If you are mocking someone to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, better check to make sure that player has a high SPARQ score first. Since 2014 the Steelers have drafted a prospect in the top 5 at their position every year except one. That “one” was Artie Burns in 2016, and we know how that turned out. Here’s the breakdown:
2018 – Terrell Edmunds: 2nd at safety, 138.9 pSPARQ
2017 – T J Watt: 4th at edge, 142 pSPARQ
2016 – Artie Burns: 111th at corner, 111 pSPARQ
2015 – Bud Dupree: 4th at edge, 148.4 pSPARQ
2014 – Ryan Shazier: 1st at linebacker, 150 pSPARQ
What is SPARQ you ask? Well to be brief, it is a scoring system to measure sport specific athleticism for players about to enter the NFL draft. SPARQ is just another tool to try to identify elite athletes. The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to value this scoring system as you can see from above. That list doesn’t include other later round picks like Sean Davis who was ranked 4th overall at corner believe it or not. Ju Ju Smith Schuster was ranked 45th overall at wide receiver, but had a very respectable 120 pSPARQ score. Even going back to the 2015 draft, Sammie Coates was ranked 4th overall at wide receiver.
This trend is continuing for the Steelers into 2019. Take a look at who the Steelers have been looking at so far in the pre-draft process. Never heard of Jordan Brailford, an outside linebacker from Oklahoma St? He is the 6th rated edge with a 132.4 pSPARQ score. How about Travis Homer, running back from Miami? He is also 6th overall, this time at running back with a 130.3 score. Who the heck is Ulysees Gilbert III? Well, he is the 7th ranked linebacker at 135.6. All three of these players have been in for pre-draft visits. Wondering why the Steelers seem to have a fascination with Devin Bush and Miles Boykin? They are both number one at their position with scores of 144 and 150 respectively.
As you can see this scoring system seems to weigh heavily in the Steelers evaluation process. Their preference for elite athletes is no secret. The few times they have gone for production over athleticism have been outright disasters. Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns both had great production, but were less then stellar athletes. Burns did run fast (4.4/40), but his other measurables were well below average. We all know the Jarvis Jones story by now. He registered back to back double digit sacks while at Georgia, but tested horribly at the combine. Jones was never able to overcome his lack of athleticism at the NFL level. In fact, it was after the draft of 2013 when Kevin Colbert and company really started to rely more on athletic testing.
Since this new found strategy the Steelers have implemented, their drafts have been a mixed bag. In 2017 the team may have had their best draft in some time. Scoring Watt, Smith-Schuster, and Conner all in one draft was a big win. The year before can be seen as the exact opposite however, with only Javon Hargrave as a definite hit for that draft.
Time will tell how the 2018 group faired. No one from that class made a significant impact in their rookie seasons. Terrell Edmunds will be an interesting case study on whether or not preferring elite athletes is the way to go. The Steelers surprised most when they selected Edmunds in the first round. He was widely regarded as a late second round pick at best. If he becomes a bust in the Artie Burns mold, the Steelers may once again have to re-evaluate their draft process.