NFL Draft

2023 Steelers Draft Interest And Athletic Scores: Wide Receivers

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, 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 wide receivers 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.

While not as top-heavy as other positions, we can see the depth at wide receiver that Pittsburgh could capitalize on, with the 50 Combine invites pictured (please forgive the cluttered chart).

Three players land in the nine range of interest scores, starting with a tie for the top spot. Michigan’s Ronnie Bell (9.2 interest score) had strong pro day attendance along with a perfect 11 athletic score that included checking all of Alex Kozora’s “What The Steelers Look For” boxes, but lacked pre-draft meetings which seems to be a nice day three option. Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman shares the top rank (9.2) with a recent pre-draft visit, strong pro day attendance, along with an eight athletic score (two DNPs and a 7.32 three-cone outside of what Pittsburgh has drafted the last decade), seemingly a day two candidate. Jalin Hyatt is also a former Volunteer (nine interest score) and had a Combine meeting, the strong pro day attendance, and a ten athletic score (DNP on the bench) that also appears to be a day two pick.

Seven prospects land in the eight tier, starting with Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba (8.8). He had a Combine meeting, strong pro day attendance, a nine athletic score (DNP on the bench and 1.65 10-yard split barely missing the mark) that will likely be one of the first receivers off the board. Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson (8.4) had strong pro day attendance where Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had a close eye on him, perhaps elevating the need for a pre-draft visit that he lacked, a ten athletic score (908 broad jump barely missing the mark) that could be a late day two/early day three possibility. Jonathan Mingo of Ole Miss (8.3) had a pre-draft visit, a perfect 11 athletic score along with acing Kozora’s study, but lack of pro day attendance a low mark, which seems to be a late day two/early day three pick. Penn State’s Parker Washington (8.3) had a Combine meeting, strong pro day attendance, but a four athletic score (29” arms missing the mark and six DNPs) that will seemingly go on day three. Michigan State’s Jayden Reed (8.2) recently had a pre-draft meeting, with less pro day attendance comparatively, a ten athletic score (DNP in the three-cone), a good fit likely going early on day three. Purdue’s Charlie Jones (8.1) had a pre-draft visit along with a perfect 11 athletic score, but age and less pro day attendance lower marks, which will likely go early/mid-day three. USC’s Jordan Addison (8.1) had a Combine meeting, less pro day attendance, a ten athletic score (DNP on the bench), he will likely be a first-round pick that has interesting ties as a former Pittsburgh receiver with Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Several players (eight) have interest scores in the sevens: Clemson’s Joseph Ngata (7.7), Georgia’s Kearis Jackson (7.7), West Virginia’s Bryce Ford-Wheaton (7.6), SMU’s Rashee Rice (7.3), Boston College’s Zay Flowers (7.3), two Stanford products in Michael Wilson (7.2) and Elijah Higgins (7.2), and Penn State’s Mitchell Tinsley (7.1). Prospects in this range that received pre-draft meetings were Ford-Wheaton, Rice, and Flowers. Players with strong pro day attendance were Ngata (also a perfect 11 athletic score), Jackson, and Tinsley with a perfect athletic score as well, a feat that Wilson also provides. Ford-Wheaton, Rice, and Higgins pair this with ten athletic scores, with the former two not benching and the latter missing with a 4.5 shuttle time. Another prospect with a lower athletic score in this tier solely due to DNPs is Jackson (seven athletic score).

There are many other intriguing names at the position with strong results, and especially wanted to point out some. Two of the whopping 21 combine invites with interest scores in the sixes had pre-draft ties with Pittsburgh: Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry (6.8 interest score, 10 athletic score) and Fresno State’s Jalen Moreno-Cropper (6.5 interest score, perfect 11 athletic score) that seem to be day two or three candidates. There are also a couple of notable non-combine invites: Jared Wayne (7.4 interest score, nine athletic score) of Pittsburgh, which was notably the only school that wide receiver coach Frisman Jackson visited on the pro day trail, likely an undrafted option. NC State’s Thayer Thomas (6.9 interest score, perfect 11 athletic score) also garnered pre-draft interest, and is another likely undrafted candidate. When taking in all the information, considering the pending trade for wide receiver Allen Robinson, Frisman’s lack of scouting, and other pressing needs, it seems the Steelers will wait until the late or undrafted range, with Bell, Hutchinson, Washington, and Reed most notable if the price is right in my opinion.

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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