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NFL Draft

NFL Combine Notebook: Tracking WR Targets

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On Friday, the wide receivers took the podium at the 2019 NFL Combine, and with that came news that the Steelers had met or planned to meet with at least five of the top receivers in the draft class.

On Saturday, Arizona State’s N’Keal Henry was added to that list, giving Kevin Colbert and company a half dozen prime targets to track as they went through the workouts on Saturday.

Marquise Brown (Oklahoma) isn’t running, as he’s still recovering from foot surgery, but here’s the results from the workouts as the receivers took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.

40-YARD DASH

D.K. Metcalf 4.33 seconds*

Deebo Samuel 4.48 seconds*

A.J. Brown 4.49 seconds

N’Keal Harry 4.53 seconds

Riley Ridley 4.58 seconds*

*-unofficial time

VERTICAL JUMP

Riley Ridley 30.5 inches

A.J. Brown 36.5 inches

N’Keal Harry 38.5 inches

Deebo Samuel 39 inches

D.K. Metcalf 40.5 inches

BROAD JUMP

D.K. Metcalf 134 inches

Riley Ridley 124 inches

Deebo Samuel 122 inches

N’Keal Harry 122 inches

A.J. Brown 120 inches

3 CONE DRILL

Deebo Samuel 7.03 seconds

Riley Ridley 7.22 seconds

D.K. Metcalf 7.38 seconds

20-YARD SHUTTLE

Riley Ridley 4.28 seconds

D.K. Metcalf 4.50 seconds

BENCH PRESS

N’Keal Harry 27 reps

D.K. Metcalf 27 reps

A.J. Brown 19 reps

Deebo Samuel 15 reps

Riley Ridley 13 reps

ANALYSIS

It looks like the Steelers certainly have a type, as most of the receivers are big, physical, and with straight-line speed, a combination that is easily projectable as an outside deep threat at the NFL level. That’s interesting, because that’s not the kind of receiver Antonio Brown is at 5-foot-10 and more known for quickness than strength.

But speed trumps all at the receiver position, and Brown certainly has that. For comparison’s sake, he ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at his combine.

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The Steelers have or will also meet with a pair inside linebacker targets in LSU’s Devin White and Alabama’s Mack Wilson, according to Joe Rutter of the Tribune-Review.

NFL

Report: Rift Between NFL, Teams on April Draft

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While the NFL plans to go ahead with the 2020 Draft as scheduled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, general managers around the league reportedly want to see it pushed back, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini and Adam Schefter.

The NFL’s General Manager sub committee suggested to commissioner Roger Goodell that the draft be postponed, a recommendation that the league apparently ignored.

Teams are concerned that others will have an unfair advantage in preparing for the draft, with some teams still having access to their facilities while others do not. They are also concerned about not being able to do their normal due diligence scouting prospects, such as attending pro days, administering physicals and psychological testing and conducting interviews.

Commissioner Goodell put those concerns of unfairness to rest in a memo to teams Tuesday night, closing all league facilities moving forward.

While Goodell’s decision should help alleviate some of the worry amongst the general managers, teams now must focus their attention to the challenge of setting up their draft rooms remotely.

With the draft exactly one month away, there is still plenty of time for the league to change its mind. Still, no one with actual decision-making power around the league seems eager to reschedule.

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Analysis

Who Fits the Mold of a Steelers RB in the 2020 NFL Draft?

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The Steelers are in a unique position this year with a plethora of needs based on depth. In terms of actual day one impact, is there really a position that will bring a ton of that? Sure, rotational pass rusher, a third safety, a new tight end, and even offensive line help. But one of the key arguments of the running back contingent group has been that day one impact.

The Steelers were clearly doing their work snuffing around the combine as they met with Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, JK Dobbins, and AJ Dillon. But just what do they look for in their running backs and who fits the mold in this draft?

In this study, I have realized that there are two types of Steelers running backs. There are the speed backs and then the workhorse back. The Steelers currently have a few workhorse back types in Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, and James Conner, while having the speed back archetype in Kerrith Whyte. Let us start out with the workhorse type of back. Over Mike Tomlin’s tenure, here are the running backs selected that fit the workhorse archetype.

Steelers Workhorse Back Archetype

Benny Snell

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 224
40: 4.66
Vertical: 29 1/2
Broad: 9’10”
Bench: 16 reps
3 Cone: 7.07
Short Shuttle: 4.33

Jaylen Samuels

Height: 5’11
Weight: 225
40: 4.54
Vertical: 34 1/2
Broad: 10’1″
Bench: 18 reps
3 Cone: 6.93
Short Shuttle: 4.28

James Conner

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 233
40: 4.65
Vertical: 29″
Broad: 9’5″
Bench: 20 reps

Le’Veon Bell

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 230
40: 4.6
Vertical: 31 1/2
Broad: 9’10”
Bench: 25 reps
3 Cone: 6.75
Short Shuttle: 4.24

Jonathan Dwyer

Height: 5’11”
Weight: 229
40: 4.68
Vertical: 33″
Broad: 8’11”
Bench: 15 reps
3 Cone: 7.56
Short Shuttle: 4.67

Baron Batch

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 207
40: 4.5
Vertical: 39″
Broad: 10’6″
Bench: 24 reps

Rashard Mendenhall

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 225
40: 4.45
Vertical: 33.5″
Broad: 9’9″
Bench: 26 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.18

Here are the corresponding thresholds I have created with the data. There is one outlier for each of the data sets aside from the bench press, where all met the requirements.

Height: 5’10″+
Weight: 224+
40: Sub 4.66
Vertical: 29″+
Broad: 9’5″+
Bench: 15 reps+

Now, here are the guys who check every single box set forth here:

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
TCU RB Sewo Olonilua
Boston College RB AJ Dillon

Correspondingly, here are guys who only missed the cut by one measurable, with that measurable being weight for every single one of them:

Florida State RB Cam Akers
Maryland RB Javon Leake
Memphis RB Patrick Taylor
Florida RB La’Mical Perine
Georgia RB Brian Herrien
UCLA RB Joshua Kelley
Vanderbilt RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn

The Steelers have met with Taylor, Dillon, and Akers, so they are running the mold right on schedule in terms of showing interest in certain running backs.

However, as for the second mold, the Steelers speed back, there an entire difference of prerequisites, but all the speed backs of the Mike Tomlin era here are listed below:

Steelers Speed Back Archetype

Kerrith Whyte

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 197
40: 4.37
Vertical: 42″
Broad: 11″
Bench: 21 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.37
3 Cone: 7.2

Tony Brooks-James

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 190
40: 4.45
Vertical: 35.5
Broad: 10’7″
Bench: 15 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.27
3 Cone: 7.06

Dri Archer

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 173
40: 4.26
Vertical: 38″
Broad: 10’2″
Bench: 20 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.06
3 Cone: 6.86

Chris Rainey

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 180
40: 4.45
Vertical: 36″
Broad: 10″
Bench: 16 reps
Short Shuttle: 3.93
3 Cone: 6.5

Here are the thresholds needed to qualify for a Steelers speed back:

Height: 5’8″+
Weight: 173+
40: Sub 4.45
Vertical: 35 1/2″+
Broad: 10″+
Bench: 15 reps+
Short Shuttle: Sub 4.37
3 Cone: Sub 7.2

In addition, all of these guys had return experience, so that is another requirement.

Here are the guys who check the boxes:

Appalachian State RB Darrynton Evans
Memphis RB Antonio Gibson
Lousiana Lafeyette RB Raymond Calais

All of these guys hit the nail on the head for requirements. Gibson would likely be taken with the 3rd round compensatory pick while Evans and Calais would going into the later rounds if the Steelers were looking down this route.

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NFL Draft

Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: Offensive Line

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We’ve moved past the skill positions in our ongoing series looking at every Steelers draft pick of the past twenty years.

All in all, Colbert, Tomlin and company have been pretty successful across the board on the offensive side of the ball. The results of which you can see below.

Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends

Now we move on to heart and soul of any successful team: the offensive line.

The Steelers offensive line draft picks of the 80s and 90s begins and ends with legends Hall of Famer Dermonti Dawson and future Hall of Famer Alan Faneca. But the team’s more recent history features its own stars in two time All-Pros Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro; two Steelers who could one day be engraved in bronze in Canton alongside their 20 brothers in black and gold.

From 2000-2009 the Steelers spent 14 picks on offensive lineman, with varying degrees of success. Marvel Smith was a six year starter and made a pro bowl, Max Starks and Willie Colon were both solid six year starters, 1st round pick Kendall Simmons started for five and 6th round pick Chris Kemoeatu held down left guard for four seasons as a starter, including two Super Bowl appearances.

2000: 2nd round, Marvel Smith, Tackle, Arizona St.
2001: 4th round, Mathias Nkwenti, Tackle, Temple; 5th round Chukky Okobi, Center, Purdue
2002: 1st round, Kendall Simmons, Guard, Auburn
2003: None
2004: 3rd round, Max Starks, Florida; 6th round, Bo Lacy, Tackle, Arkansas; 6th round, Drew Caylor, Center, Stanford
2005: 3rd round, Trai Essex, Tackle, Northwestern; 6th round, Chris Kemoeatu, Guard, Utah
2006: 4th round, Willie Colon, Guard, Hofstra; 6th round, Marvin Phillip, Center, California
2007: 5th round, Cameron Stephenson, Guard, Rutgers
2008: 4th round, Tony Hills, Tackle, Texas
2009: 3rd round, Kraig Urbik, Tackle, Wisconsin; 7th round, A.Q. Shipley, Center, Penn State

2009’s two picks, Kraig Urbik and A.Q. Shipley both had some success in the NFL, but interestingly not with the Steelers. Both ended up with fairly long careers, mostly as backups.

2010: 1st round, Maurkice Pouncey, Center, Florida; 5th round, Chris Scott, Guard, Tennessee

For the first time since 2002, the Steelers used a 1st round pick on an offensive lineman, selecting Florida’s Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th overall selection. In the nine years since, Pouncey has made 8 Pro Bowls and been named an All-Pro twice. The only thing missing from his sterling resume is a Super Bowl ring.

2011: 2nd round, Marcus Gilbert, Tackle, Florida; 6th round, Keith Williams, Guard, Nebraska
2012: 1st round, David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford; 2nd round, Mike Adams, Tackle, Ohio St.; 7th round, Kelvin Beachum, Tackle, SMU

The Steelers make a concerted effort to protect franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger by spending lots of draft capital on the O-Line, grabbing Pouncey’s Florida Teammate, Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round in 2011 and then using another 1st round pick on Stanford’s David DeCastro. Gilbert had a solid career with the Steelers starting for five seasons, but it’s DeCastro who’s been the star of the show. Considered one of the best guards in the NFL, DeCastro has made five Pro-Bowls along with two All-Pro teams in his seven years with the team.

Steelers 2012 2nd round selection Mike Adams was a huge bust, but the team did make its best 7th round selection since Brett Keisel in 2002 with Kelvin Beachum. Beachum started much of four years with the team before leaving in free agency.

2013: None
2014: 5th round, Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt
2015: None
2016: 4th round, Jerald Hawkins, Tackle, LSU
2017: None
2018: 3rd round, Chukwuma Okorafor, Tackle, Western Michigan
2019: 7th round, Derwin Gray, Tackle, Maryland

With the emergence of undrafted free agents Ramon Foster–who earned the starting job in 2011–and Alejandro Villanueva in 2015, the Steelers were largely set at offensive line. With Pouncey anchoring the middle, Foster and DeCastro at guard and a combination of Villanueva, Beachum and Marcus Gilbert at tackle, the Steelers had one of the best lines in the NFL under Mike Munchak. From 2013-2019 the team only used four picks on the offensive line, none before the 3rd round.

2000-2020 draft offensive line breakdown

Total selections: 26
Years selecting an OL: 16/20

Selections by position:

Center: 5
Guard: 7
Tackle: 13
OL: 1

Selections by round:

1st round: 3
2nd round: 3
3rd round: 4
4th round: 4
5th round: 4
6th round: 4
7th round: 3

Selections by conference:

SEC: 7
ACC: 0
Big 12: 2
Big 10: 8
PAC 12: 5

Power 5: 22
Group of 5: 4

Notes:

The Steelers really like those Big 10 and SEC offensive lineman, selecting them 15/26 of their total picks. … As with most positions, the Steelers tend to stick to Power 5 schools, with 22 out of their 26 picks. … Steelers draft picks have combined for 14 Pro Bowl appearances, 13 of them by two players, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. … 11 of their picks have started more than 50 games in the NFL (44%). … The Steelers have had the most success with Florida recruits (Pouncey, Gilbert, Starks), with 19 years of starting experience between them.

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