Study: What Pittsburgh Looks For In Drafting Offensive Linemen

We are back looking at Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft trends since the Mike Tomlin era began. We’ve looked at wide receivers, the defensive line, and now, let’s look towards the offensive line.

Remember, these are just general prerequisites. There are exceptions everywhere, including within the Steelers. But we all have certain standards. It’s like dating. Find someone who smokes more than Joe Camel? Talks about their life more than anything else? Everything else might not matter. Consult your local Scrubs or How I Met Your Mother rerun and you’ll understand.

The process is the same as before.  I’ll spill all the data to you, do my best to fine some correlation and trends, and see what players at this year’s Combine fit.

Sound good? Let’s go.

2014: Wesley Johnson/OT

Height: 6’5/3
Weight: 297
Arm Length: 33 1/8
Hand Size: 10 1/4
Bench: 26
Ten Split: 1.73
Vert: 29
Broad: 9’3″
Short Shuttle: 4.64
Three Cone: 7.40

2012: David DeCastro/OG

Height: 6’4/7
Weight: 316
Arm Length: 32 3/8
Hand Size: 10
Bench: 34
Ten Split: 1.84
Vert: 29.5
Broad: 8’2″
Short Shuttle: 4.56
Three Cone: 7.30

Mike Adams/OT

Height: 6’7/2
Weight: 323
Arm Length: 34
Hand Size: 10 7/8
Bench: 21
Ten Split: 1.83
Vert: 28,5
Broad: 8’3″
Short Shuttle: 4.95
Three Cone: 7.94

Kelvin Beachum/OT

Height: 6’2/7
Weight: 303
Arm Length: 33 2/8
Hand Size: 9 3/8
Bench: 19
Ten Split: 1.85
Vert: 28.5
Broad: 8’5″
Short Shuttle: 4.8
Three Cone: 7.79

2011: Marcus Gilbert/OT

Height: 6’6/1
Weight: 330
Arm Length: 33/12
Hand Size: 9 3/4
Bench: 30
Ten Split: 1.93
Vert: 30.5
Broad: 8’2″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A

Keith Williams/OG

Height: 6’4/2
Weight: 318
Arm Length: 32 3/8
Hand Size: 10
Bench: 23
Ten Split: 1.89
Vert: 24.5
Broad: 7’9″
Short Shuttle: 5.03
Three Cone: 8.42

2010: Maurkice Pouncey/C

Height: 6’4/4
Weight: 304
Arm Length: 32 1/2
Hand Size: 10
Bench: 25
Ten Split: 1.83
Vert: 27
Broad: 7’11”
Short Shuttle: 4.92
Three Cone: 7.74

Chris Scott/OG

Height: 6’4/5
Weight: 319
Arm Length: 34 1/8
Hand Size: 10 3/8
Bench: 19
Ten Split: 1.93
Vert: 22.5
Broad: 7’6″
Short Shuttle: 5.02
Three Cone: 8.24

2009: Kraig Urbik/OG

Height: 6’5/1
Weight: 328
Arm Length: 33 1/2
Hand Size: 9 3/8
Bench: 29
Ten Split: 1.90
Vert: 25.5
Broad: 8’2″
Short Shuttle: 4.89
Three Cone: 7.87

AQ Shipley/C

Height: 6’1/1
Weight: 304
Arm Length: 31 5/8
Hand Size: 9 5/8
Bench: 33
Ten Split: 1.85
Vert: 31
Broad: 8’4″
Short Shuttle: 4.40
Three Cone: 7.46

2008: Tony Hills/OT

Height: 6’5/1
Weight: 309
Arm Length: 34 1/8
Hand Size: 10
Bench: 24
Ten Split: N/A
Vert: N/A
Broad: 8’9″
Short Shuttle: N/A
Three Cone: N/A

2007: Cameron Stephenson/OG

Height: 6’3/2
Weight: 306
Arm Length: N/A
Hand Size: N/A
Bench: 34
Ten Split: 1.88
Vert: 28.5
Broad: 8’5″
Short Shuttle: 4.81
Three Cone: 7.72

Ok. With the team drafting 12 offensive linemen, we have a metric ton of information to sift through. Because linemen is such an open-ended term, we can’t obviously take some criteria and apply it the same to the undersized guard and the long, big tackle.

So we are going to break this down into several categories. Tackles and interior lineman. And players under 310 pounds (regardless of position) and those over 310. The following is my criteria.

Tackles

Be at least 6’5 300+ pounds
If < 34 inch arms, put up at least 25 reps on the bench press

Interior

Be at least 6’3 300+ pounds
Have 10+ inch hands
If < 34 inch arms, put up at least 25 reps on the bench press

310 Pounds Or Lighter

1.85 ten yard split or under
Under 7.8 in three cone
27+ inch vertical

310 Pounds Or Heavier

None

Here’s what I’m able to gather. If you’re a biiiig (310+) ugly, or have 34+ inch arms, you’re pretty much guaranteed to meet the criteria. The Steelers, understandably, don’t really care how you test or bench, especially knowing the guys with long arms put up less reps due to the simple physics of it. Though if you’re inside, you have to be a big guy through and through. No tiny hands allowed. It would not do well in a political campaign.

The little guys have to do something beyond that to get the team’s attention. They have to show dedication in the work room with their bench and have a higher measure of athleticism.

Still, the range is not as rigid as we saw with the receivers. The hardest to make the cut are interior linemen under 310 pounds, and as the results tell us, that is where the majority of the players get their pink slips.

So let’s look at who from this year’s Combine make the cut. We’re really going to break this down. Separate the tables into four groups. In the first, we’ll look at sub 310 pound offensive tackles. Remember our criteria: height, weight, arm length, bench press (if under 34 inch arms), ten split, three cone, and vertical.

Sub 310 Tackles 

NameHeightWeightArm LengthBench PressTen SplitThree ConeVertical
Tyler Johnstone6’5/4301341.787.3130.5
Jack Conklin6’5/6308351.757.6330
Jason Spriggs6’5/530134 1/81.757.7031.5

Now, let’s look at 310+ tackles. We have fewer criteria. Height, weight, arm length, and bench press (if under 34 inch arms).

310+ Pound Tackles

NameHeightWeightArm LengthBench Press
Caleb Benenoch6’5/431134 1/8
Brandon Shell6’5/332434 3/4
Alex Lewis6’631234
Halapoulivaati Vaitai6’632034 1/4
Le’Raven Clark6’5/231636 1/8
John Theus6’6/431334 1/2
Stephen Nembot6’6/632234 5/8

Let’s move to 310 pound or lighter guards. Our criteria: weight, hand size, arm length, bench press (if under 34 inch arms), ten split, three cone, and vertical.

Sub 310 Pound Guards

NameHeightWeightHand SizeArm LengthBench PressTen SplitThree ConeVertical
Connor McGovern6’4/230610 3/832 7/8331.727.5033

And finally, 310+ guards. Criteria: weight, hand size, arm length, and bench press (if under 34 inch arms).

310+ Pound Guards

NameWeightHand SizeArm LengthBench Press
Germain Ifedi32410 3/436
Vadal Alexander32610 1/235 1/4
Matt Skura3291035 1/4
Landon Turner33010 3/832 7/830

I didn’t want to throw it in earlier and muddy things up more, but if you’re interested in my reasoning for the criteria, here it is.

– Four of the five tackles were at least 6’5. The interior players were diversed and did not have a height requirement.

– None of the five tackles drafted had shorter than 33 inch arms.

– 11 of the 12 total players weighed at least 300 pounds at the Combine.

– Four of the six interior players with data (Stephenson doesn’t have any) had at least 10+ inch hands.

– Six of the eight linemen with sub-34 inch arms put up at least 25 reps on the bench press.

– All five of the linemen under 310 pounds had at least a 27 inch vertical and a sub 7.8 in the three cone. Four of the five had a 1.84 or sub ten split.

– For players over 310 pounds, there really isn’t much to learn from. They can have 1.9+ splits (three of the six were 1.9 or worse), can jump poorly in the broad/vert, and have shuttle times all over the map. No correlation worth doing.

So let’s wrap things up and look at what the data tells us.

We have a wide array of tackles, though if you’re looking for lighter, quicker ones, your options are limited. Tyler Johnstone, who has earned buzz on here, makes the cut. Jason Spriggs predictably does too and Jack Conklin, a player I feel they could have interest in, also earns a spot. Conklin and Spriggs will be gone within the first two rounds and though the team just added Ryan Harris, I imagine they’ll take a hard look at Conklin with the 58th pick.

There are several tackles of the big and long variety with Le’Raven Clark being the highest rated one on most boards. Alex Lewis, a player I had the Steelers taking in my first mock, also makes an appearance.

Only five guards total wound up fitting. Connor McGovern is the only “light” one, putting together an impressive performance at Indianapolis. Four big uglies make an appearance, most of them with length, with the exception of Landon Turner, whose 30 reps gets him on the list.

Most of the guards were eliminated due to hand size, under the ten inch threshold (Josh Garnett) or bench press (Cody Whitehair). Same with the tackles, Taylor Decker being the most noticeable.

In all, we have 15 linemen who “make sense,” though again I caution, this is not the say-all, be-all. This is just another tool that is a useful way to help us narrow down our list. It does nothing to change my personal evaluations on individuals.

After going through three position groups, wide receiver, defensive line, and now the offensive line, we have a list of 24 players that fit the Steelers’ historical trends very well. We’ll work on cornerback next and from my early findings, there are some cleaner correlations.

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.

  • CP72

    Alex these are quickly becoming some of my favorite articles to read. I bet they’re a ton of work. Thanks for all the effort.

    I use to be able to look at an offensive lineman and tell if Pittsburgh would be interested. The switch to the zone scheme from power makes that more difficult. The information above will be helpful.

  • Tom Jackson

    Very nice article Alex, love the series your putting together here.

    I really have to say I would like a Guard starting the 3rd RND for us this year. Not a must but I would like them to look closely with our 3rd and 4th pick. We definitly could use an interior back up Lineman to challenge Hubbard in camp. And middle RNDs are often pretty good value RNDs for OGs. You’ll miss out on the freaks like DeCastro (2012), Tomlinson (2015) or Garnett (2016). But there are very solid guys left who can play and aren’t as high profile because of position value. Considering our drafts get usually pretty pedestrian in return value after RND 2 I’d like them to look for a Guard in that range.

  • PittsburghSports

    We’ve only talked with 1 Tackle(right?), and heavily targeted them in free agency, so that tells me they’re not comfortable with this draft class. After resigning Foster, and having Wallace, I can’t see us drafting a Guard early. I suppose a Tackle is possible, especially since Steelers always draft at least 1 offensive player in the first 3 rounds, but it’s difficult to imagine with all the needed defensive help. I think the right guy has to fall to us early, like Decker in rd 1, or Spriggs in rd 2, but most likely we’re looking at a 3rd or 4th rd Tackle if any at all.

    Just curious why Taylor Decker doesn’t meet the criteria, since he’s the only guy we’ve heard about the team showing interest in? arm length?

  • CP72

    I agree. Think if an lineman is picked it will be after the first four rounds. I also am holding out hope for Finney. He could be our Cody Wallace for the next 5 years. You saw him get better every game in the preseason.

  • PittsburghSports

    It’s definitely interesting to consider all angles. One angle is the positional depth of the draft. We need defensive line and CB help, but those are also considered the deepest positions in the draft, so maybe we can wait to draft one and still pick up a good player in rd 2-4. Safety, OLB, and offensive line are not so deep, so we could target one early, and for that reason I can’t totally discount a Tackle in rd 1 or 2.

  • CP72

    They typically carry three tackles on the 53. If you draft a tackle high you have to keep him on the active roster. I don’t see them carrying four tackles. I guess you could cut AV, but that wouldn’t make much sense.

    Adams walking papers were signed the mixture Ryan Harris signed.

  • PittsburghSports

    I’m not so sure about that. Just looking through Tomlin’s years, and depending on if you consider Hubbard a Tackle or Guard, and also keeping injuries in mind, it seems like he values 4 Tackles in all his seasons with us.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yes, Hawkins is the only one we are aware of. Obviously, there are others, but he’s the only official dude.

    Right, I think I said it on here or definitely tweeted it out, they invested time/money into OT because this tackle class sucks. I really don’t expect them to draft a tackle, and even an interior guard isn’t terribly likely, this year. Though that would require trotting in another big group of UDFAs – in my mock offseason, even with signing an OT and drafting another, I “brought in” three to give me three full teams + one extra. They won’t bring in the five they did last year but they’ll have to spend money on 2-3 of them.

    Buuuut, knowing Harris is just a stop-gap, if there is a tackle they really like, and the board breaks in the tackle’s favor, who knows. They drafted Coates when they didn’t need to. Maybe they do the same for tackle. Tomlin was once talking about Conklin in one of Bell’s snapchat videos.

    Decker has 33 3/4 inch arms, meaning he has to put up at least 25 reps on the bench. At the Combine, he did only 20. So he missed the mark. If I missed the Pro Day number and he hit it, then let me know and he’ll go on here.

  • Alex Kozora

    Thank you! Have CBs tomorrow, ILB the next days. I think OLB is the only other position with enough data to use. Probably can’t do any for QB/TE/S. Maybe we’ll do RB but they probably won’t take one so I dunno what I’ll do.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Colbert MO. When he says deep at a certain position group they always wait until later to draft there. The only exception would be one of their so called “Special Talents”. You are correct.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Alex I really enjoy reading these and appreciate the work you do and as a thank you I am going to save you the time on CB’s and give you the criteria here. You will just have to find all of the players who fit that criteria.

    To qualify as a Steelers CB draft pick here is what we consistently see:

    Not good at playing CB

    😛

  • mem359

    Alex, are you able to use a database (made by someone else), or do you have to get these numbers yourself? If you already have a computer DB of all the players drafted (including other teams), then maybe it would be easier to see a pattern by comparing the players NOT selected by the Steelers, to the ones they did draft. (If you have to hunt down the numbers yourself, I’d guess that would be way too much work.)

    You mention that the players are 300+ lbs in weight, but I’m wondering if maybe there are not a lot of linemen in the draft under 300. (Are the Steelers actively selecting those players, or does the pool of players prevent them from making any other choice?)

  • Ask Questions Later

    I would imagine then explosive power is a key component of Pittsburgh edge rushers then; vertical and three cone no less.

  • Ask Questions Later

    “This Tackle Class Sucks.”

    Bingo Alex. Remove Tunsil, Stanley and maybe even Conklin… and this tackle class is a SERIOUS crapshoot.

  • Ask Questions Later

    Outside of Tunsil and Stanely, if I am Colbert, I am avoiding tackles like the plauge. This class of tackles is really bad. Jack Conklin can be a hit… or he can be a miss, I do not trust Ifedi at all, Spriggs is not worth investing a 1st round pick on, and Decker seems more so a right tackle anyway.

    Colbert’s moves in free agency have determined this is going to be heavy in the defensive side anyway. I would not be surprised if Colbert decides to target one Day 3.

  • Alex Kozora

    I just poke around the Interwebs for data. Sometimes I use Depot’s archives, sometime I use NFL Draft Scout, sometimes it’s NFL Combine Results, sometimes it’s old CBS scouting reports. Whatever I can find.

    I think having to hunt down the ones not selected would be an incredible amount of work and I don’t know what I would learn from it. I care more about the ones they do take than the ones they don’t.

    Sure, the majority of the linemen are over 300 pounds. But it’s not like there aren’t any under 300. Seven this year alone weighed in under 300. And if the pattern wasn’t clear, if the numbers weren’t as clean (11 of 12 over 300) then I might not have included that, knowing the parabola everything exists in which tell me the majority would be in the middle ground.

  • mem359

    For the 300 pounders, according to the NFL page, there are 77 OL in the draft. With 70 at 300+ pounds (10 in 11), that is within the uncertainty of how the Steelers select (11 out of 12). If you look at the OL players drafted in the previous 3 years, there were 121 out of 132 players who were 300+ pounds, which is 11 out of 12, just like the Steelers.

    This means that 300+ weight is not a useful metric, because that is basically the same proportion as the draft pool that we started from. The Steelers might be looking for weight… or that decision may have already been made for them by what was available in the draft. That is the information you gain by looking at “the ones they don’t” draft.

    I admitted it would be too much work (especially given that you have to poke around the Internet by hand), but what you could potentially learn is what qualities *every* team is looking for in the draft, versus which qualities are specific to the Steelers. (But that is probably not the question you were trying to answer.)

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I don’t know if past trends are entirely applicable now as they have been going more towards the zone blocking system these past few years. This is why the re-signing of Foster, while predictable, is a little puzzling as well.They seemed to go through a period where they employed maulers like Kemo and just tried to overpower people with mixed results. A lot of people here are after Garnett but his middling athleticism, not to mention his predicted draft slot, makes me hope they don’t pick him(I do like his mental drive and determination though). Traditional maulers like Tretola can be had much later on. Pouncey’s arms are hardly any longer than the much maligned “t-Rex” Shipley lol.

  • Alex Kozora

    Well let’s be clear here. I’m not using a 77 player pool. I’m using the Combine pool. It was still a lot, but definitely less than 77. I used a pool of 53. That is about an 86% clip whereas the Steelers are drafting at close to 92% (11 of 12). Above the average and therefore, a useful metric.

  • Alex Kozora

    They run every scheme. It’s not just zone.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    True, but they do seem to be going away from trying to bludgeon teams into submission.

  • Alex Kozora

    I’d argue they have run a ton of power the last two years. I don’t think they’re getting away from anything, and definitely not to the point where they’ll typecast their linemen based on power/zone.

  • mem359

    Okay, I see your point about the 77 player pool. On the NFL site, there are 15 players under 300 pounds from those 77 players. And that answers my original question: the draft pool is mostly 300+ pounders (about 5 to 1), but all the teams preferentially pick 300+ pounders on top of that.

    Be careful on how you use statistics. Your last statement (92% is above 86%, and therefore useful) is only true if the uncertainty on your numbers is small enough. In this case, with 12 players, you can’t really say for sure because the Steeler’s rate has an uncertainty of 28% (1 divided by the square root of the number of players).

    (If you are unsure about that, think of it this way… If the Steelers pick 12 players at a rate of 92%, there are very good odds that 11 of them fit the criteria. If the Steelers pick 12 players at a rate of 86%, the odds are still very good that 11 of them fit the criteria. You can’t say with real confidence if the rates are 6% different or if they are the same, without a larger sample.)