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2024 NFL Draft

Want to Know Who the Steelers Draft? Look for Freak Athletes

The Pittsburgh Steelers draft freak athletes in the early rounds, and Omar Khan and Andy Weidl might do it even more often than Kevin Colbert did.



Pittsburgh Steelers GM Omar Khan Steelers Draft
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex -- ED THOMPSON

The Pittsburgh Steelers carry many mixed bags in their recent NFL Draft history. Dating back since their last Super Bowl win, the first-round picks have been spotty at best. However, the pick that changed Pittsburgh’s draft tendencies can be traced back to Jarvis Jones, who came into the NFL as a questionable athlete after testing and burning the team. But since then, the team has focused on drafting elite athletes.

But in the 2020s, that has become even more prevalent. No longer must first-round picks pass the high athletic thresholds. The team did not see success with some picks that tested as even below-average or just average athletes in the middle rounds, and now the team, through day two drafts, mostly freak athletes. Kent Lee Platte, the creator of Relative Athletic Scores, which has proven to be a predictive indicator, chronicled this. The Steelers’ drafts have become hyper-athletic in recent seasons.

The most athletic of those drafts was in 2023. It is green down the board except for Nick Herbig, who is not there because of his size. But Pittsburgh seems to have stricter athletic requirements that they are looking at nowadays, and that is why they often are drafting guys who might not be as ready to go right off the bat, but they will trust in their coaching. Mike Tomlin has talked about that in the past on The Pivot. He is okay coaching guys up.

Looking deeper into this, I figured the Eagles would be an interesting case study, too. Andy Weidl’s connections to Philadelphia and some of the ideas that have come over to Pittsburgh, such as drafting and adding insanely athletic offensive linemen. Unsurprisingly, the Eagles are also one of those teams that seems to zero in on getting high-level athletes. When paired with Omar Khan, the Steelers value this a lot.

Pittsburgh values it at a league-average and higher levels than most of the league. Pittsburgh had one of the two most athletic classes in the NFL last season, along with the Indianapolis Colts. So, remember, when talking about guys that the team could draft, these athletic benchmarks matter. And they matter a lot to the team. It can filter out certain guys throughout the NFL Draft when you explore this specific threshold that the team will have.

But above all else, at all positions, the Steelers like athletes. A lot of it is due to misses they have had in their past, but if the early returns from their 2023 NFL Draft class are any indication it certainly seems like the team should continue to follow that blueprint. The early returns are quite solid.