As the Pittsburgh Steelers begin to prepare for the NFL draft, strength and agility numbers are going to be important in developing a draft board. However, the Steelers must also value immeasurable traits in this draft.
The loss of veteran leadership on this team made a big difference—a bigger difference than maybe anyone could have imagined.
Aaron Smith epitomized what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. James Farrior was the voice of the defense. Hines Ward was the heart of the team.
The value of these traits cannot be quantified. These veterans brought tremendous character to the Steelers and it became clear that it was not replaced.
It is not as though the Steelers are without quality leaders and character players.
There are few quarterbacks in this league who can take control of a huddle like Ben Roethlisberger. Troy Polamalu plays the game how you want it to be played and Brett Keisel provides the voice for the team.
But beyond these players, the Steelers lack in leadership and lack in top notch character. As a result, they lacked the mental toughness to win the close games this year and this was reflected in their overall record.
Brett Keisel told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the younger players need to do more.
“We do have some really good young talent that needs to step up and start making more plays in order for us to win,” Keisel said.
“I’m talking about all the guys—our young group of wideouts, our young offensive line, some young guys we have playing in the secondary. We need those guys to play ‘A’ ball, and, when they’re out on the field, we need them to make plays in order to win.”
Those are some powerful words from Keisel.
Character is reflected in a player’s work ethic, whether it is studying the playbook or the effort they put in at practice and on game days. Evidently, the young players on the team were not doing enough.
Even the retired Hines Ward recognized the problems on the Steelers went deeper than the talent (via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
“They have a bunch of young, talented guys. The organization chose to go young and in a different direction. My argument was, ‘Great, but I don’t think any of those guys other than Mike Wallace were in crucial situations to ask them to carry the load'"
“With A.B., Mike and Emmanuel, sometimes it takes more than work ethic. You have to put in the time both at work and home to take care of your body and your playbook.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement from Ward.
Beyond even the work ethic, the Steelers made some questionable choices in last year’s draft.
Not only did they take one or two players with a troubled history, but they selected three.
Mike Adams, Alameda Ta’amu and Chris Rainey all had a checkered past, yet the Steelers took a risk on each. All three were talented players and fit an area of need for the Steelers. Besides Ta’amu, Adams and Rainey flashed talent as rookies and looked to have bright futures.
But less than a year after being drafted, Ta’amu had a DUI incident which resulted in a suspension and Chris Rainey was released from the team. Is Adams next or will he stay on the straight and narrow?
Regardless of what happens with these players, Rainey is gone leaving the Steelers without a kick returner and a speed back and Ta’amu is likely one strike away from being released.
Was it worth the risk for the Steelers or should they have went with a "safer" draft pick?
Do the Steelers need to put an emphasis on drafting 'high-character' players?
In the case of Adams, the risk has been a good one. He has flashed a ton of potential as a run blocker and should improve in pass protection with another year of experience. As long as he stays out of trouble, he should be a fixture on the offensive line for years to come.
Adams could be well on his way to a long career in the NFL and is doing what is required of a professional. When all is said and done, he could be a leader in the locker room and an example for young players. Or he could test positive for drugs and get suspended and maybe even cut.
But we have to remember that football players are human. They make mistakes and can either learn from them or make them again. When it comes to the Steelers, they seem to find a balanced approach when taking a risk on a player with character concerns.
General manager Kevin Colbert does his homework when it comes to investigating the character of potential draft picks and not everyone can make the list. However, in the case of Rainey and Ta’amu, they did make the list and still screwed up after the Steelers gave them a shot. Colbert realizes that when this happens it falls on his shoulders (via Steelers.com).
“That’s not going to stop us in the future from looking at players, because each player is going to be an individual who will be judged and investigated individually. If we draft him, then we’ve made the decision. Again, all of those decisions fall back on me, because I signed off on every one of them.”
With three risky choices last year and two getting into trouble, Colbert should tread carefully in this year’s draft. The talent will be very tempting as the Steelers try to replenish their roster with young weapons that can make plays.
Alec Olgetree is an athletic linebacker who would fit in nicely next to Lawrence Timmons, but has been suspended twice while at Georgia.
Wide receiver Da’Rick Rodgers is a tall, fast wide receiver who has a tremendous upside and could develop into one of the most explosive receivers in the league. However, he was kicked off of Tennessee’s football team.
Then there is a player such as Tyrann Matheiu. He could develop into an excellent playmaker as a nickel back and is an electric return man. He’d add depth to the Steelers defensive backfield and fill the void at returner, but he was dismissed from LSU.
There is a chance that each of these players—as well as others—has put the past behind them and will be quality professionals, but there is a risk involved.
Whether the risk is worth it will be up to Colbert. No matter who he takes, he will be doing it with the intention of making the Pittsburgh Steelers a better football team.
But sometimes, all in the talent in the world won’t cut it in the NFL if they can’t stay out of trouble.
The Steelers need leaders on the field. They need players who are going to do what is necessary on and off the field to make themselves and the team better, players who are mentally tough enough to come up big in crunch time.
The players who led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles in three appearances in what was their greatest era since the 1970s are slowly fading away and the team needs to replace them. The only way they can do this is by drafting high-character players and that should be a focus in this year’s draft.