Despite fears of the coronavirus, the NFL is soldiering on with their plans for the 2020 Draft. At least for now.
Although the Steelers don’t have a first round pick, they have a 2nd and this week they were officially awarded a 3rd round compensatory pick–which will be their only one in that round.
Today, a position that the Steelers under Kevin Colbert have historically been very successful drafting, the wide receiver.
Think of Plaxico Burress, Antonio Brown, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster. All impact players that have contributed greatly to the Steelers success in the 21st century. But then there’s Limas Sweed, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates.
You can’t win ’em all.
But you really can’t have enough receivers in this day and age. Despite spending a 2nd round pick on JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2017, James Washington in 2018 and using a 3rd round pick on Diontae Johnson last year, the Steelers could look to add a playmaker this year with one of their first selections. TCU’s Jalen Reagor or Baylor’s Denzel Mims could be good fits.
Let’s take a look back at their successes (and failures) from the past 20 years.
Although he had more success with the Giants, Plaxico Burress’ was a constant downfield threat and basically uncoverable (ask the Patriots) when he was on his game. Unfortunately he’s probably more remembered for going to jail for twenty months and missing two season after shooting himself in a nightclub.
2000: 1st round, Plaxico Burress, Michigan State; 4th round, Danny Farmer, UCLA
2001: 7th round, Chris Taylor, Texas A&M
2002: 2nd round, Antwaan Randle-El, Indiana; 6th round, Lee Mays, Texas El-Paso
Few players in modern NFL history were more versatile than Antwaan Randle-El, originally a college quarterback from Indiana. He was dynamic on punt and kick returns, blazingly fast, and capable of running every trick play in the book.
2005: 4th round, Fred Gibson, Georgia
2006: 1st round, Santonio Holmes, Ohio St.
One of the two men responsible for the greatest catch in Super Bowl history (the third greatest catch of all-time according to NFL Films). Drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State, Holmes spent four seasons with the Steelers putting up very good, but not great numbers. Like Plaxico before him, Holmes left the Steelers in free agency for a New York team (the Jets instead of the Giants).
2007: 7th round, Dallas Baker, Florida
2008, 2nd round, Limas Sweed, Texas
2009: 3rd round, Mike Wallace, Mississippi
2010: 3rd round, Emmanuel Sanders, SMU; 6th round, Antonio Brown, Central Michigan
For better and worse, the 2009 and 2010 drafts brought the Steelers “Young Money”, a trio of incredibly talented receivers that brought with them their fair share of the field turmoil. But oh, the productivity! Wallace spent four years in Pittsburgh racking up 235 receptions for 4042 yards and 32 touchdowns. Sanders didn’t completely blossom until joining the Broncos, but had 161 catches for 2030 yards and 11 touhdowns in four seasons. There isn’t much more that needs to be said about Antonio Brown’s off the field issues, so here are his numbers in nine seasons with the Steelers: 841 catches, 11263 yards, 75 touchdowns. The only thing missing was a Super Bowl ring.
2012: 7th round, Toney Clemmons, Colorado
2013: 3rd round, Markus Wheaton, Oregon St.; 6th round, Justin Brown, Oklahoma
2014: 4th round, Martavis Bryant, Clemson
2015: 3rd round, Sammie Coates, Auburn
2016: 7th round, DeMarcus Ayers, Houston
2017: 2nd round, JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
From 2011 to 2016 the Steelers only had one pick that panned out, Martavis Bryant. And by panned out, it was more like a supernova. An incredibly talented receiver brought down by off the field issues (a common theme?) Eventually shipped off to the Raiders, Bryant is now out of the league. In 2017 the Steelers snagged Smith-Schuster out of USC with their 2nd round pick. An immediate complement to Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster took off in his sophomore campaign catching 111 passes for 1426 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was so good he was named team MVP, an act which seemed to spark much of the acrimony between Brown and the Steelers.
2018: 2nd round, James Washington, Oklahoma State
2019: 3rd round, Diontae Johnson, Toledo
Both Washington and Johnson have shown flashes of brilliance, but remain works in progress. With Roethlisberger back under center in 2020, a lot will be expected of these two early round picks (as well as JuJu). That’s a lot of talent, but not a lot of experience.
2000-2020 draft wide receiver breakdown
Total selections: 21
Years selecting a WR: 17/20
Selections by round:
1st round: 2
2nd round: 4
3rd round: 5
4th round: 3
5th round: 0
6th round: 3
7th round: 4
Selections by conference:
Big 12: 5
Big 10: 3
PAC 10: 3
Power 5: 16
Group of 5: 4
Although they’ve stuck mostly to Power 5 selections at receiver, the Steelers have had a lot of success outside the big conferences getting Antonio Brown (Central Michigan), Mike Wallace (SMU) and Diontae Johnson (Toledo) from non-traditional powers. … The Steelers have selected a receiver in the first four rounds in a majority of the drafts under Colbert.
Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: Quarterback
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Big 12: 2
Big 10: 0
PAC 12: 1
Power 5: 5
Group of 5: 1
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.
Report: Rift Between NFL, Teams on April Draft
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.
New: The NFL’s General Manager subcommittee unanimously recommended to commissioner Goodell today that the draft be moved back due to COVID-19, however the league plans to stick with the 4/23-25 dates at this time, league sources tell me and @AdamSchefter https://t.co/nL9sLh9jNh
— Dianna (@diannaESPN) March 25, 2020
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.
Who Fits the Mold of a Steelers RB in the 2020 NFL Draft?
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
Vertical: 29 1/2
Bench: 16 reps
3 Cone: 7.07
Short Shuttle: 4.33
Vertical: 34 1/2
Bench: 18 reps
3 Cone: 6.93
Short Shuttle: 4.28
Bench: 20 reps
Vertical: 31 1/2
Bench: 25 reps
3 Cone: 6.75
Short Shuttle: 4.24
Bench: 15 reps
3 Cone: 7.56
Short Shuttle: 4.67
Bench: 24 reps
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.
40: Sub 4.66
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
Bench: 21 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.37
3 Cone: 7.2
Bench: 15 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.27
3 Cone: 7.06
Bench: 20 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.06
3 Cone: 6.86
Bench: 16 reps
Short Shuttle: 3.93
3 Cone: 6.5
Here are the thresholds needed to qualify for a Steelers speed back:
40: Sub 4.45
Vertical: 35 1/2″+
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.