NFL Draft

2023 Steelers Draft Interest And Athletic Scores: Cornerbacks

For a few of years now, I have kept a personal running spreadsheet during the draft process. The goal for me was to learn about the players, gathering information that I have tweaked along the way as I’m sure I will continue to do in the future. With great questions and conversations with some your responses to previous articles, people have seemed interested in this information I’ve referenced, so today I will share visualizations of the data points I create each year, simply called interest and athletic scores with explanations to follow.

As Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora discuss regularly, the Steelers have a type of player they look for, and what the scores attempt to achieve is seeing who checks many of those boxes, or vice versa. You will notice many of the inspirations for these scores come from their studies of draft trends over the years for Pittsburgh, with their in-depth research second to none being one of the main reasons I pursued a position and count my blessings to work with the great football minds at Steelers Depot. While there is no perfect way to predict what selections the Steelers will make in the draft at the end of the month, I feel great about what the data points measure and of course would love to hear feedback as I’m always looking to improve the points system. Also, there is only so much time in the day and additional things I’d like to measure, so I focus on the crucial and/or practical choices in my opinion.

Now for more explanation to how the scores come together. The biggest point I want to make right off the bat is this is not a big board or round projection view, rather trying to pinpoint names the Steelers may select regardless of when they are drafted. After I get a healthy pool of names that I hear about or research, I begin the scoring.

Interest Score: Here I configured a points system for the following important questions. How did the player perform in college? Does their height and weight match up to the body type of any player Pittsburgh has drafted at the position the last ten years? What is their experience/age? Do they play a position of need? What was their level of competition? Who attended their pro day? Did they have meeting(s) with the Steelers pre-draft? Did they appear in the Senior, Shrine, or NFLPA Bowl?

This matches up nicely to the Athletic Score: simply 11 combine metrics excluding wingspan, and whether or not they were within a threshold in each metric of any player drafted at their position by the Steelers since 2013.

Clear as mud? Here are the cornerbacks that were combine invites:

NOTE: If you don’t see a name please ask, I have many more non-combine players compiled but excluded them for a cleaner chart.

Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. tops this year’s interest scores (10.8), with a combine and pre-draft meeting, strong pro day attendance, and a nine athletic score (two DNP’s), along with the obvious bloodlines that are attractive to the organization and clearly a first round candidate if he is available. Alabama’s Brian Branch has the second ranked interest score (10.1), including a combine meeting, strong pro day attendance, along with a ten athletic score (one DNP), also in play for Pittsburgh’s first selection. Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo has the interest score (10), including a combine meeting, strong pro day attendance, but a scheduled pre-draft visit that did not occur, along with a nine athletic score (with lower hand size and three cone numbers than Pittsburgh has drafted the last decade) that is also an option early in the draft for the Steelers.

Three prospects have interest scores in the low nines. Iowa’s Riley Moss (9.3 interest score) had a pro day dinner with the Steelers, strong pro day attendance, with age his lowest mark, and one of three cornerbacks with a perfect 11 athletic score that seems to be a day three option for Pittsburgh if they so choose. Kansas State’s Julius Brents (9.2 interest score) met with Pittsburgh at the combine and had a pre-draft meeting as well, with age and pro day attendance his low marks, along with a nine athletic score (DNP on the bench and his 40-time just missing the mark), and seems to be a day two option. He was one of two players to check every box in the great Alex Kozora’s “What The Steelers Look For” Study that would be another great option in the black and gold. Tying Brents in interest score is South Carolina’s Darius Rush, who had a combine and pre-draft meeting as well, with age and less pro day attendance his low marks compared to the top names, along with an eight athletic score (three DNP’s) that will also likely be selected by the time day two is finished.

In the eight range we have four players, starting with Alabama’s Eli Ricks (8.9 interest score) who had strong pro day attendance and an informal meeting at the combine, along with a seven athletic score (lower 40-time and three cone drills comparatively and two DNP’s) and seems to be a late day two/early day three option. Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson (8.8 interest score) had a pre-draft visit along with Scout Ike Taylor at his pro day, along with a nine athletic score (lower shuttle and a DNP on the bench) that is likely another day two option. Maryland’s Deonte Banks (8.7 interest score) had a combine and pre-draft meeting with Pittsburgh, with age and less pro day attendance his lower marks, along with an eight athletic score (three DNP’s), and likely a first round or early day two prospect depending how the board falls. Mississippi State’s (8.4 interest score) also had a combine and pre-draft meeting, but less pro day interest and historically light (166 lbs.) his low marks, contributing to his athletic score of six (missing in weight, hand, and three DNP’s), and seems like he may go early on day two. Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez (8.1 interest score) had a pre-draft meeting with the Steelers, but less pro day attendance a low mark, along with a nine athletic score (two DNP’s), and will likely be well off the board before Pittsburgh’s current top pick at 17.

Several cornerbacks (13) have interest scores in the seven tier: South Carolina’s Cam Smith (7.7), Ohio State’s Cameron Brown (7.6), Minnesota’s Terell Smith (7.5), Illinois Devon Witherspoon (7.5), Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly (7.4), Utah’s Clark Phillips (7.4), Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes (7.4), Maryland’s Jakorian Bennett (7.3), Michigan’s D.J. Turner (7.3), Oregon State’s Rejzohn Wright (7.3), Purdue’s Cory Trice (7.3), USC’s Mekhi Blackmon (7.1), and LSU’s Jay Ward (7.1). Terell Smith and Trice pair this with perfect 11 athletic scores, with the latter being the other prospect that aced the “What The Steelers Look For” Study. Garner lands just behind them with a ten athletic score (barely missing on his 40-time). Prospects with lower athletic scores in this range solely due to DNP’s include Cam Smith (eight), Witherspoon (six), Bennett (nine), Turner (nine), Wright (four), and Blackmon (nine). Forbes is also notable, having a scheduled pre-draft visit that fell through.

There are many other intriguing names at the position with strong results, and especially wanted to point out some. Three of the seven combine invites in the six range had pre-draft ties with Pittsburgh: Texas A&M’s Jaylon Jones, Syracuse’s Garrett Williams, and LA Tech’s Myles Brooks. There are also a couple notable non-combine invites: Kentucky’s Keidron Smith who met with the Steelers at the Senior Bowl, with an 8.3 interest score and an eight athletic score (missed in 40, 10-split, and three cone), and DJ Ivey of Miami (where Taylor scouted) with a 7.4 interest score and a ten athletic score (missed in three cone). They seem to be late/undrafted possibilities, but hopefully Pittsburgh invests early first and foremost, then perhaps double dipping late in this strong and deep draft at the position of need.

Do you think Pittsburgh will draft one of the names listed above? Who are some of your favorites? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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