There are a lot of things that Pro Football Focus does well. That might be tough for some of you to read, but it’s true. The issue is, what they’re best at is objective data processing. And I did find one of their more recent articles interesting in this regard, even if I ignored their analysis and conclusion stemming from the data.
In an effort to attempt to access the success or failure of the 2021 NFL Draft class through computational and historical data, the site compiled a chart demonstrating the positions at which teams allocated the most resources over the course of the past five drafts, with a couple of data points sticking out to me with regard to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their use of draft capital.
According to their charts, no team in the league over the course of the past five seasons has invested fewer draft resources to their offensive line than have the Steelers. Just seven percent of their draft capital went to addressing the offensive line over that time, so let’s break it down.
The team has only drafted four offensive linemen during that time, starting with fourth-round tackle Jerald Hawkins in 2016. The highest-drafted lineman they have taken since Mike Adams in 2012 was Chukwuma Okorafor, a third-round pick in 2018. Seventh-rounder Derwin Gray followed a year later, with Kevin Dotson in the fourth round being their most recent addition.
Of the four, all of them were actually still with the team a year ago, or back with the team, though Gray would eventually be claimed off waivers. Dotson and Okorafor may both be starters this year, but Hawkins probably will not be back, if he signs anywhere this year.
Another data point that caught my eye was that the Steelers allocated the third-highest share of draft capital in the league to defensive backs. In fact it represented the ninth-highest percentage of allocation to any one position by any one team during that time, at 29 percent.
They kicked off the past five-year cycle in high gear by using their top two picks in 2016 on the secondary, drafting cornerback Artie Burns in the first round and safety Sean Davis in the second. Cornerback Cameron Sutton was selected in the third round in 2017.
They have added four more defensive backs over the past three seasons, including two safeties in 2018, with first-round pick Terrell Edmunds a three-year starter now. Marcus Allen, who has since converted to linebacker, was a fifth-round pick. They also drafted cornerback Justin Layne in the third round in 2019, and added safety Antoine Brooks in the sixth round a year ago.
That’s two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and two third-round picks on the secondary over the course of the past five seasons. Those picks presumably have net them two current starters come 2021. Meanwhile, on the offensive line, they have just one third-round pick over the past five years. You have to imagine that will change this year.