We are finally in our first week of April, which is the sure sign that the draft is not far at hand. In fact, today is the first official day for players to make pre-draft visits with teams. While the Pittsburgh Steelers no longer officially pass along whom they visit with, they still tend to come out, one way or another, just like contract details.
Might I remind you that the pre-draft visits are a pretty big component of how the Steelers plan for the draft. Of course, it goes without saying that all teams use this very valuable resource to get a good feel for certain players that they might be interested in adding to their roster, but Pittsburgh has made a large portion of their recent draft picks from the pool of players that they hosted at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Just last season, three of their top four draft picks—second-rounder Sean Davis, third-rounder Javon Hargrave, and fourth-rounder Jerald Hawkins—all came to Pittsburgh to meet with the team, and it tends to be the middle rounds that most coincide with players they’ve visited with. That is often not the case for first-round talents.
The year before, the pre-draft visitors included their picks in the second, third, fourth, and fifth rounds, those being Senquez Golson, Sammie Coates, Doran Grant, and Jesse James. Let’s go back a year further. In 2014, they had Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Martavis Bryant, Shaquille Richardson, Jordan Zumwalt, and Rob Blanchflower in for visits. And they also visited with Ross Cockrell, whom they were able to add to the roster a year later.
A couple of years prior to that, the Steelers hosted Ladarius Green on a pre-draft visit, which Mike Tomlin cited after the team ended up signing him in free agency last year.
That should go to show how important these things can be, not just in the given draft year, but later on down the road. They have made some key additions to their roster through Cockrell and Green among players that they have visited with previously, but they are not alone.
Just a quick list of other names that the Steelers have added among pre-draft visitors in recent years: Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, Shamarko Thomas, Nic Embernate, and B.W. Webb. That list comprises a portion of their 2013 visitors. Three they drafted. One they added as an undrafted free agent after the draft. One they claimed off waivers a year later.
In other words, when you take at a list of the names of the players that the Steelers end up visiting with, know that you’re probably seeing a list of names that is going to include anywhere between three and even upwards of 10 players who are at some point going to be with the team.
They might draft those players in a few weeks. They might sign them after the draft. They may gather them up off the scrap heap a year or two later when they don’t pan out with their drafting team, or they may pursue them later when they hit free agency. All of those avenues have been taken in recent years. There’s a reason, after all, that they bring these players in: they like them.