing for a receiver to place his hand in the dirt and run as fast as he can 40 yards, but it is a different task to line up for a play in a two-point staggered stance and run a route.


Typically, guys that possess elite speed do not carry the other skills needed to consistently create separation in the NFL. These skills are creative route running, the ability to stop and change directions, and the ability to catch the ball. There are exceptions to this observation, a few players have posted an elite 40-Yard Dash time and were/is productive in the NFL. For example, Tyreek Hill (4.29), Desean Jackson (4.40), and Julio Jones (4.34) are the exception.


So, if it is not elite 40-Yard Dash speed that receivers need to have to succeed in the NFL, what is it? What should NFL Scouts place more emphasis on in the Combine? *Drum roll please*, it is the 3 Cone Drill also known as the "L-Drill". The L-Drill is used to assess a Wide Receiver's ability to change direction quickly, bend and accelerate.


Consider the metrics below as a guide to how NFL Personnel look at the 3-Cone Drill:



  • Elite: Sub 6.9

  • Good: 6.9-7.0

  • Average: 7.01-7.2

  • Slow: 7.2 & above


*Cooper Kupp 3-Cone Drill (L-Drill) at the NFL Combine*


The 3-Cone Drill is the most relevant exercise outside of running routes at the NFL Combine. Although receivers line up in a 3-point stance, the movements are like how a receiver would make on the football field. A receiver is more likely to make cuts, bend, or change direction throughout a game than to line up and run 40 yards at top speed. NFL offenses see an average of 63 plays per game. No one can run at max velocity 63 times in one game. So, a player's top speed is only used a few times per game.


The numbers also back up the 3-Cone Drill as being the most relevant

metric to gauge whether a receiver will be productive in the NFL. Consider these players' NFL Combine results for the 40-Yard Dash and 3-Cone Drill.


*Cooper Kupp touchdown versus Buccaneers.*


  • Devante Adams:

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.56

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.82

  • Cooper Kupp:

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.62

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.75

  • Deandre Hopkins

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.57

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.83

  • Julian Edelman

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.52

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.62

  • Larry Fitzgerald

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.63

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.93

  • Antonio Brown

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.56

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.98


Notice the "Average" 40-Yard Dash times with Elite or Good 3-Cone Drill times. Even the most productive elite 40-Yard Dash sprinters clocked elite times in the 3-Cone Drill as well. Here are a few to mention:


  • Tyreek Hill

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.29

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.53

  • DeSean Jackson

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.40

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.82

  • Julio Jones

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.34

  • 3-Cone Drill - 6.66


Here are a few players that ranked in the "Elite" category for the 40-Yard Dash and the "Average" to "Slow "category for the 3-Cone Drill. The players listed had little production in the NFL.


  • Anthony Schwartz

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.27

  • 3-Cone Drill - 7.13

  • DeDe Westbrook

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.39

  • 3-Cone Drill - 7.20

  • Johnathan Carter

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.40

  • 3-Cone Drill - 7.40

  • Johnathan Carter

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.40

  • 3-Cone Drill - 7.28

  • Tony Simmons

  • 40-Yard Dash - 4.35

  • 3-Cone Drill - 7.15


Recently, many players have opted out of performing the 3-Cone Drill. I am curious why they chose to run the 40-Yard Dash, clocking a fast time, but not perform in the 3-Cone Drill. Usually, when a player is good at something, he wants to display his ability. I am not saying players that choose not to run it, would not be good at it, or productive players. I am inferring that it would be of concern because the best players in recent years have done well in the drill.


The NFL Combine is a loaded event that holds serious ramifications for all participating players. This article is just sharing something I have observed over the years, and it is not a recommendation that Wide Receivers should prepare themselves any less to run the 40-Yard Dash. Please allow this article to encourage you to place more emphasis on learning proper techniques to decelerate, change direction and run routes. Also, if you are someone who does not run an "Elite" 40-Yard Dash please allow this article to encourage you; that you can be a productive and explosive Wide Receiver in the NFL. With all being said, a player's success boils down to his belief.




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