NFL Draft

Study: What The Steelers Look For In Drafting Wide Receivers

Starting back up one of my favorite draft exercises of each year. Our Pittsburgh Steelers “what they look” for study. Breaking things down position-by-position, beginning with the wide outs today, to get a sense for what their thresholds are. These aren’t averages. They’re not ideals. These are just the baseline levels their draft picks have hit and how they apply to the 2020 class.

Below is a listing of the info of the wide receivers drafted since Mike Tomlin was named head coach in 2007. After that, our benchmarks. They’ve slightly changed from last season so be sure to pay close attention.

2019: Diontae Johnson

Height: 5’10/4
Weight: 183
40 Time: 4.53
Vertical: 33.5
Broad: 10’3″
Short Shuttle: 4.45
Three Cone: 7.09
Bench: 15
Hand Size: 9

2018: James Washington

Height: 5’11
Weight: 213
40 Time: 4.54
Vertical: 34.5
Broad: 10’0″
Short Shuttle: 4.32
Three Cone: 7.11
Bench: 14
Hand Size: 9 3/4

2017: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Height: 6’1/2
Weight: 215
40 Time: 4.54
Vertical: 33.5
Broad: 10’3″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Bench: 15
Hand Size: 10 1/2

2016: Demarcus Ayers

Height: 5’9/3
Weight: 182
40 Time: 4.72
Vertical: 35
Broad: 10’3”
Short Shuttle N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Hand Size: 9 1/4
Bench: N/A

2015: Sammie Coates

Height: 6’1/2
Weight: 212
40 Time: 4.43
Vertical: 41.5
Broad: 10’11”
Short Shuttle 4.06
Three Cone: 6.98
Bench: 23
Hand Size: 9 3/8

2014: Martavis Bryant 

Height: 6’3/6
Weight: 211
40 Time: 4.42
Vertical: 39
Broad: 10’4″
Short Shuttle 4.15
Three Cone: 7.18
Bench: 16
Hand Size: 9 1/2

2013: Markus Wheaton

Height: 5’11
Weight: 189
40 Time: 4.45
Vertical: 37
Broad: 10’0″
Short Shuttle 4.02
Three Cone: 6.80
Bench: 20
Hand Size: 9 1/8

Justin Brown

Height: 6’3/1
Weight: 207
40 Time:  4,60
Vertical: 30.5
Board: 9’9″
Short Shuttle N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Bench: 8

2012: Toney Clemons

Height: 6’2/1
Weight: 210
40 Time: 4.40
Vertical: 36
Broad: 10’8″
Short Shuttle N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Bench: 11

2010: Emmanuel Sanders

Height: 5’10/7
Weight: 186
40 Time: 4.41
Vertical: 39.5
Broad: 10’6″
Short Shuttle 4.10
Three Cone: 6.64
Bench: 12

Antonio Brown

Height: 5’10/1
Weight: 186
40 Time: 4.57
Vertical: 33.5
Broad: 8’9″
Short Shuttle 4.18
Three Cone: 6.98
Bench: 13

2009: Mike Wallace 

Height: 6’0/3
Weight: 199
40 Time: 4.33
Vertical: 40
Broad: 10’9″
Short Shuttle 4.27
Three Cone: 6.90
Bench: 14

2008: Limas Sweed

Height: 6’3/7
Weight: 215
40 Time: 4.55
Vertical: 37.5
Broad: 10’8″
Short Shuttle N/A
Three Cone: N/A
Bench: N/A

2007: Dallas Baker

Height: 6’3/1
Weight: 208
40 Time: 4.49
Vertical: 36
Broad: 10’9″
Short Shuttle 4.19
Three Cone: 6.69
Bench: N/A

The updated criteria applies to two categories. The vertical threshold has dropped from 35 inches to 33 while the three cone has risen from 7.00 to 7.10.

Height: 5’10+ (13 of 14 players drafted)
Weight: 180+ (14 of 14)
40 Time: <4.57 (12 of 14)
Vert: 33+(13 of 14)
Broad: 10+ (12 of 14)
Hand Size: 9+ (10 of 10)
Short Shuttle: Sub 4.30 (7 of 9)
Three Cone: Sub 7.10 (7 of 9)
Bench: 10+ (10 of 11)

Based on this year’s Combine info, there were two players who checked every one of those nine boxes – USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. and Florida’s Freddie Swain.

Name/School Height Weight Hand Size 40 Time Bench Vert Broad SS 3 Cone
Michael Pittman Jr/USC 6’4 223 9 1/4 4.52 13 36.5 10’1″ 4.14 6.96
Freddie Swain/UF 6’0/2 197 9 4.46 16 36.5 10’4″ 4.26 7.05

 

As I always do, here are the receivers who missed in only one category. There are four of them, two of which missed because they didn’t participate in the category.

One box away:

Gabriel Davis/UCF: Short Shuttle (DNP)
John Hightower/Boise St: Bench (DNP)
Denzel Mims/Baylor: Short Shuttle (4.43)
KJ Osborn/Miami (FL): Short Shuttle (4.35)

This group is smaller than last season. While we don’t use all Pro Day data, only the “hard” numbers like broad jump and vert, not anything timed, not having that information doesn’t make things easier. And an increasing number of players simply don’t go through all the drills, especially the agility/shuttle, which often becomes their disqualifier. Perhaps we should tweak our approach to make things slightly more open and inclusive. If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments below.

Of the names who fit or nearly do, Pittman Jr. is certainly the one who feels most likely to become a Steeler. He’s from USC, offering a connection to Lynn Swann (who stepped down in 2019 but still knows Pittman, obviously). Pittsburgh barely had any interaction with JuJu Smith-Schuster during the 2017 draft sans a 15 minute Combine interview, relying on guys like Swann to fill them in. And Pittman has football bloodlines. His dad, Michael Sr, was an NFL running back. He spent 2002 to 2005 with Tomlin and the Buccaneers, another clear connection. And now he checks every single box in our study. He’s a name you’ll want to keep in mind when creating your mock drafts for either the 2nd or 3rd round.

One other nugget to note. The Steelers seem to care less about having great athletes at the position recently than for the first decade of Tomlin’s career. Here are the average key athletic measures of the four receivers drafted since 2016 versus the ten selected from 2007-2015.

2016-2019: (4 WRs)

40 Time: 4.58
Vert: 34
Broad: 10’2″

2007-2015: (10 WRs)

40 Time: 4.47
Vert: 37
Broad: 10’4″

40 times have gone up by over .1 of a second, vert has dropped by three inches, and broad is down too. No longer are they following the “best athlete available” approach to the position. Maybe Antonio Brown’s poor workout numbers – can you believe his broad was only 8’9″? – changed their philosophy. On the field anyway.

We’ll conduct these studies for running backs, defensive linemen, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, cornerback, and hopefully for the first time, tight end prior to the draft. We still may not have enough data to make an educated guess at safety.

2020 NFL Draft Player Profiles: USC WR Michael Pittman Jr.

2020 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Florida WR Freddie Swain

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