Many have pointed out that the Steelers front office, while not discussing much publicly, have clearly bought into the use of analytics in their draft process recently; more specifically the analytics of SPARQ.
I’m not going to bore you with the minute details of SPARQ, but it is essentially a measurement of a prospect’s athleticism. SPARQ is an acronym for Speed Power Agility Reaction and Quickness. The Seattle Seahawks defense built under Pete Carroll was heavily influenced by this rating.
So how do the Steelers fit in? SteelCityBlitz friend, TheSteelers N’At wrote about the Steelers valuing it a couple of years ago here, and explains it better than I ever could. As he pointed out, the SPARQ scale is generally seen as the following…
Score Below 100 – Likely below average for many NFL Athletes
Score Between 100-115 – Average for many NFL Athletes
Score between 116-130 – Very Good NFL Athlete
Score Above 130 – Elite NFL Athlete
Since that article above was written, the Steelers have taken the following guys in the draft (with their Sparq info included via Three Sigma Athlete)…
Bud Dupree – 145 (3rd at his position in his draft class)
Sammie Coates – 138 (2nd)
Anthony Chickillo – 125 (21)
Sean Davis – 135 (3rd, ranked as a CB)
Javon Hargrave – 120 (11th, ranked with all DL)
Travis Feeney – 137 (2nd, ranked among non-edge LB)
Ryan Shazier once surprised many Steelers fans by being the guy the Steelers nabbed in round 1 in the 2014 draft. If more of us were on to SPARQ at the time we shouldn’t have been though, as his 152 score is one of the highest ever measured.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a great measure for success, or that it guaruntees who the Steelers are drafting, but it does help in some situations where you want to narrow down the possibilities. I think it’s a great tool, particularly this year when many of us think they take an edge rusher in round 1, and there are about 6 names that make sense at their spot in round 1. I think that edge rusher is a position that greatly benefits from athleticism as well. I believe this is why despite some solid instincts, Jarvis Jones never worked out… Guess what his SPARQ rating was? It was 90; meaning a below average NFL athlete.
Let’s break down some of the Steelers’ position of need using these metrics. I’m not listing every player at every position, but just some that I feel have been discussed as being a possible Steelers’ pick. Also keep in mind that not every player has data yet.
Tyus Bowser – 143
Jordan Willis – 141
T.J. Watt – 140
Derek Rivers – 131
Carl Lawson – 125
Takk McKinley – 114
Charles Harris – 102
I think at the edge position in particular this can be really eye opening. Takk McKinley and Charles Harris in particular are 2 guys that are popular connections to Pittsburgh that I think the team may not be as high on as we all think. I will say that McKinley’s shoulder injury could be limiting him somewhat, but I did think he was a little stiff on tape and his numbers showed that. Harris’ score could improve with his improved numbers at his pro day.
In my opinion, Carl Lawson would be the Steelers’ ideal pick at 30. He’s not quite the freak that Bud Dupree was but he’s well above their threshold and he checks boxes of being a power-5 school prospect with 1st round tape. Derek Rivers is really intriguing too, but taking a D2 prospect in the first round would be unprecendented for Kevin Colbert (though I’m not ruling it out). I think T.J. Watt may surprise people, but could be the pick. Watt is actually similar to Bud Dupree was in some ways. Bud had better production but both were essentially athletes with very high ceilings they they hope to turn into football players.
Kevin King – 143
Fabian Moreau – 140
Chidobe Awuzie – 130
Marlon Humphrey – 130
Gareon Conley – 129
Cameron Sutton – 113
Sidney Jones – 111
Cordrea Tankersley – 109
Tre’Davious White – 106
Last season the Steelers did go against my theory here, as Artie Burns was selected in the 1st round despite his 111 SPARQ rating. I could see it having a bigger impact on their thinking this year though, as they seem to want to find a more physical press-man cornerback. I could definitely see King, Humphrey, or Conley being 1st round picks if the Steelers don’t like the edge rushers on the board. If Awuzie is on the board at the 2nd pick I’d almost pencil it in right now. I really like Moreau too but I’m not sure how his pec surgery factors in.
Tankersley and White are 2 guys that have been talked about a lot, but these numbers give me some pause when there’s guys there that are far superior athletes. In the case of Artie Burns, there really wasn’t any other options on the board that fit the range.
Hassan Reddick, LB – 139
Buckey Hodges, TE – 138
Zay Jones, WR – 134
Marcus Williams, S – 134
Gerald Everett, TE – 132
Chris Godwin, WR – 130
Christian McCaffrey – 128
I’m not going to go through every position, but these are some other guys that jump out to me as guys that may not fit a need, or may not fit the range in which the Steelers would need to take them, but their crazy athleticism could be too much to pass up.
For example, I think Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler would probably drool over Hassan Reddick… but I just think that taking an ILB (and yes, he is an ILB) in round 1 feels like a luxury pick with so many other needs. I’m not sure if the Steelers are actively seeking a receiver, but Zay Jones and Chris Godwin might be in the category of too good to pass on in round 2.