Hearts and smarts the common thread of Steelers’ draft

posted by Mike Prisuta -

The right boxes got checked _ edge rusher, wide receiver, cornerback, running back.

That part was the relatively easy part.

It remains to be seen if the Steelers got the right players at the right positions.

But if intangibles matter, the top end of the 2017 NFL Draft has a chance to be a factor where the Steelers need it to be impactful.

Last year’s yield of three defensive starters was over the top, but the Steelers knew going into the 2016 talent grab they’d need players who would make significant contributions sooner rather than later.

This time around they aren’t looking for T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton and/or James Conner to start.

But it would help a great deal if they’re able to periodically put their hand in the pile when called upon.

The want-to as it relates to Watt, Smith-Schuster, Sutton and Conner doesn’t figure to be an issue toward that end.

And as the Steelers have become painfully aware, that isn’t always the case.

No one questions Martavis Bryant’s height, weight, speed or production.

But does Bryant really want this?

Does Eli Rogers?

The perceived need to draft Smith-Schuster on the second round was there, in part, because Bryant made himself unavailable and Rogers underachieved last season.

And the inability of both to consistently handle themselves as a professional in varying degrees was a factor.

That’s why the draft remains such a crapshoot despite all that NFL teams annually commit to the evaluation process.

“Once we figure out if we can measure a mind and a heart, then we’ll have something,” Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged prior to this year’s resumption of the annual process.

Added head coach Mike Tomlin: “The analytics guys who develop a ‘will index,’ they’re on the cutting edge.”

In the meantime, teams make educated guesses.

In Watt, the Steelers have trusted a player who, among other things, “plays the game with so much joy,” according to Watt’s big brother, J.J.

Smith-Schuster has a passion that’s gotten him compared by scouts and analysts to Hines Ward and Anquan Boldin.

Sutton isn’t the biggest or the fastest. But Dane Brugler’s 2017 NFL Draft Guide quoted Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop as insisting “you’ll have a hard time finding on film any time (Sutton) is misaligned or reading an improper key or playing bad technique.” You’d hope for nothing less in terms of being on his details from a senior captain.

As for Conner’s smash-mouth style and his well-publicized battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, “the character and the football character are beyond compare,” Colbert said.

And then there’s fourth-round quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who has an aerospace engineering degree from Tennessee.

Dobbs’ experience at Tennessee included a summer internship during which he helped design engines for fighter jets for the U.S. government.

“I was working on the F-135 engine, which is in the UF-35 fighter jet,” Dobbs explained. “It was a really great opportunity to branch out and learn about the aerospace industry and the most technologically-advanced engine ever created to this day.”

Dobbs has that going for him but he still loves football.

“I’ve loved it since I played it when I was 5,” he said. “My mom signed me up at 5-years old, when we were running around in helmets bigger than your body.

“Going to college, I could have played football or baseball but I chose football because that was the sport I couldn’t see myself not playing. I love the game. I give it all every time I step onto the field.

“It’s great to have a backup plan for 15 years down the road when I can’t play football. But until that day I’m giving it all to the sport I love. I will definitely do that each and every day.”

In a draft that included a high-profile presence of domestic abusers, drug users and/or gun-law violators, players with measurables but also red flags, there were worse prospects on which to take such a leap of faith. 

“You hear Kevin mention it all the time, hearts and smarts,” Tomlin said. “A lot of these guys excel in those areas.

“That’s the type of guy we covet always.” 

Some years more than others.

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