4 for Friday: Current Steelers combine results

Steel City Underground presents “4 for Fridays,” an off-season series of articles focused on four related Pittsburgh Steelers topics and commentary for fans and members of Steelers Nation.

With the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine, often referred to as just “the Combine,” underway we went back to look at four current Steelers stars’ performances in their events (including one pro day) and analysis on those players.

Embed from Getty Images

Cameron Heyward

The Steelers’ first-round (no. 31 overall) selection in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Ohio State at defensive end was considered to be “tight-hipped, stiff-ankled, and lacks coordination, balance, and grace… who will be over-drafted because of his last name…” by Pro Football Weekly despite a combine grade of 7.50 (representative of a “perennial all-pro”).

Heyward participated in the vertical jump only at the NFL Scouting Combine (30″) events, but was available for the interviews and other activities. His weaknesses were listed by at least one pre-draft scout as follows:

  • Does not have the burst to consistently get after the quarterback or make plays from the backside
  • Plays with a narrow base at times and can be pushed out of the play
  • Takes too long to recognize screens and draws and gets caught upfield too often
  • A bit inconsistent with his play

Since joining the Steelers, Heyward has become a team captain, a leader on and off of the field, the 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year, a three-time All-Pro, a six-time Pro-Bowl selection, and has played a minimum of 16 regular-season games in all but one season in his 13-year career. He has recorded 80.5 career sacks during the regular season and has appeared in playoff games in seven of his seasons.

It’s safe to say that Heyward exceeded many analyst’s expectations and has become a fan favorite for his work ethic, and ability to make plays, in addition to his service in the community.

Embed from Getty Images

Alex Highsmith

The Steelers’ third-round (no. 38 overall) selection in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Charlotte, linebacker Alex Highsmith, led the NFL in forced fumbles in 2022 (5) and recorded a career-high 14.5 sacks at outside linebacker/edge the same season. Steelers fans have seen Highsmith develop into a very effective partner to T.J. Watt at the other end of Pittsburgh’s defensive front.

NFL analyst Lance Zierlein said, in his combine overview of Highsmith:

“Stand-up edge rusher with splashy production to get him noticed by 3-4 fronts. Highsmith is quick to diagnose and slip blocks to make plays in the backfield, but lacks the strength and anchor to take on blocks and set strong edges. He’s clearly put in work when it comes to creating a diverse inside/outside rush attack that has a chance to keep growing if he can weaponize his hands and improve his speed-to-power attack. His play is more finesse than physical and may not be ready for early downs in the NFL. He currently projects as an NFL backup but his ascending play and production could push him into a bigger role if he can get bigger and stronger.”

Highsmith recorded the following combine results:

  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.7 seconds
  • 10-Yard Split: 1.68 seconds
  • Vertical Jump: 33’’
  • Broad Jump: 10’ 5’’
  • 3-Cone Drill: 7.32 seconds
  • 20-Yd Shuttle: 4.31 seconds
  • Bench Press: DNP

“I feel like he’s got a shot to play (in the NFL) if he can fill out and get stronger.” – Area scout for AFC team

Highsmith’s “prospect grade” was 5.99 which scouts agreed indicated he’d be “an average backup or special teamer.” Thankfully, scouts aren’t always correct in their early assessments, and there are many factors that go into those grades; a player having a bad outing can be one of them. Highsmith has proven to be durable and effective in the Steelers’ defense.

Embed from Getty Images

Diontae Johnson

The Steelers’ third-round (no. 66 overall) selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, wide out Diontae Johnson out of Toledo, is considered to be one of the best route-runners among wide receivers currently in the NFL. As a prospect at the NFL Scouting Combine, Johnson received a 6.20 grade (“will eventually be a starter”).

Johnson posted the following combine results in 2019:

  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.53 seconds
  • 10-Yard Split: 1.53 seconds
  • Vertical Jump: 33.5’’
  • Broad Jump: 10’ 3’’
  • 3-Cone Drill: 7.09 seconds
  • 20-Yd Shuttle: 4.45 seconds
  • Bench Press: 15 reps

NFL analyst Lance Zierlein said of Johnson:

“Despite a lack of desired size, Johnson might have the ability to play inside or outside thanks to his speed and ability to elude press from his release. He has basketball athleticism, but his routes will need more focus and less freestyle once he steps up in competition. The athleticism and quickness should allow for a wide range of usage on offense but his hands might always be a concern for him. He’s a little small and wasn’t as fast or quick at the combine as expected, so Day 3 in the draft is his likely landing spot as a WR3/WR4 talent.”

Johnson played in all 16 games of his rookie season (before the NFL changed the regular season to 18 weeks) and started in 12, recording 59 receptions for 680 yards (11.5 YPR) and 5 touchdowns behind just James Washington in receiving yards. He was named an All-Pro that season.

Over his five-year career, Johnson had had his ups and downs – as has Pittsburgh’s offense – but has recorded 391 receptions for 4,363 yards (11.2 YPR) and 25 touchdowns. In 2023, Johnson – a one-time Pro Bowl selection – recorded his longest career-reception of 71 yards.

Embed from Getty Images

Najee Harris

Not every NFL player is invited to, or chooses to, attend the league’s combine. Because we felt that was important to consider when talking about grades, analysis, analysts, and results, we added Harris into this list. Harris, a running back out of Alabama, chose to showcase his skills at the college’s “Pro Day.” He’s not the only NFL player to go that route, and many successful players have even attended pro days at other colleges than their alma mater in order to improve their opportunities to get into professional football.


You read that correctly. Harris had opted not to work out for scouts ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, allowing his outstanding high school and collegiate stats speak for themselves. Instead, he supported his Alabama teammates. And that meant he unexpectedly jumped in on some drills… to help Mac Jones, essentially as an extra receiver for the quarterback.

One thing the NFL Scouting Combine provides is an opportunity for coaches to learn the type of person a prospect is. Harris showed his character at the pro day by helping spotlight his teammates’ abilities, something that didn’t go unnoticed despite it not happening at the big event the combine has become over the years.

Suggested articles from our sponsors