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In this installment, the Steelers trends in regards to schools and conferences during the NFL draft is discussed.
Keith Miller from Waynesville, NC (Originally from Clairton)
Do the Steelers have any team, conference or coach that they historically favor in the draft? Is there a smaller conference from which they draft disproportionately?
As for the three parts of the first question, they are pretty much all along the same lines: Ohio State, the Big Ten, and (most likely) Urban Meyer. Now to explain...
First of all, our time frame has to be established. The year 2000 is a great starting point since it was the year Kevin Colbert became the general manager. In that time, Steelers have drafted eight players out of Ohio State, three of which were first round selections: Santonio Holmes in 2006, Cameron Heyward in 2011, and Ryan Shazier in 2014.
Since 2000, Ohio State is the only school from which the Steelers have drafted more than one player in the first round. It is also of note that the Steelers have not drafted a player out of Ohio State since Doran Grant in 2015. The longest stretch under Kevin Colbert where the Steelers have not drafted an Ohio State Buckeye was from 2001 to 2006.
As for other schools from which the Steelers have chosen a number of players since 2000, Florida State is next on the list with six. In a three-way tie for third is Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee all out of the SEC. Of all these schools, Tennessee is the only one in which the Steelers did not have a first round selection. Notoriously absent from this list is football powerhouses Alabama and LSU, each of which only have one selection by the Steelers since 2000 coming on day three of the draft.
When it comes to the conference for the Steelers gravitate towards, things get a little hazy. There are two factors involved – which conference the player drafted was a part of at the time they were drafted, or what conference is that school associated with now? For example, the Steelers have drafted 29 players who came out of the Big Ten at the time they were drafted, but there are 31 players who attended schools who are now currently in the Big Ten. Players from both Nebraska and Rutgers were drafted by the Steelers before those schools joined the Big Ten in 2010 and 2014 respectively.
Here are the number of players chosen by the Steelers from the five “Power Five” conferences AT THE TIME OF THEIR SELECTION:
Big Ten: 29
Big 12: 15
If you are more concerned about where the schools are currently aligned, here are the picks the Steelers have made from schools in each of the Power Five conferences NOW:
Big Ten: 31
Big 12: 13
With the exception of the Big 12, the Power Five conferences have been expanding to include more teams. The most recent factor came into play when there was a major realignment with the Big East dissolving as a football conference in 2013.
Steelers first round picks have come from these five conferences in all but one season under Kevin Colbert. While the Big Ten leads away with six first rounders, the SEC and ACC each produced four first-round selections for the Steelers while the Pac-12 and Big 12 each had two first-round picks.
While the Power Five conferences produce a lot of NFL players, the Steelers have selected at least one player in every draft since 2008 that did not come from one of these current schools. The most notable is the Steelers only first round pick from a non-Power Five conference since 2000: Ben Roethlisberger out of Miami (OH) in 2004.
As for any particular head coach where the Steelers have drafted the most of their players, I did a lot of research and compilation to no avail in finding a definitive answer. I am assuming the seven players I found drafted by the Steelers who played for Urban Meyer at some point (2 from Ohio State, 4 from Florida, and 1 from Utah) would lead the way. The reason this is so difficult to figure out for sure is because players sometimes played for multiple coaches while in college. For example, Ryan Shazier played for Urban Meyer while at Ohio State, but he was not his head coach his first year.
Now for the question about smaller conferences: the Steelers have drafted more players out of the MAC (9) than any other small conference since 2000. The American Athletic Conference also has nine Steelers draft selections from schools currently in their conference, but since its predecessor (the Big East) was considered a “power conference” under the BCS system, it is hard to label it as being “small.”
As for the Steeler selections out of the MAC, Ben Roethlisberger is the only selection in either of the first two rounds. Generally late-round selections, the Steelers have drafted two players each from Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and Kent State. Other than Rothlisberger, Chuks Okorafor and Keon Adams are current draft picks from the MAC still on the roster, with Antonio Brown and L.T. Walton being a part of the 2018 Steelers.
If using this information to predict what the Steelers might do in the 2018 draft, the safest bet for the first-round pick would be an underclassman from a Power Five conference. The reason an underclassman is the safest bet is because 13 of Colbert‘s first round picks have entered the NFL draft early. As for the later rounds, definitely look for the Steelers to find at least one player from a small conference who they think could make an impact at the NFL level.