The Steelers are permitted to host 30 prospects for pre-draft visits. With less than a month until the draft, visits have begun and are in full swing. Pre-Draft Visits are a good indicator of the Steelers draft priorities as they have selected 30 players in the last 7 years that came on a pre-draft visit (and signed a handful more as undrafted free agents). While the Steelers have a history of using about half of their picks each year on prospects who have visited, the Steelers have also used these visits to bring in players that might have some question marks on their resume to gather more information in creating their draft board. These question marks range from double-checking medical evaluations or to have the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with players that have had off-the-field issues. The Steelers will also use pre-draft visits to do some extra scouting on players that will likely be undrafted free agents that they may have on their radar.
For each prospect, I added Rankings from some of the more reliable draft analysts around – Rob Rang of CBS Sports, Lance Zerlein of NFL.com, Luke Easterling of The Draft Wire, and Scott Carasik of Falcons Radio (and other outlets) who publishes an all-encompassing spreadsheet. Additionally, I listed three athleticism metrics: SPARQ, RAS, and Mock Draftable “webs.” SPARQ rankings are from 3 Sigma Athlete and measure of explosiveness and athleticism. SPARQ rankings use a score of 100 for an “average” NFL athlete and provides the percentile where a prospect fits athletically. Over the past few seasons, the Steelers have targetedplayers in the draft with high SPARQ rankings. RAS (or “Relative Athletic Score“) was developed by Kent Lee Platte of The Pride of Detroit. While SPARQ uses 100 as the average score, RAS is on a relatively simple 0-10 scale with 5 as the “average” player at the position. Mock Draftable is a great site that compiles testing data from draft prospects and keeps historical records to provide comparables for each player.
Day 1: J. Dobbs (QB-Tennessee), P. Mahomes (QB-Texas Tech), K. Golladay (WR-Northern Illinois), J. Reynolds (WR-Texas A&M)
Day 2: J. Lewis (CB-Michigan), D. Rivers (EDGE-Youngstown St), T. McKinley (EDGE-UCLA), M. Nicholson (S-Michigan St)
S – Washington
5’10” 195 lbs
SPARQ: 32.8 percentile (#5 S)
RAS: 3.58 (#17 FS)
CBS Sports: #2 FS (#40 Overall)
NFL.com: #3 S
Draft Wire: #3 S
Scott Carasik: #2 S
Analysis: Baker can fly all over the field and is a physically aggressive safety who isn’t afraid to fly to the ball. Baker’s best role is likely in a “centerfield” role as a high safety to allow him to diagnose what is in front of him and use his speed to attack. He is a little undersized which could cause problems in coverage against NFL tight ends or when attacking larger running backs when called upon in run support. That said, he has good coverage ability down the field and can close ground quickly on receivers. Baker plays with a linebacker’s mentality and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in against anyone. He is consistently listed as one of the “Big Three” safeties in the draft (along with Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams) and is definitely a first round talent.
S – NC State
6’1″ 220 lbs
SPARQ: insufficient data for ranking
RAS: 9.54 (#2 SS)
CBS Sports: #4 SS (#61 Overall)
NFL.com: #4 S
Draft Wire: #23 S
Scott Carasik: #8 S
Analysis: There are some discrepancies with Jones’ ranking from different scouts, but his athleticism is undeniable. Jones racked up a ton of tackles this past season for NC State (though any time a safety is leading the team in tackling that says something about the lack of quality players in front of him). He plays fast and flies around the field, but his aggression can also cause him to over-run the play. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared him to Mike Mitchell, so that should tell you all you need to know about Jones’ playing style.
LB – Florida
6’1″ 238 lbs
SPARQ: insufficient data for ranking
RAS: 8.61 (#9 LB)
CBS Sports: #3 ILB (#53 Overall)
NFL.com: #3 LB
Draft Wire: #4 LB
Scott Carasik: #4 LB
Analysis: Davis’ senior season was cut short by a left leg injury, but he had been a starter since his freshman season at Florida and put more than enough on tape to be considered once of the top 5 inside linebacker prospects in the draft. After rehabbing from injury, Davis put up eye-popping numbers at Florida’s Pro Day. He plays downhill and can fly to the ball. He has the traits of a 4-3 outside linebacker, which is the type of player the Steelers have tapped for their inside linebackers (Timmons, Shazier). The Steelers definitely have a need at inside linebacker with the departure of Timmons and likely also wanted to run Davis through their own medical checks to ensure his full recovery from injury.
WR – Penn St
6’1″ 209 lbs
SPARQ: 89.5 percentile (#4 WR)
RAS: 9.39 (#4 WR)
CBS Sports: #5 WR (#52 Overall)
NFL.com: #10 WR
Draft Wire: #12 WR
Scott Carasik: #16 WR
Analysis: Godwin was one of the surprises of the Combine, flashing great athleticism for his size. Penn State took advantage of his athleticism this year with an offense built on straight go routes. Watching the Nitany Lions was like playing NCAA Football 2003 where you just ran 4 verticals until someone stopped you. Godwin has the size, speed, and hands to be a solid NFL wide receiver. Based on the receivers the Steelers have brought in so far, Godwin fits the mold as a player who can get deep and stretch the top of the defensive coverage.
RB – Pitt
6’1″ 233 lbs
SPARQ: insufficient data for complete ranking
RAS: 3.15 (#36 RB)
CBS Sports: #15 RB (#162 Overall)
NFL.com: #14 RB
Draft Wire: #21 RB
Scott Carasik: #10 RB
Analysis: Everyone reading this probably already knows what James Conner brings to the table. He starred at Erie McDowell high school (while they were still in the WPIAL) and at Pitt, overcoming Hodgkin’s lymphoma to return his senior season where he ran for 1000 yards and 16 TDs. Conner is in the mold of a true power back with the toughness and tenacity to grind through tackles. He has a nose for the end zone and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. He doesn’t have breakaway speed but is more of a power back in the mold of Jeremy Hill. The Steelers have a need for a #2 RB and Conner would fit that mold perfectly if he is available in the late 3rd or 4th round. It should be noted that Conner counts as a “local prospect” and does not count against the Steelers allocation of 30 pre-draft visits.
LB – Vanderbilt
6’3″ 234 lbs
SPARQ: 62.3 percentile (#4 ILB)
RAS: 7.14 (#19 LB)
CBS Sports: #2 OLB (#25 Overall)
NFL.com: #4 ILB
Draft Wire: #5 LB
Scott Carasik: #2 LB
Analysis: Like Florida’s Jarrad Davis, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham is a consensus Top 5 inside linebacker in this draft. While Cunningham is not as athletically gifted as Davis, he was much more productive on the field. He has been a starter for three years at Vanderbilt and posted 125 tackles (with 16.5 for loss) last season while being named a first team All-American. He has good football instincts and a nose for the ball, but he can struggle to get off blocks. He has the frame to add some weight and his play strength might be a little below average, but he is an instinctive player that has been incredibly productive in one of the best conferences in college football.
LB – Illinois
6’3″ 242 lbs
SPARQ: 46.0 percentile (#14 EDGE)
RAS: 6.6 (#18 EDGE)
CBS Sports: #10 OLB (#120 Overall)
NFL.com: #41 DL
Draft Wire: #18 EDGE
Scott Carasik: #18 EDGE
Analysis: Phillips was a bit of a late bloomer, not starting until his senior season but racking up 20 tackles for loss and 9 sacks for the Illini. He is considered the second-best EDGE prospect from Illinois (behind Dawuane Smooth) and lacks some of the lower body explosiveness typically seen in elite edge rushers. He ran a blazing fast 40 at the Combine and has good pursuit to the ball and a strong inside move. He is a sure tackler and can get into the backfield but lacks some functional strength at the point of attack. He is likely a mid-to-late round edge rusher prospect who will be a special teams standout in his rookie year with the potential to develop as he adds lower body strength and refines his pass rushing moves.