Steelers have been drafting great athletes early in recent drafts

Devin Bush Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Devin Bush Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

The Steelers have some first-round busts under Kevin Colbert, but here’s why their drafting strategy has shifted towards taking great athletes.

The Steelers aren’t going to remain one of the NFL’s most winning franchises over the past decade without doing something right in the draft. Though Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have had their share of misses on draft day, they have hit far more often than not.

Though it happens all the time, it’s critical that teams don’t miss on players in the first round of the draft. In doing so, it could set your operation back years. The Steelers have done this at least twice over the past decade. While it’s probably too early to call Terrell Edmunds a bust, their two biggest draft mistakes since 2010 have been outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and cornerback Artie Burns.

We can critique these players all day about why they shouldn’t have been drafted where they were, but the fact of the matter is that they share one undeniable similarity: Both Jones and Burns were poor athletes.

Artie Burns ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, and while he was clearly a better athlete for his position than Jones (who was historically bad), both players tested well below average.

Since busting on Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Steelers have shifted their drafting philosophy to far more athletic players. Here’s a list of each first-round pick accompanied by their SPARQ scores according to 3 Sigma Athlete:

With the exception of Burns in 2016, every first-round draft choice of the Steelers since 2013 has earned a SPARQ score higher than 95 percent of NFL players at their respective position. In doing so, the Steelers have found success.

Ryan Shazier was a phenomenal athlete coming out of Ohio State. Pittsburgh had their pick between Shazier and C.J. Mosely but chose to go with the 99th percentile athlete. It was a great decision too, but Shazier’s career was unfortunately cut short due to a spinal injury.

Bud Dupree was an extremely raw player coming out of Kentucky, but his 148.4 SPARQ score (98.4 percentile) proved to be enough to eventually turn him into a quality football player. T.J. Watt had red flags with just one year of production and a few serious knee injuries, but he tested above 95 percent of NFL edge defender.

The Steelers took a chance with the 28th pick in the 2018 draft on Terrell Edmunds – hoping that he will be able to develop in time. One year later, they traded up to the 10th overall pick to land linebacker Devin Bush.

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Obviously, there are dozen of other factors that come into play when evaluating talent, and taking a player solely based on athletic measurables is never a good idea. However, since busting on Jarvis Jones, nearly every athletic first-round pick has turned out for Pittsburgh. Perhaps that’s a draft trend they will look to continue.