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Looking at the Steelers projected 2022 compensatory draft picks

With the announcement of the PFW All-Conference teams, all the factors have been determined for awarding 2022 compensatory draft picks.

Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

On Monday, the Pro Football Writers of America announced their All-NFL and All-Conference teams. While the Steelers landed two players on both lists, there was more to this announcement than just the notoriety.

Finally knowing which players are All-Conference, all the information needed in order to calculate where players fall in the compensatory formula are known. Between snap counts, salary, and postseason awards, all the factors are completed and the NFL can begin their calculations.

Until the official announcement comes, usually in early March, let’s check in with the experts at (OTC) as to where the Steelers lie and what can be expected in terms of compensatory picks for the 2022 NFL draft.

All qualifying Compensatory Free Agents (CFAs) were locked in on Monday, May 3 unless the player was traded. As most Steelers fans realize, when Pittsburgh traded for cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, they also took on his compensatory value. While some have stated Witherspoon will not affect the Steelers compensatory status, the experts at OTC who have been studying this for years believe otherwise. Additionally, this is what it says in the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement in Appendix V, 3a:

If a Club trades for a player who was a CFA during that League Year, whether the player was another Club’s CFA or the acquiring Club’s own CFA, the player will be considered a CFA gained by the acquiring Club and will be included in the Compensatory netting process.

For this reason, we are going to include Witherspoon in the formula just to be sure. If it does end up where he does not count, that will just be a bonus for the Steelers.

I do want to repeat that the source used for all of this information comes from as they are very thorough with ranking players due to their salaries and tracking snap accounts. Before we get to the exact cancellation, let’s review how values are given to players.

In order for a player to be deemed a CFA, they must fall in the top 35% of all the NFL. To start the season, OTC had most salaries less than $2 million a season not landing in the top 35% and therefore not qualifying as a CFA based on estimated snaps played. Additionally, any contract signed that qualifies for the veteran salary benefit does not qualify as a CFA.

In order to determine the points each player is assigned due to their salary, it is defined as follows in the CBA in Appendix V, 2a:

All CFAs and all other League players on rosters at the conclusion of the regular season shall be ranked in ascending order by their Average Yearly Compensation, which shall be determined by dividing a player’s Gross Salary for all contract years by the contract’s Maximum Possible Term as defined in Paragraph 9 of this Appendix V... Subject to the above definition of Gross Salary, the player with the lowest Average Yearly Compensation shall be ranked first and thereby receive one point, with the second ranked player receiving two points.

Remember, other factors such as snaps played, All-Pro, and All-Conference selections factor into the equation now that the 2021 regular season is complete. The OTC estimates for compensatory draft picks are based on all these things now that they are known. The factor of snaps played only applies if a player logs at least 25% of the snaps on the season on offense or defense depending on what position they play. As for kickers, they have a completely different formula which I won’t even bother with at this time. Whatever percentage of snaps a player has, those number of points gets added onto the salary ranking as long as it’s above 25%.

Before the Steelers acquired Ahkello Witherspoon, OTC had them projected to have a third-round and a fifth-round compensatory draft pick. The addition of Witherspoon had the calculation estimated as just a third-round draft pick when the season began based on projected snap counts. Let’s look at where the new estimates based on actual snaps played and post-season awards in 2021 have the Steelers (numbers are based on salary explained above and percent of snaps played as no players who are factored with the Steelers earned All-Pro or All-Conference):

Qualifying Losses
Bud Dupree, 1906 salary + 36 snaps = 1942total; ranked 106: Fourth round
Matt Feiler, 1685 salary + 93 snaps = 1778 total; ranked 255: Fifth round
Mike Hilton, 1651salary + 71 snaps = 1722 total; ranked 309: Sixth round

Qualifying Gains
Ahkello Witherspoon, 1536 salary + 31 snaps = 1567 total; ranked 462: Sixth round
Joe Haeg, 1324 salary + 26 snaps = 1350 total; ranked 668: Seventh round

Even though both qualifying gains come in below the Steelers qualifying losses, they still simply cancel the bottom two. Therefore, the Steelers are projected to receive a fourth-round compensatory pick in the 2022 draft.

Unfortunately, this ended up as pretty much the worst-case scenario for the Steelers going into the season. So how did it happen?

The reason Bud Dupree has fallen to the fourth round of compensatory picks is because of the number of snaps he played in 2021. Playing in 11 games for the Titans this season, Dupree was playing more than 60% of the snaps whenever he was healthy. Unfortunately, that was only 9 games as Dupree was limited in two games he appeared (playing only one snap against the New Orleans Saints) and missing six games altogether. Dupree ended up only 10 points away from the cutoff from the third to the fourth round according to OTC. Therefore, if Dupree would have played another 10% of the Titans snaps this season (which would have been another 108 snaps by my calculations, the equivalent of playing his typical percentage in three other games), he would have qualified as a third-round selection.

When it comes to Ahkello Witherspoon, it’s simply whether or not he qualifies after being acquired via trade. If he qualifies, he’s going to cancel a player. If not, the Steelers will get an additional fifth-round pick.

The other factor which may have cost the Steelers and additional pick is because of tackle Joe Haeg. Haeg ultimately held on to the bottom of the seventh round as calculated by OTC as he’s played 26% of the offensive snaps for the Steelers. If Haeg had dropped below the 25% mark, he would have moved down to 1324 points which would have dropped him out of the seventh round which ends at 1329 points according to OTC. In looking at the Steelers 1173 offensive snaps, Haeg played 14 snaps too many in order to count in the compensatory formula.

While this seems like this is a bad scenario for Steelers, all hope is not lost. These are just projections by and the actual compensatory picks will be announced sometime in early March. While most of the numbers seem pretty straightforward, the one factor which could ultimately affect things is the overall divisor— the total number of qualifying players in the NFL. It appears as if OTC is using 1,988 players as the total for the NFL, although they have 2,133 players listed on their site. However many players the NFL utilizes could change things. If the NFL ends up using over 2,000 players, the 5% which falls as third-round designations would increase and could include Dupree. If the NFL‘s number moves in the other direction, it could shrink down the sizes of the various rounds and bump Joe Haeg out of qualifying. So there still is a possibility of things being tweaked in the final calculations. And as a reminder, OTC had the Steelers projected to get two compensatory picks last year when they ultimately finished with only one.

So there are the projections, but ultimately we will find out exactly what additional picks the Steelers will have for the 2022 NFL draft in less than two months.