Wide Receiver Prospects: Stop Running 3-Cones

Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Did TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor have a good NFL combine? It’s a legitimate question. I want to know your answer. 

Here were his numbers:

  • Height: 5 feet 11 inches
  • Weight: 206 pounds 
  • Arm length: 31.375 inches
  • Hand size: 9.5 inches
  • Bench press: 17 reps
  • 40-yard dash: 4.47 seconds
  • Broad jump: 132 inches
  • Vertical jump: 38 inches
  • 3-cone drill: 7.31 seconds
  • Short shuttle: 4.46 seconds

Was he good? Bad? It might be hard to tell without the percentiles for his position. How good is a 4.46-seconds short shuttle or a 4.47-second 40-yard dash relative to all the other receivers who came through the combine?

Here are those percentiles in the order they are received through the course of the week. It’s an important distinction for this particular exercise.

Day 1:

  • Height: 22nd percentile
  • Weight: 60th percentile
  • Arm length: 32nd percentile
  • Hand size: 61st percentile

Day 2:

  • Bench press: 72nd percentile

Day 3:

  • Broad jump: 98th percentile
  • Vertical jump: 97th percentile
  • 40-yard dash: 64th percentile

Let's stop right there. 

At this point, Reagor has come in as a shorter and stubbier prospect than most receivers, but still of NFL-viable size — over 5 feet 10 inches with 31-plus-inch arms — and he's extremely dense for his frame with an above-average weight and strength. This all tracks on Reagor's film: a smaller player with plus contact balance.

The other thing that tracks from Reagor's film is his elite explosiveness. Reagor's jumps were both extremely impressive, especially when you consider the length disadvantage he overcame to put up such numbers. As scouts and analysts, we translate the jumps into linear explosiveness and burst; Reagor gets to top speed in quite a hurry and has plus catch point ability for a player of his size because of how well he can elevate over his competition for contested balls.

What if we stopped there? Eight metrics, six of them in the 60th percentile or better, and the two that didn’t just tell us that Reagor is short and stubby, which essentially has no effect on his pro projection.

Well, we didn't, and the final two tests came through for Reagor later on Day 3:

  • 3-cone drill: 5th percentile
  • Short shuttle: 8th percentile

Did TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor have a good NFL combine?

To answer that question, we had to first know his numbers and how they stacked up relative to his position historically. Some of them matter and some are just noise — it’s important to distinguish the two. 

Rotoworld’s Hayden Winks released an analysis last year on combine tests that matter and this year released a metric called adjusted SPARQ. Adjusted SPARQ considers only those tests that matter for each position. It focused on players drafted that were productive in their rookie seasons and the drills they succeeded in when they tested at the combine. Winks even went so far as to divide the receiver position by weight, attempting to separate players who fill wildly different roles at the position.

With Reagor being a sub-6-foot receiver, Winks has this to say on athletic testing that matters, and that which doesn't:

Athleticism isn’t very important for undersized receivers. Of all the metrics my model looked at, the weight-adjusted forty (speed score) carried the most weight, while agility (short shuttle) and short-area burst (10-yard split) were minimal contributors. Ultimately, it’s not the end of the world if a sub-six foot receiver doesn’t shred the NFL combine.

So none of this really matters all that much, but if anything matters, it's how fast a receiver runs relative to his weight. Reagor, who was 64th percentile and above-average in the 40, at 206 pounds (which was in the 61st percentile and also above average) was pretty darn good.

This is particularly interesting because the heavier Reagor gets, the more density he adds to his frame. In terms of explosiveness, Reagor's added mass focuses on the quads, glutes and hamstrings. It also limits the flexibility in his hips, which is one of the main things the 3-cone and short shuttle try to measure.

Those particular drills don't predict Reagor's success at the NFL level, and by training for the drills that do matter, he limited his ability to perform. The 3-cone and short shuttle were the last results we receive from Reagor's performance and they are harrowingly poor, which warrants the question: Why bother testing in them at all?

It’s not an extreme concept. As Fantasy Headliners’ Miguel Chapeton noted, we saw the fewest number of testers at WR and it was also the worst performances overall. Wide receivers aren't really running the 3-cone and short shuttle anymore; and even those who are, aren't doing it very well.

These agility drills are not necessarily obsolete across the board, but it's tough to find any examples of a dominant 3-cone or short shuttle really improving a player's stock. The big winners in those drills during this year's combine were Baylor's Denzel Mims and USC's Michael Pittman Jr. But if you watch their film, are you really going to say they have the best change of direction in the class? Or do those positive agility results really matter more than, say, the 40-yard dash for Pittman?

There's little to be gained for receivers running the agilities anymore. Just think of what D.K. Metcalf's spider chart could have looked like if he decided to pass on tests that were essentially meaningless to his stock. Could he have been selected where N'Keal Harry was and in one round earlier, had he taken Harry's route and avoided the tests altogether?

As the years go on, we should expect fewer and fewer wideouts to run the agility drills, and the results will likely remain pedestrian across the board as prospects and agents wisen up to how little these drills matter in the large scheme of things.