NFL Draft

2023 Steelers Draft Interest And Athletic Scores: Edge Rushers

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 of 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 as 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, but 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 edge rushers 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.

Here we can see Pittsburgh has shown a lot of interest at the deep edge position in this year’s draft. Topping the interest scores is Clemson’s Myles Murphy (10), with a highly attended pro day including a dinner meeting, along with a nine athletic score (one DNP in the broad jump and smaller 8 1/2” hands than Pittsburgh has drafted the last decade), and seems to be a likely first-round selection.

Five prospects land in the nine range of interest scores. Georgia’s Robert Beal (9.6) recently had a pre-draft meeting, a highly attended pro day as well, with college performance a low mark, and a nine athletic score (low 14 reps on the bench and a 30” vertical) that seems to be a day three candidate. Tying in interest score is Ohio State’s Zach Harrison (9.6) who had a pro day dinner with Pittsburgh and strong pro day attendance (sans defensive coaches) along with a nine athletic score (DNP on the 40 and 10-yard split) that seems to be a middle round possibility. Georgia’s Nolan Smith (9.4) had a Combine meeting, the highly attended pro day, and a six athletic score (three DNPs and weighing 238 with 9” hands low marks) that seems likely to go on day one, possibly slipping to day two. Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV (9.2) had a highly attended pro day including a dinner meeting, with age a lower mark, and a nine athletic score (DNP on the bench and weighing 239 missing the mark), and likely a first/early second rounder. Clemson’s K.J. Henry (9.1) had the highly attended pro day, but lack of pre-draft meetings, age a lower mark, and an eight athletic score (three DNPs) that could be a late day two/early day three candidate.

Six players land in the eight tier, starting with Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness (8.7 interest score), who had a Combine meeting and strong pro day attendance, along with a 10 athletic score (low 17 reps on the bench) and is a likely first round or possibly early second depending how the board falls. Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore (8.3) lacked meetings and pro day attendance comparatively, but has a perfect 11 athletic score and was the only player to check all of Alex Kozora’s “What The Steelers Look For” boxes, likely a day two prospect. Tying in interest score is USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu (8.3) who had a pre-draft meeting and one of the youngest at the position, but less pro day attendance and a four athletic score, checking those boxes on his weigh-in. Alabama’s Will Anderson (8.1) had strong pro day attendance (less notable with their slew of prospects), lacked pre-draft meetings, and a six athletic score (five DNPs) that will likely be selected well before Pittsburgh’s current top pick. Georgia Tech’s Keion White (eight) had a pre-draft visit, but less pro day attendance and age lower marks, along with a nine athletic score (two DNPs) that seems to be a day two/early day three option. Tied in interest score is Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah (eight) who met with the Steelers at the Combine along with a recent pre-draft visit, but no one at his pro day, checked the eight athletic boxes he participated in, and an intriguing option that seems likely to go early on day two.

Several edge rushers (11) have interest scores in the seven tier: Michigan’s Mike Morris (7.9), Auburn’s Derick Hall (7.8), Iowa State’s M.J. Anderson (7.8), Pittsburgh’s Habakkuk Baldonado (7.7), Tennessee’s Byron Young (7.7), Missouri’s Isaiah McGuire (7.6), Mississippi State’s Tyrus Wheat (7.6), Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson (7.3), Auburn’s Eku Leota (7.3), Louisville’s YaYa Diaby (7.2), and LSU’s B.J. Ojulari (seven). In this group, the prospects that had pre-draft connections with Pittsburgh were Morris, Hall, Anderson, Wheat, Young and Baldonado, with the latter also having a perfect 11 athletic score that is intriguing and a clear option that will likely be available on day three. Players in this range who missed perfect athletic scores solely due to DNPs were Hall (10), Young (10), Wheat (five), Leota (four), Diaby (eight), and Ojulari (seven).

There are many other intriguing names at the position with strong results, and especially wanted to point out some. Two of the 12 Combine invites in the six range of interest scores had pre-draft meetings with Pittsburgh: TCU’s Dylan Horton and Eastern Michigan’s Jose Ramirez, along with Lonnie Phelps Jr. of Kansas in the five range and seem to be late or undrafted candidates. Perfect athletic scores in this interest range include Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey, Florida’s Brenton Cox, Nebraska’s Ochaun Mathis, and Tavius Robinson of Ole Miss at various points in the draft. Pittsburgh met with small school prospect Andrew Farmer of Lane College who could be an undrafted addition. There are also a couple of non-Combine invites that had well-attended pro days: most notably (in my opinion) Penn State’s Nick Tarburton, along with Iowa’s John Waggoner, and Ohio State’s Tyler Friday. Two non-combine prospects are notable with perfect 11 athletic scores: Pittsburgh’s Deslin Alexandre and Wagner’s Titus Leo, with this group all likely to be available in the undrafted pool. Pittsburgh definitely has a need to address its depth and has done its homework on the position. With high-quality prospects throughout the draft, I hope Pittsburgh can take a good fit on late day two/early day three if the board falls appropriately, but for sure in the late/undrafted range with some of these names surely getting pushed down the board.

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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