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Study: What Pittsburgh Looks For In Drafting Wide Receivers

I won’t bury the lede here. What the Pittsburgh Steelers look for in a receiver is simple.

Speed and explosion.

If you don’t have one of those, very rarely does Mike Tomlin ring you up on draft day.

Now, there are obviously a hundred factors that we could explore in breaking something down like this. But there is a pretty basic and clear correlation, If you don’t run fast or show explosion in your vertical and/or broad jump, you’re playing elsewhere.

Let’s look through the ten receivers drafted under Tomlin and see how the numbers stack up.

2015: Sammie Coates

40 Time: 4.43
Vertical: 41.5
Broad: 10’11”
Short Shuttle 4.06
Three Cone: 6.98

2014: Martavis Bryant 

40 Time: 4.42
Vertical: 39
Broad: 10’4″
Short Shuttle 4.15
Three Cone: 7.18

2013: Markus Wheaton

40 Time: 4.45
Vertical: 37
Broad: 10’0″
Short Shuttle 4.02
Three Cone: 6.80

Justin Brown

40 Time:  4,60
Vertical: 30.5
Board: 9’9″
Short Shuttle N/A
Three Cone: N/A

2012: Toney Clemons

40 Time: 4.40
Vertical: 36
Broad: 10’8″
Short Shuttle N/A
Three Cone: N/A

2010: Emmanuel Sanders

40 Time: 4.41
Vertical: 39.5
Broad: 10’6″
Short Shuttle 4.10
Three Cone: 6.64

Antonio Brown

40 Time: 4.57
Vertical: 33.5
Broad: 8’9″
Short Shuttle 4.18
Three Cone: 6.98

2009: Mike Wallace 

40 Time: 4.33
Vertical: 40
Broad: 10’9″
Short Shuttle 4.27
Three Cone: 6.90

2008: Limas Sweed

40 Time: 4.55
Vertical: 37.5
Broad: 10’8″
Short Shuttle N/A
Three Cone: N/A

2007: Dallas Baker

40 Time: 4.49
Vertical: 36
Broad: 10’9″
Short Shuttle 4.19
Three Cone: 6.69

Let’s just get the obvious out of the way. There is one very big exception to this group: Antonio Brown. But it’s hard to assume you’re going to find another guy remotely close to him in the draft and using exceptions to prove a point is a poor argument to make.

Of those ten drafted, eight of them ran a sub 4.5. The only exceptions are the bigger, and slower, Limas Sweed and Justin Brown. Sweed still ran well and turned in a 4.5 flat at his Pro Day, and who knows, it’s possible to think a Steelers’ scout timed him in the 4.4’s. Everyone else was officially in the 4.4’s with one in the 4.3’s.

Tossing the Browns aside as outliers and exceptions, and remember, they were late round picks, every Steelers’ receiver drafted was one who jumped at least 36 inches in the vertical and 10 feet in the broad. Seven of those ten jumped at least 10’4″.

Seven of the eight receivers we have data for, I am not using Pro Day numbers for timed events because of their unreliability, ran a sub 4.3 in the short shuttle. And seven ran a sub 7.0 in the three cone.

Using Combine-invited receivers, the Steelers draft 82.9% of picks from Indianapolis and 80% of the above list attended, we can narrow our list of potential candidates based on the following guidelines:

Sub 4.5 40
36+ inch vertical
10’0″+ broad
Sub 4.3 short shuttle
Sub 7.0 three cone

Name 40 Time Vertical Broad Short Shuttle Three Cone
Trevor Davis 4.42 38.5 10’4″ 4.22 6.60
Malcolm Mitchell 4.45 36 10’9″ 4.34 6.94
Marquez North 4.48 35 10’3″ 4.13 6.90
Josh Doctson 4.50 41 10’11” 4.08 6.84

Some players who fell just shy:

Ricardo Louis/Auburn (DNP in agility drills)
Leonte Carroo/Rutgers (35.5 vertical, DNP in agility drills)
Chris Moore/Cincinnati (4.53 40)
Charone Peake/Clemson (35.5 vertical, 4.46 short shuttle)
Sterling Shepard/Oklahoma (4.35 short shuttle, 7.00 three cone)
Braxton Miller: (4.50 40, 35 inch vertical)

Now, only one of those six check every single box of criteria: California’s Trevor Davis.

The others have certain slight liberties taken with. Marquez North falls an inch shy of the vertical criteria, Josh Doctson is .01 off on his 40, and Malcom Mitchell is .04 seconds shy of the short shuttle threshold.

Sue me if you like but I didn’t want just one name floating around on this list. It was such a down year for receivers at the Combine so I added those other three.

But if you’re looking to slam dunk all those metrics, then Trevor Davis is your guy. He also offers kick return value, housing two of them in 2014. That isn’t a data point but it’s something the Steelers are likely looking for. He could be one of the team’s 6th or 7th round picks.

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