Steelers Draft Went (Almost) Exactly As Expected (If you followed the clues they gave us)

If you were surprised by the Steelers draft this year, you shouldn't have been. They did what they always do. If you are familiar with their habits and trends in the pre-draft process, then this year's draft went just about the way you would've expected it to go. They gave us plenty of clues as to who and what positions they would be drafting. They even gave us an indication of when they would be drafting certain players.

Prior to the draft, I did a Fanpost called "The Most Realistic/Comprehensive 7-round Steelers Mock." In it, I discussed their traditional habits and trends that give us the clues we need to determine who their draft picks will be each year. Here is an excerpt from my Fanpost:

Another important clue in determining not only their 1st round pick, but potential Day 2 picks, is who Tomlin and Colbert bring with them to the Pro Days. If it's a coordinator and/or position coach, you know they have some serious interest in that prospect in particular. Here are the prospects worthy of a Day 1 or Day 2 pick who had all of Tomlin, Colbert, Canada and/or their would-be position coach attend their Pro Day:

CB Derek Stingley, QB Malik Willis, QB Desmond Ridder, QB Kenny Pickett, QB Matt Corral, WR George Pickens, LB Nakobe Dean, LB Quay Walker, LB Channing Tindall. I'll also include QB Sam Howell because Tomlin was unable to attend his Pro Day due to being at the owners meeting (Colbert and Canada were there, though). It's quite possible that both their 1st and 2nd round picks could come from this list if the draft breaks a certain way. Last year, their 1st two picks (Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth came from this type of list).

As you can see, Kenny Pickett and George Pickens did come from that list. So, I will now go through each pick and explain how they fit the typical Steelers pattern.

1.20 QB Kenny Pickett. Tomlin and Colbert do not do the amount of due diligence on a position, like they did on QBs this year, only to end up not taking one. Where there's smoke there's fire with them. So, if you really didn't want them to draft a QB or thought they wouldn't, sorry! They planned on going QB all along unless maybe a premier prospect like CB Derek Stingley or DT Jordan Davis somehow fell to them.

A clue that stood out to me was that QB coach Sullivan was not at the Pro Day for any of the top 5 QBs except for Desmond Ridder. That seemed odd because I would expect him to be there for the potential #1 pick along with Tomlin, Colbert, and Canada. However, Pitt's Pro-Day coincided with Nevada's. They sent Sullivan to scout Carson Strong instead. This makes sense because they were already very familiar with Pickett anyway. After the fact, it was revealed (by Rich Walsh) that their QB ranking went 1. Pickett 2. Ridder 3. Willis. Again, notice that Sullivan was present for Ridder's Pro Day and not Willis'. It also happens to be the way those 3 QBs were taken on draft day. Many of us bought into media hype around Willis, but I'm not sure Steelers ever viewed him as a true 1st rounder even though his upside was tempting. Whereas Pickett was generally considered the most pro-ready, highest floor QB of the bunch. If given the pick of the litter at a position they intend to draft early, the Steelers generally go with the highest floor prospect. Last year they were in the same situation with RB, and they took Najee Harris. It is quite possible, though, if Pickett was taken by another team earlier, they would have considered Desmond Ridder with their 1.20 pick. Ridder was the #2 QB on their board and he was generally considered the second most pro-ready to Pickett. It probably would've come down to Ridder, Pickens, or LB Quay Walker if Pickett was gone.

For those who thought they should've considered EDGE Jermaine Johnson, CB Trent McDuffie, or C Tyler Linderbaum instead of Pickett, those 3 probably weren't in the Steelers top 20. None had a significant presence at their Pro Day or were invited to Pittsburgh for a Pre-Draft Visit. Whereas Quay Walker, who went 2 picks after they took Pickett, was invited to Pittsburgh after having Tomlin, Colbert, and Flores at his Pro-Day.

2.52 WR George Pickens. As I mentioned, when Tomlin and Colbert bring a position coach to a Pro Day with them, take notice. Other than Justyn Ross, who had serious medical concerns and went undrafted, Pickens was the only WR who had Tomlin, Colbert and WR coach Frisman Jackson attend their Pro Day.

For those who wanted or expected them to take Skyy Moore, you can see how that played out. They chose Pickens over him (Moore went 2 picks later). The pick right after Pickens (and before Moore) was actually another WR many fans wanted, Alec Pierce. The giveaway clue should've been that coach Jackson was at neither of their Pro Days. Yes, Tomlin knows Moore well, being a teammate of his son Dino's at Shadyside, but I'd still expect at least coach Jackson at the Western Michigan Pro Day if Moore was to be a leading candidate for their 2nd pick.

Another clue that stood out was, after taking Pickett, who was left on that list of Day 1-2 worthy prospects at other positions who had Tomlin, Colbert, and a position coach at their Pro Day? The answer is a very short list of Georgia players. WR Pickens, LB Dean, and LB Tindall. CB Derek Stingley went #3 overall, they weren't going to take another QB, and LB Quay Walker went in the 1st round. So, Pickens seemed like the obvious choice after word got out that Dean had some medical concerns that would make his draft stock fall. Like TE Pat Freiermuth, who was in consideration for their top pick if they didn't get Najee Harris, Pickens fell to their 2nd round pick after they got their top target (QB Pickett).

3.84 DL DeMarvin Leal. He fit the trend of having 3rd round picks come from the group of prospects that had a position coach attend their Pro Day. Leal was once considered a sure-fire 1st rounder, but after a somewhat lackluster season, he became more of a 2nd round-type. Then, a disappointing performance at the Combine gave an indication he may slip into the 3rd. Steelers look for specific type of DL. They don't draft the traditional college DE unless they plan to convert him to OLB. They typically look for a DT with the athleticism to play out in a 4i (inside shoulder of OT) or 5-tech (outside shoulder) in their 34D. They also want that DL to be able to rush the passer as a DT in their 4-2-5 alignment. Leal is unique in that he is a college DL who's capable of playing multiple positions in the NFL. For the Steelers, he fits as an interior pass rush DT in the 425 but can also play outside as a DE/EDGE in that front. In the 34, he's capable as a 4i/5tech DE even if he doesn't quite have prototypical size.

A clue when their pick came around was who was left on their board from the position coach visits (with or without Tomlin/Colbert) that had Day 2 pedigree? This, again, was a relatively short list. LB Tindall, WR Danny Gray, OT Daniel Faalele, and DL Leal. LB Nakobe Dean, interestingly, went one pick ahead of 3.84 to Philly. Odds are they weren't going to take another WR right away (even though they ended up with Austin in the 4th) so that ruled out Gray. So, the choice was likely between Leal, Tindall, and Faalele. Of those 3, Leal was the most likely to have an early impact as a rotational DL, particularly if Tuitt doesn't come back. Whereas Tinadall would've come in as a backup with an eye toward 2023 and Faalele mainly a backup at RT replacing Banner. Tindall ended up going later in the 3rd to Miami and Faalele in the early 4th to Baltimore.

4.138 WR Calvin Austin. This was the most unexpected of all 7 of the Steelers draft picks. Part of the reason was he did not receive noted attention from them in the pre-draft process. Upon further investigation, though, there were some deeper clues to be found. First, Memphis' Pro-Day coincided with SMU's Pro-Day. WR coach Jackson went to SMU to scout potential 3rd round WR Danny Gray, so he wasn't able to make it to see Austin. The next clue was they really hadn't replaced Ray Ray McCloud's role as a WR in the O. Yes, they signed Gunner Olszewski to be KR/PR and potentially a gadget WR, but they really didn't have a jitterbug, slot-WR type even after drafting Pickens. Third, they got a look at Austin up close at the Senior Bowl, even though there weren't reports of explicit interviews with him there. Not all prospect meetings get reported. They already had a good idea of what they were buying when they took Austin in the 4th.

As the 4th round pick approached, a few clues started to appear. The main clue was no one really jumped out from their list of likely possibilities. With guys like OT Faalele, CB Jalen Armour-Davis, and LB Brandon Smith taken earlier in the round, the list of guys who had coaches at their Pro-Days was dwindling. CBs Tariq Castro-Fields and Josh Jobe were still there but reports about their medicals said they would be expected to fall significantly. That essentially took them out of the 4th round equation. Same was true for WR Justyn Ross, and after taking a WR like Pickens, Ross was probably off their board entirely (he ended up going undrafted) Even a RB like Hassan Haskins, who Tomlin met and took to dinner at Michigan, went earlier than expected and was already gone. So, this meant they were likely going to throw us fans a curveball and go with someone we weren't expecting. They tend to do this in the 4th round like they did with LB Buddy Johnson last year and G Kevin Dotson two years ago. So, a lesson here is expect the unexpected in the 4th round!

6.208 FB/TE Connor Heyward. For most fans, this was the most expected pick of all. It just felt like they were going to draft Cam's little brother no matter what. They certainly did. While they really don't need another player at a position they seldom use (FB), Connor is more of an H-back than anything else. He's not a true in-line TE as he's too small to play there regularly in the NFL. He can be a multi-use player for the O while occupying the TE3/RB4 roster spot they generally have.

The explicit clue here was that he is Cam's brother. They like brother combinations. The Watts', the Edmunds', the Davis', and now the Heywards'. Basically, everyone knew they were interested in Connor, but it was more the question of whether they would draft him or just sign him as a UDFA. I thought the 6th was too early for him, but when the Steelers fear the risk of losing someone they want, they'll do what it takes to get their guy. Think about last year when they traded this year's 4th to get the 5th they didn't have to draft Isaiah Loudermilk. To be fair, the main guys left on their list of expected prospects were the medical issue guys from earlier, Castro-Fields and Jobe. Castro-Fields went at the end of the 6th and Jobe went undrafted. Also, our missing clue was that we didn't know they were going to sign S Damonte Kazee right after the draft. That took basically all of the S prospects off the board at that point. Guys they brought in for visits like Nolan Turner, Joey Blount, and Scott Nelson. They all went undrafted anyway.

7.225 LB Mark Robinson. This felt like an easy one, for me at least. When you get to the 7th round, the Steelers typically select from the list of guys they had in for Pre-Draft Visits who are still available. Robinson was one of those guys at a position they hadn't drafted yet, but had shown interest in. I offered his name up on our Draft Day thread, along with those Safety prospects, as who they'd pick when 225 was approaching. While some felt he was not even worthy of a draft pick, the Steelers generally select from a fairly limited pool of players (as do many teams) and pick guys they like. Flores liked Robinson and Tomlin and Colbert saw him at Mississippi when they were scouting Matt Corral.

7.241 QB Chris Oladokun. Another easy one, even though they already went with a QB in Pickett. He was reported to be on their radar after his Pro Day and was brought in for an official visit. The Steelers all along had said they were bringing 4 QBs to camp. The clue here is the Steelers do what they say they will. They still only had 3 QBs after drafting Pickett. So, we knew they were adding a 4th and we knew they liked Oladokun. While they could've waited and tried to sign him as a UDFA, like with Connor Heyward, they generally don't want to risk losing guys they like. Oladokun is someone who fits their system and culture.

In the end, all of their draft picks except Austin were on my list of prospects to watch out for in each round. Pickett and Pickens were in the "players to consider" for their respective rounds. Leal was one I listed as a possibility in the 2nd, and when he fell he became almost a no-brainer. Austin was the surprise in the 4th. Heyward I had listed as a possibility in the 7th. Robinson and Oladokun were listed as possibilities in the 7th as well.

How did I do so well in guessing these names? I simply followed the clues the Steelers gave me. No, I didn't get a single pick exactly right. I humbly admit that! The draft played out differently than I expected because I bought into the QB hype. A lesson learned for future years.

One final piece of info to share with you. A few years back, Colbert mentioned that they generally draft from a board of about 120-130 names or so. With there being around 260 picks each year, it's obvious that they don't have every draftable player on their board. That's why we often see guys fans are enamored with go virtually unnoticed by the Steelers. Colbert also said they don't do mock drafts but start out by pretending they have the #1 overall and decide who they'd take. Then, they work their way down to whatever number their 1st round pick is to come up with their top prospect list. This year it was top 20. After that, they have about 100 or so guys they like who they will consider taking at some point. Ideally, if they can get two of their Top group (20 this year) they are very happy. I think they might have with Pickett and Pickens. With a new GM next year, it will be even more important to note where Tomlin goes and what he does. Even though he's not the GM, he's the most influential force in the draft process more than ever. So, for next year, make sure to pay attention to the clues they give you!

The opinions shared here are not those of the editorial staff of Behind the Steel Curtain or SB Nation. These posts are not approved in any way by the editorial staff of this web site.