Steelers looking for a few good men

The Steelers' Kevin Colbert stated in a 2008 pre-NFL Scouting Combine press conference that 80 percent of player evaluation occurs during the season as the player performs on the field. That said, Frank Tursic prepares you for the remaining 20 percent in this exclusive SCI feature.

For NFL teams, the Combine signifies the culmination of 18 months of college talent evaluation. The Steelers begin that evaluation process with the scouts from the Blesto Scouting Service moving onto their own scouts the following college season. Steelers' scouts log thousands of miles each August to December assessing the top college players at least three times during the year.

Next, college all-star games provide teams with a first chance to not only watch top players in head-to-head competition, but also see how they respond to NFL coaching and personal interviews.

By the time the NFL Combine rolls around, teams have a very good idea what players have "real" NFL talent as well as being a fit for their system.

The Combine, officially known as the National Invitation Camp, is held late February in Indianapolis. It's an outgrowth of an earlier era when teams pooled their money to save costs on travel and scouting. While teams will have spent thousands of man-hours on film evaluation and background checks by the time they gather at Indy, the Combine still serves a useful purpose.

As Kevin Colbert stated previously in a 2008 pre-Combine press conference: "We live by the credo that 80 percent of the (player) evaluation happens from August to December when they play."

The Combine, therefore, provides the remaining 20 percent of a players overall assessment by imparting standardized measures of athletic performance. These benchmarks of speed, quickness, and strength in conjunction with a player's character and medical history are then used to supplement a teams overall rating.

Or to put it more simply, you draft players based on "what you see on tape", but use the benchmarks for reasons not to.

These discriminators, as we'll call them, should be self-explanatory regarding a player's character or medical history. But, how do we quantify someone's athletic ability, and how does that translate to the NFL football field?

For that answer I'll introduce you to Pat Kirwan. Mr. Kirwan is a former NFL Scout/FO—exec-turned writer/analyst who came up with his own metric called the Kirwan Explosiveness Index (KEI). While 40 times and other agility drills stand on their own merits, KEI grades a player's explosive power. NFL teams are always looking to add explosive players to their roster, and KEI is a way to bundle that ability into an overall rating. In a nutshell, Kirwan looks for a score of 70 when combining the results of a player's vertical jump, broad jump and bench press. For example a 35" vertical, a 25 bench press, and 10 ft. broad jump would yield the magical 70 threshold. While not foolproof, KEI does correlate very positively to superior athletic performance and explosiveness. It's important to understand this concept now, because I'm going to be using it on future positional articles after the Combine.

To illustrate, we'll examine 4 rush DE/OLB from the 2007 draft:

Player

Height

Weight

Tackles for Loss

Sacks

Forced Fumbles

Player A

6'2"

261lb

26

10.5

5

Player B

6'2"

266lb

16.5

12

4

Player C

6'3"

272lb

18

10.5

4

Player D

6'2"

270lb

19

9.5

4

Note that all four players are very similar in size and college football production. This represents 80% of the overall player evaluation.

Now if we add athletic performance:

Player

40-yard

10-yard

Short Shuttle

3-Cone

Bench Press

Vertical Jump Broad Jump Kirwin Explosive Index

Player A

4.70

1.64

4.43

7.14

30

32.5 9.30 71.80

Player B

4.74

1.65

4.42

N/A

29

38.5 9.80 77.30

Player C

4.69

1.59

4.32

7.28

32

30.5 9.25 71.75

Player D

4.84

1.63

N/A

7.50

33

33.0 9.80 75.80

Once again, all four are similar in terms of speed (40 & 10) and agility (SS & 3C), however, not in terms of explosiveness. While all four break the KEI threshold of 70, player B clearly stands out. This then represents the remaining 20% of the evaluation, so the selection, if I were drafting, would be Player B.

So, how would we have done in real life?

Player

Name

Player A

Anthony Spencer

Player B

LaMarr Woodley

Player C

Tim Crowder

Player D

Charles Johnson

Player B is actually LaMarr Woodley, who the Pittsburgh Steelers wisely selected in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft.

In summary, knowing how to judiciously apply measures of athletic ability -- speed, agility, and explosiveness (KEI), can make all the difference between selecting a Pro Bowl player to just a merely good one.

One other thing to add is that not all measures of KEI are created equal. Due to deviations in tested performance, not all benchmarks carry the same weighted value. For example, bench reps tend to be overvalued since player's can average anywhere from 10 to 40 reps. So, just keep in mind that a 70 KEI pass rusher (BR-24, VJ-36, BJ-10) does not describe the same type of prospect as a 70 KEI offensive tackle (BR-32, VJ-30, BJ-8).

Moving onto the Steelers roster…

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, therefore, I provide you with the following:

OFFENSIVE STARTERS

DEFENSIVE STARTERS

Position

Name

Age Signed Through Position Name Age Signed Through

QB

Ben Roethlisberger 27 2015 DE Aaron Smith 33 2011

RB

Willie Parker 29 2009 NT Casey Hampton 32 2009

FB

Carey Davis 28 2008 DE Brett Keisel 31 2009
TE Heath Miller 27 2009 OLB LaMarr Woodley 25 2010
WR Hines Ward 33 2009 ILB James Farrior 34 2012
WR Santonio Holmes 25 2010 ILB Larry Foote 29 2009
LT Max Starks 27 2008 OLB James Harrison 31 2009
LG Chris Kemoeatu 26 2008 CB Ike Taylor 29 2010
OC Justin Hartwig 31 2009 CB Bryant McFadden 28 2008
RG Darnell Stapleton 24 2009 S Ryan Clark 30 2009
RT Willie Colon 26 2008 S Troy Polamalu 28 2011
KEY OFFENSIVE BACKUPS KEY DEFENSIVE BACKUPS
LT Marvel Smith 31 2008 DE Travis Kirschke 35 2009
RG Kendall Simmons 30 2011 DT Chris Hoke 33 2010
WR Nate Washington 26 2008 LB Lawrence Timmons 23 2011
TE Matt Spaeth 25 2009 CB Deshea Townsend 34 2009
RB Rashard Mendenhall 22 2012 CB William Gay 24 2009
QB Byron Leftwich 29 2008 S Tyrone Carter 33 2009

*Note: Age at the end of the 2009 season.  Red denotes 2008 UFA/RFA, Yellow 09 UFA/RFA, Green +2 yrs or later

On offense, only Ben, Tone, Simmons and Mendenhall are signed after the 2009 season. The offensive line, in particular, must receive added attention in the next several drafts. A replacement for Nate Washington may also be in order as well as finding Hines Ward's eventual replacement.

On defense, while only Bryant McFadden is a free agent this year, savvy fans realize he'll more than likely ply his trade elsewhere in '09. Both age, as well as concerns along the defensive line and backfield will also raise its ugly head in 2010 as the team looks to turn over significant portions of its d-side roster.

With free agent dollars being used to re-sign and extend their own players primarily, Colbert & company must rely on drafting well more than ever before. An initial needs assessment for the 2009 draft may look something like this: IOL, RT, CB, DL, WR, and ILB depth.

For players to watch at the NFL Combine that address these needs, I provide the following list of likely Steelers targets:

Guards:
Tyronne Green
Andy Levitre
Kraig Urbik

Center/Guard conversions:
Alex Mack
Eric Wood
Antoine Caldwell

Right Tackle:
Eben Britton (LT capable)
Phil Loadholt
Fenuki Tupou

Rush/34 DE:
Tyson Jackson
Jarron Gilbert
Ricky Jean-Francois
Kyle Moore
Zach Potter

Cover-3/Nickle Corner:
Darius Butler
Macho Harris
Jairus Byrd
Asher Allen
Jerraud Powers

Slot Receiver:
Mike Thomas
Deon Butler
Sammie Stroughter

Hines 2.0:
Hakeem Nicks
Juaquin Iglesias
Brandon Gibson
Mohammed Massaquoi

I'll return after the Combine with detailed positional reports and an initial Steelers draft value board.


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