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NFL Draft

Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century By Position: Running Back

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Since joining the Steelers in 2000, Kevin Colbert has had a major hand in every draft, first working alongside Bill Cowher and then Mike Tomlin.

We recently looked at all of Colbert’s picks since 2010 as well as every Steelers 2nd round pick since the year 2000.

While there have been well-documented struggles with certain positions–defensive backs come to mind–there have also been notable successes such as linebackers and wide receivers in later rounds.

Today we begin a series looking at Steelers draft picks position by position since the 2000 season. We’ll start with one that the Steelers could look to with their 2nd round pick, running backs.

2000-2007: Thanks to the presence of future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis and then undrafted phenom Willie Parker, the Steelers largely stayed away from the running back position in the draft.

2000: None
2001: None
2002: 5th round, Verron Haynes from Georgia
2003: 7th round, J.T. Wall from Georgia
2004: None
2005: 7th round, Noah Herron from Northwestern
2006: 7th round, Cedric Humes from Virginia Tech
2007: none
2008: 1st round, Rashard Mendenhall from Illinois

The brief Rashard Mendenhall era begins as the Steelers spend their 1st round pick (23rd overall) on the Illinois back. Mendenhall would replace Parker as the team’s number one back starting in 2009, helping the Steelers to the Super Bowl in 2010. Mendenhall would spend three year’s as the team’s primary back but never really lived up to the 1st round billing.

Following Mendenhall’s pick, the Steelers mainly took flyers on late round backs.

2009: 5th round, Frank Summers from UNLV
2010: 6th round, Jonathan Dwyer from Georgia Tech
2011: 7th round, Baron Batch from Texas Tech
2012: 5th round, Chris Rainey from Florida
2013: 2nd round, Le’Veon Bell from Michigan State

The Steelers strike pay dirt with 2nd round selection Le’Veon Bell. The Michigan State running back would fully blossom in his sophomore season becoming one of the best running backs in the NFL. A duel threat who was nearly as good out of the backfield as he was carrying the ball, Bell was named All-Pro twice in his five years with the team and had three seasons of over 1800 yards from scrimmage.

With Bell as the workhorse in the backfield, the Steelers chose not to draft a back in three consecutive seasons.

2014: none
2015: none
2016: none
2017: 3rd round, James Conner from Pitt

The Steelers used their second 3rd round pick on the bruising running back from Pitt. Somewhat of a surprise at the time considering Bell’s status as one of the league’s premier backs. Conner had just come back from cancer with a strong junior season at Pitt. It was a fortunate selection as Bell held out in 2018 and eventually left the team. Conner showed promise despite an injury shortened 2018 as the primary back. 2019 was also beset by injuries and now Conner finds himself amongst a stable of backs competing for the role of primary ball carrier in 2020.

2018: 5th round, Jaylen Samuels from North Carolina State
2019: 4th round, Benny Snell from Kentucky

A year after Conner’s breakout, the Steelers used a 4th round selection on Kentucky running back Benny Snell. Snell appeared in 13 games, starting two as Conner dealt with more injuries, and tallied 426 yards on the ground and a 3.9 average yards per carry. Snell will share the Steelers’ backfield with Conner, 2018 pick, hybrid back Jaylen Samuels and possibly the Steelers 2020 selection if they select another running back.

2000-2020 draft running back breakdown

Selections by round:

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

Selections by conference:

SEC: 4
ACC: 4
Big 12: 1
Big 10: 3
PAC 10: 0

Power 5: 12
Group of 5: 1

The Steelers have never selected more than one running back in a draft class since 2000. … Since Colbert took over, the team has picked a running back in 13 out of 20 drafts. … Of the 13 backs picked, only one — Frank Summers from UNLV in 2009 — was from a non-Power 5 school.

NFL Draft

Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: Quarterback

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Ben Roethlisberger drops back versus the Cincinnati Bengals. -- ED THOMPSON

Yeah, this is going to be a short one.

The Steelers have spent a lot of draft capital on the offense during Colbert’s tenure, but the quarterback position has been pretty much wrapped up since the team spent their first round pick on a quarterback from Miami of Ohio in 2004.

Steelers draft picks in the 21st century series: Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Line

In recent years the Steelers have spent a few mid-round picks on backups (and possible heirs) as Ben Roethlisberger nears retirement, but it hasn’t yet entered 2005 Green Bay Packers Aaron Rogers/Brett Favre Packers territory.

From 2000-2003 the Steelers rotated between Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham and XFL MVP Tommy Maddox with varying degrees of success. Who knows what would have happened if the Steelers hadn’t been upset by the spygate enhanced New England Patriots in 2001, but that failure would lead to Stewart being cast off and the fateful 6-10 2003 season which allowed the team to get the 11th overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.

2000: 5th round, Tee Martin, Tennessee
2001: None
2002: None
2003: None
2004: 1st round, Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio)

The 2004 draft was loaded with quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger. The only question was would one fall to the Steelers? One did and the rest is history. Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer, has won two Super Bowls and will be entering his 17th season with the team in 2019. His 144 career wins is seventh all-time and his 13 playoff victories is 6th.

Despite leading the league in interceptions his last full season in 2018, Roethlisberger’s 2.4 interception percentage that season was actually tied for the 5th best of his career and he also had career highs in completions, attempts and yardage. Not the sign of a quarterback nearing the end of his career. If his elbow has fully recovered, he should be in line for another big year, even at age 38.

2005: None
2006: None
2007: None
2008: 5th round, Dennis Dixon, Oregon
2009: None
2010: None
2011: None
2012: None
2013: 4th round, Landry Jones, Oklahoma
2014: None
2015: None
2016: None

2017: 4th round, Josh Dobbs, Tennessee
2018: 3rd round, Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

This is where things started to get interesting. Were the Steelers taking flyers on potential replacements, or just in need of a backup? With second day quarterback selections in back-to-back seasons, the team spent more draft capital than Roethlisberger would have preferred. Rudolph had his ups and downs in 2019 as the starter after Roethlisberger’s injury and whether or not he can take on the mantle when Ben retires is up for debate.

2019: None

2000-2020 draft quarterback breakdown

Total selections: 6
Years selecting an OL: 6/20

Selections by round:

1st round: 1
2nd round: 0
3rd round: 1
4th round: 2
5th round: 2
6th round: 0
7th round: 0

Selections by conference:

SEC: 2
ACC: 0
Big 12: 2
Big 10: 0
PAC 12: 1

Power 5: 5
Group of 5: 1

Notes:

There’s not much to say, the Steelers have had a franchise quarterback since 2003. He’s helped them win two Super Bowls in three trips and will one day enter the Hall of Fame.

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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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