Pittsburgh Steelers Using Athleticism to Display Versatility

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PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 18: Director of football operations Kevin Colbert watches the Pittsburgh Steelers warm up prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers learned their lesson. After the drafting of Jarvis Jones in 2013 they said never again. The Combine matters whether people want to admit it or not. The Steelers subscribe to that idea now. There are always exceptions to the rule. Some players have the willpower to overcome their skill power. Antonio Brown worked on his craft and earned a job against the odds. However, most of the players who pan out in the NFL test above average compared to their peers at the NFL combine.

Pittsburgh Steelers Using Athleticism to Display Versatility

Using mockdraftable.com, a web display of how each draft pick rates against their peers at that position can be displayed. You can see a trend starting after the Jarvis Jones pick.


Jones is the last player that was drafted in the first round with one athletic attribute that isn’t better than the 50th percentile. In fact, aside from his physical attributes, his profile suggested that this was the career path he was destined to be on. Artie Burns does not have the best athletic profile, but is in an elite tier of some physical traits, and is above average in enough athletic attributes to have been worthy of the pick. The Steelers are drafting athletes, and carving out roles for them. At the least it has brought in a higher return than what Jones has brought.

Adding Versatility

No player had a bigger athletic profile than T.J. Watt. That is why it should be no surprise the Steelers let Watt loose in a variety of ways in his first preseason game. Watt played on and off the ball, he dropped back and rushed the passer and took a few different alignments on the front line.

This is an example of two consecutive plays by the Steelers where they are able to completely shift their look with Watt. Watt is circled in red in both plays.

Watt can line up in both spots, which lets the Steelers remain in their base defense while still having versatility and flexibility. The team has experimented with this with Bud Dupree and James Harrison in the past. The athletic profile, and background as a pass catching tight end gives Watt a great chance to slide into the role making this an easy transition. The Steelers now may have to ability to show a 4-3 look with a 3-4 personnel.

Watt and Dupree can now play off of the ball, and the Steelers can run the 3-4 base defensive line. In the nickel, the team can elect to add a cornerback over Vince Williams rather than Javon Hargrave.

Hargrave is a player who can line up in any technique on the defensive line. Ryan Shazier has slid to the outside at times to mix up looks in the passing game. Sean Davis is a cornerback who started last season in the slot before being a strong safety. Davis, a slot cornerback, and Shazier can all move in and out of the box, with Watt and Dupree being able to move on and off of the defensive line. This team now has the ability to show different looks, change their defensive alignments. It will be on Keith Butler to complete the move, but it has all the makings to be an extremely versatile unit.

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