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2014 NFL Draft: Winners, losers, surprises in combine 3-cone

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

More Draft: Pro Day schedule | Mock drafts | Rankings | Big Board | Latest news

Auburn pass rusher Dee Ford made headlines when he characterized Jadeveon Clowney as a "blind dog in a meat market," suggesting that NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated prospect lacks the instincts and lateral agility necessary to take full advantage of his straight-line explosiveness.

Unfortunately for Clowney, a disappointing performance at the Combine in the very drill designed to gauge the ability to change direction indicates that there is some truth to Ford's claims. While Clowney ranked first in the 40-yard dash and second in the vertical jump among all defensive linemen tested in Indianapolis, he ranked a disappointing 12th among them in the 3-cone, coming in at 7.27 seconds.

Assessment series
March 140-yard dash
March 2Vertical leap
March 3Broad jump
March 4Three-cone
March 5Short shuttle
March 6Long shuttle
March 7Positional drills
March 8Interviews
March 9Medicals

The ability to change directions quickly has always been important for ball-carriers and defensive backs. With the rise in popularity of mobile quarterbacks, these traits are growing increasingly important to pass-rushers, as well.

This focus on the 3-cone drill is one of a nine-part series from NFLDraftScout.com taking a closer look at each combine event, shifting the spotlight to some athletes who might otherwise have slipped through the cracks of coverage from the week in Indianapolis.

The Event: The 3-cone drill is aptly named. It is based on three cones set five yards apart in an "L" formation. Out of a three-point stance at a cone at one end, the athlete runs to touches the ground at the base of the middle cone with his right hand. He then returns back toward his original starting point, touching the ground at the base of the initial cone with his right hand. Finally, he turns back toward the middle cone, runs around the outside of it, and snakes inside the L to run around the cone furthest away before sprinting back to the finish line. The drill tests balance, change of direction and acceleration. When an athlete is described as fluid or stiff, this is the drill many use to quantify this characterization.

The Results: The results can be sorted by name, position, size, school or event here.

The Winners: If Clowney's poor 3-cone time sent up red-flags, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2-rated defensive end Kony Ealy certainly deserves credit for posting very impressive numbers in this test. The 6-foot-4, 273-pounder was overshadowed throughout much of his career at Missouri by Michael Sam but in leading all defensive linemen in this drill, he showed precisely the fluidity in which his former teammate struggled with at the Senior Bowl and Combine workouts. Ealy's length and strength make him a natural candidate to remain as a 4-3 defensive end but his ability to change directions quickly is sure to catch the attention of teams looking for a 3-4 rush linebacker, as well. One of those teams could be the Arizona Cardinals, who I currently project to nab Ealy with the 20th overall pick of the draft.

In the days prior to his workout South Dakota's Tyler Starr told CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman that he was looking to "blow [the 3-cone] drill out of the water." Despite calling his shot, the small-schooler certainly deserves a shout-out among the surprises for accomplishing just that, posting a time of 6.64 seconds -- faster than any linebacker of comparable size since 2006.

The 6-foot-4, 250 pounder's unique agility and acceleration stands out on tape, making him a highly intriguing developmental prospect for 4-3 and 3-4 clubs, alike.

Starr wasn't the only diamond in the rough to shine in this event. Montana's Jordan Tripp carried over an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl with a solid time, coming in just ahead of Ohio State's likely first round pick Ryan Shazier (6.91) with a 6.89-second time in the 3-cone.

The Losers: After struggling with the switch to the linebacker at the Senior Bowl, scouts wanted to see if Sam would demonstrate greater fluidity during drills at the Combine. Unfortunately, the same struggles were once again evident.

Officially listed as a defensive end in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-2, 261 pound Sam recorded a time of 7.80 seconds in the 3-cone. There were 10 defensive linemen tested in Indianapolis who recorded slower times in this event. The lightest among them was Syracuse's 6-foot-3, 306-pound Jason Bromley.

Long-legged athletes generally struggle in this event but scouts would have liked faster times from potential first round wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-foot-5, 240 monster who tied with Rutgers' equally imposing Brandon Coleman (6-foot-6, 225) for the slowest time among all receivers tested at 7.33 seconds.

To put this number in perspective, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews was just a hundredth of a second slower and he measured in at 6-foot-5, 308 pounds.

The Surprises: Prior to the Combine, BYU's Daniel Sorensen was often characterized as a try-hard, instinctive player with limited athleticism so when he posted a time of 6.47 seconds in the 3-cone - a faster time than anyone tested at the Combine in three years - scouts were left scrambling to re-evaluate him. Sorensen, currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 12-rated strong safety could get a nice boost up draft boards with this performance, similar to the way that Buster Skrine (6.44) and Cecil Shorts III (6.50) did after running similarly impressive times in recent years.

Like Sorensen, Stanford All-American pass rusher Trent Murphy is often mischaracterized as an instinctive over-achiever. In finishing second only to Starr among linebackers tested in this drill at the Combine, however, the gangly 6-foot-5, 250 pounder showed off the agility which helped him lead the FBS with 15 sacks in 2013.

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