Study: How Pre-Draft Visits Shape The Steelers Draft

The draft is hard. For those on the inside, the people in the actual war rooms, and especially for those on the outside. That’s us. It’s an unpredictable beats, made all the more tougher by two important factors we know little about: medical and interviews.

So we’re going to miss, we’re going to be incorrect. am going to miss, am going to be incorrect (see Billings, Andrew). Our efforts are only going to be so good but throughout the draft process, we’ve been trying to find out the best predictive measure for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft picks, especially in the first round.

The good thing is the front office stability allows us to find patterns and trends. It’s rare for a team to have the same head coach and GM for ten straight years like Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. So we can use draft history to try and see what’s important and what isn’t.

We’ve talked about the link between pre-draft visitors and draft picks. There’s no smokescreen here and if you’ve followed the site, you know they’re going to draft a couple of guys on their list. On average, 3.7 players per draft (33 since 2008).

So are there are any other pre-draft links? I believe I’ve come up with three. They can never be ironclad, of course, and there will almost always be exceptions. But I think I’ve found three additional things. I’ll try to keep it as simple and straight-forward as I can as we go through this because I get it, it can get a little messy sorting through the trash.

1. There is a strong correlation between a high draft pick and the position the team brings in most for a pre-draft visit.

2. There is a correlation between bringing in 5+ of a position and an early draft pick.

3. Specifically, there is a correlation between cornerback visits and draft picks.

* * * * *

1. There is a strong correlation between a high draft pick and the position the team brings in most for a pre-draft visit.

Using the data Steelers Depot has provided since its inception, 2008, I went through all the non-local known pre-draft visits (we used non-local lists throughout). For this, we wanted to see if the position they brought in was likely to be drafted. On paper, the answer seems obvious enough, but it still needs to be tested.

Here is the position brought in the most of the 30 visits and the highest round that position was drafted.

2016: 11 S (2nd round)
2015: 9 CB (2nd round)
2014: 8 LB (1st round)
2013: 8 LB (1st round)
2012: 7 LB (3rd round)
2011: 6 OL, 6 DL, 6 CB (1st, 2nd, 3rd round)
2010: 7 LB, 7 WR (2nd, 3rd round)
2009: 8 OL, 8 CB (2nd, 3rd round)
2008: 5 WR, 5 LB (2nd, 3rd round)

Of those nine drafts, the top position was drafted in the first round three times. Five times it happened in the second, and once it didn’t happen until the third. Never after that. So, and this really shouldn’t be a surprise, you can expect outside linebacker – a leading seven of them brought in this year – to be drafted within the top two rounds.

The causation? Pittsburgh uses their visits to strongly look at what they feel is their biggest team need. And then address it high in the draft.

* * * * *

2. There is a correlation between bringing in 5+ of a position and an early draft pick.

I picked five as an arbitrary but “clean” number as I try to do in some of these studies (rounding down in my “what they look for” look-ins). We know that the position they bring in the most is one they look at early but what about the rest they show strong, but not the highest, interested in? Is there still a connection?

2016:  11 S, 7 CB,  5 DL
2015:  9 CB, 7 LB,  5 TE,  5 WR
2014:  8 LB, 7 CB, 5 WR
2013: 8 LB, 6 CB
2012: 7 LB, 6 OL, 5 WRs
2011: 6 CB, 6 DL, 6 OL, 5 WRs
2010: 7 WR, 7 LB, 6 OL
2009: 8 CB, 8 OL, 6 DL
2008: 5 WR, 5 LB

And the rounds those 27 groups ended up being drafted, if they were at all.

1st – 8 (29.6%)
2nd – 7 (25.9%)
3rd – 6  (22.2%)
4th – 1 (3.7%)
5th – 3 (11.1%)
6th – 0
7th – 1 (3.7%)
Not drafted – 1 (3.7%)

So 21 of the 27 groups wound up being drafted within the first three rounds. The only 5+ group that wasn’t drafted? Wide receiver in 2011. They brought in Austin Pettis, Vincent Brown, Denarius Moore, Clyde Gates, and Greg Little and didn’t end up drafting anyone.

In 2016, the team brought in 11 safeties, nine corners, and five defensive linemen. A corner was drafted in the first, a safety in the second, and a defensive linemen in the third. In 2015, they brought in nine corners, seven linebackers, and five tight ends. They drafted a corner in the second (and fourth), a linebacker in the first, and they waited for a tight end until the 5th. Just some examples.

This year, the team had two positions brought in at least five times. Outside linebacker, seven of ’em, and wide receiver, five in all. Based on the data, you could expect a wide receiver to be drafted within the first three rounds.

* * * * *

3. Specifically, there is a correlation between cornerback visits and draft picks.

You or I could look at any position but I wanted to take an extra look at cornerback. Mainly, because it felt unusual for so few to be brought in, four officially, and at the time the thought hit me, there were only one or two names. So I dove on in. Does looking at so few corners mean they aren’t likely to take one? Or does it mean nothing at all?

I looked at the number of corners brought in each year with where one was drafted, if one was drafted at all.

2016: 7 CBs (1st round)
2015: 9 CBs (2nd/4th round)
2014: 7 CBs (5th round)
2013: 6 CBs (5th round)
2012: 3 CBs (7th round)
2011: 6 CBs (3rd/4th round)
2010: 4 CBs (5th round)
2009: 8 CBs (3rd/5th round)
2008: 4 CBs (Zero drafted)

When only three or four corners have been brought in, 33% of the time, there hasn’t been one drafted higher than the 5th round. Even when 5 or 6 have come in, bringing the total to five, only once has one been taken higher than the 5th (2011, when they double-dipped).

So bottom line, when they want to draft a corner, they generally go pretty hard at it during the pre-draft process.And when they’re light, they don’t usually pull the trigger early.

* * * * *

Again, of course these aren’t the say-all, end-all. But the history of looking at the Steelers’ draft tendencies is the best thing we have to go on, short of one of you being able to call up Tomlin or Colbert and getting them to spill the beans. But I’ve done my best to adhere to those “rules” in my mock draft and we’ll see how things end up.

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.
  • Steel Realist PAul

    Alex help me out here.. Is it possible the Steelers are looking at Kpassagnon as an edge rusher?? His size says different, but their interest in him and his playing on the edge in a 4-3 is curious.

  • Gluebucket

    Excellent study, Alex!

  • Steel Realist PAul

    What are the position pre-draft visit totals for 2017? Sorry if I’m missing it.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Great job, Mr. Kozora! I’ve been looking for that last little kick, to make me think I’m on the right path in my own pre-draft final analysis, and I believe that I am.

    1. Pittsburgh is mostly a “needs” drafting team, high. (Which makes me extremely happy)

    2. It appears they have properly analyzed their biggest draft need, and are looking to fill it.

    3. The first 3 rounds are vitally important, they realize that, and scout accordingly.

    4. CB is a real crap-shoot in Pittsburgh. There is a reason they are often all over the map. And also it makes sense why it has become quite the deficiency, since they have rarely chosen to go heavy at it with the earliest rounds (1st/2nd), at least until very recently. In 17 Colbert drafts, they’ve used a 1st or 2nd rd. pick on a CB, in only 4 drafts.

    5. Never forget just how ADDICTED we are to drafting WR’s. In the Colbert Era, we have chosen at least 1 WR in 13 out of 17 drafts.

  • Steelers12

    Austin Pettis, Vincent Brown, Denarius Moore, Clyde Gates, and Greg Little

    Glad we stayed away from those guys

  • Steelers12

    your #5 is correct but i don’t have a problem with taking a WR in every draft because of our history producing good Wrs

  • steelburg

    I’m taking a guess here but I would say they want to use him how Julius Peppers is used by the Packers. When they run there 4-3 sets he would be a 4-3 end and when they go 3-4 he would have the ability to stand up and not come off the field and be an edge guy.

  • Alex Kozora

    He could be a true elephant player…a Peppers type.

  • Alex Kozora

    …and steelburg nailed it better than I could, ha.

  • Alex Kozora


  • Alex Kozora

    7 EDGE
    5 WR
    4 CB
    3 S
    3 DE
    2 QB
    2 ILB
    1 TE

  • Alex Kozora

    Yup, I think you nailed it. Great stat about the WRs, too.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Counting Kpassagnon as DE?

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Thanks btw!!

  • Darth Blount 47

    I know that has been the narrative, but we’ve had our fair share of “misses,” too. But when we tend to hit, we seem to do so pretty solidly.

    – Plaxico Burress
    – Antwaan Randle El (tentative, but not a bust)
    – Santonio Homes
    – Mike Wallace
    – Antonio Brown
    – Emmanuel Sanders
    – Martavis Bryant

    – Danny Farmer
    – Lee Mays
    – Fred Gibson
    – Willie Reid
    – Dallas Baker
    – Limas Sweed
    – Toney Clemons
    – Justin Brown

    You tell me:
    – Sammie Coates
    – Markus Wheaton
    – Demarcus Ayers

  • Darth Blount 47

    “Thanks… I like to play.”

  • MattHat121

    Good stuff. Love it. I wonder if the first two causations are also driven by the pure volume of Rd1-2 EDGE talent in this draft. More prospects worthy of Round 1/2 = more visits?

  • george

    So it looks like edge, WR and CB/S first 3 rounds?

  • Alex Kozora


  • Alex Kozora

    CB could be lower. But EDGE and WR feel like they have as good a chance as any.

  • grw1960

    One thing that could have effected CBs in the first round for the Steelers. Is that usually 4 CBs are picked by the 25th pick in the 1st round.
    So maybe the Steelers don’t get a chance at many top CBs in the first.
    Plus the Steelers have counted more on pass rush , than cover CBs in their past defensive schemes

  • RickM

    Thanks for all the historical analysis. As you say, there are definite trends that they seem to follow – probably not unlike other NFL teams. Nevertheless, quantifying them like this is interesting. I think you’re definitely onto several ‘tells’.

    Do me a favor and take off your Steelers’ hat. With the hat clearly off…what OLB’s that we like will probably last until 62 if we forego the position in the 1st round.

  • george

    I’d like to see them take the best CB/S or tweener in the 2nd and a WR or TE in the 3rd.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Derek Rivers

  • Jeff Papiernik

    3 are missing I’m assuming because they were unconfirmed. This could affect the results of the study

  • Matt Correll

    Wayne’s World quote?

  • Matt Correll

    Alex, this is great stuff. Thanks for putting this all together. Question for you– what do you think that it means that there were so few over the 5+ mark this year? Looking at your list, there were only two other years that there were only 2 positions that had 5+, and most had 3 or 4, and most years had 2-3 positions that were 6+. Any thoughts on what this year’s visits my point to?

  • Darth Blount 47

    Glad somebody got the reference. 😉

  • Steelers12

    Coated, wheaton and ayers all work in progress. Sweed was a big disappointment i was excited for him. I thought he could of been what Bryant is

  • Alex Kozora

    Well to be fair, we don’t know 2-3 spots. Another Cb would’ve gotten them to five. Maybe more DEs were brought in. That could be a factor.

    And maybe that just shows how diversified their needs are. A little more than usual. I also think bringing in a couple of QBs tamped down the numbers elsewhere. The last time they brought in a QB for a visit was 2009…so they never “got in the way” until this year.

  • Alex Kozora

    Since Jeff said Rivers, I’ll throw out Tim Williams.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yes and yes.

  • JT

    Really good work Alex. Love the detailed analysis.

  • Matt Manzo

    So you’re saying Colbert hates Peppers? Do you think we won’t touch a DB til later?
    This is an awesome study, btw!

  • I wonder if Mike Tomlin’s comments of some weeks ago to the effect that the team needed to improve its man-to-man coverage specifically and secondary play in general–both concerning safety and cornerback play–could mean that the two positions should be rolled into one, e.g., four CB visits and three S visits denote seven total ‘secondary’ visits regarding their positional importance relevant to the team’s perceived need re their first two picks.

    I suggest this in particular due to the generally expected rounds their visitors are now projected to be drafted–with only one edge rusher visitor [McKinley] projected as going in round one and maybe two [Tim Williams and possibly Rivers] expected to go in round two. Of their ‘secondary’ visitors, however, four are projected to go in their first two rounds [Humphrey, Smith, Obi, and Baker] plus Douglas and Lewis are not far behind.

    Since three of these high level prospects are safeties–the most interest they’ve shown through visits re high level prospects of any positional groups–perhaps safety could be neck-and-neck with WR re a top two pick. Maybe Colbert would like to trade out of one and get both!

  • LucasY59

    I think he also would have the ability to slide in and play 3 tech, his length could help block passing lanes inside, and keep OGs off him so he wasnt easily blocked, along with his quickness would be something that could be really useful, especially if that OG was tired from having to deal with Tuitt/Heyward on the other plays, and Kpass rotated in with a full tank of gas

  • RickM

    That’s an interesting one. Rivers I kind of thought was possible. Williams less so, but you could be right. Thanks.

  • capehouse

    Wheaton definitely wasn’t a miss. Injured last year, but if you check his stats comparatively to the other WRs in that draft he’s right on par with where he was taken and what he’s produced.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I fear for his future as much as I feared for his present while he was with us. But that was certainly why he was located under the “You tell me” category.

  • Anthony Barnes

    I think if Wheaton wasn’t hurt last year he could of had a break out season. Same for Coates.