NFL Draft

Study: What The Steelers Look For In Drafting Running Backs

Continuing our 2020 NFL Draft study of “what the Pittsburgh Steelers” look for. In the Mike Tomlin era, asking and answering the baseline thresholds needed for each position. We looked at wide receiver on Monday and today, we’re flipping over to running back.

First, we’ll list the history of all the running backs drafted since 2007 – we’re not counting Dri Archer or Chris Rainey since they were de facto receivers/gadget guys (you’re not a RB if the team doesn’t let you participate in backs on ‘backers in camp) – with an updated baseline of our benchmarks that will follow. So pay close to attention to the new metrics.

2019: Benny Snell

Height: 5’10/3
Weight: 224
Hand Size: 9 3/8
40 Time: 4.66
Bench: 16
Vert: 29.5
Broad: 9’11”

2018: Jaylen Samuels

Height: 5’11/4
Weight: 225
Hand Size: 9 1/4
40 Time: 4.54
Bench: 18
Vert: 34.5
Broad: 10’1″

2017: James Conner

Height: 6’1/2
Weight: 233
Hand Size: 9 7/8
40 Time: 4.65
Bench: 20
Vert: 29
Broad: 9’5″

2013: Le’Veon Bell

Height: 6’1/3
Weight: 230
40 Time: 4.60
Hand Size: 9 5/8
Bench: 24
Vert: 31.5
Broad: 9’10”
Short Shuttle: 4.24
Three Cone: 6.75

2011: Baron Batch

Height: 5’9/5
Weight: 207
40 Time: N/A
Bench: 24
Vert: 39
Broad: 10’6″

2010: Jonathan Dwyer

Height: 5’11/2
Weight: 229
40 Time: 4.68
Hand Size: 8 5/8
Bench: 15
Vert: 33
Broad: 8’11
Short Shuttle: 4.67
Three Cone: 7.56

2008: Rashard Mendenhall

Height: 5’10/1
Weight: 225
40 Time: 4.45
Bench: 26
Vert: 33.5
Broad: 9’9
Short Shuttle: 4.18


Here’s our 2020 RB thresholds.

Height: 5’10+ (6 of 7 drafted)
Weight: 220+ (6 of 7)
Hand Size: 9+ (4 of 5)
40 Time: Sub 4.70 (6 of 7)
Bench: 15 (7 of 7)
Vert: 29+ (7 of 7)
Broad: 9’5″+ (6 of 7)

We have four changes after the Snell selection. The weight requirement has dropped from 225 to 220 pounds. The 40 time has risen to no higher than 4.70 (the old was 4.65) while the vertical has dropped from 31 inches to 29. With enough data now, we’ve also added a hand size category of 9+ inches.

Now to the good stuff. There are three running backs who checked all seven boxes: Boston College’s AJ Dillon, TCU’s Sewo Oloniula, and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.

Name/School Height Weight Hand Size 40 Time Bench Vert Broad
AJ Dillon/BC 6’0/3 247 9 5/8 4.53 23 41 10’11″
Sewo Oloniula/TCU 6’2/5 232 10 4.66 25 36 10’3″
Jonathan Taylor/WISC 5’10/2 226 9 1/2 4.39 17 36 10’3″

 

I’m not surprised to see these names on the list. Simply put, the Steelers don’t hold athletic testing in high regard. They care about size and, separate from our study, college production. So the “big” backs have the best chance of hitting every mark while smaller ones fail due to height/weight requirements. And these three do.

There were several others who missed in just one category. Here are those nine names:

Cam Akers/Florida State: Weight (217)
Jet Anderson/TCU: Weight (208)
Darrynton Evans/Appalachian State: Weight (203)
Brian Herrien/Wyoming: Weight (209)
Antonio Gibson/Memphis: Hand Size (8 5/8)
Tony Jones/Notre Dame: Bench (13)
Joshua Kelley/UCLA: Weight (212)
Lamical Perine/Florida: Weight (216)
Patrick Taylor/Memphis: Weight (217)

Seven of the nine backs missed because of weight. Guys like Akers, Perine, and Taylor missed by the narrowest of margins. I’ve also included Memphis’ Antonio Gibson with the running backs even if the Combine listed him as a receiver. He missed by hand size while ND’s Tony Jones missed the bench by two reps.

2020 NFL Draft Player Profiles: TCU RB Sewo Olonilua

2020 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor

 

 

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