The draft is just two weeks away, which means Mel Kiper is slicking back his hair and Roger Goodell is booing himself in anticipation. To help Steelers’ fans prepare, here’s an A-Z primer on the names, buzz words and pundit-phrases you’re likely to hear as you’re bombarded with information from here through draft weekend.
Accurate Pass Percentage (APP). This is a useful statistic that tracks the percentage of accurate throws a quarterback makes on balls that target and reach a receiver. It’s a better way of examining accuracy than completion percentage since completion percentage is affected by drops, spikes, batted balls, break-ups and receivers who bail their QBs out by making great catches on inaccurate throws. Ohio State’s Justin Fields led the nation in APP at 72.4 while Alabama’s Mac Jones was second at 72.0. The national average was 55%.
Bend. “Bend” is a term often used to describe how quickly a pass rusher can redirect his upfield movement and angle towards a quarterback. T.J. Watt, for example, excels at beating blockers with speed to the outside before bending inside. University of Georgia prospect Azeez Ojulari, shown below, is considered the best pass rusher in this draft, with the ability to bend a key component of his success.
Contact Balance. This is a term pundits use to describe a running back’s ability to stay on his feet through contact. Contact balance is an important factor in breaking tackles outright but also in helping a back run through clutter, meaning the arms and bodies that inevitably populate most rushing lanes.
North Carolina’s Javonte Williams has tremendous contact balance. According to PFF, Williams broke 76 tackles on just 157 carries in 2020. It was the single-best season in this category since PFF began charting broken tackles as a statistic.
Drill tape. The difference between drill tape and game tape can be considerable, which has led to some of the draft’s biggest busts. Matt Jones, a converted quarterback auditioning as a tight end, ran a 4.37 forty at 6’6-235, prompting the Jaguars to take him in the first round in 2005. In 1995, DE Mike Mamula lit up the Combine with a 4.58 forty, 28 reps on the bench and great athleticism in drills. That vaulted him from a projected third round pick to #8 overall. Both players were workout warriors whose drill tape created false impressions of how they’d project on Sundays. Look for Auburn receiver Anthony Schwartz (4.26 in the forty) to be a potential drill-tape riser in this draft.
Edge. The terms “Defensive End” and “Outside Linebacker” have largely been replaced by “Edge,” which indicates the player responsible for caging or spilling run plays and rushing the passer from outside the offensive tackle. The Steelers may seek an Edge to replace Bud Dupree, who departed for Tennessee in free agency. If Michigan’s Kwity Paye slides in round one, it wouldn’t be shocking if Pittsburgh took him. Pitt’s Rashad Weaver is a possibility later in the draft as well.
Fluid. Scouts love the term fluid, as in “So-and-so makes fluid transitions...” Fluid refers to a player’s ability to change direction seamlessly, the way a defensive back would when converting a backpedal into a drive on the football. The more fluid a player is, the faster he can react. Florida State corner Asante Samuel Jr., who has been mocked to the Steelers in round two, is considered one of the most fluid players in the draft.
Grades. Draft grades are now offered the moment a young player tugs the baseball cap of the team that selected him onto his head and performs an awkward bro-hug with Roger Goodell. I know we live in a microwave society where everyone wants an answer or a result immediately. But, for the love of all that is holy, can we at least let these guys get to training camp before we stamp them as superstars or busts?
(No, we can’t. I already know the answer).
Hands. There will be a lot of talk about hands over the next two weeks. Hand-size, which will be essential when evaluating quarterbacks; hand-strength, which will be important for defenders; the phrase “heavy hands,” which will be used to gauge how well a lineman strikes an opponent; and of course, the colloquial “hands” as a term for judging a receiver’s ability to catch the football. No body part will get as much attention as the hands throughout the draft process.
Injuries. Several key prospects are likely to see their draft stock drop because of them. These include Alabama center Landon Dickerson, Alabama receiver Jaylan Waddle, Syracuse safety Andre Cisco and Vanderbilt edge player Dayo Obeyingbo. How the injuries of these players affect their status will be an interesting subplot, especially in Dickerson’s case since he’s been mocked in several drafts to the Steelers.
Justin Fields. Fields winding up in Pittsburgh would be shocking. It would take a massive trade-up into the top ten, the cost of which would be significant. And Fields, who was inconsistent at times in 2020, is not a slam-dunk to be a great pro.
That said, Mike Tomlin has raved about Fields and talked at length privately with him at Ohio State’s Pro Day. Fields is a dynamic player whose variety of skills - arm strength, accuracy, mobility, leadership - would allow new coordinator Matt Canada to unlock his playbook. Plus, with Ben Roethlisberger returning, Fields would not need to play right away, which would aid in his development. Although a trade for Fields is highly unlikely, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
Kyle Trask/Kellen Mond. Presuming the Steelers don’t shock the world with a trade up for Fields, they could draft a mid-round quarterback as a developmental prospect. They have no QBs under contract for 2022 (Ben Roethlisberger’s years are voidable after this one) and a mid-round pick would at least ensure one in-house QB.
Two names that have been speculated as mid-round options are Florida’s Kyle Trask and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond. Trask is bigger (6’5-236) and the more pro-ready of the two while Mond is versatile and may be a better fit for Canada’s offense. While I’m opposed to the Steelers using a mid-round pick on a QB, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.
Length. Length can be a great attribute, especially for receivers and offensive linemen. For a receiver, long arms increase a player’s catch radius, making him a bigger target for a quarterback. For an offensive lineman, good length is important in keeping pass rushers from crossing their face or turning a corner towards the quarterback. Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, for example, is a coveted player in part because his length (82 1/8” wingspan) is ideal for an NFL left tackle.
MAC. The Steelers love drafting players from this mid-major league. They’ve taken seven MAC players since 2014, as well as Antonio Brown (2010) and Ben Roethlisberger (2004). In this draft, look for speedy Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge as a possible late-round MAC selection by the Steelers.
Newsome, Greg. The Northwestern corner is reportedly a potential target for the Steelers if he’s available in round one. While Pittsburgh has had little success drafting corners as of late, Newsome is a three-year starter who led the FBS in passer-rating-against in 2020 (15.77). He allowed just ten completions all season and only one that was 10+ yards downfield. He could be a nice replacement for Joe Haden when Haden’s time in Pittsburgh is through.
Offensive Line. It’s no secret the Steelers need help up front. But who should they select? And when? Will a big-name tackle like Darrisaw fall to them in the first? Will they reach for another tackle in that spot, like Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins? Will they have their pick of centers in round two, like Dickerson or Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey? Or will they wait until later to address the line (as has been their habit in recent drafts) and target a player like Georgia’s Trey Hill or North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz? The intrigue of when they address the o-line, and with whom, is one of the best sub-plots of this draft for the Steelers.
Position Flexibility. One of the best attributes a player can have is the ability to be used in a variety of ways. Whether that means an offensive lineman who can shift from guard to tackle, a running back who can play in the slot or a safety who can take snaps at linebacker, these types of players are heavily valued. The NFL has become a league dominated by sub-packages and match-ups, and position flexibility allows a coaching staff to “do more with less” by slotting a single player into multiple roles.
Quinn Meinerz. Speaking of position flexibility, Quinn Meinerz, the center/guard from Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater, has been mentioned repeatedly throughout the draft process as an option for the Steelers. Meinerz can play both positions and the Steelers need help in both spots. Meinerz is a physical run-blocker who shook off his small-school stigma by dominating practices at the Senior Bowl. Meinerz could be available to the Steelers as a round three selection.
Running Backs. Here’s the other intriguing draft sub-plot for Pittsburgh. When will they address their need at running back? Will it be Najee Harris in round one? Will it be Travis Etienne? Will the Steelers try to land Javonte Williams in round two? Or will they wait until later to target a back like Oklahoma State’s Chubba Hubbard or Oklahoma’s Rhamondre Stevenson? We know the Steelers will select a running back. But who, and when, is anyone’s guess.
Separation. Separation constitutes the ability of a receiver to create distance from coverage. This is usually thought of in terms of straight-line speed. But even the fastest receivers struggle to simply run by NFL defenders. Rather, separation is best measured from break point to catch point. How much space can a receiver create from the point he comes out of his break to the point he catches the football? This type of separation defines a receiver’s ability to get open.
No receiver in this draft separates like Alabama’s DeVonta Smith. His ability to accelerate out of a break makes him almost impossible to cover one-on-one.
Tommy Tremble. The Notre Dame tight end is a physical player who could be the blocker Pittsburgh lacks at the position. Tremble is also athletic and could be used as a mobile H-back in Canada’s offense to fill a variety of roles. He’s a projected third round pick.
Under-rated. The draft always seems to produce players who were under-rated as prospects. Aaron Rodgers falling to the 24th overall pick. George Kittle lasting until the fifth round. Tom Brady lasting until the sixth. What players might go down as under-rated when reflecting on the 2021 draft? Two names to monitor as they develop as pros are Ohio State running back Trey Sermon and North Carolina linebacker Chase Surratt. Both are projected as late 3rd/early 4th round picks but could exceed those draft positions with the right franchise.
Value. The theory of draft value suggests a player picked in a certain slot should reflect that slot’s value. For example, someone chosen by the Steelers at 1:24 should theoretically be one of the best 20-30 players in the draft. If not, Mel Kiper will chortle something like, “The Steelers could have gotten better value with that pick.”
While there is some truth to this, I see value as follows: first and second round players should become solid starters; third and fourth rounders should make the team and contribute; and anything positive beyond the fourth round is a bonus. That, to me, determines “value,” not some theoretical discussion about whether a guy picked 35th would have been more valuable at pick 50.
Wyatt Davis. The guard from Ohio State (and grandson of Hall-of-Famer Willie Davis) was a two-time All-American who is described as one of the most NFL-ready linemen in the draft. He’s a projected 2nd-3rd round pick who, as per The Athletic, “removes defenders from their feet and looks to bury his man.” That seems an attractive trait as the Steelers attempt to rebuild their flagging run game. Davis and Meinerz would both be good choices to pair with Kevin Dotson as Pittsburgh’s guards for the rest of the decade.
X-Factor. In addition to being a great Lauryn Hill song (she calls it “Ex-Factor,” but close enough), many players in this draft will be labeled potential “X-factors” for the intangibles they offer. Etienne’s home-run hitting ability, for example, may be characterized as the “X-factor” Pittsburgh’s offense needs. Florida’s Kyle Pitts, the draft’s top-ranked tight end, has been dubbed an X-factor for how his size and speed (6’6-245/4.43) translates into a mismatch anywhere on the field. Fields has been characterized an X-factor by some for how his selection could shake up the rest of the draft. X-factor as a label adds intrigue to a prospect. Whether it means anything, of course, is for time to tell.
YAC. Or “yards-after-catch,” tracks the yardage a receiver accumulates from the point he catches the football to the point he is tackled. Amari Rodgers, whose 5’10-212 pound frame made him difficult to bring down, was a YAC-machine as a three-year starter at Clemson. Rodgers should be available in the third round if the Steelers are seeking a slot receiver to replace Juju Smith-Schuster in 2022.
Zoom Calls. Here’s my proposed draft-night drinking game: any time Adam Schefter mentions Team X had a great Zoom call with Player Y, everyone in America has to drink. The nation will be bombed by 9 p.m.
Hope this primer comes in handy as you navigate the torrent of draft analysis heading your way. Go Steelers!