NFL Draft

2023 Steelers Draft Interest And Athletic Scores: Safeties

For a few of years now, I have kept a running spreadsheet during the draft process. The goal for me is 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 types of players 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 Dave and Alex’s studies of draft trends over the years for Pittsburgh. Their in-depth research is second to none and 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 players 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 10 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 participate 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 safeties that were Combine invitees:

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.

Alabama’s Jordan Battle tops the interest scores (10.4). He had a Combine meeting, a highly attended Pro Day, including defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and defensive backs coach Grady Brown, a10 athletic score (8 1/2” hands smaller than Pittsburgh has drafted the last decade). He seems to be a late day-two option. The other prospect with a 10+ interest score is Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown (10.2), who also had a Combine meeting and equal Pro Day attendance, a nine athletic score (DNP in the three-cone and a 4.65 40-time that barely misses). He is seemingly a late day-two/early day-three candidate.

Three prospects land in the nine range of interest scores, each tying at a 9.3. Iowa’s Kaevon Merriweather had strong Pro Day attendance (sans defensive coaches), a perfect athletic score along with making Alex Kozora’s “What The Steelers Look For” study. He lacked pre-draft meetings and seems to be a late/undrafted possibility. Georgia’s Christopher Smith had a highly attended Pro Day including Austin, also with a perfect 11 athletic score. He lacked pre-draft meetings and is likely a late-day two/early-day three selection. Alabama’s DeMarcco Hellams had the highly attended Pro Day but lacked pre-draft meetings and had an eight athletic score (DNP on the bench, low 9” hands and 4.57 shuttle). He is seemingly a late-round prospect.

Four players have interest scores in the eight tier. Iowa State’s Anthony Johnson (8.4) had a highly attended Pro Day including Austin, a 10 athletic score (low 8 3/4” hands) but lacked pre-draft meetings. He seems to be a late day-two/day-three fit. Virginia Tech’s Chamarri Conner (8.2) had less Pro Day attendance and no pre-draft meetings, with a 10 athletic score (9” hands missing). He did make Kozora’s list and is seemingly a late-round prospect. Florida’s Trey Dean III (8.1) had an informal meeting at the Combine, along with scout Ike Taylor at his pro day and a 10 athletic score (low 4.75 40-time). He also seems likely to go on day three. Tying in interest score is Ohio State’s Ronnie Hickman (8.1). He had strong Pro Day attendance (sans defensive coaches), no pre-draft meetings, a four athletic score that checked all the measurable boxes on his weigh-in; another likely day-three possibility.

Seven prospects have interest scores in the sevens: California’s Daniel Scott (7.9), Florida’s Rashad Torrence (7.3), Boise State’s JL Skinner (7.3), Pittsburgh’s Brandon Hill (7.2), Sydney Brown and Jartavius Martin of Illinois (7.2), and Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson (7.1). Prospects in this range who received pre-draft meetings were Scott (along with a perfect 11 athletic score and the final player to make Kozora’s safety list), Skinner, and Antonio Johnson (10 athletic score). Players with strong Pro Day attendance were Torrence (10 athletic score) and Hill, with the latter having a perfect 11 athletic score. Sydney Brown and Martin had nine athletic scores due solely to DNPs, former teammates continuing their eerily similar results. This group of candidates are seemingly options that can be had on day two or three, which will be interesting to monitor.

There are many other intriguing names at the position with strong results, and I especially want to point out some. Two of the five Combine invites with interest scores in the sixes had pre-draft ties with Pittsburgh: Florida State’s Jammie Robinson (6.9 interest score, nine athletic score), who seems to be a late-day two/early day-three prospect and Notre Dame’s Brandon Joseph (6.8 interest score, ten athletic score), who is a likely day-three option. A notable non-Combine player is NC State’s Tanner Ingle (6.1 interest score). He had a pre-draft visit and is likely a late/undrafted possibility. When taking in the information and considering the changes in the defensive backfield for 2023, the highest interest score prospects (Battle, Ji’Ayir Brown) project to late-day two/early-day three, an investment I wouldn’t mind if more pressing needs (and hopefully a corner) are addressed early or more preferably waiting on late/undrafted options they’ve done homework on as well.

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

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