By Christopher DiMarino
In my first mock draft attempt, I wasn\’t sure how much stock to put into the fact that certain players have made (or are planning to make) pre-draft visits. I figured it was a pretty good indicator that the Steelers were showing interest in that player. It could also mean that a lot of these guys have questions marks about them that the Steelers would like answered. These questions could be related to football intelligence, past experiences or testing how they would fit into the Steelers scheme. In particular, I would think these interviews would be useful for linebackers and defensive lineman especially if they haven\’t played in a 3-4 before. This could also help with the OG/OT tweeners by testing if they have the intelligence to play a new spot. Overall though, it can help address any character issues which the Steelers take very seriously.
I decided to check the past 2 drafts and see how many draftees had pre draft visits. Logically this information would be more credible in the early rounds because in the later drafts there are so many unforeseen players that can drop and become available. Realizing that the Steelers can only bring in 30 guys along with local players, stacks the odds against these players lining up. You have to also factor in that certain players can tank the visit and be avoided in the draft.
The 2011 draft was a pretty good one. Cameron Heyward did not visit with the Steelers and this might be because he was widely projected to be gone (typically to the Ravens 5 picks earlier). Oddly enough, they did have Cameron Jordan visit and he was an even higher projected player. They had eventual 2nd round pick Marcus Gilbert visit as well as 3rd and 4th rounders Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in addition. They did not host Chris Carter (5th), but hosted Keith Williams (6th). 7th round pick Baron Batch also made a visit to Pittsburgh at the same time Curtis did.
In 2010, the Steelers brought in their first round pick Maurkice Pouncey. They also hosted Mike Iupati, Kyle Wilson, Earl Thomas and Arrelious Benn as well, adding to the confusion of the first round. Actually, looking at the list of pre draft visits is like looking at an eventual all star list. It really amazed me how many great players visited the Steelers in 2010 before the draft: Navarro Bowman (3.91), Dez Bryant (1.24) LaGarrette Blount (undrafted), Linval Joesph (2.46), Rob Gronkowski (2.42) and Sean Lee (2.55). And while it\’s hard to argue with the Steelers 1st and 3rd round picks in 2010, that is a great group of players who could\’ve become Steelers who have since excelled in the NFL. But I\’ll digress because it does no good to dwell on the past especially because it\’s unfair to take what we know now and apply it (Sean Lee>Jason Worilds in the 2nd round!!!).
The 2nd round selection was a bit of a reach with Jason Worilds and he didn’t even visit the Steelers that we know of. 3rd and 6th round receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown both visited. Thaddeus Gibson, Chris Scott, Crezdon Butler and Stevenson Sylvester in rounds 4 and 5 were all strangers. Jonathan Dwyer in the 6th and Doug Worthington in the 7th were also not invited for pre-draft visitors that we know of.
While the 2011 draft was encouraging, the 2010 draft was the opposite. So I really don\’t see any reason to put too much irrational stock into pre-draft visits. Allen visited, the Steelers reached and it paid off. Antonio is an even better example. Worilds is an example of the opposite. They reached on him a bit and didn\’t have him up to Pittsburgh as far as we can tell. Williams is a low round example of a player that visited but didn’t pan out (6th rounders have the odds against them to begin with). Overall, the only thing I can draw from this analysis is that if the Steelers bring in a player for a pre-draft visit and reach a bit for him, he has a good chance of panning out. I still feel that players brought in for visits are being looked at by the Steelers, but more importantly, how well they do in the interview is likely the deciding factor to draft, avoid or reach for that player.