NFL Draft

Steelers Select CB, TE In Cynthia Frelund’s Analytics-Based Two-Round 2019 Mock Draft

By now, most are probably about tired of the annual major media mock drafts. However, with a little less than three weeks remaining before the actual 2019 NFL draft takes place, we’re sure to be inundated with many, many more of them. With that disclaimer out of the way, Cynthia Frelund, an Analytics Expert for the NFL Network, released a two-round mock draft a few days ago that is based entirely on analytics and in it she has the Pittsburgh Steelers selecting a cornerback and a tight end with their two selections.

Before we get to Frelund’s mock selections for the Steelers, it’s worth reviewing the method she used for creating her two-round analytics-based guesses.

This is not meant to predict how the draft will play out in reality. Rather, I am using this model to, again, examine what teams should do if winning the most games in 2019 is their only goal.

Here’s how my mock works: I use my draft prospect model, explained at the top of the article linked to here, and go deeper to create a numerical value for each player. These ratings can be compared across years.

Then I use my NFL model, adjusted for new free agent signings, to create projected win-contribution metrics by player, position group and side of the ball. These get added up to forecast win totals for the season. An example of these for WRs can be found in the article linked to here.

The results quantify strengths and weaknesses of current NFL rosters. My model also factors in as many known elements of coaching philosophies (of the current staffs) as possible, and of the 2019 opponents. Then my model “selects” the draft prospect that would yield the highest win total for each team next season.

Here’s the part that’s extra: I have projections and results for all teams and the draft prospects they selected over the past 15 seasons. I examine each season’s on-field results, objectively analyzing what happened, along with the trends and strategies that led to success or failure. I also ask coaches, front office executives and even players to help me understand why results occurred. These subjective inputs help shape the results, meaning the model gets “smarter” each season.

Now that you are aware of the method Frelund used in her mock draft, here’s a look at the two players she has the Steelers selecting in the first-two rounds:

1st Round – Pick No. 20 – Washington CB Byron Murphy – Corner is such a strong need for the Steelers that corners ranked even lower than Murphy create the biggest win increase for the Steelers.

Most Steelers fans should be fully aware of who Murphy is at this point in the pre-draft process. The underclassman cornerback measured in at this year’s scouting combine at 5106, 190-pounds with 30 1/8-inch arms and 8 7/8-inch hands. He ran his 40-yard-dash in Indianapolis in 4.55-seconds, did 14 reps on the bench and posted a vertical jump of 36.5-inches to go along with a 10’0″ broad jump.

In his two seasons at Washington, Murphy recorded 74 total tackles, 7 interceptions, 20 total pass breakups and 2 forced fumbles. In college, Murphy played a lot of zone coverage in addition to press-man and he also showed he has some desire to help out against the run. He primarily played on the outside and on the left and thus he should be expected to play in the slot much of any at the NFL level. As far as Murphy potentially being a fit with the Steelers, it could certainly work. However, it would be a bit of stretch to see him play much in the Steelers defense as a rookie with veteran cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson both expected to be the starters on the outside.

2nd Round – Pick No. 52 – UCLA TE Caleb Wilson

Wilson isn’t probably as familiar to Steelers fans as Murphy is and not only is it a bit surprising to see him mocked to Pittsburgh, but in the second-round to boot. after declaring for this years draft as an underclassman, Wilson measured in at the scouting combine at 6042, 240-pounds with 33-inch arms and 9 3/4-inch hands. He ran his 40-yard-dash in Indianapolis in 4.56-seconds and posted a vertical jump of 29-inches to go along with a 9’5″ broad jump. His short shuttle time was 4.40-seconds and his 3-cone time was 7.20-seconds.

In his three seasons at UCLA, Wilson registered 114 receptions for 1,675 yards and 5 touchdowns. 43 of his career college receptions resulted in gains of 15 yards or more with 15 of those resulting in gains of 25 yards or more. He did have 9 drops during his college career, however.

wilson is a move tight end and did play some on the end of the line of scrimmage at UCLA. While he is a willing blocker, Wilson has a lot of work to do when it comes to improving that facet of his game. On the surface, Wilson doesn’t appear to be destined to become a strong special teams contributor at the NFL level. While he could see playing time with the Steelers as a rookie, it probably would only be as a No. 2 tight end in personnel groupings that required two or more. He certainly shouldn’t be selected in the second-round this year by the Steelers.

While Frelund’s two mocked players for the Steelers are understandable from a positional standpoint, her model that predicts both Murphy and Wilson possibly becoming key contributors during each’s rookie seasons seems to be off the mark based on Pittsburgh’s current roster construction.

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