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NFL Draft

Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: Tight End

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This year the NFL Draft will take place April 23-25 in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.

On Sunday we looked at every running back selected by the Steelers since the turn of the century.

Today, we’re moving onto an offensive position that has completely changed since the early 2000s, the tight end.

The Steelers were lucky enough to have a franchise rock at the position — Heath Miller — for much of Kevin Colbert’s tenure with the team and have use their draft capital sparingly on the position in the past 20 years.

2000-2004: The Steelers starting tight end had been Mark Breuner since drafting him in 1995. Primarily used as a blocker, Bruener left the team after the 2003 season to join the Washington Redskins.

2000: 6th round, Jason Gavadza, Kent State
2001: None
2002: None
2003: None
2004: 6th round, Matt Kranchick, Penn State
2005: 1st round, Heath Miller, Virginia

For the 4th time in the Steelers history, the team spent a first round pick on a tight end (Bennie Cunningham, Eric Green, Mark Breuner). Miller would be the rock upon which the team would rely on for three Super Bowl appearances and two wins. Productive throughout his 11 year career, Miller would end up with 592 receptions, 6569 yards and 45 touchdowns. One of the best blocking tight ends in the league, the Virginia product was also a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

2006-2015: Despite the presence of Heath Miller, the Steelers selected Charles Davis in the 5th and then Matt Spaeth in the 3rd round in the years following. Spaeth was a solid blocker and number two for four years before leaving for the Bears in free agency. Spaeth would return in 2013 and spend three more years with the team.

2006: 5th round, Charles Davis, Purdue
2007: 3rd round, Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
2008: None
2009: 7th round, David Johnson, Arkansas State
2010: None
2011: None
2012: 7th round, David Paulson, Oregon
2013: None
2014: 7th round, Rob Blanchflower, UMass
2015: 5th round, Jesse James, Penn State

With Miller and Spaeth both nearing the end of their careers, the Steelers picked Jesse James in the 5th round, the first time they used a pick in the first five rounds on a tight end since Spaeth in 2007. James was a serviceable tight end from 2015 until 2018 when he left the Steelers in free agency.

2016-2019: After drafting James, the Steelers turned to different methods to procure their tight ends, free agency and trades. The Steelers signed Ladarius Green to a 4-year deal in 2016, but injuries limited him to only six games with the team. With Green not working out, the next season the Steelers traded for Vance McDonald from the 49ers. Although McDonald has dealt with his own injuries, he’s been the starter when healthy since arriving. In 2019 the Steelers traded for Nick Vannett from the Seahawks after McDonald was injured.

2016: None
2017: None
2018: None
2019: 5th round, Zach Gentry, Michigan

2000-2020 draft tight end breakdown

Total selections: 10

Selections by round:

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

Selections by conference:

SEC: 0
ACC: 1
Big 12: 0
Big 10: 5
PAC 10: 1

Power 5: 7
Group of 5: 3

The Steelers have shown a penchant for Big 10 tight ends, spending half of their 10 selections on players from that conference. … Zach Gentry is currently the only drafted tight end on the Steelers’ roster. … Christian Scotland-Williamson and Kevin Rader were undrafted pickups.

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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