Study: What Pittsburgh Looks For In Drafting Defensive Linemen

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver study I did earlier this week turned out a lot better than I anticipated. It showed a pattern and helped narrow down who the team could target, not with certainty, but with confidence.

So now I’m trying this with other positions. We’ll flip over to the defensive line today and examine the ten defensive lineman drafted under Mike Tomlin. I collected as much data as was reliably available below in basically every measure possible. Remember, I am not using Pro Day timed events (40 and shuttle drills) due to their unreliable nature. I will take the objective events from the Pro Day (vertical, broad) if they are the only numbers available or are better figures than the Combine.

2015: L.T. Walton

Height: 6’4/7
Weight: 319
Arm Length: 32 1/4
Hand Size: 10 1/4
Bench: 25
40 Time: 5.25
Vertical: 27
Broad: 8’7″
Short Shuttle: 4.78
Three Cone: 7.91

2014: Stephon Tuitt

Height: 6’5/4
Weight: 304
Arm Length: 34 3/4
Hand Size: 10
Bench: 31

Daniel McCullers

Height: 6’6/6
Weight: 352
Arm Length: 36 5/8
Hand Size: 11
Bench: 27
40 Time: 5.30
Vertical: 23
Broad: 8’3″

2013: Nick Williams

Height: 6’4/4
Weight: 309
Arm Length: 34 1/8
Hand Size: 10 1/4
Bench: 28
40 Time: 4.94
Broad: 9’3
Short Shuttle: 4.65
Three Cone: 7.55

2012: Alameda Ta’amu

Height: 6’2/4
Weight: 348
Arm Length: 32
Hand Size: 9 3/4
Bench: 35
40 Time: 5.37
Vertical: 26
Broad: 8’7″

2011: Cam Heyward

Height: 6’4/5
Weight: 294
Vertical: 30
Arm Length: 34 1/4
Hand Size: 10 1/8

2010: Doug Worthington

Height: 6’5/1
Weight: 292
Arm Length:34
Hand Size: 10
Bench: 19
Vertical: 35 1/2
Broad: 10’1″

2009: Ziggy Hood

Height: 6’2/6
Weight: 300
Arm Length: 33 1/4
Hand Size: 9 1/2
Bench: 34
40 Time: 4.97
Vertical: 33
Broad: 9’0″
Short Shuttle: 4.55
Three Cone: 7.50

Sonny Harris 

Height: 6’3/6
Weight: 296
Bench: 28
40 Time: 5.05
Vertical: 25.5
Broad: 8’10”
Short Shuttle: 4.87
Three Cone: 8.18

2007: Ryan McBean

Height: 6’5
Weight: 286
Bench: 27
40 Time: 4.98
Vertical: 28
Broad: 9’0″
Short Shuttle: 4.46
Three Cone: 7.79

So….things did not break as cleanly with the defensive linemen as it was with the receivers. This is sort of a mess and my goal is not to extrapolate everything out. It’s just as important when a metric doesn’t matter as when it does.

Off the bat, we’re just going to take out McCullers and Ta’amu. They’re the big ‘ol plugging nose tackles and frankly, those guys barely even existed in this year’s Combine. Both are over 345 while only one player from Indy this year was even over 330. So we have eight remaining.

Here are the metrics that have a correlation.

– Six of the eight were at least 6’4. Seven of the eight were at least 6’3.

– Seven of the eight weighed at least 290 pounds.

– Five of the six had at least 33 inch arms.

– Five of the six had at least 10 inch hands. None were smaller than 9.5.

– Three of the five ran sub 5.0 40s. Four of the five were sub 5.1. All were sub 5.3.

– Six of the seven had at least 25 bench press reps.

And the ones that don’t appear to have one.

– The vertical, broad, and shuttle drills do not show a strong correlation. We range from very medicoe times (Harris’ 25 inch vert, Walton’s 8’7″ broad) to the very good (Worthington’s 35 inch vert, McBean’s 4.46 short shuttle).

We could set some very broad parameters but it would only eliminate the worst of the worst.

So bottom line. All those numbers don’t matter much when evaluating and we won’t set criteria for them.

Here is the criteria we will use.

6’3 290+
33+ inch arms
10+ hands
Sub 5.3 40
25+ bench reps

And the four players at this year’s Combine who check every box.

NameHeightWeightArm LengthHand Size40 TimeBench Press Reps
Joel Heath6’5/229334 1/210 1/25.0226
Ufomba Kamalu6’5/129535105.0126
Chris Jones6’5/631034 1/210 3/45.0326
Robert Nkemdiche6’3/429433 7/810 3/44.8728

The bench press, the last thing I factored in, eliminated so many players. Cut my list to a fraction.

Those who came off: Hassan Ridgeway (24), DeVaunte Sigler (23), Shawn Oakman (23), A’Shawn Robinson (22), Adolphus Washington (21), Jihad Ward (20), and Vincent Valentine (17).

All those players fit every category but the bench. Of course, being two reps off is not throwing a guy’s name in the trash, but if we are sticking just to players who hit every mark of our criteria, they are taken off.

And if you’re wondering, because the buzz is incredible, Andrew Billings only missed in the “height” category. Checked all the other boxes. But I’m being objective here. He didn’t check them all so he didn’t make the list.

Robert Nkemdiche is one of the top talents in the draft but his inconsistent play and off the field problems making him anyone’s guess. I do think he’ll be on the board at 25 but his problems could make these figures irrelevant.

Chris Jones is a kid I’m high on and I get even more excited after seeing him fit the criteria. First round is pushing it, but certainly not impossible, and could work his way into the conversation. Joel Heath and Ufomba Kamalu are prime Day Three candidates to either double-down on or grab if the team does not address the position early.

So if we eliminate Nkemdiche, we are left with three players that the team is likely to have interest in. I’m going to try to do this for every position and try to create a list of 50 or so names that really fit the Steelers’ trends well.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.